Update: This story was amended December 27 to include information about supercapacitors and flash charging systems.
In Joe Walsh’s iconic Life’s Been Good To Me So Far, he says, “So I got me an office, gold records on the wall. Just leave a message, maybe I’ll call.” That may be the best way to get in touch with a rock star, but if you want to get through to Elon Musk, Twitter is the way to go. On the day before Christmas, Musk fan Fred Lambert did just that. He was curious how Elon was coming along with those solar powered Supercharger stations he has talked about in the past. (For those of you who don’t know, The company has a policy of using solar power whenever possible to operate its Tesla Supercharger locations. If no solar power is available, it uses the greenest electricity available.) Lambert got a response to his tweet that contained more information than he expected.
There are some installed already, but full rollout really needs Supercharger V3 and Powerpack V2, plus SolarCity. Pieces now in place.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 24, 2016
Being an astute fellow, Lambert picked right up on Musk’s reference to Version 3 Tesla Supercharger technology. It’s the first anyone has heard of it. Currently, the highest power Supercharger operates at 135 kW. Car makers in Germany announced recently that they intend to create a new network of high power chargers based on the CCS standard. They will have 150 kW of power at first, but will be capable of operating at 350 kW in the future according to the CCS consortium. By the way, and don’t tell anybody. This is just between you and me. Tesla quietly joined the CCS group last spring.
So the intrepid Mr. Lambert tweeted back to Musk to ask if the reference to a Version 3 meant there might be a 350 kW Tesla Supercharger somewhere in the future. That’s when Musk let the cat out of the bag.
A mere 350 kW … what are you referring to, a children's toy?
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 24, 2016
Wait. What? 350 kW is a “children’s toy?” Ye gods, Elon. What is going on inside that fabled head of yours. One can only hope that some day Elon will donate his famous brain to science.
When Porsche first announced it would build the Mission E electric sports car, there was some talk about it being able to recharge in 15 minutes using 800 volt chargers. Oliver Blume, Porsche’s CEO, said at the time, “We are in contact with other manufacturers and suppliers around the world to build a fast-charging network. Everybody has the same need. It sounds easy but getting the details agreed is hard. We already have the clear technical concept. It can even work with Teslas, with an adapter.”
Blume’s words provide some insight into what is going on behind the scenes. One of the keys to electric car acceptance by the general public is agreement on standards. Right now there are three major charging standards — CHAdeMO, CCS, and Tesla Supercharger. Once there was competition between Betamax and VHS about the preferred format for bringing video content into the home. VHS won, even though the tech geeks at the time insisted Betamax was far superior. In the end, it didn’t matter. What mattered was that everyone was on the same page. That’s when the video industry exploded.
Porsche wants 800 volt chargers. Porsche is part of CCS. Tesla is part of CCS. Elon Musk is referring to 350 kW chargers as children’s toys. Do you see a connection here?
Update begins here.
Charging times will be a critical part of the transition from conventional cars to electric vehicles. Since the first modern electrics — the Nissan LEAF and the BMW i3 — came to market starting in 2010, owners of conventional cars have had two major objections to buying an electric car. First, they say the range of electric cars is too short. Second, they feel charging times are too long. With several cars now available that have more than 200 miles of range, charging time is the last great hurdle to mass adoption of electric cars.
A hint about the future of charging is taking place in Geneva, Switzerland where new city buses are in operation that flash charge along the route in as little as 15 seconds and need less than 5 minutes to fully recharge at the end of their route. The 400 kW charging system is designed and manufactured by Swedish electronics company ABB. When news of the flash charging buses first appeared at Cleantechnica, one reader suggested it is most likely a hybrid system that utilizes both supercapicitors and batteries.
Musk expressed his opinion on this subject almost 4 years ago when he told an audience at a clean technology conference in San Francisco, “If I were to make a prediction, I’d think there’s a good chance that it is not batteries, but supercapacitors,” that will be the future of electric cars. There’s a good chance that prediction is about to come true and new charging technology that is faster than anyone ever thought possible is about to make the electric car revolution complete.