Tesla unveils free solar-powered car charging stations for Model S owners


Electric car maker Tesla (s TSLA) announced on Monday night that it has installed its “Supercharger” rapid car charging network at an initial six locations throughout California and Tesla says charging at these stations will be free “indefinitely” for Model S owners. Tesla says the Superchargers will be powered by solar technology, developed by solar installer SolarCity (Tesla CEO Elon Musk also is an investor and the Chairman of SolarCity).

Musk has been discussing the idea of a Tesla-bankrolled Supercharger for almost a year and I first heard about the plan back in November 2011. The idea is that because the market for electric cars is so new, Tesla wants to help build out the charging infrastructure, which is one of the industry’s biggest barriers.

Musk called the Supercharger “the answer to the three major problems holding back electric vehicles” in his remarks during the event. These problems are being able to drive electric vehicles long distances conveniently, the issue of electricity being generated at a distant fossil fuel power plant, and the issue of cost of electricity.

One of the surprising parts of the announcement is that Tesla will be installing a lot more stations than I had originally thought. While Tesla announced the locations of its first six stations at the event tonight (“constructed in secret”), the company also says that in 2013 it wants to install many more Supercharger stations throughout the U.S. as well as Europe and Asia. Within two years the U.S. will be covered in Superchargers, said Musk during the event.

In that respect Tesla is making a considerable commitment to becoming an infrastructure installer and is developing more of a vertical business model for electric cars. I wonder how the companies who are building business models off of electric car charging — like Better Place, NRG Energy, Ecotality and Coulomb — feel about Tesla crossing over into their turf.

Because the technology is using solar power, as well as previously designed technology for Model S charging, Tesla says the chargers are cheap to build and install. There’s also the fact that there’s just not a whole lot of Model S drivers out there yet that will be using the power. For those reasons Tesla is offering long distance charging free for Model S owners.

The Superchargers can charge the Model S cars with 100 kilowatts of power and provide three hours of driving at 60 mph in about half an hour. Who wants to take me on a Model S road trip down to LA?

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