Convenience stores and fueling centers could face new competition in unlikely places, as electric vehicles catch on and locations other than c-stores and gas stations install chargers.
Before electric chargers are installed, architects and construction companies are consulted to help locate the best spots for them, and these experts are predicting many new entrants in the energy market, giving convenience stores and fuel stations reason to be concerned.
The experts are basing their predictions on requests they’ve received for information about installing electric charging stations at places as diverse as airports, state parks, retail malls, public libraries and financial-services locations.
New government incentives for electric vehicles are expected to fuel growing demand for EV cars and charging stations. The Inflation Reduction Act's $7,500 consumer incentives for EV purchases are encouraging drivers to jump onto the EV bandwagon. But the movement won't stick unless the number of EV charging stations multiplies rapidly.
Companies like EVgo and Volta are responding with expansion plans. Los Angeles-based EVgo, with more than 850 charging stations in 30 states, expects to triple in size over the next five years. Shell USA's pending acquisition of 12-year-old Volta, expected to be completed in a matter of weeks, is likely to pour a new accelerant on the hot market for chargers. The San Francisco tech company, which makes a charger incorporating a media display, has developed a new predictive analytics technology solution designed to help in planning where to place the growing number of charging stalls.
Trileaf, an environmental architecture and engineering firm in Schaumburg, Illinois, foresees auto dealers, H&R Block tax preparation locations, mobile phone stores, malls, Subway restaurants, parks, car rental agencies and other government locations getting into the EV charging business, along with convenience stores like Circle K and Parker's.
“We’ll figure out over time who’s going to need them and where to put them,” said Roger Zimmer, senior structural engineering manager at Trileaf.
With other retailers entering the energy market, convenience stores might need to try harder to attract consumers, experts say. What they have going for them is their convenient locations, according to a Rovertown report, The Dawning of the Digital Convenience Store. Rovertown provides loyalty app software for convenience stores and other retailers.
Increasingly, other retailers—from Walmart to Walgreens—with desirable locations are transforming into destinations for EV charging. They’re aiming the chargers at drivers interested in accomplishing a task, like shopping, instead of sitting idle while charging their vehicles.
If they don't learn to compete for this customer, c-store “retailers will see a dilution of their value proposition since the barrier to entry for charging is lower than it is for the sale of motor fuels,” the Rovertown report said. Among the potential competitors identified in the report were movie theaters, grocers, shopping malls, hotels and restaurants interested in installing chargers.
Businesses using vehicle fleets are moving to install chargers on site. They include a range of companies and government agencies, said Mike Belke, special projects division manager with T.A. Bowman Constructors in Bloomingdale, Illinois.
“There’s maybe some surprise on fleet scenarios. When you think fleet, you think a large delivery service company, but everyone has fleet vehicles from the police force to city public works to animal recovery groups,” he said.
Trileaf said retailers such as Verizon and Circle K are exploring the market potential for EV chargers at their locations. “We, like everyone else, are just dipping our toe in the market of electric vehicles and chargers. What I’m preparing to do is go to scale—scale this up,” he said. He believes demand for chargers will grow as EV sales take off. “I could be wrong—no one knows what the next five years look like,” Zimmer said. “We’re putting our hat in the ring. We don’t feel it’s a big jump for us.”
The company also performs environmental investigative site work for telecommunications companies on cellular towers involving power. “Adding an EV charging station to the grid is not that different from adding a generator for a cellular tower to the grid,” Zimmer said. “We’ll go out to a site and we’ll investigate what’s there: Where is the power coming from? How do we get the power from where it exists to where it needs to be to the charger? How many will there be? What might need to take place there?”
Trileaf has produced drawings for EV charging stations in Maryland, Ohio and Kentucky and other states. It does design work, then turns the project over to a construction company like T.A. Bowman Constructors.
Electric chargers can be easily installed at a convenience store if the location has parking spots adjacent to a building where a small electrical unit can be mounted, Belke said. A fast charger requires 480 volts, but it isn’t always available, “which is why we pick everything up with a site evaluation. We would facilitate any need for a utility upgrade, but we try to avoid that at all costs and work with what the customer has in the building,” he said.
To determine whether a business will generate sufficient revenue to justify the cost of a new charging station, Bowman estimates how many visits per day the charger is likely to get.
“Based on their vehicle flow, we would provide some level of estimated (return on investment) ROI on an annual basis. That has a large effect on people’s decisions, but there is a great opportunity to use this as an investment tool to bring in additional revenue,” Belke said. He declined to provide a cost estimate for installing a charger, saying it depends on the location and scope of the project.
To help determine the ideal spot, Volta's new PredictEV technology solution does this homework to identify optimal charge locations. If Houston-based Shell's acquisition of the company goes through as expected, the oil giant is likely to be strategic in where it decides to put EV chargers.
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