Elon Musk near the end of the Q&A section at the annual shareholder meeting accidentally created a bit of a PR challenge amongst current and future Model S owners. The comment was as part of a response to a question on the battery swap program available near the Coalinga supercharger.
“So, free long distance forever is what the Superchargers are providing. There are few people who are like, quite aggressively using it for local Supercharging, and we also send them just a reminder note that it’s cool to do this occasionally but it’s meant to be a long distance thing.” Elon Musk
Executives have always made confusing statements in front of people but now with video technology and the internet, these statements can cause more problems than before.
This small statement has lead to a ton of speculation on what Elon meant. Few Model S owners are particularly worried that they will receive a note from Tesla, or that Tesla will begin to charge them for supercharging anytime soon. The most interesting part of the discussion is what business model will happen down the road for more widespread EV adoption.
But here are a few of the many questions the confusing statement invited:
- What is supercharger etiquette?
Supercharging does have some etiquette guidelines. The biggest error is leaving your car in a stall for a long time after the charging is complete. Tesla’s web page states:
“How long can I park at a Supercharger?
We ask our customers to use courtesy while charging. Once your Model S has reached the range necessary to get to your next destination, please move your vehicle so other Model S owners can charge.”
With the Tesla app on the phone, you are notified when your car is charged. In highly underused superchargers, at odd hours, or off-season, there is no rush to move your car.
2. Exactly who are these supercharger abusers?
No one yet has come forward admitted to having received a note from Tesla. The speculation mill has mentioned taxi drivers using a supercharger near the Amsterdam airport. The other speculation is around a supercharger in Southern California. The San Juan Capistrano supercharger is near the coast and has been very busy.
3. Is supercharging only for long distance travel?
Superchargers were primarily built for long distance travel.
“Superchargers are used for long distance travel, conveniently located along the most popular routes in North America, Europe and Asia. “
4. What about superchargers in more urban areas?
Yes, there are many superchargers in large urban areas such as Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area. Tesla has also stated that they can be used for those without a garage or definitive parking space.
“..we’re putting Superchargers in cities, not just between cities. Amm, this is obviously important in places like, aaa…you know, Beijing, Shanghai, London, San Francisco, aaa…New York, aaa…where at times people may have a challenge with aaa…having a…a…a fixed parking space. I mean…so…so that’s maybe the wiring thing, it’s more like some of those people don’t have a definitive parking space. Amm, they might have street parking or something, you know.” Elon Musk Q1 2014
There are also no definitive statements from Tesla that folks without garages cannot use superchargers for daily driving. I myself have met 3 people who only supercharged for this reason. One in a far flung ex-burb area in California and two in the San Francisco area. None of these folks, myself or anyone else has heard that superchargers cannot be used for daily driving by any Tesla personnel before this statement by Elon.
5. Can you save money by only supercharging?
Technically, you will save on your electricity bill. But driving and sitting at a supercharger gets old fast and likely would pay less than a minimum wage; electricity is generally not that expensive, and much cheaper than an equivalent tank of gasoline.
6. How much does it cost Tesla in energy for us to use their supercharger?
A reasonable average commercial flat rate for energy in California is $ 0.20 / kWh. If a Model S is driven 100,000 miles at an average of 300 Wh / mile and only supercharged the cost to Tesla is $6,000.
100,000 miles * 300 Wh / mile * $0.2 / kWh * kWh / 1000 Wh = $6,000
7. What about other supercharger costs?
Tesla does not buy land for their superchargers. They do however bring in the equipment and pay the construction and maintenance costs.
8. Is Tesla tracking our every move?
“Charging station information: We collect information regarding the charge rate and charging stations used by you (including outlets) in order to analyze which charging stations are being utilized, how long and efficient battery charges are, and where additional charging stations are needed.”
So yes, Tesla can know if you are charging at a residential location and at a local supercharger.
9. Is supercharging using sustainable energy?
Elon did announce that superchargers will be charged with solar panels where possible; unfortunately the solar panel additions have been very slow and only a handful of locations have them. Elon also stated at the 2015 shareholder meeting that all the extra electricity the superchargers use will be bought from renewables.
10. Does frequent supercharging hurt the battery?
Supercharging in general does not hurt the battery. But I have heard but cannot verify from multiple sources including within Tesla that very frequent or only supercharging does have a small amount of increased battery degradation.
11. What about Vehicle To Grid Charging (V2G)?
The idea behind V2G is to use the battery’s charge to add capacity to the grid during peak usage hours. Theoretically in the future, a Model S owner could go to the supercharger fill up the battery for free and sell the electricity back to their power company. In a sense, using a Model S with V2G could operate like a Powerwall to play grid arbitrage. V2G technology is not available yet.
12. Will supercharging have a cost sometime down the line?
I feel it is quite possible that supercharging will have a cost sometime down the line for the 3rd or 4th generation of vehicles. With the Model S, supercharging was an option for the 60 kW version and not available for the handful of 40 kW versions that were sold.
13. Is supercharging sustainable with more cars on the road?
With Model S and the upcoming Model X at a high price point, the typical owner has significant resources and likely will not try to save pennies by abusing superchargers.
The next generation car is targeted to cost $35,000. This car will be aimed at a different demographic that may consider it worth their time to save $10 for a fill up. But more importantly many of these owners will likely live in apartments or condominiums without dedicated parking spaces.
Perhaps a different supercharging cost will occur for generation 3. A lot of different charging models could take affect for a different class of vehicles. Perhaps other car companies could use the superchargers and would be included in a new pricing model.
14. Has Tesla changed their message?
There has been some heated discussion if Tesla has changed their message. The message that superchargers are free forever has now subtly been changed to free for long distance travel. Exactly what their message is today is not completely clear.
15. So exactly what is supercharger abuse?
No one exactly knows the answer to this question. A handful of people do use supercharging regularly even though they have a way to charge at home. Perhaps Tesla considers these folks “abusers” ?
Fortunately just a handful of Tesla owners feel it is their right to supercharge whenever and wherever they please. One colorful blogger wants to use a close to home supercharger near his home in order to get back at his electric company by charging at the supercharger tied to the same electric company. In every group of people, there will always exist a few who will try to maximize their advantages in a given system without much consideration for others.
The real question goes beyond the Model S, Model X, generation 3 and Tesla:
How do we facilitate wide EV adoption amongst drivers who do not have a dedicated place to park their car?
Perhaps Tesla’s statement should for the supercharger should be something like:
Charging at home is very convenient, inexpensive, and easy. Superchargers are free forever for road trips. If you have problems charing regularly at home or work, feel free to charge at a convenient supercharger, but please be considerate of other drivers.