Tesla's Supercharger network dispels "range anxiety" for Model S ownersTesla Founder and CEO Elon Musk announced the Supercharger network last fall, the EV world changed. Instantly, the notion of "range anxiety" in an electric car evaporated for Model S customers within most of California. Furthermore, Musk announced that the energy will be free to Tesla customers at all Supercharger locations. But, is that enough to convince consumers that EVs are here to stay?
When Tesla announced the Superchargers, they offered us a chance to try out the technology by taking a road trip in a Model S from Santa Barbara to Tesla's Design Center in Hawthorne, Calif. and back--about a 200 miles total. Before the journey, we spent a few days with the car in Santa Barbara, simply living with it.
In Santa Barbara, we know two charging stations: the 240 volt, 30 amp GE model at the author's residence, and the 240 volt, 70 amp Tesla-branded charger at the local bank. In our experience, the GE unit can recharge up to 16 miles of range per hour, while the Tesla unit can replenish 50 miles of range per hour. (Interestingly, the Tesla charger was installed as part of the company's original high-power charger network for the Tesla Roadster.) Tesla also offers a high-power charger for the home that can be connected to solar panels from Solar City.
The idea of using solar power to charge an electric car is really what's most promising about the potential environmental impact of EVs. That idea also finds its way into the Supercharging network that Tesla is slowly rolling out. With six locations on the west coast, and two on the east coast, Tesla is building an infrastructure to run their electric cars with energy from the sun.
The network will soon have stations to connect the east with the west, so that Model S drivers can make a full trip across the country. After only a few hours of driving, it will be possible to recharge a significant portion of the battery in as little as 30 minutes.
When pulling up to the Supercharger station, it's made clear that you must pull all the way forward, so that the front tires catch a raised platform. Pulling in correctly is very important because the charging cord is only 4ft long. Tesla says having a short cord means it can't get run ove.) With the press of a button, the charging cable pops out of what looks like a pneumatic cash-carrying tube; of course, a bit of theatrics lets you know you're working with some advanced technology. It's all about the details. The entire theme of the Supercharging station is utopian and clean.
Once plugged in, the system slowly starts purring to life. The car's cooling fans kick on and the 17-inch touchscreen begins to display all charging information. The charge rate continues to build to a top speed of 260 miles of range per hour. You can literally see the range increase every few seconds by monitoring the screen.
At full-speed the Supercharger sends 225 amps over 363 volts. After 30 minutes, the charger starts to slow down. Once fully tapered down, the charger reverts down to 80 amps, or around the same as Tesla's original high-power charger we used at the local bank.
We left the charger on for about another hour while taking a walk around the station. There wasn't much to do, as it was a Sunday night and the reception room wasn't open. Luckily, the rear seats fold flat and we were able to get some rest. The Model S is a surprisingly great sleeper.
If you were on a tighter schedule, the Supercharger might be slightly inconvenient. But if planned properly, a 30 minute stop wouldn't set you back too far. Think of it like visiting a rest stop, rather than a gas station.
Tesla plans to continue adding these stations to busy corridors across the country. When that happens, Tesla thinks they will have completely removed range anxiety from the equation.
Note: In order to use a Supercharger, you have to own a Tesla Model S. Tesla is not opening their network up to other EVs.