In the recent Tesla earnings call for the second quarter, we got a lot more information from Tesla about its plans to allow other EVs to charge at Tesla’s Superchargers. Let’s look at the relevant section of video and then discuss this further.
The question that prompted this: “Elon has said that Tesla will be opening up the Supercharger network to other EVs later this year. Can you share more details on how this will be structured? Will this be select brands? Will they contribute to the growth of the network?”
In response, we got a lot of good information about how all of this will work.
How It Will Physically Work
The first thing everyone was wondering was pretty human. How exactly are people going to plug into a Tesla Supercharger if they have a car from another brand?
Elon Musk was pretty clear about this. People will use an adapter if their car doesn’t have a Tesla port in the United States. In other countries, that’s a simpler task, as plugs are standardized, but in the United States, Tesla uses a proprietary Tesla plug. Elon says he really likes the plug they use because it’s small and looks good, so they’re not going to change to CCS plugs like they did in Europe.
They’re hoping to have adapters for other cars (definitely CCS, and probably CHAdeMO) by the end of the year for people to buy. He also said that they’ll leave adapters at the Supercharger stations if they can find a way to prevent them from being stolen, and someone else on the call said, “We have a good solution for that.”
So, people with non-Tesla EVs will be able to charge without having to purchase an adapter as soon as Supercharger stations are equipped with these adapters. It seems likely that they’ll do what EVgo did when they added Tesla support to many stations. By mounting the adapter to the station itself, and plugging the end of the Tesla plug into the adapter, it should be possible to have this adapter available for use without anyone having the opportunity to easily make off with it.
Tesla’s vehicles automatically communicate with the Superchargers, so it’s really simple for Tesla owners to get a charge. In most cases, they can simply plug the vehicle in and get a charge. For other vehicles, connecting to the network through an adapter, won’t be quite so lucky.
“We are currently thinking it’s a real simple thing where you just download the Tesla app, you go to the Supercharger, and you just indicate which stall you’re in. You plug in your car, even if it’s not a Tesla, and then you just access the app, and say ‘turn on this stall I’m in.'”
You would, of course, provide payment information and do other things in the app, but other than that, you just charge up.
Safeguards Against Clogging and Slow Cars Taking Stalls Up All Day
One of the big things people were upset about when the news first broke on this was something like a Chevy Bolt or Nissan LEAF coming to a Supercharger and clogging it up for hours on end while Tesla owners wait for a charge. This, as we know from my experience with a Nissan LEAF, is a valid concern. It can take a long time to charge some non-Tesla EVs.
These slower-charging vehicles will still be welcome at Supercharger stations, but they’ll be discouraged by paying higher prices to charge at them. That way, if they really really need to use up space at a Tesla stall, they can do it, but they’ll be incentivized to charge somewhere else if at all possible.
Tesla will also be charging more at peak charging times. This will help encourage people who can charge later to do so, while the people who really do need to get a charge during those times will be able to do so without having to wait in long, long lines. This has helped in the past at stations that charge more during peak hours.
Financing The Network
“Our goal is to support the advent of sustainable energy, it is not to create a walled garden and use that to bludgeon our competitors,” Elon Musk said, indicating the motivation behind the move to open up the network (while taking a slight swipe at Apple).
Drew Baglino (CTO) said, “I think it’s also important to comment that increasing the utilization of the network actually reduces our costs, which allows us to lower charging prices for customers, make it more profitable — it allows us to grow the network faster, and no matter what, we’re going to continue to aggressively expand the network capacity.”
This actually makes sense if you look at demand charges. No matter if one person or 10,000 people charge at a Supercharger location, there’s a big monthly charge based on how much power the station pulls at maximum. The idea here is to pay for the electrical infrastructure the power company needs to deliver power to the Superchargers, and that maximum capacity needs to be in place all month just to support the biggest load the station puts on the grid.
If they can split this demand fee between even more customers, it lowers the per-person cost to charge, and helps the network to be more profitable and cheaper to charge at.
With the overhead split between more customers, it will also allow the company to make more money on a charging session (presuming the guests are paying a higher rate), which helps the company get more money together to add more stations to the network.
There’s also the fact that a growing number of governments are requiring stations be open to all EVs to receive government subsidies and tax credits. If Tesla wants to get in on that money and use it to build the Supercharger network out even more, they’re going to need every dime they can get.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 12, 2021
The Challenge: Growth
Growth is going to be a big issue for the Supercharger network. Tesla sales, as well as the number of cars on the road, are growing massively each year. Just keeping capacity up to cover the needs of Tesla drivers will be a big challenge.
Adding more drivers to the network will make this an even bigger challenge, but it will also bring in a lot more revenue to do that buildout faster. It seems like Tesla could come to dominate the entire EV charging industry, and not just its own corner of the industry for its own drivers. With the safeguards Tesla’s putting in (higher fees for peak demand and slow cars), it can do this without degrading the charging experience for Tesla owners in many cases.
Featured image by Zachary Shahan, CleanTechnica