A little while after Tesla sent an email regarding huge new Supercharger stations in California — the largest in North America — the Silicon Valley company sent over a picture of one of them. I added the pic to the article when I woke up & got rolling here in Europe, but I expect that most readers don’t go refreshing CleanTechnica articles they’ve already read.
Additionally, as you may have noticed, EV charging station design is a huge focus of interest for me these days and I’m not particularly happy with what’s typically installed around the world. We just co-hosted an EV charging conference, we’re about to co-publish a white paper on EV charging guidelines for cities, and we’re about to publish another EV charging report that covers the market and station tech in broader ways. The frustrating thing is that the vast majority of charging stations are dramatically lacking when it comes to core design elements, and even “best in class” Tesla stations have plenty of room for improvement.
So, it shouldn’t surprise you that seeing a nice pic of the new Supercharger station in Kettleman City, California, triggered another article. This station is really a prime example that others should learn from, and it’s not just about one or two things — I counted 10.
Aside from the picture Tesla sent, a less pretty but also useful picture of the station is also already on Google Maps (hat tip to nitpicker357 for the share). It actually captures two awesome signage elements that the Tesla photo excludes.
One thing I noted at our EV charging conference is that gas station companies did learn a thing or two over the years. I definitely don’t want to see EV charging stations modeled precisely after gas stations (which have plenty of issues of their own), but one thing they learned well is that drivers need high, big, colorful signs in order to quickly and easily see where a stop is and where to drive from the highway. If you look at that Google Maps photo, you can see Tesla has a nice big red one towering over the station … but in a more elegant way than a typical gas station sign. You can also see that the carports have “TESLA” attractively tagged onto the left side. And the lounge has a nice, big, red wall around the entrance with a giant Tesla logo.
In the Tesla pic, you can see there’s also a kind of welcome sign among the greenery as you enter the parking area. And, of course, Tesla Superchargers have “TESLA” written on the top and light up at night for better visibility (and a cooler look).
This is all nice branding and further makes people feel part of the “Tesla community,” but it’s also just helpful because drivers on a road trip want to easily and quickly find where they are going. Signage makes a difference.
This is obvious, but it also can’t be underestimated. Many charging stations have two or three ports. Some have only one port. Seriously. Yes, 1–3 ports is better than nothing … but sometimes it’s actually not. When drivers can’t rely on a charging port being available because there are only a few at the station and they are often in use or blocked, that can harm EV adoption more than help it. Going out of your way to a charging station and then not being able to charge is a real bummer. It’s the kind of thing that will make a normal person swear off EV life.
Tesla has always been focused on avoiding that problem, installing 6, 8, 10, or 12 stalls at a single station, for example. But as the EV-driving market grows, so does the need for extra stalls at a single station. Tesla doesn’t get around that law. As the number of Tesla drivers on the road has grown exponentially, stories have popped up in certain hot regions (especially Norway and California) of drivers having to wait in line a while before having access to a stall. Offering 40 stalls at one station is obviously a solution to help drivers avoid long lines during high-volume holiday weekends, and it hopefully allows for decent room to grow as the Model 3 comes onto the market, but I expect 100–200 stalls will be needed at some stations before the decade is out. Anyhow, 40 is a lot better than 3, right?
Having the station solar powered is great for a few reasons. First of all, we need to cut emissions. Society is absolutely screwed if we don’t cut emissions fast — much faster than we’re doing. We’re also losing lives daily from air pollution, and it would be nice to not die a slow, painful death from pollution-caused cancer, heart disease, etc. Powering EV chargers with solar as much as possible is cool.
A lot of EV charging at once can also put pressure on the electricity grid. Supplying as much of that power via onsite generation directly is a nice way to avoid that grid challenge and the extra costs it can create. Also, solar carports just look pretty, don’t they?
One last thing — Tesla now has a solar business as one of its many arms. It must have attractive pricing for solar vs grid electricity. I assume these solar carports mean money is being saved, which means more money for gigafactory expansion around the world, Tesla Model Y development, and bonus tweets from Elon.
Battery backup & buffering
Similar to the solar, but going a step further, using Tesla Powerpacks at the station again means Tesla can avoid excessive grid pressure and costs. This is something GreenWay has started doing at its fast charging stations in Poland and Slovakia, and I assume other companies have been doing it to an extent, but I expect this will need to become the norm as the EV market expands in order to avoid extra costs, complaints from utilities, and negative media. Well, negative media is a given, but it will be easier to refute some of the complaints.
Again, it’s also cool that Tesla can tap into its battery business to get this element put in at cost. The pros and cons of vertical integration is a topic of hot debate, but it seems to me that it’s a powerful benefit at this stage of the EV, storage, and solar markets.
Near highway but tucked away
Let’s get to some less obvious awesomesauce. Something I noticed on the Google Map is that this station is very close to a highway but tucked away a bit. This makes it convenient to access for drivers traveling along this popular route, while it also makes the location a more pleasant place.
I will again reference my recent road trip from Poland to Paris in a Tesla Model S. Stations right next to the highway are … not pleasant places to stand around. It’s not even nice sitting in the car in such places. Tucking the station out of the way a little bit results in a nicer atmosphere and charging experience — whether you realize that consciously or subconsciously.
Landscapers don’t get enough credit. A bit of greenery makes us enjoy a place much more. It looks like this station could have a bit more foliage, but it’s also in a dry region, so perhaps just a bit of greenery in a few spots is the best balance. Either way, though, I’m sure drivers will feel much better about the station thanks to the several palm trees on site and the bits of peaceful, oxygen-exhaling life on the sides. Charging station developers should consider this element much more than they do and make the areas around stations more pleasant places to get out of the car and stretch.
These are almost impossible to spot if you just look at the photo embedded in the article above (click to view the picture large to see them well), but next to the lounge entrance there are a couple of Destination Chargers. These, of course, charge the car more slowly than Superchargers, but they still offer a vehicle up to 22 kW. Why include them when there are 40 Supercharger ports? There are a few reasons why that was a great idea.
For one, if you don’t need a lot of electricity pumped into your battery, using a Destination Charger is a gentler way to get what you need and could be the better approach. Additionally, if you are in the boat that has to pay for charging, you may prefer to pay $0 for a slower charge while hanging out in the lounge rather than pay the Supercharging fee. Lastly, it is possible for a car to have trouble Supercharging (or doing any form of DC charging). At such times, it’s possible that the car can still AC charge. Actually, last week, a 22 kW AC charger saved me when our Model S would no longer take a DC fast charge. It was a huge relief to find the AC charger working in the middle of the night while sitting in the cold 3 hours from home. It’s uncommon for a Tesla to be unable to Supercharge, but it’s possible, in which case a Destination Charger can be a great relief.
WiFi + comfortable seating
Okay, this seems obvious, but it’s also a new frontier that deserves applause. If someone has to sit and chill for 10–90 minutes, there’s a decent chance they want to work, get on a video call with family, or enjoy some entertainment in the meantime. WiFi to the rescue! But it’s not just about WiFi — you should have a comfy place to sit. Many “cafes” at gas stations have seating, but uncomfortable seating.
As I’ve said several times before, I think public EV charging stations should be semi-destinations. They should be places where you’d actually enjoy working or recreating. I don’t think this is a brilliant insight, it’s definitely something that is conveniently skipped as “not part of the EV charging station business.” Hopefully this station is a sign of massive change in the evolving market.
“Kid’s play wall, pet relief area, and outdoor space for families”
This is the real step up from WiFi and seating. This is what could make Supercharger stops “part of the journey” instead of “a forced stop along the way.” And in the middle of a road trip, some play, some recreation, and some pet relief can transform the whole experience. Kudos to Tesla for offering this improvement. I look forward to performing a review of great charging stations a few years down the road.
Refreshments & store (revenue opp!)
This is really one of the things that makes my head want to explode. Captive, wealthy, tired consumers are a retailer’s dream. Yet, charging stations don’t integrate retail! Charging station companies have a very tough time breaking even, but they aren’t even trying to tap their captive customers beyond perhaps some cash for charging.
We all know that gas stations don’t really make money on gas — they make it on junk food, refreshments, and other quick sales. People filling up on gas are just there for a few moments, but EV drivers are generally stopped to charge for several times longer. Imagine what you could convince them to buy! Great little retail venues at charging stations are a great way for Tesla (or any EV charging station company) to make some well earned and highly needed money. This should become commonplace, and I assume it will — not just for drinks and shirts but also potentially little scooters, electric bikes, mini Teslas, and home efficiency products. Let’s just hope the retail establishments sell good, fair trade, sustainable products!
And, by the way, I’d be happy to put some CleanTechnica products into these retail establishments for a small cut as well. 😀