The Future of Filling Stations

According to Zap-Map there are 9,328 public charging locations, 14,821 devices (individual charging stations, so 1 1/2 per location) and 25,225 individual connectors (nearly 2 per device), for Electric Vehicles as of 18th August 2019.  Those numbers will change by the time you look at the link – roughly 1 new location is added per day (based on figures over the last year).

For comparison, there are 8,398 filling stations in the UK, according to Statista.  Let me call them petrol stations; it’s just how I think of them.

A filling station might still have perhaps 6, 8, 10 or more individual pumps, so there are still more “places” to fill your diesel/petrol car than places to charge it.  But the filling station count is falling (down from 12,500 in 2000) and the charging point count is plainly rising.  Average annual mileage is falling at the same time as the car count is falling.  There’s less demand for fuel, before the switch to EV is even considered.

Maybe there’s a better number for potential EV charging points. There are c20m homes in the UK, and around 27m households, according to the ONS.  Some 60% of those have off street parking and so can, in theory, charge an EV without a cable dangling across the pavement, waiting to trip up some unsuspecting soul.   The 40% without off street parking will likely have to wait for chargers to be installed in lamp posts, their streets to be dug up to lay new charging points or autonomous cars that can drive off and charge themselves.  Or will have to charge at work, the supermarket or elsewhere.  It’s not a good solution and it will slow adoption in dense urban areas I’m sure … but people living there may be the very people who are opting out of car ownership altogether.

That means that there are, or could be, 12m charging points, plus the 10,000 (and growing fast) public charging points.  That’s important because, assuming you park your car at home at the end of every day, or at the end of every journey, it’s full of “fuel” the next time you want to take it out.  No need to go anywhere, at any point, to charge your EV for perhaps 90% of the journeys that are made day to day.  If your office and the supermarket have charging points, you may never charge anywhere else for most of your journeys.

This suggests that as EVs become more common, local petrol stations will need to fight for a role.  They are already mini-markets, newspaper stores, car washes, air pumps, ice cream sellers and so on. There isn’t much space, in most, to support an EV needing to charge for even 5 minutes, let alone, 10, 15 or 20 minutes.

Long journeys are mostly made on motorways which suggests that service stations will dominate charging – they have the space for multiple, high power chargers, and they have the space to entertain you and the family for longer than you need for a bio-break.

As well as the £28bn of fuel duty that will be lost, until it’s replaced by some other charge, government needs to think about the loss of jobs and revenue from petrol stations.  Rural communities, villages and even small towns, may lose another anchor tenant – the post office and bank have already gone.  What happens if the petrol station goes too?

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