I feel like we are steadily moving towards complete electrification of our transportation system. I know, it is not happening overnight, but according to several articles even though only 1% of vehicles in the USA are electric, and that you may be one in the 46% of Americans who would NOT consider buying one, legislation and other incentives point for accelerated change in the not so far future. The European Union, California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Washington will not allow for selling internal combustion engines after 2035. Vermont is pulling that goal forward five years to 2030. Another three states, Colorado, Virginia, and Minnesota are not shutting down their sales, but have set aggressive market share goals.
So my question is: what happens to gas stations when most vehicles become electric? Most “experts” suggest that they have to be converted to charging facilities.
I cannot disagree more.
The dynamics are quite different. Gas stations have evolved in a way where they are capable of holding hundreds of gallons of an explosive fluid safely, and are located at major roads or intersections to allow drivers to stop for a 1-5 minute top-up. Because of this, the priority is on the speedy service, and there is usually not much for the driver there.
It is easy to make a tank that can be filled quickly. It is only necessary to open a bigger mouth to pour more fuel, more quickly, into the tank. Charging is a completely different thing. And even though that it can be optimized for quick charging, “topping-up” a battery involves a recombination of the materials inside the battery, which can be slow and usually produces heat. Then there is also this pesky thing called “resistance”, which also produces heat, and produces more the faster you try to charge. I don’t think we will be able to charge batteries in the same time we top up a gasoline or diesel tank. At least, not by 2035. Because of this, charging will always be slower. On the flip side, to put a charger in-place, there is no need to deal with hundreds of gallons of explosives. We need a better power outlet, for sure, but as long as we keep the capacity to a few vehicles simultaneously, the load is not going to be much more than a tanning spa’s.
The solution? “Charging” has to happen the same way as I dry my hair: while I do some other stuff. Charge at places that we visit for something else, and where we are likely to spend at least 1/2 hour. The good news is that we are already thinking this way, putting in chargers at the grocery store, the barber shop, etc. Now, this does not leave any room for a gas station, which is basically a place where we cannot wait to be out of there. My prediction? If gas stations want to keep their energy business, they all have to convert to restaurants, coffee shops, and co-working spaces.