Dakota Richline
“Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.”
― Carl Sagan, Cosmos

Tesla Charging: Fast, Easy, Consistent

This essay was written for a Composition and Rhetoric class

Remember when every cellphone had its own charger that didn’t fit any other model? Early adopters of electric vehicles (EVs) have been facing the same issue for years with no immediate resolution in sight. Competing standards for EV charging have led to a frustrating situation where, despite using the same internal technology, not all cars can use the same types of charging stations. This is akin to owning a Ford and not being able to visit gas stations designated for Nissans and Toyotas. While the fragmented state of charging standards is far from ideal, Tesla has done the best job of handling the situation worldwide for the consumer.

Historical context is important to understand how electrical sockets—arguably the simplest part of the car—became such an issue. In the 2000s, EVs were not widespread and owners were content with charging their cars at home and at low-speed charging stations (AC). The J1772 plug was successfully developed and implemented in 2009, allowing any car to use any charging station. As automakers developed high-power fast charging (DC) in the early 2010s, the already ubiquitous J1772 plug could not handle the enormous amount of energy. CHAdeMO, a Japanese automaker alliance, developed its own system that could handle 50kW (higher kW = faster speed). Both systems are still in use on some cars: a J1772 plug for AC charging, and a CHAdeMO plug for DC charging. When Tesla designed its first car, CHAdeMO’s 50kW was not enough, forcing Tesla to design yet another standard. J1772 was eventually modified into CCS to add support for DC charging, but cars and infrastructure were already being built with CHAdeMO and Tesla connectors. As of 2020, every plug-in car supports J1772, and some use another connector for DC charging. CHAdeMO and CCS are in competition, and Tesla supports everything through a series of adapters. A charging power arms-race has led to a true universal standard being supplanted by multiple competing standards.

Some blame Tesla for contributing to the fragmentation of standards with their proprietary plug, but it is justified and creates a better experience for the consumer. Tesla’s plug automatically supports AC and DC charging; just plug the car into any Tesla charger, and it handles the rest. Thanks to its clever design, it also supports CCS, J1772, and CHAdeMO using simple adapters. [1] CCS has the same advantage of using a single plug for both types of charging, but it lacks Tesla’s cross-compatibility with CHAdeMO stations. Tesla chargers are designed for user friendliness: thin cables, small plugs, and a proximity transponder make charging the car as easy as plugging in a cell phone. Tesla makes EV charging simpler for consumers by abstracting away technical details; just find any charger and plug the car in.

Unlike some automakers, Tesla assumes that the consumer needs fast charging capabilities by default. All Teslas produced after the 2008 Roadster support DC fast charging, and Superchargers (Tesla-only DC charging stations) are installed worldwide to ensure drivers are not easily stranded. As of October 2020, CHAdeMO DC charging is a $1690 package for the Nissan Leaf. After buying a $31,000 car, Nissan charges drivers to access independently owned CHAdeMO stations, which are slowly becoming obsolete. Chevrolet, Toyota, and Kia also charge for DC capability. All Tesla owners have access to ~15,000 Supercharger DC stations, plus any other third-party DC and AC stations. Tesla effectively grants access to almost any public charging station, while other automakers charge for the privilege of using limited infrastructure they are not even affiliated with.

In addition to being able to use most chargers, Tesla has designed their vehicles to make the most of available power. Tesla AC charging rates range from 11 to 16.5kW, while the 2020 Nissan Leaf is only capable of 6.6kW. At a sufficiently fast AC charging station, a Tesla could charge 2.5x faster than the Nissan. The cost and size of any EV’s onboard charger limits AC charging speed, but DC charging speed is determined by the physical limits of the battery. All new Teslas and Supercharger stations are capable of 250kW DC charging, which roughly equals 1000 miles of range per hour, or 15 minutes to completely charge the car. Tesla is already pushing the limits of battery chemistry; the cars use liquid cooling to push cells four times harder than their nominal charge rate. Assuming the owner of a Leaf paid extra for DC charging, it’s limited to 50kW, or ⅕ the Tesla’s speed. The Chevy Bolt, BMW i3, Hyundai Ioniq, Renault Zoe, Jaguar i-Pace, and Mercedes EQC all have less than half of Tesla’s DC charging rate. Tesla’s widely available high-speed charging is convenient for the consumer; five minutes of charging leads to over an hour of highway driving.

Tesla’s charging system could be considered inferior to CCS and CHAdeMO 2.0 by pure numbers. CCS is capable of 350kW, updated CHAdeMO chargers are capable of 400kW, and Tesla is only capable of 250kW. Despite Tesla’s lower maximum rate, it’s more relevant to consumers. When Repsol launched 400kW DC stations in 2019, no car could utilize the full amount of power, the station could not support all chargers at maximum speed, and no single charger could sustain 400kW for the full length of a charge. Tesla’s V3 Supercharger stations are capable of a continuous 250kW, and all new Teslas are able to use the full amount of power. Therefore, Tesla’s system could be perceived as more performant, despite being theoretically slower than the newest CCS and CHAdeMO stations. Another valid criticism is that Tesla’s standard is proprietary, while CCS and CHAdeMO can be used by multiple automakers. Proprietary charging infrastructure is akin to a public ATM that only serves customers of one bank. Proprietary standards are ultimately worse for the consumer, but Tesla owners can still use third-party stations in the absence of a Tesla-branded charger.

Tesla’s unique support of proprietary and universal standards has simplified EV charging for the consumer. Their simple design language makes high-performance charging easy without thinking about things like power output and connector types. Tesla vehicles are equipped with fast charging by default, so the consumer does not need to pay extra to use their EV as they would a normal car. Supercharger stations are widely available, and both the cars and charging stations are much more consistently performant than the competition. Other standards boast technical superiority, but Tesla products are much more useful to the consumer on average. EV charging should be as quick and easy as charging a phone or buying gas, and Tesla is closest to reaching that ideal.

[1] Only certain models in Europe. Tesla et. al. use different sets of standards in different markets, which is outside the scope of this essay. Assume that “Tesla” in this essay refers to a European model.

Last modified: 10/29/2020