Op-Ed: Here’s Whats Makes the Tesla Supercharger Network Model Revolutionary

JUL 26 2013 BY MARK KANE 28

But How Many of These?

Tesla Supercharging Station

Tesla Motors’ business model of selling cars directly is for sure revolutionary and is in opposition to dealer network used by others. But let’s not overlook Tesla’s revolutionary Supercharging network.

It's an 8-Point Supercharge Station That Fired Up in Port St. Lucie, Florida

It’s an 8-Point Supercharge Station That Fired Up in Port St. Lucie, Florida

First of all, we need to realize that the infrastructure operator business isn’t easy. I’d say that it’s rather hard, because a company must make profits on selling something very cheap like several kWh of energy. High margins will discourage users. Moreover, in contrast to ICE cars, users can charge cheaper at home. Charging takes more time, but it’s easily done at home.

All this makes the charging business radically different than the fuel station business.

And this is where Tesla Motors changes the world:

1. Not selling electricity

Tesla's Proposed by 2015 Supercharger Sites

Tesla’s Proposed by 2015 Supercharger Sites

In opposition to the majority of charging point networks, Tesla is not selling electric energy or time units of charging. The main benefit of this is that, in contrast to others, Tesla is not struggling/not searching for what plan use, what level of price to set, how to collect payments and what authorization system to choose. Moreover, if you are not selling electricity, you don’t have problems with local energy regulators that, in many places of the world, still require utility companies to that task.

Tesla Supercharger Station in Fort Myers, Florida

Tesla Supercharger Station in Fort Myers, Florida

We think Tesla includes a fixed estimated average cost of using Superchargers in price of the car or in the optional feature.

2. Less places, but many at one place and with high power

The second big thing is that Tesla is not installing one or two charging points, which makes single units more costly.  Instead, Tesla installs 8 or 10 charge points at a single location. This mean less permissions, contracts, places to service, etc. For the user, this also means that he or she will probably find it easier to use a free Supercharger without waiting (compared to 10 distinct stations at different locations, but with only one terminal each).

Additionally, Tesla is installing high power DC charging stations that attract more people due to reduced charging times, but probably makes it all less costly for Tesla per kW of installed power.

3. Using power modules from electric cars

Typically, manufacturers produce dozens to a few hundred DC chargers per year. This is not a high level and it’s hard to offset the development cost. Again, Tesla did something different here by using about 10 kW power modules used in the on-board charger in the Model S. Producing 20,000 cars means that Tesla will also produce from 20,000 to 40,000 power modules annually. 120 kW Supercharger will use 12 power modules, so if they will build 500 spots a year, an additional 6,000 power modules will be used. This makes the business more viable.

What else? For sure there are other aspects of the Tesla charging network that are not only unique, but probably far superior to conventional ones.  So, we now turn it over to you.  What do you think makes the Supercharging network unique, unusual, spectacular and so on?

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28 Comments on "Op-Ed: Here’s Whats Makes the Tesla Supercharger Network Model Revolutionary"

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The expanding Tesla supercharging network will allow us ‘free’ supercharging and the freedom to ride all over this beautiful United States of ours!!! It is a little hard to wrap your mind around the free component to traveling. Its a paradigm shift in automotive travel that is taking place right NOW! The Tesla Model S and the expanding supercharging network changes everything!! Go anywhere in the U.S., in an American made Tesla Model S for FREE!
We’ve been asking for this for years and it has now come to fruition! There is no waiting until tomorrow! It is here now! Right now! Clean! Easy! Elegant! Powerfully American!!
It all……. just make sense! The absolutely best way to travel about in an automobile!!!

Ya gotta love it!

“Moreover, in contrast to ICE cars, users can charge cheaper at home. Charging takes more time, but it’s easily done at home.” — This is the point that most people don’t fully appreciate. That includes early adopters and potential buyers and haters. The 1 DC charger per location for non-Tesla stations will quickly get tiresome/annoying for owners when EVs get more popular.

Exactly, which is why over 80% of EV owners charge at home. On a daily basis, the goal for an EV owner is to never have to look for a gas/charging station. Because it’s at home in your garage where you park every night.

The benefit of public charging is for long road trips, when home is not an option. Which is why DC fast charging is so important. Seeing that it now takes 4 hours to charge 100 miles with a 6.6 charger at 240w, and 20 minutes to charge 80 miles with DC fast charging.

But with 200 EV miles that puts us at 40 minutes for 160 miles with DC fast charging. That’s too slow. Which is why the onboard chargers need to upgrade from 6.6kWh to at least 10kWh to bring the time back down close to 25 min for 160 miles.

Or dual 10kWh chargers for the 5 minute per 100 mile charge.

Bloggin, I totally agree with you on the benefits of quick-charging.

One thing though regarding your last 2 paragraphs: DC quick charging completely bypasses the on-board charger, so it doesn’t matter whether it’s 3.3kW, 6.6 or whatever else.

DCQC is only limited by how much power the battery (and obviously surrounding wiring and connectors) can accept.

Tesla feeds 120kW (they say) into 85kW*h battery packs (1.4C rate)
Nissan pushes 50kW (actual) into the Leaf’s 24kW*h packs (~2C rate)

As this already illustrates, larger capacity batteries allows for faster charging in terms of how many miles you add per minute, but not necessarily in percentage; even at twice the power, it takes longer to fill up a Model S than a Leaf.
A 200-mile EV would likely fit somewhere between the two above.

We can’t afford a Tesla yet but I like the fact that they use PV to operate these stations. Personally I think the battery-swop idea is over-kill. Most stations will only be needed for out of town trips; since most in town trips are within the batteries range. I would only pay up to 2$ ph to charge our Volt with an L2 charger if we were out of town and it was convenient. At least Tesla won’t have to worry about public back-lash if chargers aren’t used (since Tesla does not use any Gov. monies for their chargers).

The only advantage I see to battery-swapping, is if you could take a 60 kWh Tesla in and swap for an 85kWh pack for a long trip, then swap back. The money you’d save on buying the smaller pack model would make swapping very affordable for the few times you needed it.
Hmm… I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the swapping feature at a Supercharger near you. 🙂

I think the Tesla Supercharger long range plan is a bit more focused on profits.

Tesla is creating a Supercharging infrastructure along major freeways with long range plans to offer fast charging to EVs no matter who makes them. Becoming the new Shell Station.

– Phase one: Build out with more charging lanes than Tesla models could ever use, especially since over 80% of Tesla owners charge at home, and only those taking road trips would need to use a public charger along the freeway.

– Phase two: As other manufacturers offer 100+ mile plug-in hybrids and 200+ mile (cars/SUVs/Vans) EVs where long distance travel via EV mode becomes viable, install Combo Chargers and Chademo chargers to use at a ‘fee’ to offset the cost of the system for Tesla customers. This creates an ongoing revenue stream for Tesla from non-Tesla EV owners, capitalizing on the initial Supercharger investment.

Not only does Tesla become a premiere EV provider, but will also become a leader in DC Fast Charging for the entire EV industry as it grows.

Tesla wins again.

Not 100+. Too much charging. 200 miles, 60kWh battery for the Model S, is the target. That gives a better balance.

That sounds good..

The fact that the stations are 200 miles apart should be an indicator for where they expect things to go. In other words, 200 will be the floor, and the ability to “skip” a station wont be reached until you have a 400 mile range.

And, no, not for-profit chargers with fees.

Tesla wants to sell their _drivetrain_ technology, whether in their cars or other manufacturers’ cars. If you want to use Tesla chargers at the very least you built a compatible battery and pay the access fee, but if Tesla has their way, you buy a car with a Tesla battery.

Very simple: identify the car is valid and charging begins.

Absolutely correct; they surely will not dirty their hands with CHAdeMO and maybe a USA only Frankenplug.

I had always heard that gas stations are like movie theaters, in that they don’t make $ on the product people came there for, but on all the other stuff they sell. Maybe Tesla should sell $8 coffee at all their Supercharger stations and rake in some $.

Do you want to get more affluent, happy visitors to visit your establishment? Let Tesla have a slice of your parking lot (and maybe let Solar City put panels on your roof) and you can have these visitors for 20 minutes to an hour.

I think the real value of the supercharger network has been overlooked: it is the one thing that Tesla has that has a premium first mover advantage. Yes, Tesla is first to market with a great electric car, building their reputation, and that is very important. And it buys some time. But someday, sooner or later, BMW, or Mercedez, or Lexus (Toyota) will start building the same, and the first move advantage will be gone. Superchargers are a different issue. It is a huge chicken/egg problem, and Tesla is laying the eggs early. Once the nation is covered… even if someone tries to copy it… who are you going to buy your fast-charge car from: Tesla, who already has fast chargers covering the US, or Lexus, who is just starting to install a few, and promises them later (speculation, but go with it)? You’ll go with the guys who have the goods. If they are the first to blanket the US with fast charging, it is going to be REALLY hard for other premium eCar mfrs to make sales; it’s such a compelling asset, and no competitor will be able to just blanket the US in a year and be… Read more »



Actually, if Lexus was to come with a fast-charge-capable EV, it’d just have a CHAdeMO inlet for DC quick-charging, so as to be able to leverage an existing quick-charging infrastructure much denser than Tesla’s.
(Toyota is a CHAdeMO association member)

It’s exactly what Mitsubishi and Kia are coming up with, btw. It’d be silly for them not to.

What’s really overlooked is not Telsa’s proprietary charging network, but the growing manufacturer-agnostic, open-to-all DCQC deployment put in place by various competing companies like Aerovironment, Blink, eVgo etc, and already used by some 30k Leafs and i-MiEV in the US.

Car manufacturers shouldn’t each have to build their own gas-stations because they made their vehicle require a special fuel. Similarly, drivers should be allowed to choose whatever station they like.
Lack of choice and permanently-limited availability (because the protocol is purposely kept closed and proprietary) are actually my main grief with Tesla’s otherwise great quick-charging system: if I were to drive a Model S, I could only use 3 out of the 40 QC stations available in the 200 miles around me. Because of this, driving North, even a modest i-MiEV could go farther.

That’s a fair point; I guess I was looking at it from the perspective of the “super duper fast” charging. But your point is not only valid, it arguably invalidates my proposed logic. I’ll have to mull that over a bit! Thanks for the good commentary.

>>>>> who are you going to buy your fast-charge car from: Tesla, who already has fast chargers covering the US, or Lexus, who is just starting to install a few, and promises them later (speculation, but go with it)? You’ll go with the guys who have the goods. <<<<< Exactly the problem that the Frankenplug manufacturers bloc has. 30,000 CHAdeMO cars and hundreds of charge stations, and in 4 years, there is very likely to be well over 100,000 of those cars with a likely increase in charge stations. In 2015, as California Air Resources Board (CARB) requires more manufacturers like Kia to the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) game, they will use CHAdeMO. Even motorcycle manufacturer ZERO has a CHAdeMO option. There are very soon to be many dozens to a hundred Tesla Supercharger stations, and a looming "affordable" mass market car with 200 mile range coming in that same 4 year period. Possible licensing agreements to add other manufacturers to the Supercharger network. And then Frankenplug for the foreseeable future in the USA with currently zero Frankenplug capable cars and zero operational public Frankenplug stations. First, it will be important to know who gets added to the CARB-ZEV list… Read more »

Another point that hasn’t been explicitly stated, the “Less Places” is enabled by the vision of 200+ mile battery packs. The need for around town charging points for daily use is obsolete with Tesla. Only home charging is needed.

When going from city to city, charging is required and where Tesla is placing the SuperChargers. The side benefit is people will not be stopping at the SuperChargers for “free charges” as a daily routine, which saves operational costs of the SuperChargers.

In reply to 80% of people charge at home, I wonder how many people live in apartments and condos where you can’t charge at all. I imagine quite a few, and I am one of those who would use a QC most of the time rather than sit at a mall for three or four hours waiting for a full charge. As I mentioned yesterday, here on Oahu we have access to four QC’s and multiple fast chargers.

Hi Mark Kane,
Good article.
You could have added that Tesla saves money by using their own battery packs to lower the max Kw draw from the utility and to back up their solar panels (which come from Elon’s Solar City).

Pretty genius.

It’s the flip side of “outsourcing”. He uses the same principal at Space X. He just makes it all himself, saving money.

Agreed George. Its the way manufacturing should be.

Tesla has no legacy production so they are selling electric transportation not just cars. They fully understand that most charging takes place at home and with their larger size batteries it is even more the case with their products. So the missing link is distant travel and like the op ed points out it is a cheaper problem to address. They have so far pretty much hit the nail on the head with the Super chargers.

My question is will success actually be detrimental in that if they pull off a $35,000 200+ mile range car that sells like crazy can the infrastructure handle the increased load? The early adopter Model S drivers who plunked down a 100 grand won’t like waiting an hour to use a charger. But these kind of problems are many years in the future and solvable.

Ultimately, supercharging’s most ideal locations are at highway rest stops. Much more likely that an industry standard gets put there but with large battery capacities the supercharging locations become less important. Perhaps Tesla can build a large enough lead to negate a more convenient charge network. As the destination charging infrastructure gets built out more (hotels, attractions, malls, movie theatres, parks, etc) and ranges increase, the need for supercharging decreases even more. How many does the average driver travel farther than 250 miles in a day? 300 miles? When will battery costs be low enough to allow for an affordable 300 mile EV? Could be a long time if you are relying on brute battery capacity and supercharging. Could be next year for an 150 mile lighter model with battery swap. It will be very interesting to see how this all plays out.

Tesla have a diabolic plan to force electric car to be mainstream.
and it is all in public on the internet.
step one: rip off the money from the very rich, create a rodster and make the battery thing work
step two: rip off the money from rich people and also the people who fell in love with the model s
use the money to build a nationwide supercharger infrastructure.
I dont think the batteries in tesla is expensive, i think when you order 100 000 000 pieces of 3100Ma 3,6 volt AA lithium batteries from panasonic, you can have a very good price on each one. the margins of the battery pack is paying for the superchargers.
Thats the reason for the guarantee “in all times except when you shoot or burn the pack”
No hesitation for using the battery long range charging etc
Step three: when all the superchargers in place in 2015, offer a car for 30000 to 40000$ with free fill up in the supercharger, i mean when you choose between a car with free fuel or with expensiv petrol or diesel what will you choose. I think the value of used petrol car is going very low after 2016-2018

Nikola Tesla’s plan was free energy for all. I think it’s cool that Elon and company are making his original idea a reality for EV travel.

Hm, might have to change to Future Tesla Driver if $35k Bluestar comes sooner than planed.

Go Tesla Go!