Tesla needs to deliver on promise to deploy solar and batteries at Supercharger stations


Elon Musk has long promised that Tesla will deploy solar and batteries to all its Supercharger stations in order to reduce their dependence on the grid.

It has yet to happen, and now we are seeing some examples of why it should happen sooner rather than later.

There are several reasons why you would want to deploy batteries and solar power at electric vehicle charging stations.

From a financial standpoint, a large part of the cost of running an EV charging station consists of demand charges, which is a higher rate of electricity during surges in demand.

The nature of a charging station results in a lot of the operating time at peak level since you can go hours without a car charging, and then there can be five cars charging at once.

Batteries would be able to reduce the peak demand to greatly reduce the demand charges, which often account for more than a third of the cost of operating a charger.

The other reason why you would want batteries is that you could at least provide some charging capacity in case of a power outage – something that would be critical if you were counting on that charging station to get to your destination.

Early in the deployment of the Supercharger, Tesla promised to add solar arrays and batteries to the Supercharger stations.

The deployment has been extremely slow compared to the growth of the network, but back in 2016, CEO Elon Musk told me that Tesla was waiting for the new Supercharger V3 to accelerate the deployment.

In 2017, Musk even added that Tesla plans to add solar and batteries to all Supercharger stations and eventually disconnect most of them from the grid.

The Supercharger V3 was delayed a few times, but it finally came in 2019. Yet, Tesla didn’t accelerate the deployment of solar and batteries at the charging stations.

Ironically, Electrify America might have more Tesla Powerpacks at its charging stations than Tesla has at its own Superchargers. As of the end of last year, Electrify America had deployed Powerpacks at over 140 stations and growing. The charging network’s main reason for installing the batteries is to curb the demand charges, especially in California.

Meanwhile, Tesla’s own cost of Supercharging is surging, especially in California. In Southern California, Tesla’s supercharger prices have increased to between $0.46 and $0.58 per kWh for daytime charging.

Alan Hagge, a Tesla Model 3 owner in Southern California, told Electrek that this is now more than double what it used to be when he bought the car four years ago:

I don’t have access to Tesla’s historical Supercharger costs, but when we first purchased our Model 3 in April 2018, the rate for CA Supercharging was around $0.21 to $0.26 per kWh. So the price has more than doubled in a span of 4 years, even with lower-cost renewable energy becoming more prominent during that time. The lower cost-to-drive was a significant factor in our purchasing decision.

Hagge argues that the higher Supercharger cost can now result in a trip being cheaper with a ~40 mpg gas-powered vehicle than in a Tesla vehicle if the EV uses the Supercharger network.

In comparison, Electrify America’s charging in California is cheaper at $0.43/kWh for non-members and $0.31/kWh (plus $4 per month) for members.

Without batteries, Tesla’s Supercharger network is also more vulnerable to power outages.

There were some significant storms that hit the Northeast last week and more than half a million people were without electricity for an extended period of time.

Several Tesla Supercharger stations were down. I was myself driving back from Shawinigan, Canada, and the Supercharger I was going to use in Yamachiche was down due to the power outage. I was able to change my route to go to another Supercharger, but some people weren’t as fortunate.

Claude Lenden needed to stop at a Supercharger near Ottawa on his way to Montreal, but the Supercharger was down due to the outage.

Lenden arrived at the station at 6:30 pm on Saturday where he found several other Tesla vehicles waiting. He called Tesla:

When I told a Tesla rep that there were currently six people waiting in their Teslas, with no ETA from Hydro One, I felt the appropriate response would be “hold tight, we are sending a rental minivan to pick everyone up.” I got, “We’re really sorry but nothing we can do.”

The frustrating part is that the Supercharger station was still showing online in Tesla’s system when he arrived.

The customer service told him that it would take between 24-48 hours to get a flatbed on location and it would cost about $300 since Tesla doesn’t cover “running out of charge,” even though Lenden argued that he didn’t run out of charge but Tesla ran out of Supercharger.

Several other Tesla vehicles stopped by to charge, but they had enough range to try to make it to the next charging station. With only 10 km left, Lenden wasn’t as lucky and had to sleep in his car.

A few Powerpacks wouldn’t be able to provide energy for many vehicles if the grid is down, but it would be enough to add some energy to a handful of vehicles that were counting on that station before Tesla can warn other vehicles coming to the station and show it as “offline” in its system. It would avoid a lot of trouble.

And to be fair, power outages are also a problem for gas stations. In Ottawa, where Lenden was stuck, several gas stations ran out of gas amid the storms.

Electrek’s Take

I am not sure what the heist is here. Tesla knows the advantages of stationary storage better than anyone and it owns the solution.

Of course, the company is supply constrained when it comes to stationary battery systems, and it has a long backlog of orders from customers – it may be prioritizing them.

But Musk specifically said that Tesla will “add solar and batteries to all Supercharger stations and eventually disconnect most of them from the grid,” and this is far from the truth five years after he made this announcement.

Tesla has thousands of Supercharger stations, and we can only identify a few dozen with solar and batteries.

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