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Is Volta Fast Charging Free?

Electric vehicle (EV) drivers today are blessed with an ever-expanding network of public charging stations. But one question still lingers in many minds – is fast charging free at certain stations? Specifically, EV owners wonder if Volta‘s DC fast charging remains free, or if they now charge a fee.

Let‘s unpack Volta‘s charging offerings and business model. Then we‘ll see how they compare against the competition like Tesla Superchargers.

A Quick Primer on EV Charging Levels

Not all EV charging is created equal. There are a few different levels that provide charge at different speeds:

  • Level 1: Alternating current (AC) charging using a 120V household outlet. Very slow, adding ~3-5 miles of range per hour.

  • Level 2: Faster AC charging using a 240V outlet, commonly found in homes, businesses and public stations. Adds ~10-20 miles per hour.

  • DC Fast Charging: Direct current (DC) rapid charging, up to ~100-350 miles per hour. Requires special SAE Combo or CHAdeMO plugs.

Volta Offers Free Level 2 Charging, But DC Fast Charging Now Costs Money

Volta was founded in 2010 with a unique business model – provide free EV charging supported by advertising on digital screens surrounding the stations.

This model continues today with free Level 2 charging available at Volta‘s 1,800+ public charging stations located at shopping centers, gyms, restaurants, and entertainment venues.

Volta‘s Level 2 charging is limited to 30 minutes to 2 hours per session, depending on station traffic. This allows an EV to gain about 10-25 miles of range during a shopping or dinner stop – a useful free top-up!

However, in October 2022 Volta discontinued their previous offer of free DC fast charging. Their DC fast chargers are now fee-based, with prices displayed in the Volta mobile app.

The reason cited for this change was the high costs of operating DC fast chargers. So while AC Level 2 remains free, drivers looking for ultra-fast DC charging at Volta stations must now pay a per-session fee.

How Does Volta‘s Network Compare to the Competition?

Volta‘s wide Level 2 charging coverage provides a solid free charging option for many metro areas across over 20 states. But how does it stack up against other major charging networks?

Tesla Supercharger stations offer the fastest DC fast charging, at 150-250kW. But Tesla drivers must pay per kWh used, unlike Volta‘s previous free DC fast charging model.

ChargePoint also has an extensive nationwide charging network, but most stations require activating a fee-based charging plan. Some offer free charging for an introductory period.

Charging Speed Comparison

NetworkCharging TypeSpeedFee?
VoltaLevel 27-10 kWhFree
VoltaDC Fast Charging24-100 kWhPay per session
Tesla SuperchargerDC Fast ChargingUp to 250 kWhPay per kWh used
ChargePointLevel 2/DC Fast ChargingVariesFee-based charging plan

So while Volta‘s Level 2 charging remains free, other networks offer faster paid DC fast charging options. Tesla Superchargers are widely regarded as the "gold standard" for speed. But Volta‘s model of free, slower Level 2 charging fills an important niche.

The Pros and Cons of Level 2 Charging vs DC Fast Charging

Volta‘s focus on Level 2 charging provides some unique advantages:

Pros of Level 2 Charging:

  • More widely available than rare DC fast chargers
  • Less expensive to install and operate than DC fast chargers
  • Charging sessions are 2+ hours, delivering valuable ad impressions
  • Less wear on EV battery than ultra-fast DC charging

Pros of DC Fast Charging:

  • Much faster charging – up to 100+ miles of range per 30 minutes
  • Enables longer road trips with less charge time
  • Often located near highways for convenience

DC fast charging is incredibly convenient when you need to charge quickly on a road trip. But Volta‘s free Level 2 charging is superb for topping up your EV while running errands or shopping around town.

Volta‘s Business Model: Free Charging Supported by Advertising

So how does Volta offer free Level 2 charging to drivers? Their business model is all about advertising:

  • Digital screens surround Volta‘s charging stations, displaying ads to a valuable audience with time and money.

  • Advertising partners pay for visual impressions. Media revenue funds Volta‘s free charging network.

  • Retailers and venues provide the charging site in exchange for bringing in customers.

This aligns incentives beautifully: drivers get free charging, advertisers access EV owners, retailers enjoy more store traffic. It‘s win-win-win!

Volta has raised over $700 million from investors like GM, who believe in the potential of their ad-based model. Time will tell if this results in profitability.

Volta Acquired by Shell – What‘s Next?

In January 2023, Shell announced the acquisition of Volta for $169 million in cash.

As a global energy producer invested heavily in the EV transition, Shell was likely attracted by Volta‘s large base of charging sites secured with retailers.

Will Shell maintain Volta‘s ad-funded charging model? Or shift towards paid charging like most networks? Either way, Volta‘s contribution helped jumpstart free public charging in America.

The days of universal fast charging for all may be gone. But Volta deserves credit for pushing the industry towards creative business models that benefit both drivers and host locations.

While Volta has discontinued their previous free DC fast charging, Level 2 charging remains free for up to 2 hours per session. This provides a solid baseline of free public charging, supported by their advertising model.

DC fast charging delivers speed, but comes at a cost. Volta‘s stations offer a nice medium of free, if slower, charging options. As EV adoption grows, creative win-win charging models will help ease the transition for all.



Michael Reddy is a tech enthusiast, entertainment buff, and avid traveler who loves exploring Linux and sharing unique insights with readers.