Choosing the Right Electric-Vehicle Charger

Retailers test Tesla, Electrify America and other units to find what fits

CHICAGO -- For a convenience-store retailer better known for its ethanol blends, Kum & Go LC is quickly gaining experience in another alternative to petroleum-based fuels: electric-vehicle (EV) charging.

The West Des Moines, Iowa-based chain has eight stores with EV charging stations. This includes six Level 2 stations at five stores in Iowa and one in Arkansas; a Level 2 charging station that is part of the ChargePoint network and located at Kum & Go’s Thornton, Colo., store; and most recently, a Tesla Supercharger at its Sherburn, Minn., store, that went online only a few months ago.

Coming in 2018: Five more locations will gain charging stations, which include three Tesla Supercharger sites; a Level 2 ChargePoint charging station in Brighton, Colo.; and a DC fast-charging station that is part of the Electrify America network launched by Volkswagen.

If it seems as if Kum & Go is testing every possible EV charging model, that’s because it is, Matt Spackman, vice president of fuels for Kum & Go, told CSP Fuels.

“ChargePoint, Tesla, Electrify America and going on your own: Those are the four leading models right now,” Spackman said. “It is really an area where anyone I’ve talked to is still just undecided on what the right approach is.”

One aspect that makes cracking the EV charging code difficult is the different projected adoption rates for EVs. Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) has one of the more aggressive projections, calling for more than 530 million EVs on the road worldwide in 2040. In its most recent energy outlook, BP expected a more modest 300 million EVs by 2040, compared to about 3 million in 2018. Both BNEF and BP, however—along with the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)—have continually revised their projections upward. 

Tough Choices

For fuel retailers who are weighing whether to add EV charging stations, the shifting ground on future demand can be tough to base decisions on, especially those that require dedicated space on their stores’ lots and an investment in equipment.

“Everyone expects adoption will come, but everyone disagrees on how quickly,” said Spackman. And there are other questions Kum & Go is wrestling with. “What’s going to be the right model for the electrical infrastructure, and the charging stations themselves? … What kind of charger do you put in? How fast should you start developing your own infrastructure as a retailer?”

Sheetz Inc. is taking a similar approach to Kum & Go in testing different models. It has four sites through Electrify America and 13 with Tesla Supercharger locations (six more are on the way for 2018).

“The real benefit at this point is difficult to assess because there’s no necessary connection to people who are charging,” Mike Lorenz, executive vice president of petroleum supply for the Altoona, Pa.-based chain told CSP Fuels. “You don’t know for sure if they’re coming in or not, although it’s probably a decent assumption that if someone is spending 15, 20, 30 minutes on your lot, they’re hopefully coming in and buying something.”

The early state of EV charging demand is enough to keep strong fuel retailers such as QuikTrip Corp. at bay.

“We believe if the demand was there, we’d have it right now,” Mike Thornbrugh, manager of public and government affairs for the Tulsa, Okla.-based chain of 740 stores, told CSP Fuels. “That doesn’t mean it won’t be there in the future. We’d like to think if in fact it picks up—and it will over a period of time—we’ll be nimble enough to have that offer.”

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