Sep. 25, 2012 at 3:27 PM ET
Tesla Motors has answered critics of the range and energy source of electric cars by establishing a network of solar-powered charge stations throughout California, with plans to expand to the rest of the U.S. And if you have a Model S, charging is free forever.
For years it has been an oft-repeated objection to electric cars that while they may not themselves produce carbon emissions, their electricity often is produced by carbon-producing power plants. It's a legitimate problem, though for now unavoidable — unless, as Tesla demonstrates, you circumvent the power grid altogether.
That's what they've decided to do with their Supercharger stations, a network of solar-powered chargers that will refill your Tesla Model S free of charge. And what's more, they charge at four or five times the rate of even a high-capacity home charger, so you can get 150 miles of range back in half an hour.
The Superchargers aren't intended for everyday charging, but for long-distance driving: they're spaced between 100 and 200 miles apart, distant but well within the 250-mile range of the Model S. At the moment the network is limited to California, but Musk was confident that within two years, much of the U.S. (as well as some of Europe and Asia) will be covered:
As Tesla CEO Elon Musk said at the announcement, "If you want to go from LA to New York, if you pack food and stay with friends, you can leave your wallet at home."
The other nice thing about these stations is that not only do they power themselves, but they're designed to collect more solar energy than they expend on charging vehicles. This extra energy they actually contribute to the grid, so they're a net positive, not a draw.
Tesla's Model S is their newest vehicle, aimed at commuters and families. At around $50,000 to start, it competes with Lexus and BMW, not Honda and Subaru, but that hasn't stopped it from pre-selling thousands of units. They're only just this month starting to roll out to buyers, so there aren't many on the road just yet.
The Supercharger stations in and around Los Angeles and San Francisco are online right now, and others will surely be announced by Tesla when they go live. More information can be found at Tesla's press release, and Engadget has embedded a video of the event.
Devin Coldewey is acontributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website iscoldewey.cc.