• Charging Stations

More than just a place to recharge

What will the charging stations of the future look like?

Avatar By: Karen Kwan October 11, 2021

With the goal of putting Canada at the forefront of design-forward electric vehicle charging stations, news platform Electric Autonomy Canada is setting out to explore the potential of future EV charging stations in its recently launched competition. In partnership with fuel and petroleum supplier Parkland, the “Electric Fuelling Station of the Future” competition is focused on the roadside havens we could all be pulling up to soon for refuelling.

Considering Canada’s new electric-vehicle sales goal targets (10 percent share by 2025, 40 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2040), the way in which we fuel our cars is set to change dramatically. “On a highway journey, gassing up is often viewed as a detriment to driving. But with an EV, drivers say they use that stopping point as a positive in their journey,” said Nino Di Cara, founder of Electric Autonomy Canada.

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“They plan to make the most of that 10- to 40-minute stop to take a washroom break and check their emails,” he said.

These future roadside oases could be not only a place where you can stretch your legs and grab a meal, but also provide a spot for kids to play, and also where you can get a massage, adds Di Cara.

There’s a lifestyle that’ll develop down the line around how we fuel our EV cars and the stations will reflect that, much like the state of the art Nathan Phillips Square Bicycle Station—the sleekly designed $2.5-million award-winning project designed for the urban bike commuter’s lifestyle. This membership-based space features Toronto-inspired art on the walls, 170 bike parking spots, industrial-chic washrooms and even showers complete with towel service so members can freshen up from their commute before heading into the office.

The design of EV charging stations

Futuristic EV charging stations might conjure up visions of Jetsons-esque updates of current canopied gas stations, but Di Cara says there’s no reason EV charging stations can’t be enclosed. “The vehicles will all be electric—no gas pumps—so there’s no fumes or toxic fuels, so you could potentially charge your car indoors,” he said.

Di Cara points to some station designs in Europe and Asia as what prompted Electric Autonomy Canada to launch this competition.

“Canada can be a leader in this transition to EV charging stations,” he said.

The design entries will be judged by a panel of leading architects on innovation, design, sustainability and feasibility, and the best concept could be developed down the line.

Today’s EV charging stations

Today’s EV charging stations, like those from Petro-Canada’s Electric Highway—the first coast-to-coast EV fast charge network—feature standalone posts with the typical amenities nearby (restaurants and windshield washing stations and the like), a couple are equipped with dog parks. ONroute, the operator of 23 plazas along the 400 and 401 in Ontario, has yet to enter the EV charging market; the company is looking to have a plan in place for 2022.

For many suppliers, the current focus is pinpointing the best urban locations rather than developing amenities to cultivate the future lifestyle of how we fuel. “At FLO, our users tell us that in urban areas, EV charging is very convenient because it can be a passive or enabling activity: you park your car, plug in, and move on to whatever activity is on your agenda. Level 2 charging takes place while you shop, eat, watch your kids play sports, work, etc.,” said Vincent Lévesque, senior director of design and experience at FLO. Similarly, ChargePoint compares charging your car to plugging in your smartphone—you charge it wherever you are, when you’re not using it, close to existing amenities.

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Retail partnership opportunities

The area brands like ChargePoint and FLO are developing and seeing growth is in the form of synergistic partnerships. At ChargePoint, their ChargePoint Connections program has evolved from its beginnings as a free or discounted charging benefit to employees, to a program that enables businesses hosting a ChargePoint spot to connect with the public. In the case of retail store parking lot locations, Chargepoint Connections can now offer personalized discounts to drivers who plug in to charge.

“We’re working with retailers to bring this next level of experience to customers,” said Suzanne Goldberg, Canadian public policy director at ChargePoint. This year, they launched EcoCharge with IGA and Earth Day Canada, a network of 100 fast-charging stations at IGA locations throughout Quebec and New Brunswick. Besides providing an added service to a retailer’s customer base, hosting stations benefits the bottom line: research shows that the average time an EV driver spends in that retail store is 50 minutes longer than the average customer, and with increased shopping time, comes increased revenue.

“Stores are offering free charging at their FLO stations to members of their loyalty programs (such as at two locations of La Maison Simons), or even integrating charging stations with solar parking lots, to help get more renewables included,” said Lévesque.

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The past few years of innovation have birthed strategic brand partnerships and design-forward innovations. Sweden will lead the way for another innovation: the world’s first electrified road that actively charges cars as they drive along it is scheduled to open in 2025.

“As the number of EV drivers grows, this is definitely an area where we can expect even more initiatives and creativity,” he said.

Design Competition: The Electric Fuelling Station of the Future

This design competition, hosted by Electric Autonomy Canada in partnership with Parkland, is looking to architects, engineers, landscape architects, designers and cross-disciplinary practitioners to reimagine today’s gas station as a highway oasis for electric-vehicle charging. The deadline for submissions is Nov. 15, 2021. A panel of industry experts will select the top three winners of the competition, who will receive $25,000, $10,000 and $5,000 respectively.