Over the past couple of months, RESET has put the topic of e-mobility under the microscope. With the transport sector accounting for one-fifth of all C02 emissions in the EU in 2016, a major switch over to electric vehicles could massively decrease the amount of greenhouse gases and particulate pollution that are released into the atmosphere. But what will it take for e-mobility to make it to the mainstream?
A ton of innovations have already sprung up, all designed to make e-mobility more attractive to consumers and to take the hassle out of when/how/where to charge – from charging stations built into lampposts, to apps that help you find an appropriate charging station and an Airbnb style option for charging at different people’s homes.
But all of these approaches have one thing in common (unless we’re talking about inductive charging, of course, where the vehicle is charged while you drive via special covering placed on the road surface) – once you’ve plugged your vehicle in, you’re in for a bit of a wait before you can get back on the road.
As a response to that very issue, China has reinvented the charging station – or put a new spin on it at least. EV drivers in Shanghai now have the option of charging their vehicles at special “filling stations” that don’t just offer electricities for their batteries, but also a whole range of entertainment options. While downstairs their vehicles are chugging energy, the EV drivers are welcome to use the space above where there are two virtual reality games rooms, a cafe with free internet access, karaoke rooms, a cinema and several VIP spaces where you can enjoy a private film screening.
The 2500 metre square filling station in Western Shanghai isn’t exactly overrun with drivers right now, but Tellus Power, the company behind it, believes user numbers will rise and already has plans to open other branches. The company wants to open ten charging stations in the next few years in Shanghai alone, with plans to one day eventually expand into Europe.
Zero Emissions Thanks to Rooftop Solar Panels
The station has 44 charging points, 13 60-kilowatt DC chargers, 29 AC devices and two Tesla charging points. The DC chargers can charge a vehicle within 20 minutes, while the others need around three to four hours. The centre can charge up to 400 cars per day.
And what makes this place really special? The electricity used doesn’t come from the central grid, but instead directly from the roof of the building. Full of solar panels, the energy they produce ends up in the car batteries. Any excess energy is fed into the public grid. This concept results in a zero emissions charging centre.
The pioneering project is receiving support from the Chinese government. Unlike many other countries, China is pouring money into the promotion of vehicles with alternative drives and thousands of new charging stations are being installed every month. And the numbers show that it’s paying off: China is the world leader in both the production and use of electric vehicles – the country with the largest number of EVs on the road, and sales of so-called “new energy cars” were up 53.3 per cent on last year, according to statistics from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.
Could the Concept Work Elsewhere?
Even if karaoke and VR rooms might find less fans outside of Asia than they do in China, Shanghai’s electric filling station provides a good basis for a discussion about how the concept could work in other cultural contexts. How can EV owners use the time productively when they’re forced to sit and wait for their vehicles to be charged?
If urban areas were to properly prepare for e-mobility and set up the infrastructure to provide for it, then huge charging centres like this probably wouldn’t be necessary very often. One solution that comes to mind is a decentralised infrastructure where charging stations are distributed throughout the city at places where cars are going to be parked for a while anyway: in front of supermarkets, shopping centres, libraries, cinemas and car parks, for example. In that way, the “entertainment” part is already provided for. And apps like Share&Charge could help bring more charging points to rural areas and allow more motorists easy access.
But I could see entertainment/filling stations like this having real potential on European motorways. A combination of EV charging station & entertainment centre (with cinema, sport and play areas) could be a good way of adding some fun and variety to long journeys with the electric car. And with solar power directly from the rooftop solar panels, the energy mix is certainly greener than what you’ll normally find elsewhere.
This is a translation by Marisa Pettit of the original article that first appeared on RESET’s German-language site.