Welcome to the Babylon of EV charging - can this be sustainable?

The infrastructure of new mobility concepts must move away from insular thinking towards economically efficient, ecologically sustainable and socially fair standards

Opinion by Prof. Nikolaus Hafermaas, Graft Brandlab

Petrol station 1930s by Anastasia Hafermass
Copyright Anastasia Hafermaas

Author: House of Eden

Impressive, this picture of a gas station from the 1930s, on which a driver is shown, who must decide between 12 different brands of petrol at an seemingly endless row of petrol pumps. Thanks to my son - he gave me this wonderful book “The Definitive History of Driving”, which contains this initially amusing-absurd and then thought-provoking picture. History repeating itself.

As in the 1930s with the commercialisation of the combustion engine, we are now in a phase of awakening with E-mobility. As in the past, car manufacturers and energy providers are now competing to expand the EV charging infrastructure. A constant battle for displacement when new technologies conquer the market. Unfortunately, this is always carried out on the back of the consumer and, even worse, the environment.

Viewed apocalyptically, our transport infrastructure could look like this in a few years' time: Littered with a wide variety of charging stations, whether public or semi-public, as stations or individual pillars, and all of these from different providers. And associated with this, different charging technologies, which in turn require their own charging plugs, and different charging cards from the providers. In addition, petrol stations lying idle. A confusing hodgepodge, which not only overwhelms users, but is also absolutely unsustainable.

Copyright Graft Brandlab

The new ecology needs socially fair and open ecosystems

We are actively designing future mobility concepts, such as air taxis or the expansion of the EV charging infrastructure for various players and pioneers. A special project has just received the International Architecture Award:

The ultra-fast charging station for E.ON. The concept sets new standards: smart and modular, with integrated sustainable measures, such as photovoltaic systems on the rooftop, charging purely green electricity or the ability of the station to adapt to variable usage scenarios. The first prototype has already been launched in Essen, and further stations in Germany will follow.

Our goal is to create a better world together with our customers. How we do that: Away from insular thinking and closed ecosystems - towards an economically efficient, ecologically sustainable and socially fair infrastructure for new mobility concepts.

Copyright Michael Romstöck

Charging infrastructure is waiting for a great reset

This also applies to hardware standards, because let's be honest: How many outdated charging cables and cell phones do you have in your closet? It's scary. According to the “Global E-Waste Monitor”, around 2019 million tons of electronic waste were thrown away in 53,6. A number easier to grasp is this striking example from the ZEIT authors . "According to their calculations, we would need 350 ships the size of the cruise liner Queen Mary 2 to weigh out all the discarded monitors, scrapped cell phones and disposed refrigerators." 14 kg of electronic waste in 2017 have been produced by each German citizen alone.

If we want to create sustainable products, this will only be possible if we reduce the quantity. The cosmos of quickly outdated plug-in modules, the construction of devices with a short life cycle to provoke regular new purchases, the duplication of products without novelty value, which ultimately only leads to an unnecessary increase in future waste - all of this is no longer timely. Many speak of the Great Reset, the major rethinking in our society - but this rethinking has not fully taken place yet, when speaking about charging infrastructure.

But there are already bright spots on the horizon. Most recently, the EU Commission has proposed a bill, that will dictate the USB-C port for all smartphones from 2024. And also Tesla reacts. On July 21, 2021 Elon Musk announced the worldwide opening of their fast charging network for other electric vehicles. These are all good news for the necessary change. I am sure we will make it - with more networking, more we together, and more technology, that keeps an eye on people, nature and the environment.

 

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Author: Nikolaus Hafermaas

Prof. Nikolaus Hafermaas is Managing Partner Creation of the innovation agency Graft Brandlab. The former dean of the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena / CA focuses on the creative connection between technology and being human. He runs the agency together with Rico Zocher, which was founded by Graft Architects in 2014, with the aim to make brands tangible in a multidimensional way, while acting at the interface of art, design and technology. Projects include the development and implementation of branding strategies in the form of multimedia branding, communication, architecture and mediatecture.

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