My experience using public chargers has been good over the past year of driving an electric vehicle: Most of the chargers work, they’re usually available, and my Hyundai Ioniq 5 has never run out of juice.
No horror stories from me.
Still, the infrastructure could be better given the relatively limited range of most EVs, especially during the winter months, when batteries work harder.
There can be long stretches between fast-charging stations along highways, when you need to power up and go. There is no guarantee that all the chargers will be in working order, adding to my anxiety on longer trips.
As well, some chargers are located in dingy corners of lots, with no signage and poor lighting, making them appear more like a tentative experiment than a solid step toward an electric future. I’ve never once found a squeegee I could use.
For charging options to flourish – with more locations, better lighting and, yes, a squeegee – businesses need to embrace chargers as a no-brainer with compelling financial incentives, especially as the ranks of EV owners swell.
The more money that can be siphoned from the pockets of EV owners, the more likely businesses are to expand their charging facilities, so it becomes easy-peasy to drive anywhere without worrying about your next charge.
Pasquale Romano, the chief executive officer of ChargePoint Holdings Inc., a U.S.-based charging network offering more than 210,000 places to juice up throughout North America and Europe, agrees that there is room for improvement.
“What you’re seeing now are the artifacts of an early market,” he told me during a Zoom chat, referring specifically to chargers located in the “back forty″ of parking lots, where lighting can be bleak.
“A lot of that stuff is going to get wiped away,” he added.
The way he sees it, an EV charging station is part of a new, 30-minute retail economy. Traditional gas stations make a lot of their money selling snacks and whatever else to drivers in the five minutes it takes to fill a gas tank.
Stress Test podcast: Are electric vehicles finally an affordable solution?
EV owners, though, can easily take 30 minutes to power up at fast chargers, making them more likely to spend money while they wait, perhaps on meals. Slower chargers at some stores or malls might have drivers lingering for considerably longer.
“The suite of things they can sell you is broader because of the increased duration of how long you’re there. So you’re actually worth more to a site than a gas driver,” Mr. Romano said.
I’ve discovered a few convenient charging options that reflect this strategy.
IKEA now provides EV charging at all its Canadian stores, after a pilot program begun five years ago. Charging aligns with the retailer’s climate ambitions, but EV owners are also drawn to the Billy bookcases and Swedish meatballs.
“Outside of store opening hours, EV drivers are often sipping coffee while checking their phones. During store opening hours, EV drivers are likely shopping or enjoying a meal in the IKEA restaurant,” Helene Loberg, head of sustainability at IKEA Canada, said in an e-mail.
I tried out the IKEA charging station on a recent visit to the North York store in Toronto. The chargers weren’t powerful, but the free charge offset the power I used to get to the store and return home.
I’ve also been spending more time at Canadian Tire stores that offer much-coveted fast-charging stations at some locations. The retailer aims to have 80 per cent of EV drivers within 50 kilometres of one of its chargers by the end of this year, after it adds another 24 charging sites to the 124 in operation now.
“As customer EV adoption grows, so too will our role,” Micheline Davies, Canadian Tire’s senior vice-president of automotive, said in an e-mail.
With charging apparently having the support of some businesses, what sort of future can EV owners expect?
It could be sweet, given some of the plans in the works.
ChargePoint, Mercedes-Benz and MN8 Energy, a renewable energy provider, are teaming up to develop more than 400 new charging hubs in the United States and Canada, open to all EV drivers (with some perks for Mercedes owners).
The rendering of what the companies envision shows a futuristic, well-lit canopy over the charging area and plenty of seating nearby, which suggests the EV experience is moving out of the back forty and into the space age.
In another development, Parkland Corp., the Canadian-based convenience store and gas-station company that operates under banners such as Ultramar, Chevron and On the Run, is expanding its network of fast chargers – and offering considerably more than electricity.
The bet: EV owners will want fresh food while they wait, which is one reason why Parkland acquired M&M Food Market last year and has been testing a chipotle grilled chicken BLT, among other meals, to go with its charging experience.
Throw in the use of a squeegee and I’m sold.
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