Why EV Charging Stations Suck (And What We Should Do About It)
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EV CHARGING

Why EV Charging Stations Suck (And What We Should Do About It)

EV charging stations
  • Electric vehicle charging stations are underwhelming, but what’s the solution?
  • We should rethink EV charge station design to turn them into destinations.
  • These charging stations could become community spaces, offering value to visitors beyond simply recharging their vehicles. 

A recent video from Stewart Hicks talked about EV charging stations and why they don’t quite live up to our expectations. Hicks makes some great points, and as the world shifts toward sustainable mobility, electric vehicles have become an inevitable part of our future. 

While the vehicles themselves are evolving at a rapid pace, there’s one crucial aspect that hasn’t quite kept up: the charging experience. Currently, these facilities leave a lot to be desired as they’re often inconveniently located, the process of plugging in can be underwhelming, and don’t even get me started on the anxiety over whether the charger will work

For drivers of internal combustion engine vehicles, a trip to a gas station is predictable, honed by decades of development and understanding of user needs. EV chargers, on the other hand, are still in their infancy, meaning there’s significant scope for improvement. There’s still a long way to go to make them more practical, user-friendly, and even pleasant places to spend time in.


Current Challenges with EV Charging Stations

Let’s look at some of the reasons EV chargers don’t quite live up to expectations.


They’re out of the way

Either hidden at the back of a parking lot or out in the middle of nowhere, these chargers might be a practical stop during a trip, but they’re so far from anything else, you’re either faced with an uninspiring walk near the highway or forced to just sit in your car and wait. 

A lot of EV drivers are used to this, but does it really have to be this way?


They’re unreliable

I’ve talked extensively about how range anxiety doesn’t exist, what we’re feeling is, instead, charger anxiety. Yes, your vehicle might guide you to a nice place to charge but you can’t be sure that charger will be available or even functional. This is often because they’re in out-of-the-way places with very little mind paid to maintenance.


They’re unsafe

A dark corner of a parking lot doesn’t feel safe for anyone trying to charge their EV at night, particularly for women. Gas stations all feature canopies to offer both light and shelter in easy reach of a nearby building, but because charging stations don’t have the same requirements, meaning they don’t need to be centralized around a convenience store, or similar, they’re often lacking the basics — like good lighting.


The overall experience is underwhelming

Even in situations where there are canopies and nearby amenities, EV charging stations still seem to deliver an underwhelming experience. It seems that very little thought goes into the layout of these charging stations, and instead, they offer little more than simple practicality. 

While there’s nothing wrong with this, there’s a huge opportunity here to do more with these spaces that take into account the unique spatial, social, and practical needs of the electric vehicle charging station, the drivers visiting them, and the local area.


The Ideal EV Charging Experience

I’ve done a lot of research into what EV drivers want from the charging experience and it should be a given that the basics like safety, shelter, reliability, and ease of use are covered. But what about taking things a step further to make EV charging stations part of the built environment?

It shouldn’t be enough for a charger to simply be tolerable and convenient. Why not make them destinations that cover a wide range of needs, creating a multi-use space that adds to the areas as a whole? 


James Silvester’s concept of an EV charging station that won first prize through Electric Autonomy Canada

Rethinking EV Charging Stations

Hicks outlined in his video that Electric Autonomy Canada ran a competition to find designs for the electric fueling station of the future. The entries show a completely different vision for EV charging stations with warm lighting, natural materials, and landscaping. Alongside these design elements are spaces for activities that contribute to the overall health and wellbeing of the people who will be stopping to charge.

There’s a sense of place to these designs that give visitors things to do while they wait to charge. Whether that just means sitting down for coffee, grabbing some lunch, or meeting friends, there’s suddenly purpose to the space that goes beyond simply refueling. 

But there’s the chance to go even further with designs that incorporate gardens, trailheads, gyms, meeting rooms, and more. This takes the experience beyond what we’re used to with a typical gas station because, let’s face it, charging a car is different from filling a car with gas — so, surely, the charging experience should be different, too.


GRIDSERVE

Potential Solutions

These aren’t new ideas, and many are already being adopted across Europe. GRIDSERVE for example, has several charging hubs that serve as destinations for drivers. The Electric Forecourts are powered by sustainable energy, have plenty of bays to ensure availability, and the buildings feature nice architectural details that make them pleasing to the eye.

But that’s not what makes them great. In each Electric Forecourt, you’ll find a community-first mindset that serves the local area while also offering a nice place to recharge with a coffee. These sites also offer test drives of electric vehicles and regular events that bring drivers and locals together.

In the US, Electrify America is working to reinvent the rest stop, too. The plans include everything you’d expect from a new charging hub alongside TVs, lounges, and places to relax. 

Automaker Rivian is also thinking outside the box when it comes to charging. In line with its adventure-ready vehicles, the Rivian Adventure Network features both DC fast chargers and level 2 destination chargers in locations that appeal to the typical Rivian driver. This means you’ll find chargers in national parks, allowing drivers to head out on a hike and return to a charged vehicle ready for the journey home.


Rivian

There are also companies working on urban solutions for EV charging, including EV skyscrapers. These are designed for cities where there isn’t the space to build an EV charging hub. Ennead Lab is one company looking into this and had developed the Charging Tower, which maximizes space while also providing much-needed chargers in city environments.

This means that even in areas where space is at a premium, it’ll still be possible to create a destination for EV drivers that allows them to charge, shop, and enjoy some free time — be that in the tower itself or out in the wider city.

As EVs are fast becoming the norm, the role of charging stations as not just serviceable, but integral and enjoyable parts of our built environment cannot be overstated. The current shortcomings of EV charging stations call for a rethinking of their design. There is a growing realization that these stations can be more than just practical amenities. They can become vibrant community spaces, and destinations in their own right, offering value to visitors beyond simply recharging their vehicles. 


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AUTHOR: 

JESS SHANAHAN

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