Which comes first the chicken or the egg? The highway-ready electric vehicle (EV) or the power network that makes highway-distance travel possible. In Tesla Motors’ case it’s happening at the same time.
Earlier in 2012 Tesla Motors unveiled the first of its Supercharger photovoltaic-powered electric vehicle (EV) chargers specifically designed to fast charge its new Model S, and it’s future models—for free. When it unveiled its first chargers, however, they were all in California, allowing travel from northern California to Las Vegas. Now the company has introduced its first chargers on the eastern seaboard, allowing its customers with its larger-battery capacity Model S cars to travel from New York to Washington, D.C. for free—courtesy of the sun. Tesla is developing the chargers with SolarCity to produce slightly more electricity than they’re expected to use to help offset the cost of offering the free charging.
Now this means on both coasts, “There’s no meaningful difference between driving an electric car and driving a gasoline car,” said Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk, when he unveiled the chargers in September. He also founded PayPal and the SpaceX company, which became the first privately held company to send cargo to the International Space Station in May 2012.
“We built these up in secret,” Musk said. When the company unveiled the first charging network in California, Musk said the company would have more installed there by the end of the year, extending into Oregon and Nevada. He didn’t mention anything at the time about stations on the East Coast by the end of the year. However, he did mention the company’s plans to rapidly expand the network of chargers. “Within two years, we will cover almost the entire United States. And in the long term…sort of in the 4 or 5 year time frame, we expect to cover the entire United States and the lower part of Canada.”
The approach Tesla is taking is helping to eliminate the chicken and egg issue for its EVs by developing the charging network in tandem with major travel corridors—at least for the company’s Model S, which uses the proprietary hardware that Tesla has developed. However, at this point no cars other than the Model S with the 85 kilowatt hour battery are equipped to use it. The Model S with Tesla’s smaller, 60 kilowatt hour battery can be upgraded to use the super fast charger but it is not natively equipped to do so.
The SuperChargers can charge half the vehicle’s battery in just half an hour, making it ideal for the rest stops where it was installed in California, Wilmington, Del., and Connecticut. However, whether it will help spread the adoption of EVs, or just Tesla EVs remains to be seen.