Being ready for electric vehicles (EV)

National governments in Europe are subsidising Plug-in Electric Vehicles and/or are limiting/taxing Internal Combusting Engine Vehicles, to meet their commitments on lowering harmful emissions, resulting in an increasing number of PEV’s, led by the countries in Scandinavia and Western Europe.

One major hurdle can’t be overlooked: prospective EV purchasers must feel confident that they can obtain the electricity needed to power their vehicles as easily – and potentially as quickly – as they can now, fuelling their conventional vehicles.

Looking at the issue from that perspective, a potential, and very practical, solution for such range are the convenience stores, which are often practically synonymous with gas stations. Their business model is built on attracting customers by offering quick access to a variety of goods and services, including gasoline and diesel.

While the majority of PEV charging installations will need to be at home and workplace locations, publicly available infrastructure will also be critical. Speed and ease of PEV recharging will be a key issue for both customers and convenience store owners. Direct current (DC) fast charging units, which typically can recharge a vehicle in 30-60 minutes, are the equipment most commonly used at convenience stores today allowing quick battery top-ups.

If the convenience store model for EV charging becomes widely adopted, existing gas stations could be an essential part of any large-scale infrastructure deployment effort.

  • Petrol stations with convenience stores have highly visible, well-travelled locations. Customers are used to seeing the stores and stations or have pulled in either to fill up their conventional vehicles or buy a snack.
  • Petrol stations with convenience stores – especially large rest stops – already have a high level of electric infrastructure implying that adding EV chargers at such locations could be relatively easy.
  • Petrol stations with convenience stores have ready-made amenities. Access to existing restrooms and food will make the time waiting for a an EV to charge more comfortable for consumers and therefore increase the likelihood that customers will stop to use a charging station. Additional revenue can be realised from non-fuel sales, such as food, drinks and ice.
  • Petrol stations and convenience store owners are experts at marketing and advertising. Having more chargers available at existing fuelling locations will provide additional visibility — and familiarity — to a large set of potential PEV buyers.

Every business owner will consider to either partner with EV Charger Operating companies, renting space on their site to these companies, or investing in and managing the EV charging equipment themselves, as we have seen with the introduction of AdBlue requiring vehicles years ago, when the AdBlue manufacturers initially decided to invest in the filling infrastructure until sufficient AdBlue requiring vehicles were on the roads.

Today we see that the major Petroleum Retailers in Western Europe are investing in EV charging equipment, for installation on their key petrol stations.

Speed and ease of EV recharging are a key issue for both customers and petrol station/convenience store owners. Direct current (DC) fast charging units are the equipment most commonly used in pilot or demonstration projects at petrol stations convenience stores today.

The trend going forward is for-ever faster charging equipment that allows quick battery top-ups.

As a rule of thumb and assuming a battery recharge at a level of between 20% and 80% of its capacity, a PEV battery can be topped-up for a 100km driving range, at a power of 15kW/h for a period of 1 hour, using a DC Fast Charger (50 kW) or DC Ultra Fast Charger (150 to 350 kW). Charging it at a power of 150 kW/h tops up the battery for a 100km driving range in 6 about 6 minutes (or 10 times faster). Obviously, it is the car’s charging management system that determines at what power the battery can be charged.

People using a store-provided EV charging station tend to stay longer in the store than others and therefore, they are more likely to spend more. Increasing customer “dwell time”, should also allow to increase customer loyalty. In addition, offering EV charging facilities builds goodwill in the mind of a store’s customer.

On the other end, smaller petrol stations/convenience stores rely on quick customer turnover to maximize sales.

As a result, choosing the right type of power to offer depends on a number of criteria:

  • The type of other services offered on the petrol station/in the convenience store, as customers while charging their EV’s will be looking for other conveniences, such as restaurants, shops, rest rooms, meeting rooms, working spaces, etc.
  • The space available on site to build parking spaces and install PEV chargers.
  • The power capacity available in the electricity substations (or the possibilities to upgrade this capacity), used to power the petrol stations/convenience stores, which can be used to operate the PEV chargers.

In any case, offering EV charging facilities is a direct way to attract and retain new, electric-vehicle-driving customers. In addition, many consumers believe it is important to purchase products with environmental benefits and to frequent environmentally responsible companies.

Some public charging station owners do not charge a fee to use their chargers, as they want to earn goodwill, but on most petrol stations, EV charging sessions need to be paid for.

Where national legislation does not allow for companies, who are not an official electricity providing company, to charge for electricity (per kW/h supplied), EV charger operators either charge a flat connection fee for using the facility or charge a fee per minute, while using the PEV charger parking spaces. In the latter case, very often, the fee per charging time during the charging session, is lower than the fee payable, when the vehicle is still occupying the charging space, but the charging session has ended, in order to increase throughput.

Paying for the charging sessions, is very often offered via Mobile Payment applications on smart phones or via specific RFID payment cards, very often issued by EV Charger Network Operators, which have built a “roaming services” allowing acceptance of the cards issued by the different providers in the different networks. These cards are read and accepted using the Near Field Communication readers which are integrated in the PEV chargers.

Finally, it is possible to interface the PEV chargers to some of the forecourt controllers/POS systems used to manage the forecourt equipment on a petrol station (using the standard interface protocol), seamlessly integrating these PEV chargers with the rest of the forecourt equipment. This does not only allow using other payment methods to pay for the PEV charging sessions, but also allows to combine the payment of the PEV charging session with other services or products purchased at the petrol station.

The number of electric vehicle on the roads in Western European countries are increasing. Petrol stations are the ideal locations for topping up the batteries of the PEV’s extending the driving range to their next destination. It makes sense for both the business and consumer.

The opportunities are there for fill up stations, they could even produce some of the energy themselves: if service stations were fitted with solar panels they could partially provide some of the energy that they sell. This wouldn’t just make the energy being produced more environmentally friendly, it would be cheaper to produce too.

The time to top up the batteries which could be taking up to 30 minutes and more, presents opportunities for cafes or restaurants to serve customers while they wait for their EVs to charge.

Not every petrol station might have the infrastructure to install EV chargers. Firstly, there needs to be sufficient space to use one or more parking spaces, which can be equipped with DC Fast Chargers or Ultra Fast Chargers, without disturbing the in- or outflow of cars on the petrol station. For obvious safety reasons, these EV chargers need to be installed at a sufficient distance from the fuel dispensers on the station.

Secondly, the electricity power available from the grid via the Electricity Substation should be sufficient to operate these chargers. In some cases the available substation might have to be upgraded or a second substation needs to be installed. Alternatively, retailers might decide to generate their own electricity (though the installation of solar panels as an example) to help feeding these chargers. In any case, and as a minimum, providing the right cabling for possible future EV charger installations, should be considered as a best practice when new petrol stations are being built or existing stations are being refurbished, as of today. These cable requirements can be provided by the suppliers of PEV chargers.

Last but certainly not least, the Petroleum Retailers should decide how to integrate the EV charging services with other offerings on the petrol station. Both from an operational perspective; providing dining, shopping, meeting and other services on their location to the EV drivers while their cars are being charged. And also from a management point of view, either managing it through the same tools and solutions as the rest of the forecourt equipment, or through a specific management system (catering for follow-up, payment, loyalty, etc.), optimising the customer experience.

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