Why Is Electric Car Charging Equipment So Expensive?

By · March 27, 2014

Why do home EV chargers cost so much? It’s just a little box with some wiring, so why should it run $500 to $1,000, plus another grand or so for installation? Chalk it up to initial development costs, the expense of certification by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and—in a low-volume market—expensive materials and connectors.

The actual charger is in the car. The equipment connected to your wall is technically the electric vehicle supply equipment, or EVSE for short.

Kevin Mull is vice president of business development at Bosch Automotive Service Solutions. Asked why wall-mounted EVSEs are relatively costly today, he points to the high cost of raw materials, especially copper. “The cable and the connector are a third of the entire cost because of the copper,” he said. “The connectors are also relatively high in cost because the volume of EVSE sales are so low. Once we get the volume up, the cost will come down.”

It does seem likely that costs of wall-mounted EVSEs will come down significantly, and consumers today can really shop around for the best bargain. What's more, they have other options.

A Portable Future?

Given a bottom line that can soar to $2,000 all in (depending on the ease of installation), it’s tempting to see the release of AeroVironment’s $600 to $650 TurboCord as a harbinger of things to come. It's a portable EVSE made by an established charging leader that can charge at 240 volts (the more expensive one does both 120 and 240). Eventually, home and workplace charger setups could start with a simple 240-volt plug, with the consumer supplying a low-cost connecting cord. "It's a category killer," said Wahid Nawabi, senior vice president and general manager of AV's Efficient Energy Systems division. "It's an incredible breakthrough in EV charging."

AV TurboCord

AeroVironment's TurboCord is a pioneer in portable 240-volt charging, but upstart EVSE Upgrade was there first. (AeroVironment photo)

That table has already been set by EVSE Upgrade.com, which has been very successful at selling retooled OEM 120-volt cords that can handle 240 volts. Mark Dutko, director of marketing at EVSE Upgrade, says his website is now also selling the TurboCord, but so far has moved only two, compared to “thousands” of the repurposed OEM cords.

Amperage is an important and often overlooked factor. Get ready for some numbers to get thrown at you. The TurboCord provides 16 amps versus EVSE Upgrade's 20 amps. In rough terms, that means a 3.8-kilowatt versus a 4.8-kilowatt supply of juice. If you want to take advantage of today's 6.6-kilowatt in-vehicle on-board chargers, we recommend an EVSE capable of 30 amps. (That's only available from a wall-mounted, rather than portable, EVSE.) It's nice to know that you can add about 25 miles of range in an hour, rather than about 15 or 13 miles, respectively, with 20-amp and 16-amp chargers. But realize that if you mostly charger overnight, you might not feel much difference.

No Single Answer

The path forward isn’t yet clear. Right now, AV’s TurboCord, which is available at many dealerships selling EVs, doesn’t have a big price advantage over garage-mounted EVSEs, which have been coming down in cost. The cheapest alternative is the EVSE Upgrade repurposed 240-volt portable units, which run $300 or less (provided you supply your OEM-supplied 120-volt cord for conversion). The company’s Nissan LEAF five-kilowatt cords draw 20 amps and can charge the car in four or five hours. Your only other expense is going to installation of a 240-volt outlet.

But AV's Nawabi cautions that such repurposed cords are not UL-listed. “It’s not endorsed by the OEMs,” he said. “The consumer has an enormous amount of risk.”

AV TurboCord

AeroVironment's TurboCord in action. (AeroVironment photo)

Dutko counters that the EVSE Upgrade units would pass UL inspection, if his company went to the expense of re-certifying them. He adds that the original Panasonic-made cords come with built-in “advanced safety detection” that monitor for dangerous conditions and shuts down charging if necessary. He said the units have proved reliable and safe in service. “A lot of the manufacturers have a problem with us because we’ve taken such a big chunk of the market,” he said.

Costs Coming Down

Bosch Power Max

The Bosch Power Max starts at $449. That's cheap today, but costs should come down soon. (Bosch photo)

Nawabi agrees that EVSE costs will come down with volume. “EV charging has to get simpler and less expensive,” he said.

Bosch’s 16-amp Power Max unit, at $449 with a 12-foot cord, is definitely a price leader among wall mounts today. “When we launched the Power Max, we saw a tremendous uptick in sales,” Mull said. “That was a clear indication to us that price is a key driver. We intentionally designed it as a very basic unit, without many bells and whistles. Remember, the car itself has sophisticated technology to control charging.” The Power Max isn’t networked, though Bosch may introduce a version with that added. The key question is if EV drivers over time will regret the lower amperage, rather than spending $100 to $150 more for a 30-amp charger from Bosch or one of its competitors.

A Box With Wires

Dutko adds, “The actual design of an EVSE is very simple, though there are several hundred components, including a processor and firmware. But making it all work reliably is the difficult part. Keep in mind that the actual charger is on the car—the EVSE’s purpose it to provide fault protection between the fuse box and the car, offer a disconnect so the charging plug isn’t hot when off duty, and also monitor the circuit so it doesn’t get overloaded. If a Tesla, for instance, tries to draw 50 amps from an ordinary household circuit, the EVSE will dial it back to 30 amps.”

Bosch’s Mull is skeptical that the portable EVSE cord will ultimately triumph. “I can’t say we feel that kind of product will dominate anytime soon,” he said. “You still need the 240-volt circuit to your garage, and the price point [of the AV TurboCord] is very similar to wall-mounted units.” Consumers can also elect to buy a wall-mounted EVSE with a pigtail that plugs into an outlet, so it can later be easily moved around if necessary. Many EVSEs offer this option, if not mounted outdoors. However, the Power Max now is designed for a permanent installation, but a future model could include portability, Mull said.

Yes, the industry is in flux, but that’s no reason to delay buying an EV, and either installing a garage charger or electing a portable EVSE. For the time being, the price of being an early adopter might be a Benjamin or two—about the same you would pay, and never get back, with a few fill-ups of a gas-powered car.

Comments

· · 22 weeks ago

That is true. Copper is expensive.

8 gauge and 10 gauge wires cost about $1.50/ft.

J1772 plug cost around $120 for a "decent quality" one.

The internal circuits should cost less than $50. The enclosure should be no more than $20.

You add all that up plus labor to assemble and test, it shouldn't cost more than $250. However, if you add overhead, then it is easily 2x or 3x at retail price....

If that cost can drop to below $100, then you can easily do an EVSE for less than $200-$300....

· · 22 weeks ago

"...AV's Nawabi cautions that such repurposed cords are not UL-listed. “It’s not endorsed by the OEMs,” he said. “The consumer has an enormous amount of risk.”"

Oh, such a baloney! Scare-mongering will not sell more EVSE.

Jim, it would have been great if you interviewed someone from Clipper Creek, the company that manages to make and sell EVSEs that are both reliable and affordable.

· · 22 weeks ago

Jim,
first thanks for writing this article and get the discussions started.

I always wondered why charging stations are so damn expensive..

Whatever reasons you have given is pretty standards stuff; whenever you start a new product line, due to low volume the cost will be more. Copper is expensive but not so much to account for 10X higher price.

Bottom line, its expensive because thats what the manufacturer wanted. Its like the EV itself; the price is so high that it wont' create a mass market which in turn will justifies the higher price; all it takes is one manufacturer to break the barrier and take some risk..

· · 22 weeks ago

To understand better the costs of an EVSE, take a look at the costs of parts the are used to manufacture a unit. Like a $650 iPhone that has $200 of electronics we need to consider costs for design, engineering, testing, manufacturing, shipping, etc. http://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/iphone-cost-what-apple-is-paying/

The largest cost item for an EVSE is the copper cable that connects to your EV. Two variables are the amount of current (amps) that are used for charging and the length of cable from the wall to the EV. Doubling the length from 12 to 25 feet will double cable costs; just as going from 16 amp to 30 amp cable will more than double cable costs. This is before even looking at the electronics in the box.

Adding timers, lights, and other options add to costs … will these be needed, or do they duplicate options integrated into your EV already? Remember a 220V is design to work in the garage, or outdoors in much harsher environment than most consumer electronic devices. An EVSE needs to withstand the same level of rain, snow, wind, uv rays and temperatures as an EV, not to mention testing for each condition.

Just as any kind of electronic device, the more of the same type that are made, the cheaper the components and end costs will be reduced. The more units of a EVSE model made the lower the fixed production costs for each unit; further lowering costs and price over time.

· · 22 weeks ago

Having myself been heavily immersed in EVSE sales for a few years I can suggest that the time to explain the features and benefits of the entire EV industry, the vehicles and the charging infrastrucuture requires an incredible amount of patience and passion. Nobody selling EVSE product is getting rich! Most are in the business of selling the charging stations because they are hopeful for a more sustainable and carbonfree future. If you were to add in the total man hours to sell a charger you would find the price per charging station should be orders of magnitude more expensive. One day this situation will change, but for now spending months to convince someone to go electric and buy an EVSE is the the norm. The EV movement won't benefit by price slashing as the guys selling the product need to make a living too. Remember the EVSE sales people are the guys on the frontlines coaching and counselling prospective EV buyers for the most part not the auto dealer sales people.

· · 22 weeks ago

The EVSE gives us two very important features, the connector has no power on it until after it is engaged in the vehicle and the communication between the EVSE and vehicle allows one connector to be used for any current level and voltages from 120 to 240 volts.

No other connection is as safe or flexible. This is preventative safety, not just mitigative safety from a ground fault interrupter (which the EVSE also has).

Portable 240 volt EVSE are far from new. Clipper Creek has several now, Leviton had one quite early and SPX may have been the first. Dual voltage with the important UL listing is new. Without a UL listing, you may void your fire insurance.

· · 22 weeks ago

@sbieda

My experience is totally opposite to what you claim. I did my own research online to select a unit and purchased it online also. It was delivered by UPS 2 days later and that night I had it installed and working. Of course, I had the foresight to specify NEMA 14-50 outlets in my garage when it was being built, so I did not have to add a 240V circuit to service the EVSE. All I had to do was change the outlet to 6-50 to match the EVSE plug and hang the unit on the wall.

Personally, I don't understand the EVSE sales effort you're referring to. Choosing an EV model is much more demanding. Once the customer has selected a car, selecting an EVSE to match the car is trivial. The most difficult part is evaluating the electrical facilities at the customer's home and finding an electrician to do the work for a reasonable price.

· · 21 weeks ago

My experience is also opposite to a few supporting higher EVSE price in this forum. This is also in my opinion, exactly the reason why the EV is still way far away from being a mainstream car.

EV can't be a good mainstream alternative unrill it makes "economic" sense. Just the 'environment friendliness' isn't' going to take it very far.

When you compare the numbers , justifying high price with gas savings etc., its not the easiest case to make. Add to that $2,000 for EVSE and see how the comps skews out even further.

I like clean environments but I like my wallet too :) There is a reason why I leased Fit EV and did my own installation of EVSE. The copper cable 8or10AWG 30amp copper cable or the electronics there isn't' as expensive or complex as some would argue for. All it does is provide 30amp current when it senses proper plug-in. No usage history, no usage regulation, no hooking up to home wifi. just plain current passage on a $30 copper cable.

· · 20 weeks ago

Still cheaper than a gasoline pump. A single gas pump at a standard gas station costs around $10.000 just for the pump. That's not counting the underground tank and the shopping mart. If the Exxon, Mobil, Shell, BP and Sunoco of this world know what's good for them, they should immediately install electric car chargers next to the tire air hose!

· · 20 weeks ago

Upfront all the equipment will cost, but think about all the savings from not buying gas.
Plus your car will be clean and green.

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