Tesla Supercharger V3 Uses Battery Heating to Cut Charge Time by 50 Percent

Tesla unveiled its third-generation charging station on Wednesday, which combines with a battery-heating software update to offer recharge speeds up to 50 percent faster. Where the old “supercharger” used air-cooled cables to reach rates of 120 kilowatts, the new version offers liquid-cooled cables that reach a peak rate of 250 kilowatts.

The new charging point — officially a “beta” model — was unveiled at 8 p.m. Pacific time at the company’s Fremont, California plant. Visitors were offered free usage of the new charger, which can deliver up to 75 miles worth of power in five minutes and 1,000 miles in an hour. The company claims that this will result in the average charging time dropping to just 15 minutes.

“I was at the unveil event earlier tonight,” wrote a Reddit user called “acamtmpf” that shared video of the event. “The staff were really friendly and knowledgeable. When the car hit 1000 miles per hour on charge, everyone was just clapping with excitement about the future! Congrats Tesla!”

It’s not the 350 kilowatts proposed by CEO Elon Musk in December 2016, which he later backtracked on due to the size of the car’s batteries, but it could help reduce one of the key pain points of owning an electric car. A 2017 global survey from Dalia Research found 36 percent see long charging times as a key disadvantage of electric cars, with 50 percent citing a lack of charging points.

Tesla aims to fix both of these issues, promising that its network will be able to serve double the number of cars per day at the end of 2019 compared to today. It now claims to own and operate the largest global fast charging network, with 12,888 stations worldwide. That covers 99 percent of owners in the United States, 90 percent of China, and the company expects nearly complete coverage in Europe by the end of the year.

The new cable, pictured on the left, comes in a slimmer design:

Tesla's V3 cable on the left versus the V2 cable.
Tesla's V3 cable on the left versus the V2 cable.

The cable is only part of the story. Tesla is also rolling out a software update for all users that heats the battery ahead of charging. When the user navigates toward a charger, the car will use on-route battery warmup to prepare the cells for power. This decreases charge times by 25 percent for a standard 120-kilowatt supercharger, and helps Tesla offer its 50 percent reduction in charge times for other vehicles. Tesla uses a similar technique for getting more battery range in the winter months.

Average time spent charging at a Tesla supercharger.
Average time spent charging at a Tesla supercharger.

The new supercharger also fixes power-sharing issues. In the second-generation superchargers, two vehicles using charging cables that lead to the same point may have to split the power to receive 60 kilowatts or less of power. The third-generation chargers use a one-megawatt power cabinet to provide power to four charging points, eliminating the need for power sharing. For the older charging points, Tesla plans to boost power output to 140 kilowatts while maintaining the power-sharing structure.

The new chargers will initially support the Tesla Model 3 sedan, the company’s mass market vehicle that entered production in July 2017. The Model S premium sedan and Model X SUV will receive charging speed increases in the coming months. Support for the third-generation chargers will roll out to all owners in the second quarter of 2019, independent of the on-battery warmup feature.

Tesla aims to break ground on its first non-beta supercharger in April. The company expects to prioritize North America in the second and third quarter, before starting work in Europe and Asia-Pacific in the fourth quarter of the year.

With the Ionity network aiming for 400 European charging points of 350 kilowatts by 2020, Tesla could find itself competing in a more crowded market.

Media via Tesla