March 16, 2010
Home Electric Upgrades For Electric Cars

Thinking about building a new home? Consider a home electrical installation that supports high amp 220 Volt electric vehicle (EV) charging. Upgrading later is more expensive. Depending on the age of a house and quality of existing wiring system electrical upgrades to support fast EV recharging can run into the thousands of dollars.

But as is often the case, the answer to the question, “How much will they cost?” is more complex. Because of the challenges in homes with what can be very outmoded electric service, a Nissan spokesman, Mark Perry, said that the cost of adding home charging is one-third hardware (the box itself) and two-thirds installation and labor costs. Mr. Perry said that homes built in the 1990s or later usually have 200- or even 400-amp service that is fine for E.V. charging, but earlier homes could face costly upgrade bills.

Jonathan Read, president and chief executive of ECOtality (working with Nissan to create charging stations for 4,700 Leaf battery cars), put the cost of home unit hardware at around $300 to $350, with installation ranging from $500 to $1,500.

For older homes the costs can be higher still. Got designs on the Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf? Click thru and read the details.

This story highlights just one facet of the costs for transitioning a society away from heavy dependency on oil. Many people will want to recharge their car while at work due to longer commutes that use up most of a battery's capacity in just one direction from home to work. So affordable pluggable hybrid electric vehicles PHEVs and plain EVs will generate workplace demand for parking lot electric chargers too.

Home owners with garages will have a big advantage over apartment dwellers who park on city streets when it comes to car recharging.

Families with teens will need 4 car recharging capacity. Imagine the future real estate ads.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 March 16 10:25 PM  Energy Electric Cars

David Gobel said at March 17, 2010 6:21 AM:

When we built our house in 2005, we made certain to install 400 amp service and 12 gauge copper wiring for just this reason. There is also a benefit from an efficiency standpoint to install 12 gauge copper wiring as there is lower resistance, less transmission loss in a larger home.

Among the cows in Iowa said at March 17, 2010 10:20 AM:

The "easy" way to handle service in homes with inadequate wiring is to put in bigger wires from the pole to the service entrance and add a second meter with a panel devoted just to high-power devices like charging the car. The same panel would be able to handle whole-house heat pumps and other loads too.

Most homes are new enough that wiring won't be a problem. An electric car is roughly equal to an electric dryer or stove.

DensityDuck said at March 17, 2010 11:45 AM:

This isn't a new problem, or a solely electric-car problem; the house owned by an ex-girlfriend of mine couldn't be upgraded to central heating/A-C because the interior wiring wouldn't support it.

Tim McD said at March 17, 2010 11:51 AM:

We have a 200 amp box about 1/2 used up. Me and a friend added two 20 amp 110 circuits including wiring for $130 or so. To add a 220 30 amp circuit from the box to the driveway , with a small pole and GFCI and weatherproof cover, maybe 200 to 250, and do the labor yourself.

Now, adding an electric inline water heater in three places, THAT was going to cost some money and take some time. Decided against that one.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater said at March 17, 2010 11:52 AM:

Sounds like electrical contractor and homebuilder stimulus to me!!

That said, if by switching to domestically-produced natgas and coal for vehicle power we can serve the goal of driving mideast famelcuckers back into the desert to scrounge for a subsistence nomadic lifestyle, I vote for it regardless of cost. Fcuk those guys even at $10/gal tax.

a gEEk said at March 17, 2010 12:07 PM:

What is really needed will be even more costly and difficult to get. Power companies really don't want to run full 3-phase power to residential customers. But for recharging EV's that is exactly what is needed. If you could get 440V 3-phase you could implement the fast charge option for the leaf at home. But good luck getting your utility to bring three phase to your house. Often they don't even have full three phase on the pole's in the residential neighborhoods.

pablo panadero said at March 17, 2010 12:11 PM:

OK, that takes care of the home, but not the neighborhood. The average US house consumes 171 KWhr/week. Assuming that the Leaf's batteries are depleted 60% each day (from 23KWhr to 9.2KWhr) and a charging efficiency of 75%, there would be an additional 18.4 KWhr per day per car. Assuming the car is unused on weekends, that results in about 92 KWhr extra per week, or about an additional 0.5 house on the transformer for each electric car. Considering that each transformer handles 4-8 homes, if there are 4 electric cars in those 4-8 homes, you have added 2 additional homes to a now-undersized transformer. So, you either have less efficiency in the transformer, or a larger one will need to be installed. Who pays for this installation?

Mikey NTH said at March 17, 2010 12:31 PM:

I don't think employers are going to want to pay for all of those cars plugged into the employee lot. Which would mean that the outlets would have to be metered, with the employees paying as they drive up and plug in, and they would have to have some system in place to keep someone from unplugging your vehicle and plugging his in, or just unplugging your vehicle to be a jerk.

Jay Getty said at March 17, 2010 12:38 PM:

Definitely, I think Americans will prefer to by gasoline from countries that hate us and use the oil revenue to terrorize us. Why would Americans want to invest in infrastructure and balance the trade deficit, and create good jobs in America when they can just buy gas and finance the war against themselves? You must really think Americans are dumb if you think they are smart enough to stop buying gasoline! And did you add the BTUs used by the war ships to protect the shipping lanes to the cost of gasoline, and how many BTUs are you adding per dead soldier? Ever heard of cellulose ethanol?

Curmudgeon said at March 17, 2010 12:39 PM:

Real good luck on getting an employer to buy electricity for your Greenie car! And a nice free lunch for all the employees as well. And if your city is generating electricity by burning oil, as many still are, isn't it all just sort of overpoweringly the dumbest thing you ever saw?

If, and only if, you can get a commitment from your electric utility to guarantee some kind of off-peak lower price on power, (no matter how many people are charging up their little electro-mobility-pods each night,) and if your revenue-desperate state and local authorities will give up any attempt to recover their lost gasoline tax revenues by enacting a highway use tax on your electric bill, then maybe this could work.

I foresee people jogging to work with briefcases on the expressways. Woody Allen is in the background somewhere laughing.

GRW3 said at March 17, 2010 12:52 PM:

The biggest challenge for dealing with plug in electrics will be figuring out how calculate the Road Tax. Road Tax? You betcha, you think they'll let you drive around without paying your fair share. It's just a matter of figuring out how to tranlate those kilowhat hours into gasoline/miles traveled equivalent. Don't be surprised when it works out to something like 1 gasoline gallon worth of tax for every forty miles of electricity range. Getting electricity to you is just engineering, no policy to speak of.

Roux said at March 17, 2010 1:04 PM:

I'm still waiting on my flying car.

JEM said at March 17, 2010 1:14 PM:

When we did our remodel in 2003, we totted up everything that we might ever put in the house, right down to the machine shop, the hot-tub heater, the patio heater, the wok burner, etc. and got the utility co to give us a 400amp electric service and a 1 1/4in gas meter.

I've got the outside wall of the garage wired with a couple 220 circuits and a 3/4in gas pipe, for possible EV charging and/or NGV compressor.

It cost a certain amount to do it at the time, but it we had to do it now the electrical work alone (since it involved new underground conduit under the driveway and up into the yard, we relocated the panel for easier access since the old panel location would have meant tearing up the garage floor too, the utility had to replace the feeder from the transformer to the box and we had to change the box at the sidewalk, etc.) would probably be over $10K.

Curmudgeon said at March 17, 2010 1:18 PM:

Back again. Yes, as GRW3 said, the road tax. It will be out there when critical mass is achieved. And if you were thinking of somehow co-generating your own power to charge your car "off the grid", still, you would be made subject to self-reporting your highway state and federal (and perhaps local) use tax. Fail to do so? Here come the auditors and collections and enforcement staffers to help you comply. Think this is sci-fi? Contractors who have both on-highway and off-highway diesel-burning equipment and their own diesel fuel inventory have always had to keep records and face audits so that each kind of use can be applicably taxed by the various authorities. Road tax trust funds need revenues to keep coming in.

DOugas2 said at March 17, 2010 1:20 PM:

Ha! Recently upgraded the 60A service fusebox in my little house. Moved the breaker panel to the carport side of the house, because that's where it was accessible but not in the way. The additional cost of 200A service over 100A service was so minimal that I decided to go with it, even though I could not conceive of how a 60 sq.M house in a northern climate could ever need that much juice.
Now I know why! Its ready for my "Coal-Burning" car.

comatus said at March 17, 2010 2:03 PM:

Welcome to the green, non-invasive, high-efficiency future (400A service required). What a sucker's game.

Atomic Roach said at March 17, 2010 2:38 PM:

Rebuild the entire electrical delivery structure to support a flawed transportation concept, or go retro and bring back horses. Boy, that's a diorama, or something.I think the Chinese have a lot of used bicycles for sale. You can recharge their engines at McDonalds, which has outlets distanced within the device's storage capacity. And homes require no modification after the changeover. Just saying...

BobB said at March 17, 2010 2:54 PM:

The electric car just moves the problem and the cost, from tailpipe and Evil Oil Companies to Smokestack and Evil Electric utilities. And the inevitable chaos and cost runup that ensues as electric demand skyrockets. We could build more power plants (oh, I forgot, coal bad, nuclear bad...) or wait for our new government sponsored green technologies to come on line (except when its not windy or sunny...)

Is anyone really fooled by this? Wake up, America!

Dowlan Smith said at March 17, 2010 4:37 PM:

Yes, BobB, the electric car moves the problem and the cost. The question is does the cost and problem stay the same, increase or decrease in size with the move.

Electrical Generation is much more efficient than an ICE engine. Emission controls are also easier to implement on a few central location vs on each vehicle. Distribution costs for electrical energy is probably much cheaper than gasoline.

But there are transmission losses, charging losses, and costs for changes in infrastructure (New car, charging stations, increased base-load, etc).

You also need to consider that Smart metering may allow variable sources like wind to supply a larger percentage of the base-load. A large variable load that can be quickly modified can be functionally equivalent to a large reserve (spinning) power backup.

JKB said at March 17, 2010 4:56 PM:

"Many people will want to recharge their car while at work..."

Wait, the recharge was suppose to happen at night when it could load balance as opposed to charging during peak load hours? Oh, and your EV person is more likely to be a mass transit commuter so how much of a tax is it going to take to retrofit commuter lots for charging stations? Adding another meter generally means you'll be charged low usage commercial rates as well as another service charge.

Leslie said at March 17, 2010 6:37 PM:

Jay Getty,

Why not just use domestic oil and gas. We have plenty of it.

Randall Parker said at March 17, 2010 6:39 PM:

What Dowlan Smith said. It is far easier to capture pollutants at an electric power generation plant.

An EV has very low fuel costs. You'll use .25-.5 kwh per mile. The US average is about 11 cents per kwh. So even at .5 kwh per mile for 10000 miles you are talking 5000 kwh or $550. That's for an SUV. The battery is the expensive part of the equation. If battery prices come down (and some suppliers claim they can get down to lower prices) then EVs become quite competitive in 5 to 10 years, sooner if oil spikes up to $150+ per barrel.


Daytime recharging will cost more. People whose lifestyles fit with overnight charging will pay much less for commuting electric power.

Engineer-Poet said at March 18, 2010 6:26 AM:

Taking small amounts of charge while providing grid regulation may still be a good deal, though.  Check out the AC Propulsion white papers on V2G (no longer on their site but available at

Nick G said at March 20, 2010 11:45 AM:

Assuming that the Leaf's batteries are depleted 60% each day (from 23KWhr to 9.2KWhr) and a charging efficiency of 75%, there would be an additional 18.4 KWhr per day per car.

That's way too high. The average car is driven 30 miles per day. The Volt will use .25 KWH/mile, so that's 7.5 KWH per day.

That also gives us a clue about a related thing: that 220V service isn't essential. If you charge overnight, a 110V, 15A circuit can handle 7.5 KWH in 5 hours. Plug in at 10 PM, and the car will be ready before 4 AM. That will work for almost anyone.

The Volt would use a maximum of 10 KWH per night (8 KWH plus 2 lost to charging), which might take 6-7 hours, so there really wouldn't be much point to installing 220V. Now, it would be a little more important for the Leaf, which has a larger battery and no ICE backup: the leaf might take a maximum 20 KWH charge, which could take 14 hours.

Randall Parker said at March 20, 2010 7:45 PM:

Nick G,

True enough about lower voltage recharging. But note that 220V service is needed in order to do grid demand management. The shorter the recharge time the more easily recharging can be shifted to the time period with the most unused low cost electric power generation capacity.

Nick G said at March 22, 2010 10:02 AM:

I think you'd get most of the benefit even with 110V.

First, shifting consumption from day to night is more important than short-term charge management: just getting charging into the 8PM to 8AM window is 95% of the battle: that's a 12 hour window, and the Volt (and any EV, on average) will only need 6-7 hours. 2nd, you can still interrupt charging instantly to help manage short-term drops in wind (or other) power.

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