Granite Geek: Why (Almost) No One's Using Tesla's Hooksett Charging Stations

Apr 26, 2016

Next time you’re heading through Hooksett, N.H. on I-93, look for a Tesla electric car stopped at one of the dozen charging stations. Chances are, you won’t find a Tesla or any other kind of electric vehicle there. These stations are not used very often. David Brooks, reporter for The Concord Monitor and writer at Granitegeek.org, spoke with NHPR’s All Things Considered host Peter Biello about why these charging stations are so infrequently used.

This is a super-convenient thing for people who own electric Tesla vehicles. Why aren’t they used more often?

There just aren’t enough Teslas out there, frankly. It’s very much a niche car, a very cool [car], and I'd be happy to take one if someone wants to give me one. But there aren’t that many of them on the road. There’s 20-some odd million vehicles that pass by the Hooksett tolls every year, but only a few thousand of them are probably Teslas.

Are you serious? There aren’t more $100,000 cars out there?

Not in my neighborhood, anyway.

And these stations—they only charge Teslas. They can’t charge the other cars that would require a plug-in.

And that’s kind of the point and the reason they’re there. It's because Tesla put them there. Tesla paid roughly $300,000 to the developers of the hospitality centers, which weren’t interested in doing it themselves. It’s very expensive. So Tesla said, “We’ll do it.” This is one of the things they have done to make Teslas work. Gotta hand it to them—they’re brilliant, and this is one of the things they’ve thought out and paid for. They realized that if you want a long-distance trip in your Tesla, you can go 250-300 miles, maybe, and then you need to charge up. So you need some stations. So they’ve sprinkled these around interstates around the country, and this is one of the ones they’ve built. 

I was curious about how often they get used. It’s hard to get information out of Tesla. They’re a very secretive company. Even the owners of the hospitality centers (as I mentioned in the column) had trouble getting numbers out of Tesla.  Tesla said roughly 3,000 visits in the first year. Which, if you divide it out, is…any given charger is in use maybe an hour a day, maybe.

Because it doesn’t take long to charge these things.

This is so-called “Stage Three” or “Stage Four” charging. It’s extremely high power. There are specialized transformers built right next to them to handle the load. It can top off your Tesla in 10, 15 or 20 minutes. If you’re running on empty, it still could take a maximum of 75 minutes. Of course, the owner of the hospitality center likes that because if you’re parked and charging, you’re going to walk in and buy something at the restaurant or the liquor store.

But we’re not quite there yet. We’re not at the point where there’s a line to use the chargers.

Not here. There have been—I’ve heard places in California where there are some issues with it, where of course there are more electric vehicles.

What does this say about the market for electric vehicles?

More interesting than the Tesla issue is that there aren’t other chargers there. The Tesla charger only works on Teslas. They were waiting for an industry standard to be developed, so they just went ahead and developed their own. There is another type of charger that’s used on North American electric vehicles. There’s a different standard that’s used in Europe. But nobody will pay or even help pay to put those in at the Hooksett tolls. And that’s because there’s no single person, single company that’s sort of in charge of that charger.

Is there any indication of when the electric car market will reach that critical mass where companies start investing in this technology in a more widespread fashion?

Not that I’ve heard of but, you know, it’s early days. One thing I’d like to see, frankly, is the electric utilities. This is a big market for them. Why don’t we have Eversource, the equivalent of a Shell gas station, an Eversource power station? There are regulatory reasons why that’s complicated, but that’s one possible way to go. I mean, these are people who want to sell electricity and electric cars would buy electricity. And they have the money to actually do it. But otherwise, I don’t see any large company that’s standing up and saying, "I want to build a regional or national network of chargers for all other electric cars."

You asked your employer, the Concord Monitor, to buy you a Tesla for, ahem, research.

Journalism, please. It’s journalism.

Any luck on that?

Yeah, I’m expecting the positive answer any day now.