This article is from The Spark, MIT Technology Review’s weekly climate newsletter. To receive it in your inbox every Wednesday, sign up here.
I love a good rivalry story. In soda it’s Coke vs. Pepsi, in baseball it’s Yankees vs. Red Sox, and in EV fast chargers it’s Tesla vs. everyone else.
Fine, that last one might not be quite at the same level as the others just yet, but it’s a battle that’s been heating up. Tesla’s electric vehicles have long included a port that’s different from what most other vehicles use in the US. But in recent weeks, several automakers and charging networks have signed on to adopt Tesla’s charging technology.
These moves are changing the dynamics in the battle over chargers, in a way that could have significant impacts on how we get around. So let’s dig into what’s happening with this rivalry, why it matters, and what it could mean for your future driving (and charging) habits.
Tesla is known for its supercharging network, which it began building over a decade ago (eschewing a previous plan to build battery swapping stations).
In the US, it is actually bigger than all other such networks combined, with just over 19,000 fast chargers installed, compared with just over 15,000 from all other operators. Globally, Tesla operates 45,000 superchargers.
And earlier this year, Tesla announced that it would open up some superchargers to other EVs in the US. It was a big change, apparently aimed at tapping into some of the $7.5 billion in funding the Biden administration has set aside for public chargers. (The key word here is “public,” meaning not just for Tesla drivers.)
Most other electric vehicles sold in the US today that can handle fast charging are equipped with what’s called the Combined Charging System (CCS) port, while Tesla uses its own technology. To accommodate other drivers in these newly public stations, Tesla plans to add what it calls a Magic Dock to chargers. Basically, these are adapters that allow Tesla’s special chargers to connect to CCS ports. The move could mean that all EV drivers in the US have access to up to 7,500 of Tesla’s chargers by the end of 2024.
But Tesla isn’t just opening up its network to other vehicles. It’s also trying to get other companies to use its technology. The company renamed its connector the National American Charging Standard (NACS) in late 2022.
Then, in late May, Ford announced that it planned to offer integration that would allow existing EVs to use Tesla’s superchargers (including the ones without Magic Dock) via an adapter and some software integration. Starting as soon as 2025, the automaker plans to offer vehicles with Tesla’s NACS charging port built in.
Just last week, GM joined in on the fun, announcing it would follow Ford’s lead and adopt Tesla’s technology too, providing adapters to customers sometime in 2024 and offering Tesla’s NACS ports in its vehicles starting in 2025.
The participation of Ford and GM could also mean new revenue for Tesla from other drivers using its charging network: up to $3 billion annually by 2030, according to one report. The move left other charging networks scrambling. Several, including Blink Charging Co. and EVGo, followed up this week with announcements that they’d offer chargers compatible with Tesla’s NACS standard.
So there’s been a rush toward Tesla’s way of doing things. The company says its chargers are smaller and more powerful than the current CCS standard.
But it’s a shift that the Biden administration seems to want to put the brakes on: the White House said Friday that Tesla’s charging stations could qualify for federal funding—but only as long as they also included the US standard CCS connection too, Reuters reported.
If you’ve ever tried to find an iPhone charger in a room full of Android users (or vice versa), you know how annoying different charging standards can be. It’ll be interesting to see how this tension develops going forward. Will more automakers sign on or hold out? Will Tesla eventually take over and establish NACS as the new charging standard? I’m definitely keeping my eyes peeled on this one.
By the way, I want to note here that I worked as a battery technology intern at Tesla for three months in 2016. I don’t have any ties to the company today.
In other charging news, that fuzzy feeling you get when you help the environment by charging your EV just got a little more complicated. Electric-truck maker Rivian wants to take credit for the climate benefits of its chargers.
In a project application submitted to a carbon credit certifier, the company made clear that it’s seeking to earn carbon credits for any emissions reductions that come about as a result of chargers that it sells.
For more on what this all means and what experts are saying, check out the full scoop in my colleague James Temple’s latest story.
- There’s a lot of excitement around new funding for EVs. But we’re going to need a lot more chargers globally to support them all. Here’s what’ll need to happen.
- Curious where fast EV charging stations are in the US? Here’s a map of all of them.
- What if we ditched charging altogether? That’s the dream of battery swaps, which a San Francisco startup says it can now pull off in five minutes. (Things might not be quite so simple, though.)
Cutting emissions can be expensive: solar panels, EVs, and other consumer technologies that are more climate-friendly are also often pricier than their polluting counterparts.
Surprisingly, that doesn’t appear to be the case with heat pumps, at least not in the US. According to new data, heat pump adoption is pretty even across income groups. For more on why, check out my new story.
Keeping up with climate
Last week, wildfire smoke turned the northeastern US into a hazy apocalyptic vision. But there’s still a lot we don’t understand about what happened. (Heatmap News)
→ The smoke did have a significant dampening effect on solar power. (Bloomberg)
Young residents in Montana are suing the state over climate change. They argue that by propping up fossil fuels, the state is failing to uphold a responsibility set out in its constitution to maintain a “clean and healthful environment.” (The Guardian)
There’s a new government research program in town. You may have heard of DARPA, the defense research program that brought us key pieces of the internet and GPS. Now, the federal government wants to launch a similar program for infrastructure. (The Verge)
→ I spoke with the head of the energy research program modeled after DARPA, which aims to unlock high-risk, high-reward energy projects. (MIT Technology Review)
A massive new charging depot reveals what it might take to keep electric big rigs running. (Grist)
Toyota plans to build vehicles with solid-state batteries. The company has faced mounting criticism about its slow uptake on electric vehicles. (Associated Press)
→ Here’s what a solid-state battery is and why it could change the game for EVs. (MIT Technology Review)