The Tesla Supercharger at the End of the Universe

CC BY 2.0. Lloyd Alter

Update: Read the comments. I have learned a lot from them. It makes a lot of sense to put a supercharger at the end of the universe. As this tweeter notes:

Killing time with the dog in the parking lot in Huntsville, Ontario, I had a close look at the Tesla Supercharging station, and wondered about its existence in this little town on the Canadian Shield (3,000,000 square miles of rock where "human population is sparse, and industrial development is minimal"). Huntsville has about 19,000 people; the biggest industry is forest products, making most of Kimberley Clark’s Kleenex. Others are in service industries, supporting and servicing the wealthy lakeside country homes and their owners. It is doubtful that any of them drive Teslas.

charging in Huntsville last week

Lloyd Alter/ two teslas charging last week/CC BY 2.0Then there are the summer cottage home owners, who range from Steven Spielberg to Tom Hanks to Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn. The Miller family, famous for building Columbus, Indiana, has been up here since 1896 and owns miles of the nicest property and had Eero Saarinen build a guest house. There is serious money that drives a lot of Teslas.

But still, this is really a July and August world, with shoulder seasons about six weeks on either side. Some come up in winter but not many and they probably drive their Suburban then.

Chargers in muskoka

Tesla map/Screen capture

And Huntsville is up at the top of Muskoka; most of the money is south and west on the Big Three lakes. It seems like an odd spot. I saw two cars there last week and none this week, and wonder how much use it actually gets.

transformers and boxes

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

There is a lot of stuff in this supercharging station. There are big honking switches and transformers feeding the four supercharger boxes, which then feed the cords that plug into the car.

tesla charging equipment

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

It’s all surrounded by dying landscaping but is clean and well maintained. Then there are eight parking spaces to rent and, of course, electricity to buy. How much must all this cost? Every station cannot be looked at on its own, it is all part of a larger network, but this one is hanging out there at the edge, not quite like Douglas Adams' restaurant at the end of the universe, but close.

Tesla has claimed that it costs about US $150,000 per station but according to Seeking Alpha, it is a lot more than that.

As it turns out, analysis firm ARK talked in May to a Tesla executive who said that the average Supercharger station costs $270,000, or 80% more than the price most frequently stated by the company.

edison charging stations


When Thomas Edison laid out his charging network in New York for his electric cars in 1923, he had an advantage; he owned the electric utility and because he was Direct Current, had lots of little coal-fired generators spread around town. He just had to add a plug.

Tesla charging network

Charging network/ Huntsville supercharger is in the black circle/Screen capture

The Tesla network is huge, 1130 supercharger stations in North America, costing upward of a quarter of a billion dollars, costing rent and electricity and generating almost nothing. (Model 3 Teslas have to pay for electricity, but its pretty cheap.) And you can’t even pay to fill up your Nissan LEAF; it is Tesla only.

chargers face on

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

It is actually mind-boggling. The cost of the supercharger network is probably a minor line-item, a rounding error on the Tesla balance sheet, yet on its own it is a monster investment. I love what Tesla is doing -- it all plays into the Electrify Everything! paradigm -- but wow, imagine the bike and e-bike infrastructure you could build, just for the cost of the supercharger network.