The Gas Station Model is Dead
With the rise of electric vehicles, the gas station model will be left behind for more convenient options
Electric vehicles are on the rise. In some countries (especially in Europe), they’re already becoming a common sight on roads.
Yet, how consumers will charge their vehicle remains one of the largest barriers to adoption. In a recent Consumer Reports survey, a lack of public charging stations was the most common concern among the public (over 48% of respondents).
In light of this, many jurisdictions are using policy to increase charging options for consumers. A growing group of people advocate for charging stations to be paired with gas stations — and this approach seems to be picking up traction.
Among the public, policies like this appear quite popular; a recent Canadian survey found that 89% of people wanted electric vehicle chargers installed at every gas station. Germany recently announced that they will require all gas stations to provide electric vehicle charging as well.
Despite being well-intentioned, these policies make little sense. The vast majority of people have only ever known a gas vehicle, so it seems natural to think of electric vehicle (EV) charging as operating on a similar model as stations. However, this is not the case.
Electric Vehicle Charging is Different
While gas stations and EV charging may seem similar, they’re actually very different. Gas stations are ubiquitous because consumers have nowhere else to charge — but the same isn’t true for EVs. EV owners have much a broader set of options to fuel their vehicle.
The vast majority of EV drivers charge their vehicles at home overnight. For those able to do this, stops at public stations aren’t a common occurrence. A Consumer Reports analysis suggests that among this group, 92% of charging will take place at home, leaving just six stops per year at public stations.
While not everyone falls into this category, the majority of Americans do. Census records indicate that about 40% of people either rent or live in multi-tenant buildings. But what about the remaining 40%?
For this, we can take some hints from Norway, where 80% of new vehicles sold are electric. Since Norway has the most advanced adoption in the world, we can see how apartment dwellers there deal with charging.
According to a survey from the electric vehicle association, among those in detached housing, 97% charge regularly at home while just 11% report using public stations regularly. Among apartment dwellers, 64% report charging regularly at home while just 28% report using public chargers regularly. So even among apartment dwellers, less than a third rely on public chargers.
Even more common than public charging is charging at work — where 38% of apartment dwellers report charging regularly. This is a logical option, since drivers go there regularly and their vehicle sits long enough to get a full charge.
A Better Model for EV Charging
The majority of charging is likely to take place at home, since this is the most convenient place. Norwegian cities often offer incentives to encourage multi-unit buildings to provide charging options to their residents, allowing apartment dwellers to charge at home as well. As EV ownership becomes more common, landlords will increasingly offer charging options as well.
Even for those that rely on charging outside of the home, the gas station model is a poor fit. EV charging should focus on the places drivers already visit — work being the most obvious location. Other common locations could include grocery stores and shopping malls.
The Role of Fast Charging
Fast charging play an important role in the charging infrastructure, but it usually only represents a small share of overall charging. While fast charging is obviously much quicker, the stations are several times more expensive to install and usually much more expensive to use. In some jurisdictions, fast charging prices near that of gasoline.
Fast charging stations are the one exception where the gas station model still applies to some degree. The primary role of fast charging stations is to enable long-distance travel. Therefore, fast charging stations are usually best placed near highways. This is the strategy that most fast-charging networks have employed to date.
Ultimately, only a minority of charging will take place outside of the home and workplace. The public stations that are needed would be better positioned at locations other than gas stations. Stand-alone locations dedicated to charging are better reserved for fast chargers near major highways. As electric vehicles slowly take over the roads, the gas station model will begin to disappear.