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Tesla Supercharging Guide

Tesla’s Supercharging network paved the way for the electric vehicle revolution. For many people, owning a Tesla is their first venture into the world of electric vehicles. This guide aims to provide an overview of Supercharging for new electric vehicle drivers. We’ll answer basic questions about who can use Tesla’s Supercharging network, how much it costs, how long it takes, how it works, and more.

Tesla’s Supercharging network paved the way for the electric vehicle revolution. For many people, owning a Tesla is their first venture into the world of electric vehicles. This guide aims to provide an overview of Supercharging for new electric vehicle drivers. We’ll answer basic questions about who can use Tesla’s Supercharging network, how much it costs, how long it takes, how it works, and more.

What is Supercharging?

Recharging an electric vehicle at a high rate of speed enables longer range trips with less hassle for owners. Tesla’s current fleet of Superchargers range in power from 72 kW for Tesla’s Urban Superchargers up to 250 kW for the newest Superchargers being installed around the world.

Tesla Model 3

A Tesla Supercharging station. Image credit: Zach Shahan, CleanTechnica

The newer Superchargers in the fleet can push several hundred miles of range into a vehicle in around 30 minutes. That means owners can get back on the road in minutes rather than hours and is a complete game changer for electric vehicle owners. Electrify America in the US and Fastned and Ionity in Europe are building out similar networks of fast chargers, but Tesla was the first to deploy a fully functional, interconnected network of chargers that makes the overall process easy. It’s also the most seamless — if you own a Tesla.

I’m an enthusiast. As such, I don’t mind learning my way through the process, but most drivers don’t want to have to think about where they will charge, figure out what adapters they need, or wonder if the station will be open or not. The integration into Tesla’s navigation system makes charging an effortless part of the trip, and with the continual growth of the network over the last few years, drivers can now choose where they want to charge instead of charging when and where they have to based on the location of the only charger in the region.

Who Can Use Tesla’s Superchargers?

When shopping for a Chevrolet Spark EV a few years back, I innocently asked the salesman if I could recharge it at Tesla’s Superchargers. He stumbled a bit, but eventually landed on an affirmative answer, saying that because the Spark EV has the fast charging upgrade, I could. That answer was not correct.

Early morning Supercharging in Colorado. Image credit: Kyle Field, CleanTechnica

As of today, the only vehicles that can use Tesla’s Supercharging network are Teslas. Specifically, the Model S, Model X, Model 3, and Model Y vehicles. The original Tesla Roadster came before Tesla created its unified charging standard here in the US, so it used a different charging standard.

Tesla made its network of chargers available to other automakers, simply asking that they pay their fair share of the cost of the network and energy usage. To date, however, no companies have taken Tesla up on the offer.

What is a Kilowatt-Hour?

To propel themselves down the road, electric vehicles do away with gallons of petrol/gasoline in favor of electrical power. It is stored in the onboard battery of the vehicle and is measured in kilowatt-hours. The easiest way to think about this is by comparing it to traditional light bulbs. If you had ten 100 watt lightbulbs, they would pull 1,000 watts, also known as 1 kilowatt. If they were all left on for an hour, they would have consumed a combined power of 1 kilowatt-hour. It’s a unit of power stretched over time, or a unit of energy.

The batteries in Tesla’s vehicles are contained in the “skateboard.” Image credit: Kyle Field, CleanTechnica

Tesla’s most popular vehicle today, the Model 3, was originally sold with a 75 kilowatt-hour battery. That battery provides a range of approximately 325 miles of range on the long-range, rear-wheel-drive configurations. That translates to an efficiency of 260 watt-hours per mile or 3.8 miles per kilowatt-hour, according to the US EPA.

Much like petrol cars, other electric vehicles have different efficiencies. The efficiency along with the price of electricity can be used to determine the cost of a trip. For me to visit my in-laws 80 miles away in my Tesla Model 3 (3.8 miles per kWh), with the electricity cost at $0.19/kWh, the cost of fuel for the trip is $4.00.

How Much Does Supercharging Cost?

Tesla has played with a number of billing schemes for use of its Supercharging network and has landed on a flat pricing model with one exception. In the US, Tesla charges an average rate of $0.28 per kilowatt-hour of energy pushed into the vehicle, where possible.

In some areas, local laws prevent any non-utility entities from selling power by the kilowatt-hour. In these cases, Tesla bills owners by the minute. Tesla’s Supercharging Support site breaks it down like this:

  • Tier 1 applies while cars are charging at or below 60 kW and tier 2 applies while cars are charging above 60 kW. Tier 1 is half the cost of tier 2.
  • Tier 1 also applies anytime your vehicle is sharing Supercharger power with another car.

Currently, Tier 1 charging (at or below 60 kW charging speed) is billed at $0.13/minute and Tier 2 charging (above 60 kW charging speed) is $0.26/minute. The per minute pricing model attempts to accurately account for the cost of power being pushed into the car in the time it is being charged.

Image credit: Kyle Field, CleanTechnica

Both the per kilowatt-hour and the per minute rates have changed significantly in the past and are sure to change in the future, so head over to Tesla’s Supercharging Support site to see what the current rates are in your area before you charge. The site is localized and will share pricing for other areas in the world as well, so check your local listings before you charge to figure out what the bill is going to look like before plugging in.

Tesla has also implemented idle fees that extract an hourly charge of between $24–60/hour for leaving a vehicle plugged in that is no longer charging. Idle fees begin after a 5 minute grace period if a Supercharger station is more than 50% full. These aren’t a way for Tesla to make more money, but rather, to incentivize owners to move their cars, freeing up needed charging stalls.

Is There a Supercharger Near Me?

Tesla has made it dead simple to find a Supercharger in its vehicles. First off, the location of all active Superchargers are built into the navigation system. Even better than that, the system includes stops at Superchargers in navigation instructions by default if needed. I often use the example of “Navigate to Las Vegas” to show passengers how the car uses its current state of charge and the distance of the trip, among other variables, to determine if a charging stop is needed.

The vehicle not only selects a charger, it determines how long the stop will need to be, dynamically updating both the location and duration of the charge throughout the trip just in case you get a bit rowdy with the accelerator pedal. Of course, the driver can also select a different Supercharger to stop at based on the location of preferred restaurants, coffee, etc.

Tesla’s Superchargers in North America as of March 12th, 2020. Image courtesy: Tesla

The location of all active and planned Superchargers can also be found on Tesla’s Supercharging site, which makes it easy to find a station, see what charging speeds are offered, see what amenities are in the area, and the like.

How Do I Use A Supercharger?

Using one of Tesla’s Superchargers couldn’t be easier. After arriving at the station, pull into a marked stall with a Supercharger allocated to it. Most of Tesla’s Supercharging stalls require backing in, but some allow for drivers to park head-in.

Image credit: Jose Pontes, CleanTechnica

Grab the nozzle of the Supercharger and push the little round button on the nozzle. This will trigger the charging door on the car to open. Plug the nozzle in and watch for a green light to appear in the charging bay. I recommend glancing at the in-car screen just to make sure the charging session starts properly and I see power flowing into the car before walking away.

What if the Supercharger Doesn’t Work?

Occasionally, the charging session won’t start after plugging the nozzle into the car. This can be for any number of reasons and the easiest thing to do is to pull the nozzle out and put it back in again. The nozzle may not have seated properly or just needs a second chance.

Image credit: Zach Shahan, CleanTechnica

If that does not resolve the problem, check the in-car screen to see if any information is available about the issue. Is the battery full? Is the state of charge higher than the charging limit set point in the car? If nothing pops out, the easiest thing to do is to try another stall. If you have time, you can give Tesla Support a call to let them know about the problem.

What to do When Charging?

Of all first world problems, finding something to do while charging is perhaps the newest addition to the list. You may have your own routine, but here are a few suggestions to get you started if you’re new to the game. When on road trips, the necessities typically dominate stops for charging. Restrooms, restaurants, and refills of coffee top my list along with a bit of walking to stretch out my legs. It’s the same as what I would do if I were in a petrol vehicle, except I’m able to do things while I charge instead of standing there at a gas pump waiting for the tank to fill up.

A Tesla Model Y getting bundled up for a Supercharging session at the Tesla Supercharger in Oxnard. Image credit: Kyle Field, CleanTechnica

When convenience charging at a local Supercharger, I will typically go shopping or eat out. Our local station in Oxnard, California, is near some of our favorite restaurants, retail establishments, and grocery stores, so we avail ourselves of their services. Granted, with home so nearby, it is an infrequent occurrence, but it’s handy to have the option.

Another way to stay productive while charging is to give the car a quick 15 minute freshening up. I’ve seen everything from a quick polish of the exterior to window washing, vacuuming, and trash cleanup, but the possibilities are endless. Throwing a quick cleaning kit in the trunk is a great way to use the time to keep the car clean without having to dedicate a weekend to it, and it lets owners stay close to the car, ready to move it when it’s topped up on electrons.

What do you do while your EV charges? Hit us up in the comments!

Resources:

If CleanTechnica has helped you learn about Tesla or Tesla’s Energy products, feel free to use my Tesla referral code — https://ts.la/kyle623 — to get 1,000 free Supercharging miles with the purchase of a new Tesla vehicle or a $250 award after activating a new Tesla solar system. 

 
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Written By

I'm a tech geek passionately in search of actionable ways to reduce the negative impact my life has on the planet, save money and reduce stress. Live intentionally, make conscious decisions, love more, act responsibly, play. The more you know, the less you need. As an activist investor, Kyle owns long term holdings in Tesla, Lightning eMotors, Arcimoto, and SolarEdge.

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