The New Highway Hub.

Featured image credit: Roos Korthals Altes

In the future, charging an electric vehicle won’t be much different from going to the gas station for fuel. We are slowly gravitating towards a world where old-fashioned gas stations are no more. Instead, the highway service areas might turn into multi-purpose hubs, incorporating gasoline and charging stations, as well as quality shops.

This is the scenario envisaged by Michiel Langezaal. More than two years ago he founded Fastned, a network of fast-charging stations for electric vehicles (EVs) in the Netherlands.

The future is clear to Michiel: “An electric car is a better form of mobility, compared to old-fashioned gasoline cars. It’s just a better product, like a Plasma TV compared to the old-fashioned bulky CRT types”. Companies are aiming to offer electric cars at prices similar to those of existing gasoline cars, the batteries are becoming cheaper and the fast-charging sector is booming. “Increased range and faster charging will bring more freedom to the electric car. In a couple of years the industry will reach the point of no return, its ‘Kodak moment,’ argues Michiel. The increased number of EVs on Dutch roads requires charging infrastructure, and this is what Fastned is focusing on.

As explained by Michiel, the existing network of car service areas along the Dutch highways was developed by the government back in 1970-90. At that point, such designated areas were meant to cater for cars running on fossil fuels, being occupied by gasoline stations only. However, responding to the shift towards e-mobility, the government now also issued concessions for charging stations. Michiel continues: “These charging stations will be built on the same service areas along the already existing gasoline stations. Soon there will be electricity at all these service areas as well.”

Michiel shares the view that it is nearly impossible nowadays to integrate gas and electricity within one station: “Gas stations are controlled by oil companies who do not want electric cars.” He then explains the underlying reason for a shift towards EVs in general: “In some time, gasoline will be too precious to burn and they (oil companies—ed.) know that. New technology, the electric vehicle, now offers the public the option to choose different and stop burning gas.”

Gas stations today, will give way to the stations of tomorrow, offering quality and affordable fast-charging options to EV owners, as well as a layer of additional services like shops and cafés. Creating such hubs is Fastned’s goal and also a logical next step in the clean mobility movement.

The widespread concern related to fast-charging used to be that such charging would negatively affect the battery. Michiel comments on this: “There is nothing wrong with fast-charging a battery, which was initially meant to be fast-charged. It could bad, though, for batteries not designed for such handling.” Cars offering their drivers the option to fast charge are fitted with the right batteries. He then adds: “I was in a taxi in Amsterdam recently, in a Nissan Leaf. It had already driven 150.000 kilometres and the driver told me that there were no noticeable detrimental effects on the vehicle’s range, although he had fast charged it at least 3 or 4 times a day.”

Will electric cars overtake the market? How will the future of mobility look? These are questions consumers wonder about. We can see, however, that more companies like Fastned are needed to propel the change in people’s mindsets and the industry itself. With time, more players of this kind will emerge on the market, ensuring access to charging facilities for the growing number of EV owners. Plug-in vehicle drivers in the US are already making use of public charging stations located at libraries, hospitals and shopping centers.

 

*This is an edited version of an article which originally appeared in a printed NRG Magazine, June 2014. You can view it on ISSUU

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The New Highway Hub.

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