At the start of this year, Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk made the bold promise his company would eventually launch a network of fast-charging systems to allow owners of electric cars to extend their driving range with a level of convenience at least approaching that of conventional combustion cars. In June, Tesla gave us some more clues about the new system, which it nicknamed a “Supercharger,” and promised to deliver the first examples before the year was out.

Tesla has now lived up to that promise, announcing the first six Supercharger stations, which will allow the company’s Model S luxury sedan to travel similar distances to combustion cars. The best part is that the electricity comes from solar panels and is offered free to Model S owners.

And to really stress that electric cars can be much cleaner than their combustion counterparts, each of the stations are designed to generate more energy from the sun over the course of a year than is expected to be consumed by Tesla owners. This will result in a slight net positive transfer of clean power back to the electricity grid, helping to offset the amount of electricity in the grid generated by coal-powered stations or other non-renewable means.

Additionally, since all the power comes from sunlight, once the station is established, further maintenance costs are minimal, which means we could see more and more of these systems pop up over the coming years. As mentioned, just six locations have been confirmed thus far, all of them in the state of California. However, this is just the beginning.

By next year, Tesla plans to install Superchargers in high traffic corridors across the U.S., enabling fast, purely electric travel from Vancouver to San Diego, Miami to Montreal and Los Angeles to New York. Yes, eventually Model S owners will be able to drive across the country without paying a cent! The company will also begin installing Superchargers in Europe and Asia in the second half of 2013.

Initial locations for Tesla Supercharger fast-charging system

Initial locations for Tesla Supercharger fast-charging system

The Supercharger is substantially more powerful than any charging technology to date, providing almost 100 kW of power to the Model S, with the potential to go as high as 120 kW in the future. This can replenish around three hours of driving at 60 mph in just 30 minutes, the average time it takes to stop at a gas station, take a toilet break and maybe grab a snack.

The system itself uses a unique 440-volt fast-charger developed by Tesla. Current 240-volt systems take around 8 hours to top up the biggest 85 kWh, 300-mile range battery of the Model S.

Currently, the hardware required to make use of the Supercharger is standard on Model S vehicles equipped with the 85 kWh battery and optional on Model S vehicles equipped with a 60 kWh battery.

“Tesla’s Supercharger network is a game changer for electric vehicles, providing long distance travel that has a level of convenience equivalent to gasoline cars for all practical purposes,” Elon Musk said in a statement. “By making electric long distance travel at no cost, an impossibility for gasoline cars, Tesla is demonstrating just how fundamentally better electric transport can be.