What will the electric stations of the future be like?

Although charging stations are for many people, today, something quite exotic, the pace of electric vehicle registration (both plug-in hybrids and “pure” electric) grows at a good pace. Not as much as some might wish, but the numbers are undoubtedly positive, and point to a more than clear growth trend, which will undoubtedly continue at least in the short and medium term, according to all estimates.

For example, if we look at the data from the Comillas Pontifical University Electric Vehicle and Sustainable Mobility Observatory, we see that in 2021 all sales records were broken, with a total of 58,504 electric vehicle registrations (hybrids and pure), compared to 41,513 in 2020, which in turn were more than double those produced in 2019. Now, by type of vehicle, hybrids clearly won last 2021, with 38,099 registrations, compared to 20,405 pure electric cars registered in the same period.

Why this difference? Well, because although the fleet of charging stations has grown substantially in recent years, this is a deployment that has not yet been completedand which gives rise to circumstances such as the one told by the popular content creator Sezar Blue, of what had happened to him on a trip from Alcalá de Henares (Madrid) to O Grove (Galicia) with a Tesla Model 3 Standard Range, a trip that, as you can see in the video, became an odyssey.

The autonomy of electric vehicles continues to be, to this day, one of the factors that most limit its adoption by drivers. However, this problem will be seen substantially alleviated as the park of electrolineras, that is, charging stations for electric vehicles, will grow in the coming years. A growth that, except for specific cases, should occur throughout the world.

Thus, along with research aimed at creating faster charging systems, we are also faced with the need to consider what charging stations should be likeif they must reproduce the model of the gas stations of all life or, on the contrary, this is the right time to completely renew the design of these facilities, creating spaces that are better suited to the needs of their users and, why not , also to more refined environmental and aesthetic criteria.

Electric Autonomy Canada, in association with Parkland Corp, organized a design contest asking designers from around the world what the electric stations of the future should look like in Canada, and after the five months during which the designers could make their contributions, we already know the winners of the call. And the truth is that they are the most interesting, although they undoubtedly have an idealistic point, which should be checked to see how it matches reality.

The winning design, called «More with Less», has been the one presented by the architect James Silvester, from Scotland, and the charging station proposed in it presents us a rectangular cantilever with circular edges, under which are the loading points and a series of service spacesranging from waiting rooms to a gym to make the most of those minutes of stopping and charging.

The charging station design that has been in second position is the work of the architecture studio Fabric.a Architects from Turkey, and as its name, The Circle, indicates, we find an open circular cantilever in the central areawhich brings together the chargers on the outside of it, and inside it has some service spaces but, mainly, with a large open garden area, where you can enjoy waiting while charging.

And closing the list of winners, we find the design of the architect Pavel Babiienko from Berlin, who has presented a design for a charging station that, curiously, seems to take elements from the previous two, but adds an extremely modular designwhich undoubtedly makes it very practical in order to adapt it to different environments with different needs.

As you can see, when reviewing the three winning designs, the main proposals for the charging stations of the future opt for quite similar materials, a profusion of green areas and, in general, quite clean and very pleasant designs. In some, in addition, work areas, playgrounds are also included and, curiously, at least from the perspective of the Spanish service areas, there seems to be hardly any commercial and restaurant spaces.

Many of the charging stations submitted to the competition include, of course, solar panels with which to power the lighting and signaling systemsin addition to having designs in which energy efficiency has been taken into account, while they have been adapted to the harsh weather that occurs in certain Canadian regions.

Will we see electric stations like this?

According to data from Electromaps, at the beginning of February we had 9,614 recharging points in Spain, although it is important to clarify that not all of them are charging stations, since in its database there are also other public charging points, such as shopping centers, restaurants, etc., the latest data in this regard speak of just over 7,800 of these installationsat least part of them located in spaces shared with traditional gas stations.

And this is the first point against charging station designs like the ones we can see in the Canadian contest. Although every day we can see more electric vehicles, the vast majority of the mobile fleet, not only today, but also in the coming years, is made up of vehicles powered by gasoline, diesel and, to a lesser extent, LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas). Thus, it is likely that, at least in the short term, the next charging stations continue to share space with fossil fuel service stationswhich makes it impossible to apply these designs.

On the other hand, we find ourselves in a complex moment, in which despite the fact that the electric ones have not yet been consolidated, their future alternative has already begun to show its head. I am speaking, of course, of hydrogen, a totally clean energy source, and that for many is the true future of the engine. Although its development is still in the early stages, the deployment of the first hydrogen stations has already begun, with six stations of this type in Spain.

This casts doubt if the future of the engine is electric, based on hydrogen or hybrid, with vehicles that combine both systems. In this context, and given the large amount involved in the deployment of both charging stations and hydrogen stations, doubts about the model that will be imposed in the future are a brake for those who may be considering the deployment of this type of facility. Something that, in turn, weighs on public opinion when purchasing electric vehicles, and even more so those powered by hydrogen, which are currently reduced to the Hyundai NEXO and Toyota Mirai, although in 2022 the arrival of, at least four other models from different manufacturers.

The arrival of the charging stations and, in their wake, the hydrogen stations, poses an interesting moment for the deployment of new service station formats, but the dependence on fossil fuels, which will continue to be present for many years to come, makes it necessary to think about more creative solutions, in which the different types of supplies can be combined, undoubtedly in a modular design that, when the time comes, will allow the pumps and the infrastructure associated with them to be eliminated from any of these sources. And that design challenge does seem singularly interesting to me.

Be that as it may, what seems clearer every day is that fossil fuels, especially gasoline and diesel, have their days numbered, so this type of space must now move forward in its refurbishment and adaptation to that future which, especially in the case of electric spaces, is becoming more present every day. And it would be a shame, a great shame, if they didn’t take this opportunity to reinvent themselves. It may not be so necessary in two or three years, but if we look a little further, let’s put a period of 10 years, we can expect enormous progress in this regard, and a greater presence of electric stations and hydrogen stations.

What future do you expect for electric stations? Do you think this change should be used to redesign service stations? Personally I admit that I can be cynical and, consequently, I fear that in the future the only thing that will change is what the suppliers deliver, but little else. The good part of no change? That at least we can continue stocking up on the delicious Miguelitos on any trip along the A3 in which we cross Cuenca. Not everything was going to be bad… although, without a doubt, it could be better.

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