Tesla’s Supercharger Network: How It Works In The Real World

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2012 Tesla Model S, brief test drive, New York City, July 2012

2012 Tesla Model S, brief test drive, New York City, July 2012

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Last week, Tesla Motors [NADAQ: TSLA] officially switched on the first six of its planned network of Supercharger charging stations. 

Designed to offer current -- and future -- Tesla models the ability to recharge at a rate of around 150 miles in just 30 minutes, Tesla’s Superchargers are the fastest electric car charging stations in the U.S. 

But what’s it like using the Tesla Supercharger network? 

And can you really travel hundreds of miles in a single day using the network?

With only six charging stations at his disposal, The New York Times’ Brad Berman was among the first to put Tesla’s superchargers to the test. Driving a 2012 Tesla Model S Signature Series from Lake Tahoe to Los Angeles, a trip of 531 miles, Berman made some interesting discoveries about Tesla’s first superchargers. 

Superchargers are cheap(er)

Because Tesla’s Supercharger design stacks 12 of the 10-kilowatt chargers found inside the 2012 Model S together to provide 120 kilowatts of peak charging power, the superchargers are cheaper to build than the Chademo charging stations used to rapid-charge cars like the 2012 Nissan Leaf and 2012 Mitsubishi i. 

In fact, according to Tesla’s chief technology officer J.B. Straubel, the cost of building a single supercharger is about half the cost of a single Chademo charging station. 

Not only that, but they’re easier and quicker to fix, since the charging modules are a standard Tesla part. 

Charge as much as you need, not to full

Like any battery pack, the rate at which charge is accepted depends on how full the battery pack is. 

As a battery pack’s charge increases, its rate of charge drops, meaning it takes longer to charge from 80 percent full to fully charged than it does from 40 to 80 percent. 

Because the 2012 Model S Signature Series has such a large battery pack, Berman found it more advantageous to only partially charge at each supercharger, waiting until the car had enough charge to reach the next supercharger rather than fully recharging at each stop. 

Supercharger locations aren’t glamorous...

When you’ve spent the best part of $100,000 on an electric car, there is perhaps an expectation that the places you’ll go to recharge will be geared toward a certain type of clientele, especially when Tesla has hinted as much in the past.

Not so, says Berman. 

Tesla Supercharger fast-charging system for electric cars

Tesla Supercharger fast-charging system for electric cars

Enlarge Photo

“Amenities near the Folsom charger, as with other Tesla network locations, were not an obvious match for the automaker’s upscale demographic,” Berman wrote. “Tesla identified places close to chain restaurants, restrooms, Wi-Fi and motels.”

In other words, while drivers of the 2012 Tesla Model S may be used to luxury inside their car, they will have to be content with lunch at a nearby McDonalds, Denny's or Wendy’s while their car charges. 

...But Supercharging works

But while Tesla Model S customers won’t get the pick of places to eat while their car charges, Berman’s trip proves Tesla’s Superchargers make it possible to cover the kind of distance in a single day that electric car owners could only dream of previously. 

As Berman pointed out after the trip was over, making the same trip in a gasoline car averaging 60 miles per hour, with a one-hour lunch stop and two, 15-minute rest stops, would have taken one hour less. 

Manage to eat while the Tesla charged however, and you’d be no slower than a gas car. 

An electric car long-distance trip which takes around the same time as a gasoline powered car? 

Are electric cars finally freed from the city?

Let us know your thoughts in the Comments below.

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