What to Know About EV Home Charging

Originally published in South Sound Magazine on July 10, 2023. Click here to read original publication.

If you’re one of the more than 10,000 registered electric vehicle owners in Pierce County or more than 4,600 in Thurston County, it’s likely that you’ve already been through the process to set up home charging for your vehicle. But for those who are still on the fence about purchasing an EV, this in-home infrastructure might or might not be on your radar.

We sat down with Tacoma Public Utilities’ Breanna Chance, a program manager in the company’s energy research and development division — and a new EV owner herself — to learn more about the ins and outs of home charging, and how the utility can help offset some of the cost.

When it comes to owning an electric vehicle and charging at home, Chance said the primary benefits come down to two factors: convenience and cost.

“It’s the convenience of just being able to plug in and to decide when you want your car to charge so you can set it and forget it,” she said. “And then the other (benefit) is that Tacoma Power customers pay about nine cents per kilowatt hour for electricity, and you can’t find public charging that inexpensive.”

The first step in getting a home charger hardwired is to decide which brand of charger works best for your needs, followed closely by reaching out to experienced contractors who have worked with home EV chargers. Chance suggests getting quotes from at least three contractors before deciding.

“If customers are struggling to find somebody, then I’d say reach out to us at the utility, and we can provide a list,” she said. “We can’t recommend specific folks, but we can provide a list.”

Chance is quick to point out, however, that home charging isn’t always equitable. For one, EV drivers who rent might be unable to obtain permission from a landlord for hardwiring. Moreover, dwellings that don’t have garages, offer only street parking, or multifamily apartment buildings might not be an option for home charging.

When it comes to apartments, Chance said it’s a “chicken and egg” scenario. “It feels like property owners are waiting for tenants to own EVs, and tenants are waiting to buy EVs until there’s adequate charging access,” she said. For these folks and whole-home renters, Chance said it’s important for tenants to speak up.

“One thing we’re really recommending is to start having those conversations,” she said. “If folks are thinking about buying an EV and they rent, (they should) initiate that conversation with the landlord or with the property owner, and then also with the utility — let us know how we can help.”

In some instances, renters and homeowners alike can consider the use of a smart splitter, which Chance said would allow for the car to be plugged into an existing dryer (or similar) outlet. The splitter is intelligent because it knows where and how much power to send to the connected devices so as not to overload the circuit.

Overload is a common reason cited by electric vehicle skeptics who criticize electric cars for impacting the grid in tightly packed neighborhoods. Chance is quick to debunk this criticism.

“If you’re charging at home with your Level 2 charger (using a) 240-volt charger that’ll give you a full charge in four to five hours,” she said. “You can set that charge to initiate after midnight and still be done by the time you need to leave for work in the morning, and that’s those overnight hours … (when) you don’t have large peak loads like we see from 5 to 7 p.m. or from 6 to 9 a.m.”

The cost for home installation can vary depending on myriad factors, but on average can be between $1,000 and $1,500 before the purchase of a charging unit. Chargers from manufacturers such as Tesla, Electrify America, JuiceBox, and Grizzle usually are under $500.

While the one-time cost can seem like a lot, Chance said the lower cost of charging at home versus a much more expensive public charger will save EV owners big bucks in the long run. She also is quick to point out that TPU wants to help defer some of the cost.

“So, our incentive program will cover the components a customer needs to be able to charge at home,” she said. “It’s a $400 or $600 incentive, which comes in the form of statement credit.”

The incentive credits breakout thusly:

  • $400 bill credit when you buy and install a Level 2 charger
  • $400 bill credit when you buy and install a smart splitter
  • $400 bill credit for the installation of a 240-volt outlet
  • $600 maximum bill credit for installing more than one of the above

Puget Sound Energy had a similar program for its customers in 2014, but it was funded only for the first 5,000 customers and since has been halted.

Chance said the TPU program currently is funded through 2024 with the goal of “making sure that we’re keeping Tacoma Power electricity costs low while helping customers make this transition to the EV world.”

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