About four years ago my wife and I gave up gasoline for our daily transportation, but if you take one look at me, you'll realize I didn't give up chips and soda. In fact, I usually visit a convenience store about 10 times a week.
The questions more and more convenience store owners are asking is whether they should make an effort to attract and retain electric vehicle drivers, and when they should take action. Every major automaker is releasing plug-in cars and in some markets, like California, plug-ins make up 3-4% of all new cars sold. You can't drive down the freeway and not see an electric car every few seconds in many big cities.
As with any big change, there comes big questions. In this case, these include, "what kind of equipment do I need?" and "how fast does it charge?" The first thing to know is that there is a wide range of charging speeds. Charging from a 110-volt outlet (called Level 1 charging) yields about 3 miles of range per hour charged. Level 2 charging is common in office buildings, shopping centers, and apartments/condos, and that can deliver about 20 to 25 miles of range per hour. A convenience store setting, however, is more suited to DC Fast Charging. Today's top-of-the line chargers put out 50 kilowatts, which can deliver about 200 miles of range in an hour, or put another way, 3 miles of range per minute (so 60x faster than Level 1).
Three miles of range in a minute may not seem "fast," but the industry is already talking about 150 kilowatt charging, which would translate to 9 miles of range per minute (Tesla Superchargers are currently about 120 kilowatts), and ChargePoint, the biggest charging network in the country, just announced a new product that has the ability to charge at speeds up to 400 kilowatts. That equals 24 miles of range per minute, or a full charge of 250 miles in about 11 minutes, about the same time a gas driver spends filling up. While the cars of today can't charge quite that fast, future models currently on the drawing boards will have this ability.
Many ask what the investment to install a DC Fast Charger will be. As with any product, there is a range of prices, but a safe budget today would be $35,000 for the hardware, and about a similar cost for installation. Of course, your installation cost can vary quite a bit, depending on whether you already have 480-volt power on site and excess capacity in your electrical system.
Here's the good news: 1) You can make a bigger profit on the sale of electricity than you can on gasoline with a 10 to 15% margin not unreasonable to expect. 2) Your electric car drivers are more likely to spend money in the store since they will be spending 2x to 3x more time on site; and 3) You don't have any EPA concerns with things like tanks in the ground. The period between a decision and installation can be just weeks, not months.
Electric car drivers are here today and growing quickly in numbers. Will you be ready to serve them, or will they be passing your store for the facility down the road where they can charge?
Jim Burness is the CEO of National Car Charging, a charging station equipment distributor and a supplier member of NACS.
Read more from the January Issue of our Fuel for Thought newsletter.