Encouraging drivers to switch to electric vehicles is a key plank of government efforts to reduce carbon emissions — and policymakers around the world are backing their climate commitments with generous incentives for businesses that install EV chargers.
Federal grants in the US can cut the cost of installing rapid chargers by up to 30% thanks to US$5 billion in funding for a national charging network. In Europe, commercial EV charging incentives can be even bigger. In Germany, for example, one government program offers to cover up to 60% of the costs of installing charging infrastructure.
Such incentives are creating an opportunity for gas stations to convert their operations to e-charging hubs. This is already starting to happen. Oil major Shell unveiled a pioneering conversion in London in 2022, replacing gas and diesel pumps with nine rapid chargers, offering a glimpse into what the filling station of the future may look like.
As more gas station operators consider similar conversions, here are some of the key steps to think about.
Types of chargers
Just as internal combustion engines run on a range of different fuels — from diesel to high-octane gasoline — EVs have different charging capabilities.
Let’s cover the basics first. All electric batteries store DC power, but an EV can typically be charged with either AC or DC. This is because EVs have onboard converters that can handle the AC supplied by the grid. Many public charging points offer AC charging, but DC chargers are faster and more suited to commercial operations.
When converting a former gas station location, the goal should be to offer charging that can get drivers back on the road as quickly as possible, similar to the experience of refueling an internal combustion engine. Rapid DC chargers with a capacity of 50kW to 300kW are ideal for this application, while slower AC charging is suited to homes or offices.
EVs have different capability in terms of how much power they can draw while charging, so an e-charging hub will need to offer connectors that can deliver a range of power outputs.
See here for more information on how fast charging works and the different types of connectors in common use
Gas stations make higher margins inside the store than at the pump, even though most people just want to pay and get on their way. Charging an EV is a different experience that will be reflected in the filling stations of the future.
While ultra-rapid charging certainly lives up to its name, it’s still not as fast as pumping gasoline. The typical time spent at a gas station is around five minutes, but an average visit to an e-charging station is likely to be closer to 20 minutes.
Here are some estimates of how quickly different charging rates can provide 100km of range, based on average battery sizes and typical conditions:
- 100kW – 12 min
- 150kW – 8 min
- 300kW – 4 min
This will have implications for the design and layout of EV hubs. Unlike a gas pump, an EV charger is safe to be left unattended, which means that customers at an e-charging station are much more likely to visit the retail location — and will spend more time (and money) during each visit. Indeed, EV owners typically time their charging stops to coincide with a meal or coffee break, so franchising agreements with coffee chains, food outlets and other retailers are an obvious opportunity.
The business of refueling vehicles will always be highly competitive, but EV charging is a cleaner and more pleasant experience for customers, much more similar to a typical retail environment than a gas station.
The sale of internal combustion engine vehicles is forecast to fall by around a third during the current decade. Combined with the existing trends of better gas mileage and fewer miles driven, gas stations face a shrinking market. In the long-term, a future-proof business model will require a timeline for transition to e-charging.
While the switch to EVs involves a major overhaul, there are also lots of synergies. The location and basic infrastructure of a gas station will typically be suitable for an e-charging hub. The main investment will be in the design and installation of charging infrastructure and renovation/redesign of the store.
However, future-proofing will involve more than just switching to e-charging. Battery technology and charging solutions are developing as the number of EVs increases. What type of charging points should be installed? What charging capacity should they offer? These are important questions that will have a significant effect on future investment costs. Designing a solution that includes an upgrade path is key.
As with a gas station, access to a reliable fuel source is a key consideration for an e-charging station, requiring both physical infrastructure and service agreements.
The first step is a high-power grid connection that can deliver the capacity needed to charge multiple vehicles at the same time. Some e-charging stations may use battery storage where such connections are unavailable, or to allow them to buy and store cheaper electricity during off-peak hours. It may also make sense to install solar panels on the site’s large canopy. In such cases, interoperability with the grid will be another important consideration that requires advanced planning.
How we can help
Heliox is a specialist in the installation, maintenance, and operation of large-scale EV charging solutions, with the expertise to oversee a smooth transition from gas station to e-charging hub.
The company supplies cost-effective, high-power charging points that have been tested in some of the most demanding applications — from mass transit systems and commercial fleets to public charging points. With an end-to-end service, Heliox works with clients from the initial design stage to the management and maintenance of the charging system.