The move away from gas and diesel engines not only changes the underlying technology that powers our cars, but also necessitates a different "refueling" infrastructure that leads to changes in customer behaviors and expectations. This provides an opportunity — some might say necessity — for convenience stores to respond to the electric vehicle (EV) transition by expanding their customer offerings to include EV charging.
In doing so, c-stores can carve out a competitive advantage toward existing and new customer groups. However, establishing a successful EV charging business is not without challenges.
Capitalizing on a European Blueprint
Germany and other European countries have been at the forefront of EV adoption. To date, 2023 EV sales of both battery-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles in Europe reached more than 21% with the increase in fully electric vehicles driving the charge. Additionally, Europe has more than 600,000 public charging points and Germany alone is on a path to invest 6.3 billion euros for the build out of EV charging infrastructure over the next three years.
[Read more: U.S. Adds 1,000-Plus EV Stations in Six Months]
In the United States, EVs represented 9% of total vehicle sales in 2023 with a stock of around 160,000 public charging points. However, EV sales grew by 54% year over year which illustrates the accelerating pace and oncoming transition in the U.S.
While there are undoubtedly several differences between the U.S. and Europe, the U.S. can draw on lessons learned from Europe, avoiding costly mistakes in the build out of charging infrastructure and fully capitalize on the technological developments in vehicle and charging technology.
Planning for the Moment vs. the Future
In the early days of e-mobility in Europe, when EV adoption was low and vehicles only offered minimal driving range and slow charging speeds, site hosts such as supermarkets and c-stores pursued a hesitant approach and installed one, and rarely more, than two level 1 and level 2 slow chargers with single-digit kW charging power. At the time, this seemed to be sufficient. However, as more and more EVs entered the market, vehicle ranges increased, and fast charging capabilities became available at almost all price points. The initially hesitant approach lacked scalability, and requiring several hours to fully charge the car at a slow charger became more and more inconvenient.
At the same time, charging technology developed to providing DC fast charging beyond 300 kW — enabling the recharging of 100 miles range in minutes. With it came a behavioral change — whereas the refueling of a gas-powered car requires a deliberate trip to the gas station, drivers integrate EV recharging into their daily routines. As a result, site hosts had to pull out their existing slow chargers and started offering DC fast chargers to stay competitive. Gas stations and c-stores, where dwell times rarely go beyond 20 minutes, provide the perfect opportunity for DC fast charging.
Solving Grid Challenges & Delays With Batteries
In planning fast charging locations, however, more and more sites faced the challenge of getting power to the site and establishing an adequate grid connection. The grid either didn't supply sufficient capacity or the grid upgrade timelines stretched 12 to 24 months into the future. At the same time, the grid build out is challenged with new renewable energy plants and transmission lines coming online. While electricity is available nearly everywhere, it is not available at the same power and in most cases not sufficient to support DC fast charging.
This is where a novel solution — battery-buffered DC fast charging — can come to the rescue for c-stores, enabling a quick installation time while delivering high charging power even with power-limited grids. Battery-integrated charging boosts a low-power grid connection through the battery storage unit for the duration of the EV charging session — with the internal battery recharging as soon as the charging power of the vehicle drops below the grid connection.
[Read more: Kansas C-stores Receive Federal Funds for EV Charging Stations]
A number of charge-point operators in Europe have opted to install battery-buffered charging systems for their c-store and gas station clients, including JOLT Energy, which has been deploying ADS-TEC Energy ChargeBox ultra-fast charging systems for over a year. Thanks to the benefits of battery-backed solutions, including speedy install and ultra-fast charging, the company is now significantly accelerating the roll out rate of fast-charging stations to meet high demand and has also recently expanded to the U.S.
The ADS-TEC Energy system gives JOLT Energy customers access to 320 kW charging power with only a 100 kW grid connection. This approach saves on grid expansion costs, lengthy upgrade timelines — and in the U.S. also saves on demand charges charged by the utility. Primarily installed in metropolitan areas, the JOLT systems see frequent use by EV drivers. At one high-use JOLT Energy charging point, a weekly utilization of more than 60% is typical and is trending upward. At another highly frequented site in Germany with a battery-buffered charging system installed, the customer is recording more than 30 charging sessions per day with a total of above 7,000 kWh of energy sold per week — all with a minimal grid connection and 140 kWh battery.
As the EV infrastructure rollout continues in the U.S., c-store owners can and should leverage important lessons learned from their European counterparts. By doing so, U.S. providers will be able to better meet the accelerating EV transition.
Michael Spurr is public affairs manager for ADS-TEC Energy, where he oversees public and government affairs for the company, which produces battery-buffered, ultra-fast EV charging solutions plus battery storage systems for commercial and industrial use. He previously covered regulatory affairs at EnBW, one of the largest energy supply companies in Europe and Germany's largest charge-point operator. Michael holds a dual MA degree in Asian and European Affairs from King's College London and Renmin University of China, and a BS degree in International Business from Pforzheim University. For more information, visit www.ads-tec-energy.com.
Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.