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The landscape of electric charging stations

The car had a profound impact on the landscape of our cities (and that’s probably the understatement of the year). Not only did it force the decentralization of our cities (i.e. sprawl), but it dotted the landscape with gas stations and other things that cars required.

According to the Verge, the first gas station was built in 1905 in Missouri. And it was really thought of as a side business for pharmacies and other business owners. But as of 2012, there were 121,466 gas stations throughout the United States. It obviously became a big business.

But as we make the transition from gasoline cars to electric ones, we’re going to need a new network of “refill” stations. In fact, this network is probably more important than the cars themselves if the goal is widespread adoption.

Below is an animated GIF depicting Tesla’s plans to blanket North America with its Supercharger stations by the end of 2015. By then they will have covered off 98% of the US population and many of the most densely populated parts of Canada.

But there are two important differences when it comes to comparing Supercharger stations vs. traditional gas stations.

First of all, these won’t be the only places where drivers will be able to recharge. People will also charge their Tesla at home. In fact, I would assume that for regular city driving, most people would do just that. It’s far more convenient to just drive home, plug in your car, and have it recharge while you’re sleeping (just like we already do with our smartphones). And if this is the case, then these Supercharger stations will be primarily used for long drives, which means we probably won’t need as many within our cities.

Secondly, these Supercharger stations are free to Tesla drivers (provided you purchase that option with your car). This is really interesting, because it changes the economics of the industry. Selling gas is no longer a profit center. 

But what I wonder – especially now that Tesla has open-sourced its technologies – is how these free Supercharger stations will ultimately fit into the broader electric vehicle market. Will other manufacturers create Tesla Supercharger compatible cars? Or will we see a rival set of charging stations emerge?

My sense is that Tesla is doing what it can to ensure it becomes the standard.

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