Charging for your first long distance can be a bit daunting as there are a few more more things to keep in mind, but, with a couple of road trips under your belt, it will become second nature. This post will cover various types of public chargers available, how to find them and how to pay for them when you travel.
A bit of Math (ugh)
At the end of the day, what you really want to know is how fast will this charger add miles back into my car. Typically, you’ll see public chargers rated in terms of kilowatts (kW), which is not all that helpful. But, if you take that number and multiply it by 3, voila, you have a rough approximation on how many miles of range you will add per hour. Sometimes, the info for a charger will only tell you the number of amps the charger handles, so…more math. If you take the number of amps and multiply by 240 and then divide that by 1,000, you will now have kW.
The first trick is finding chargers along your route. Tesla does most of the heavy lifting for you, but its good to understand all the tools and alternatives.
As you might expect, Tesla provides a number of ways to find Superchargers or Destination chargers. You can access a list of nearby charger for the Tesla phone app, you can see chargers identified in the navigation map in the car and also on the “Find Us” page on the the Tesla website. Regardless of approach, clicking on a charger location will reveal details on exact location, types and numbers of chargers, usage and any amenities (bathrooms, food, wifi, etc).
Tesla Destination Charging
Through Destination Charger program Tesla will provide free High Power Wall Connectors to certain types of businesses (hotels, restaurants, sports venues). The business pays for the electricity and sets the rules for access–typically they want you to patronize business in some manner and there maybe be a cost involved. The program uses HPWCs and charging speeds will vary by location.
This is a crowdsourced website of EV charger locations. You can filter results to find a particular type of charger and clicking on a pin will bring up exact location, types and numbers of chargers, access restrictions and comments on that location. Plugshare also offers a smartphone app.
Public Charging Networks
There are number of regional and national charging networks, for example ChargePoint and Electrify America, somewhat like oil companies and their gas stations. Each network has its own website and typically an app you use for finding chargers and paying for your charging session.
The charging stations are typically L2 stations with a growing mix of DC fast charging stations. Pricing can vary widely from network to network and, for some networks, from charger to charger, so make sure you pay attention when you plug in. Typically, these networks offer two payment options: 1) a pay-as-you-go plan where you pay for electricity as you use it, and 2) a subscription plan where you prepay for a certain amount electricity at a lower rate. It is useful to consider joining the networks that are prevalent where you live and where you travel as a backup or to augment the Tesla Superchargers and Destination chargers. You often need to enroll ahead of time with these networks so plan ahead. I suggest starting with the pay-as-you-go plans and then upgrading to one of the prepay plans if you have consistent level of usage.
This is an insider’s secret. RVs use the same NEMA 14-50 50A hookup that you can use to charge your car. Contact the campground directly and let them know what you want to do. If you only need to stop for a few hours to charge, they will ofter give you a discount rate, or if you want to spend the nite, some locations often have cabins you can rent. To take advantage of this option, you much purchase the NEMA 14-50 adaptor for your Universal Mobile Charger from Tesla.
Types of Chargers
Now the you’ve figured out where to find chargers, lets talk a little bit about what to expect when you get there.
Level 1 Charging
This is essentially charging from a standard 110V outlet. Since it only adds range at a rate of about 3 miles an hour, it’s seldom useful while traveling. Pretty much the only time you will use this is to trickle charge once you reach your destination or if you are stuck. Your car’s Universal Mobile Connecter comes with an adapter that allows you to use 110V outlets.
Please ask before you plug in. Yes, 110V plugs are pretty ubiquitous, but someone, somewhere is paying for that electricity, so ask ahead of time to avoid any issues–some folks tend to freak out when they see a car plugged into an outlet they are paying for.
Level 2 Charging
Most public EV chargers are Level 2 chargers. Level 2 charging is based on 240V, so it tends to be faster. Generally public stations will deliver between 6kW and 19 kW of power which translates to somewhere between 18 and 50 miles of range added per hour, but, typically, most L2 chargers are in the 6-12kW range. While faster than L1, L2 charging is still not great for road trips unless you have lots of time on your hands and have long stops already planned. It is useful at your destination as it should be able to charge your car overnight.
All L2 stations use the same plug standard called J1772 and looks something like this:
The handle designs will vary but the plug itself is standardized. Your Tesla comes with an adapter that allows you to plug a J1772 connector into your charge port:
Using the adapter is straightforward: plug the L2 charging handle into the wider end of the adapter and then plug the whole thing into the car (remember you will have to manually open the charge port door). When unplugging, as soon as you press the trigger or button on the L2 charging handle, charging stops and the car releases the handle. Perhaps the only trick to remember is that, as you unplug, use one hand to grasp the adapter and the other hand to grip the L2 charger handle, so you pull them both out at the same time, otherwise the adapter stays plugged into the car–it does not do any harm, but it’s a pain to try and pull out by itself.
Level 3: DC Fast Charging (DCFC)
The next step up is DC Fast Charging (DCFC), which is sometimes referred to as Level 3. With DCFC, we start to get into charging speeds that make long-distance travel feasible. There are currently three DC FC charging options, maybe best defined by the plugs they use:
- The Tesla Supercharging network–available to all Tesla owners in all markets where Tesla sells cars. All Tesla chargers use the same compact charger handle. Tesla has announced they will open their network up to other cars in late 2021
- ChaDeMo–backed primarily by Japanese manufacturers and remains popular in Asia. Tesla offers an adaptor to allow Teslas to charge at these chargers
- Combined Charging System (CCS)–arguably has the broadest manufacturer support. In Europe, Tesla had made a big commitment to CCS, offering native support on Superchargers and on the cars, either directly or via an adaptor.
We’ll start with Tesla’s own Supercharger network because that is the fastest and easiest way to charge. Any Tesla owner can take advantage of the network of Superchargers as long as they have enabled Supercharging for their car. Superchargers come in 3 flavors:
- V1: deliver up to 120kW — these are being actively replaced by V2 Superchargers
- V2: deliver up to 150 kW — this is currently the most prevalent Supercharger
- V3: deliver up to 250 kW — these can usually be identified by a sign atop the charger pedestal noting “250 kW”. Tesla recently announced these will be upgraded to 300 kW
Note: charing speed it ultimately determined by your car. Some older Teslas are not capable of charing faster than 90kW or 120 kW, so plugging into a V3 Supercharger will lead to faster charging
Supercharging speed (really, any DC fast charging) speed is not flat, it will slow over time as the battery fills. Think about pouring water into a glass from a pitcher–as the glass fills, you pour more slowly–same concept. The rates in the prior section are achievable, but only when the battery is empty. Below is a graph from a charging session at a V3 Supercharger. As you can see, the car charger at the full 250kW until ~30% then slowly starts to reduce charging speed:
This has important implications when you are traveling, since it takes less time to fill your battery to 50% twice than it does to fill it once to 100%. I’ll cover road trips in another chapter, but, the short version is it’s generally a more effective use of time to charge just enough to get to your next charging stop. It’s seldom effective to charge to 90%+ unless you are stopping for other reasons, such as a meal. Given the spacing of Superchargers, I seldom Supercharge more than 60% unless there is an uphill climb involved.
V1 and V2 Superchargers are paired, which means two chargers share common equipment. If you look closely one the Supercharger pedestals, you will see them labeled 1A, 1B, 2A, etc. Two chargers that have the same number (i.e. 1A and 1B) share equipment and the charging capacity is shared across those two chargers. Whoever plugs in first gets the lion’s share of the charging capacity and whoever plugs in second gets the remaining capacity. When you approach a Supercharger, if you have an option, pick a charger that has both the A and B chargers unused to get maximum charging speed. Tesla complicates this a bit by not having a consistent charger layout. Sometimes the paired chargers are next to each other (i.e. 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B…), sometimes the letters are grouped (i.e. 1A, 2A, 3A…1B, 2B, 3B…) and sometimes it’s totally random.
V3 Superchargers share a similar set-up but 4 chargers share the common equipment; however, pairing is less of a concern with the V3 charging.
If you are lucky enough to have unlimited Supercharging or you have a credit from a referral, then Supercharging will cost you nothing. Everyone else will have to pay. Tapping on a Supercharger location on the map brings up the details for that location, which includes the costs of electricity.
Idle fees are assessed of you leave your car plugged into the Supercharger after it has finished charing–they are an incentive to move your car so other can charge. The phone app provides several notifications about charging status to help insure you are not hit with idle fees. BTW, idea fees are assessed even if you you have unlimited Supercharging or a credit.
On newer Tesla’s, if you set a Supercharger as you destination in navigation, the car will pre-condition the battery so, by the time you reach the Supercharger, it is at optimum temperature for fast charging.
Things That Can Effect Charging Speed
- You are on a paired charger (see above)
- You battery is already more than 50% full–the fuller the battery, the slower the charging
- Your battery pack is either too hot or too cold. The car need to heat or cool the battery to get it to optimum charging temperature. Pre-conditioning can help (see above) as can using scheduled departure.
- As battery packs age, there will be a slow decline in maximum charging speed
Superchargers are a shared resource, so a little consideration goes along way to ensuring a positive ownership experience for everyone
- If there is a line, don’t charge any more than you need to
- Move your car once you are done charging–charging stalls are not parking spots. The Tesla app will let you know when your car is done charging and Tesla will assess you idle fees if you do not free up the charging stall in a timely manner
- Pick up your trash
- Avoid plugging into a paired charger if you can
Tesla Urban Chargers
The Tesla Supercharger network was designed for intercity travel, but it is a poor fit for city dwellers and for intra-city travel. To address the needs of those owners, Tesla has also started rolling out urban chargers. While part of the Supercharger network, they are optimized for city environments. They have a smaller form factor and they are limited to 72kW, but it is dedicated (no pairing). This means they can pack more chargers into a given space.
CHAdeMO is a DCFC standard developed by a number of Japanese companies. It offers charging speed of up to 62.5kW, but as with L2 charging, the actual charging rate will vary by location. The standard uses a connector that looks something like this:
So, obviously, this does not fit into your charging port. To use a CHAdeMO charger, you need an adapter from Tesla:
The adapter allows you to charge at up to 50kW. The adapter itself costs $400 and works with the Model S, Model X, Model Y and Model 3 running firmware 2019.24.1. or higher–with older cars, you also need Supercharging enabled.
Using a CHAdeMo chargers will really make you appreciate the effort Tesla engineers put into the design of the Tesla charger. The CHAdeMO charger handle is bulky as is and the Tesla adapter only makes it worse–the process is far from elegant. I find it’s better to connect the CHAdeMo plug to the adapter then plug the adapter into the car–this prevents the adapter from hitting the rear quarter panel.
ChaDeMo is one of the DCFC options you find on charging networks like ChargePoint and Electrify America and picking up an adaptor can be a useful back if there are ChaDeMo chargers in the areas where your travel. In general, ChaDeMo seems in decline with more manufacturers and charging networks putting their efforts into CCS.
Combined Charging System (CCS)
CCS is an evolution of the J1772 L2 standard and is capable of supporting up to 350kW, although actual speeds vary by manufacturer and charging network. CCS uses an adapter that looks like this, known as CCS2:
Tesla currently offers broad support for CCS in Europe:
- The European Model 3 had a CCS charging port
- European V2 Superchargers support both the Tesla and CCS connectors, the V3 Superchargers have a CCS connector
- A CCS-to-Tesla adaptor for Model S and Model X owners