ATLANTA—To add an electric vehicle charging station or not, that is the question facing many U.S. gas stations today, the Wall Street Journal reports. While EVs have been touted as the future for American transportation, building the infrastructure now, with few EVs on the road, is a costly endeavor. In 2020, EVs accounted for about 2% of new U.S. car sales and in recent weeks stood at 3% of new vehicle sales.
Some convenience and fuel retailers have invested in the technology, while others say they can’t expend the dollars needed to install the expensive equipment, even as General Motors and Ford Motor Co. lay out plans for EV expansion. Last week, President Biden unveiled an aggressive target to up the number of U.S. electric, hydrogen fuel-cell and plug-in hybrid vehicles in use on the road to 50% by 2030.
Many retailers label themselves as “fuel agnostic,” willing to see whatever customers want. But exactly when to put chargers into the refuel mix can be tricky, especially with EV owners plugging in at home, work or shopping centers where they can spend the several hours typically required for Level 1 or Level 2 battery charging.
“We don’t see an investable marketplace,” said A.J. Siccardi, president of Metroplex Energy Inc., the fuel-supply subsidiary of RaceTrac Petroleum Inc. The parent company, which operates more than 750 RaceTrac and RaceWay gas stations, has been considering EV chargers for two years but hasn’t found “a viable business case.”
Pilot Co., which operates more than 900 fueling and retail locations in Canada and the U.S., has 58 chargers, the most popular of which are only in use about 5% of the time. “The economic case today for EV charging investment does not exist,” Shameek Konar, Pilot CEO, told the Journal. He would like to see policies that strengthen private investment and public-private ventures.
Some companies view charging investments as an experiment. The 46-unit TXB (Texas Born) chain will unveil its first charging stations this month. “We’re going to put them in. Maybe it’s backwards, but then we’ll figure it out,” including what to charge for the service, said Kevin Smartt, TXB CEO and 2020-21 NACS chairman.
Utility demand charges are one stumbling block for convenience retailers looking to offer EV charging. A demand charge is meant to cover the utility’s cost of providing sufficient infrastructure for commercial or industrial businesses with high peak electrical needs. When energy demand spikes well above the average, the infrastructure must be able to support the surge in usage. Utilities pass along those costs to the high peak users. (Look for a closer look at EV demand charges in the September issue of NACS Magazine.)
“We’re just totally guessing at what that fee is and what it will take to cover our total costs,” Smartt told the Journal. “We’re going to have to look at it on a month-by-month basis and kind of go back and see if we’re close.”
Zahir Walji, owner of High Country Market Bistro and GastroPub (featured in the July 2020 Gas Station Gourmet column in NACS Magazine), told the Journal he has no plans to add chargers to his forecourt. “I have not gotten enough customers even saying, ‘Hey, did you ever think about this?’” Walji said.
A new report from the Fuels Institute Electric Vehicle Council, “EV Consumer Behavior,” provides invaluable insight to help guide those entering and involved in the EV market. The report includes information about the habits and practices of current EV owners and how those might change over time, which can help retailers make decisions regarding if and when it may be a good time to install EV chargers at their stores.
“The EV landscape continues to change at a rapid pace,” said John Eichberger, director, Fuels Institute. “The Electric Vehicle Council recognized that the charging infrastructure must be built to satisfy the needs of not just current drivers but also those drivers yet to purchase an EV … This report aggregates current published knowledge about these behaviors and needs to help build an EVSE system that effectively satisfies EV driver demand now and tomorrow.”
Be sure to check out “The Future of Mobility Includes Electric” in NACS Magazine to learn about the EV growing market and keep up with the latest EV news.