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Tesla to Open up Superchargers: US’s Winding Road to Universal Public Charging

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On February 26, 2023, among other things, the White House announced that by the end of 2024, Tesla would open part of its US charging network, including Superchargers and Destination Chargers, to non-Tesla electric vehicles (EVs) and build significantly more charging stations that support all EVs.

Below is the portion of the announcement.

Tesla, for the first time, will open a portion of its U.S. Supercharger and Destination Charger network to non-Tesla EVs, making at least 7,500 chargers available for all EVs by the end of 2024. The open chargers will be distributed across the United States. They will include at least 3,500 new and existing 250 kW Superchargers along highway corridors to expand freedom of travel for all EVs, and Level 2 Destination Charging at locations like hotels and restaurants in urban and rural locations. All EV drivers will be able to access these stations using the Tesla app or website. Additionally, Tesla will more than double its full nationwide network of Superchargers, manufactured in Buffalo, New York.

And that’s great news. There’s a good chance that many Tesla Superchargers will open up within a matter of days. Imagine you can charge your Polestar, Ford Mustang Match-E / F-150 Lighting, or any other EV quickly and conveniently on a long road trip!

If you wonder why Tesla is doing this, it’s not out of the goodness of Elon Musk’s heart. The company is set to get a big part of the 7.5 billion in government funding for EV charging. That’s not to mention the company will make more money by selling electricity to non-Tesla drivers.

However, the devil is in the details, and things will get complicated for both Tesla and non-Tesla drivers, at least initially. The move to electrification is still in the early state — we have a long way to go.

Let’s take a closer look at the current state of Tesla charging.

Tesla Supercharger station
Existing Supercharger stations are designed to handle only Teslas.

Existing Tesla Superchargers: Excellent yet near-sighted design

While Tesla drivers generally can get their cars charged at any non-Tesla Level-3 DC charger simply by using a CCS-to-Tesla adapter, the other way around is not that simple.

Getting a Tesla-to-CSS adapter is just a small part of the process. That’s because Tesla has made its Superchargers only with its vehicle in mind and, even so, without a well-thought-out design.

When it “invented” the electric vehicle half a decade ago, Tesla had to figure out a new charging standard on its own — there had been none at the time since virtually no consumer-grade EV existed.

There were plug-in hybrid cars, but they were all for charging at home and hence didn’t require a standard for public charging.

And over the years, the move has proved to be a competitive edge for Tesla. So far, thanks to the extensive charging network, it only makes sense to buy Tesla if you expect to get charged reliably during a long drive.

The Superchargers are the reason many opted for the brand — your truly included and have made many successful road trips with the 2021 Model Y.

If you’re unfamiliar with EV charging, the drawer below will fill you in with some quick highlights.

EV Charging levels in brief

Two main charging connection standards currently exist for EVs in the US, including Combined Charging System (CCS) and Tesla, as shown in the photos below.

CCS to car charging connectorTesla to car charging connector
EV charging: The CCS to-car connector vs the Tesla counterpart.

And there are three EV charging levels. The tabs below contain their brief information.

Level-1 Charging

Level 1 EV Charging: 120V (up to β‰ˆ 15A)

  • Electricity: Alternating current (AC).
  • To-car connectors: J1772, Tesla.
  • Charging rate: 3 to 5 Miles Per Hour (β‰ˆ 1.5 kW).
  • Applicability: Home or anywhere with a 120V wall socket.
Tesla Slow Charging
Level-1 charging is when you plug an EV into a 120V wall socket. It’s slow but enough for most users in overnight charging.

Level 1 charging is the lowest and, in the US, generally means you plug the car directly into a 120V outlet using the car’s default (often included) portable charger, technically called electric vehicle service equipment or EVSE.

There are also third-party portable chargers. While varying in design, costs, and possibly quality, all chargers will work with all EVs. It’s just a matter of getting the right adapter when necessary.

These “chargers” are essentially power cords. The charging function is inside the EV.

Apart from the 120V socket, most level-1 chargers also work with 240V sockets to deliver faster Level-2 charging speed.

Until April 17, 2022, Tesla included the Mobile Connector with its cars. It’s the company’s default Level-1 Charger.

Level-2 Charging

Level 2 EV Charging: Up to 240 V (up to β‰ˆ 80A)

  • Electricity: Alternating current (AC).
  • To-car connectors: J1772, Tesla.
  • Charging rate: Up to 80 Miles per Hour (β‰ˆ 20 kW).
  • Applicability: Home or anywhere with a 240V wall socket or a charging station.
Charging Station
Here’s an example of a third-party home Level-2 charging station. It works with all EVs.

Level-2 charging is the fastest option you can install at home. It requires new wiring.

At the minimum, in the US, you’ll need a separate breaker for a 240V outlet, similar to an oven or dryer. Most EVs’ portable chargers work with 240V and 120V outlets via interchangeable to-wall adapters.

New wiring is required if you want to get a charging station, such as the Tesla Wall Charger. This type of charger must be wired directly into a 240V breaker and won’t work with any socket.

Level 2 can deliver between 15A to 80A of electrical flow and give an EV up to 80 miles in an hour of charging through 60 miles/hour is common.

Level-3 Charging

Level 3 EV Charging: At least 400 V

  • Electricity: Direct current (DC).
  • To-car connectors: Combined Charging System (CCS) and Tesla
  • Charging rate: at least 3 miles per minute, up to over a thousand miles per hour.
  • Applicability: Public charging station
Tesla SuperCharger
Tesla Supercharger is a prime example of Level-3 EV charging. This charger is rated at 250 kW and can fill a Tesla battery from 20% to 80% in less than 10 minutes.

Level 3 charging equals “gas stations” for EVs — it’s the fastest charging option.

For years, Tesla’s Superchargers have been the most well-known Level-3 charging, with each charger capable of filling a Tesla’s battery from 20% to 80% in 20 minutes, or as fast as 5 minutes, depending on its wattage, which ranges from 75 kW to 250 kW (and even higher.) The higher, the quicker the charging rate.

In the US, most, if not all, non-Tesla Level-3 charging stations use the CCS connector, which encompasses the J1772 connector.

Level 3 charging uses direct current (DC) instead of alternating current (AC), like in the case of Levels 1 and 2. Each charger costs tens of thousands of dollars. That’s not to mention the electricity cost.

Other than CCS, some Japanese cars also use a new connection called CHAdeMO for Level-3 charging, which is not popular in the US.

Before Tesla opens up its Superchargers to all EVS, only Tesla drivers need an adapter to get their car juiced at a non-Tesla charger. There are two adapters as shown in the photos below.

CSS Combo 1 AdapterSAE J1772 Charging Adapter
EV charging: Here are the CSS1 vs J1772 converters for Tesla. The latter (included with most Mobile Connector packages) can only handle Level 2 or slower charging. The former supports all three charging levels and works instead of the J1772. Most new EVs from any car maker (except Tesla) use CCS as the combo port for fast and slow charging.

But it’s safe to say the whole public Supercharging network of Tesla has been designed without much thought, from the super short charging cord to the layout of the charging station itself.

The super-short charging cord and non-drive-through design

All Tesla cars have a charging port at the same location — on the driver’s side toward the back. And the Superchargers are made to accommodate that design — its charging cord is long enough.

Back your Tesla to a charger, plug the cord in, and you’re done. And the majority of the time, that works perfectly.

Tesla Supercharger Car with Tow Hitch DilemaTesla Supercharger Car with Tow Hitch
At a glance, you’ll think this driver is just uncool, but looking closer, you probably won’t blame him.

But life can be messy, and sometimes we carry more than just what the car can haul on the inside. And that’s when things get complicated.

You’ll find the cord too short if you tow a trailer or even have a hitch rack with a couple of bicycles. There’s no way to get charged without removing stuff from the car’s back unless you can take over a few adjacent chargers.

With EVs becoming increasingly popular, you shouldn’t count on finding an empty charging station. Things will only get worse on this front.

And that’s the cause for Teslas themselves.

Non-Tesla EVs will be problematic by default. That’s because most of them have the charging ports at different spots from a Tesla — arbitrarily all over their bodies.

So opening up Superchargers to them will turn any Supercharging station into a serious mess of car parking, whichever way blocking chargers adjacent to the one being used.

And that’s when you realize the design of the Supercharger stations doesn’t help.

All gas stations use the drive-through design allowing cars to be refilled orderly. Superchargers use the parking stall design — likely to accommodate the original expected long charging time.

This layout can cause traffic issues during high usage since vehicles need extra maneuvering to get in and out. That, plus the short charging cord, will turn a Supercharging station chaotic when few non-Tesla EVs are involved during busy hours.

EV Side Charging PortEV Front Charging Port
Non-Tesla EVs have charging ports at random places around the body, and many will have difficulty getting plugged into existing Superchargers.

All hours will be peak hours

It’s safe to say most Tesla owners won’t be happy sharing Superchargers with other car brands.

Currently, during off-peak hours when the cost of charging is slow, you can already find long lines at Tesla charging stations in big cities. That’s only going to get worse.

Folks who have bought Teslas thinking that comes with the “privilege” of using the Superchargers will be frustrated. The idea of waiting to get my Model Y charged at a Supercharger during a trip is quite off-putting.

During high demand, Tesla limited the level a car can charge to increase turnover, effectively increasing how frequently the EV needs to get charged during a long trip.

And ultimately, that’d make all hours at the charging station peak hours. You’ll have to pay more in getting charged via high energy costs, wait time or both.

Charging at home is the best

Owning an EV generally means you’ll charge it mostly at home — the most convenient and cheapest option — and nothing will change on this front.

Tesla to J1772 Adapter
A typical Tesla to J1772 adapter for charging a non-Tesla using a home or Destination Tesla charger

Home charging uses only Level-1 or Level-2 charging, and if you want to plug a non-Tesla vehicle into a Tesla charger, all you need is a Tesla-to-J17772 adapter.

The takeaway

The opening of Tesla’s Supercharging network is excellent news for non-Tesla EV drivers in the US who can take a long road trip without range anxiety overnight. That’s if they are equipped to deal with the potential connection and design problem mentioned above.

And for Tesla drivers, once the whining is over, they’ll realize that they’ve already gotten it both ways for a long time — all Teslas can be charged at non-Tesla chargers. It’s only fair to share and, most importantly, to realize that Teslas are just vehicles — you’re not riding on the extension of Elon Musk’s ego.

Ultimately, everything is in implementation. Hopefully, new charging stations, Tesla or not, will use a more accommodating design that works for all EVs of different shapes and charging port locations. Who knows, Tesla might even retrofit its existing facilities with longer charging cords or readily available extended Tesla-to-CCS converters.

Eventually, we’ll get to the point where getting charged on the road is a non-issue, just like getting an ICE car’s gas tank filled. It’s only a matter of time.

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2 thoughts on “Tesla to Open up Superchargers: US’s Winding Road to Universal Public Charging”

  1. While Tesla will set your charging to only 80% at peak times, you can change it and charge to whatever you want–but most people don’t.

    Since you’re also in the Bay Area, I’d be curious for a followup on this article in a year or so as well as your own personal experiences. πŸ™‚

    Reply

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