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NDEW 2021: From Pumps to Plugs: Reimagining Your Gas Station

NDEW 2021: From Pumps to Plugs: Reimagining Your Gas Station

This live event occurred on September 27, 2021 as part of Generation180’s event series celebrating National Drive Electric Week.

Major gas stations are adding EV chargers alongside their gasoline pumps, making long road trips with EVs even more feasible. Range anxiety is becoming a thing of the past as new charging locations become available. Check out the live conversation we had with panelists from gas stations and convenience stores across the country who are part of the transition from pumps to plugs:


Stuart Gardner: Hello, everyone, and welcome to Generation180’s National Drive Electric Week event, Pumps to Plugs: Reimagining Your Gas Station. If you’re here to learn how electric vehicle charging infrastructure is becoming more accessible across the country, then you’re in the right place. Today, we’re joined by 3 fascinating experts, each with a unique perspective on the future of charging. Gerard DiBona Jr., Project manager, Corporate operations at Land Hope Farms. John Eichberger, Executive director at The Fuels Institute. And Annie Gilleo, Manager, Policy and market development at Green Lots.

But before we get started, I want to tell you briefly about Generation180. We’re a national non-profit organization based in Charlottesville, Virginia, working to inspire and equip individuals to take action on clean energy. My name is Stuart Gardner and I’m joined by my colleague Blair St. Ledger-Olson and a special thank you to our team members working behind the scenes to help support this event. Next slide. Here’s a quick look at Generation180’s, three major focus areas of work.

We’re working to flip the energy script, helping us move from a narrative focused on climate, doom and gloom to a story on where we need to go. A world power by 100% clean energy. A story that says we can do this and we all have a role to play. We focus on individuals in their homes and communities because your energy matters. Certain behaviors and technologies not only help fight climate change, but they also help build the social momentum and political will. We need to get big system-level changes. We lead to major nationwide campaigns. Solar For All Schools and Electrify Your Ride, which work to make EVs more accessible. Solar and EVs are clean energy solutions proven to address two of the largest sources of carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation and transportation.

Excellent OK, so just a few quick housekeeping items. All attendees will remain on mute throughout the event, so you use the Q&A to submit your questions. We’ll get to as many of your questions as we can over the next hour. So without further ado, let’s hear from our guests. Gerard, do you want to kick us off and introduce yourself?

The ‘Going Electric’ pledge:

“I want to help accelerate the transition to 100% clean energy. I pledge to make the next vehicle I purchase an electric car.”

Gerard DiBona: Sure, no problem, thank you, Stuart. My name is Gerard DiBona and I’m the corporate operations project manager here at land hope farms. We are a small, three stores currently right now, with one underway in development. At one point we had about 20 stores and early 90s turned around and sold them. And then just started redeveloping and bringing stores back to fruition here. My background is in facilities, construction and operations.

SG: Awesome, thank you. Annie, how about how about you?

Annie Gilleo: Sure, I think, Stuart. I’m Annie Gilleo. I manage policy and market development for Green Lots. Green lots is a technology company that makes software platform for managing EV charging, and then we also provide turnkey services for our customers. So everything from site assessment to engineering, construction, hardware, procurement and so forth. Green lot supports a large portion of the DC fast charging infrastructure in North America and also a growing number of level two Chargers. I’ll say a bit more about our customers and sort of why we are so interested in this conversation, we’re having today. Our customers are typically larger organizations, so utilities, fleets, automakers, cities, retailers that have large footprints. And we tend to take more of a business to business approach rather than a consumer facing approach. So one example would be that green lots is the network provider for electrify America’s DC fast charging network. So all of the services we provide for them are white labels. You see, Electrify America stations, green lots is behind the scenes there. The other thing I wanted to just mention is that green lots is a member of the shell renewables and energy solutions group. And so, you know, a lot of our mission is driven by that as well. Shell announced at the beginning of this year that it plans to deploy 500,000 charging stations globally by 2025 and green lots. Work is a key part of that strategy. So we’re actively working with Shell’s mobility team to identify opportunities to incorporate EV charging at their existing fueling stations and green lights is also, of course, taking a broad view to opportunities to deploy EV charging across use cases with our other customers.

SG: That’s great, thank you, Annie. And John, how about you?

John Eichberger: I’m John Eichberger with The Fuels Institute. The Fuels Institute is a non-profit research group, and the term fuels makes people think petroleum, but we’re basically defined fuel as any energy that moves vehicles around on the ground. We launched an electric vehicle council last year as well to focus specifically on charging infrastructure. So we’re doing a lot of research on how many do we need, where do we need them? When do we need them putting together papers to help businesses figure out how to get into the business and what their options are and how to navigate the path forward? And personally, I’ve started with the National Association of convenience stores representing convenience fuel retailing industry about 21 years ago. So the I was the guy on Capitol Hill trying to explain when gas prices went up. So this whole idea of how do we get from pumps to charging as kind of a nexus in my career. So looking forward to a conversation today.

SG: That’s great. Thank you so much. Kind of along those lines, John, how big of a conversation is going on now among convenience stores and fuel providers regarding electric vehicle chargers? Is it on their radar? Like, are you guys are actively discussing this?

JE: Yeah, it’s really on the radar. I’ve done probably 50 presentations this year and 45, 46 of them on our electric vehicle infrastructure. I’m still part of the leadership team at acts as well, and I’ll tell you the conversations we’re having at that level with the leadership of the association is really focused on how do we create a business environment. So that it makes sense to put in Chargers so that we’re there to service the customers when they start transitioning to a new vehicle? The big challenge is there’s not enough demand out there to really make the Roy work out. And so those putting Chargers in now are doing it really just kind of be first mover and get out there in the market and help out their customers. But the economics are so challenging. So a lot of the work we’re doing through the fuels Institute is looking at that business case and how do we establish a market strategy? So any retailer who wants to get into the business can do it in the most cost effective way and time. It just right so that they can actually get an Roy in a short term while servicing their customers when the needs there. So the attention is laser focused. We have the annual trade show next week. We have 3 education sessions dedicated to EV infrastructure. We’ve got, I think, 16 to 20 different exhibitors showing EVS, equipment and services. So the attention is laser focused on it because it is a huge shift in how they go to go to market, and they really want to figure out how to do it right.

BSLO: Wow, that’s really interesting. And thank you for joining us. It’s it sounds like you have quite a handful of events going on right now. But on that same note? To John’s point, you know, he just said it is hard to make that leap, and so I’m curious as to what the process looks like for land hope farms when they first decided to install EV Chargers and what that decision making process looked like.

GDB: So at LandHope farms, we’re constantly reviewing new products and new ideas to stay current with some of the industry. We’re also looking at our customers as well evaluating our current base, and we started to see more and more customers starting coming in with different EVs. And that just kind of sparked the initial idea of, hey, we should try to do this. It’s not too frequent here in Pennsylvania to see too many of the C stores. We’re home to Wawa, one of the biggest c-store chains on the East coast, and there weren’t too many of them here in Pennsylvania that had the EV Chargers. So we wanted to look into that to try to stay ahead of that curve. So that initially sparked our interest in it, as well as looking at local businesses, local businesses like Longwood Gardens as close to us. It’s a national, huge property here that has a lot of flowers, plants and things like that, and they were looking at EV Chargers for their facility and we have some common network connections over there so that they helped us facilitate that as well from a local business standpoint. And then we actually have RV Chargers or with ChargePoint, and they help facilitate the entire process from planning to execution.

SG: Awesome, and you have kind of following up there, Annie and John, is that kind of the typical process that from your experience, convenience stores and fuel providers go through, like kind of wanting to be a first mover or they’re seeing demand like, How’s that? How’s that work? You know, who’s initiating the conversation as a business owner or is it the charging infrastructure provider saying, hey, you guys should consider this?

AG: I’m happy to jump in there, John, with just kind of the green lots experience, which is sort that it’s really worked both ways. I think in particular you’re seeing sort of a mix of different business types in a see store space. You have really huge companies, you have small mom and pop stores, and that means kind of different level of awareness and resourcing when it comes to interest and ability to install EV charging. So green lots has been very active in trying to set up conversations with convenience store and fueling associations. We’ve been working through shell to identify wholesalers who have interest in EV charging. You know, it really is about bringing information to these potential customers and then kind of the key factors will be different depending on who we’re talking to. For some, it’s about how easy can we make the project? What can we do to facilitate it so that they need to do as little as possible? It’s about where incentives might be available to help bring down that upfront cost. And then you just kind of, yeah, the interest in being a first mover because that really is a big part of the equation is just making sure that you are getting your footprint in those ideal locations now as the market is taking off. And I think that for some of the customers that we talked to, there is the recognition that we’re going electric, right? That’s the way the transportation system is going. For others, I think there’s still a large wait and see approach, and I think that will shift over the next couple of years. But the conversations are really they really vary depending on what type of potential customer you’re talking to. I don’t know, John, if you have kind of a similar

JE: Yes, it’s more regional, I think there’s definitely the type of business you run, but also regionally, if you’re in California or in Florida, New York, yeah, you’re seeing EVS, you know, but I’ve got we got members in the areas who’ve never seen an electric vehicle. They still believe they’re a myth in a mythological creature, and they don’t believe it’s coming. And so getting them to kind of open up and talk about one of my opportunities here. But I think for the most part, if you got the progressive stores, yeah, they may be looking out and reaching out to equipment providers or network providers. But we’ve been working with a lot of the networks, including green lights and Electrify America and EV go and Tesla try to help them partner up with potential convenience store operators in their target geographical markets. So they’ve got certain areas they want to put their Chargers in. And so we’re trying to marry them up with convenience retailers who may have facilities that would accommodate their side, their space. So we actually have two new papers coming out next week on future proofing your store so that you can create an environment when the time is right. You can put a Chargers in there because not everyone can accommodate a charging operation and to Andy’s 0.90 1,000 convenience stores are single store companies. These aren’t your target audience for the most part, but the companies that have a larger footprint where they can accommodate four or five DC fast Chargers. That’s kind of where you want to be. And you also want to put in areas where the highway corridors are facilitating long distance travel and in communities where we have a lot of multi-unit dwellings. So there’s a lot of things going into it, but it really is a hodgepodge and one of the things we’re trying to do is get the industry to really recognize that. Are you going to lose your business tomorrow? Our EV is going to take over the world tomorrow. No, they’re not. Are they going to continue to grow at a faster pace over the next 10 to 15, 20 years? Absolutely And you need to be able to accommodate your customers. Because ultimately you don’t want to lose your traditional customer. If your customers come into your store two or three times a week and they buy an EV and you don’t have a charger. Are they going to continue coming two or three times a week? You need to make sure they understand you’re there for them, whatever their energy, whether it be food, energy or transportation, energy, whatever their needs are, you want to make sure you’re satisfying them and getting them to recognize that when they’re in markets where they’ve never seen an electric vehicle is a major challenge.

BSLO: Well, I mean, you just hit upon some of the topics we talk about constantly on our team about how, you know, the theory of a just transition needs to also apply to gas station owners and making sure that we’re preserving those jobs and helping them electrify their businesses. So that they aren’t negatively impacted by the transition to electric vehicles. So thank you for that. And I’m going to keep you on the spotlight, John. And I think you touched you started to touch upon it a little bit earlier, but given today, we actually are seeing oil prices at a three-year high. I am wondering how does the EV charging industry or the fuels Institute as a whole really watch that fluctuation of gas prices? And are there conversations happening about how those higher gas prices can help drive the adoption of more fuel-efficient models? And are you seeing those spikes in the gas prices helped to push that conversation forward?

JE: It’s a conversation we’ve had for years, you know, do get you higher gas prices, get people to buy smaller cars and lower gas prices, get them to buy pickups. The answer is no. People buy the vehicles they need. They have a certain use and duty cycle for their life that they need. Within that class of vehicle. They may shop around for the best price, best fuel efficiency, all those things. That being said, higher prices will support EVs because as EVs become more cost-competitive at purchase price as the range gets better, as infrastructure grows and as the, quite frankly, as the buying population gets a little bit younger at that, the younger generation become the primary buyer. They’re going to look at any vehicle. I look and even go, why would I want to plug-in my car? They’re going to say, why would I not? I plugged in everything since the day I was born. Everything’s been plugged in, so it’s just a natural and the technology is going to be so just right for them at that time. But we have to keep in mind gas prices when they go high is a regressive impact. It really does hurt disadvantaged communities and lower income people who may not be able to buy an EV just yet because not affordable at that level. The challenge we have with the gas prices. Now is that a massive drop in demand last year because of the pandemic shut down a lot of production. Now we have demand back up. We’re almost at the same level miles traveled and gasoline demand that we had before the pandemic. But we haven’t restarted all the oil production because the global leaders have made that quite clear. Oil, your days are numbered. We want to ban combustion engines. We want you out of business. It’s kind of hard to justify putting a couple million into a new well, when you’re being told by your government, we don’t want you to play here anymore. And so I think we’re looking at this challenge with we need to increase the production to get this prices down to support all communities and all customers. But at the same time, the higher prices help accelerate the EV trend is a real challenge here. How to balance that out. But gas prices have get really high before people start making significant changes in their behavior and changing what they’re going to drive, the benefit of the EV market is the type of vehicle customers want to buy are now being offered an electrified powertrains, whereas two years ago they were not. So we’re starting to see that balance come into a place where the customer is going to have an actual choice, rather than having to make a leap of faith to a technology or change their behavior that can have a legitimate choice. And then we’ll flip a coin. I mean, probably have very different training and very different perspectives on what they’re going to choose and when they’re going to choose it. But at least they can have a legitimate choice, which is a great thing.

AG: No, I think you’re right on choice makes all the difference. And the fact that we’re seeing pickup trucks come onto the market. I’m on the wait list for a Ford f-150 lightning. That to me, is a real game changer. Like I think. I’m ure that electrification can reach near and far rural urban, anyone who wants a car has an electric choice.

SG: Awesome Yeah. So, you know, and again, kind of for Annie and John and for all of you, you know, when you’re talking with, say, the members of the association or you’re talking with your customers that are using your infrastructure products, what are some of their greatest concerns about adding electric vehicle chargers? And Gerard, like what were some of Land Hope Farm’s biggest concerns about adding electric vehicle charging? You know, what are the barriers that we’re having to address now?

GDB: As far as any of the barriers were concerned, we just wanted to make sure that we were strategic about the placement of the Chargers. You know, this is going to be an area that our customers were going to frequent, the ones that have the electric vehicles, they were going to frequent that area. We wanted to put them in a position where they could grow to additional Chargers in those parking spaces. So that our current customer base with the electric vehicles didn’t have to go searching for them somewhere else after the fact. So placement was a strategy as well as growth in to the fast Chargers. Right now, we have level 2 Chargers at our stores and level two charger, you know, 15 minutes to a half hour. You know, if depending on what you’re going to see at a see store, you know, isn’t going to give you too much of a result as much as a fast charger, but you’re also cost comes in the factor availability. Who’s going to be using it that all factors into that. But for today’s market, the level 2 Chargers get our feet wet. We get kind of accustomed to frequent of use and how our customers are using them. We’re seeing about between both stores. We have a store in Oxford and a store. Our store here right below our corporate office here in unionville, which is Kennett Square. We’re seeing about 25 users per month. And of 25 of those users, about eight of them are charging for greater than 1 hour.

SG: All right. Annie, when you’re dealing with potential customers or existing customers, like what are some of their concerns about adding electric vehicle charging?

AG: I mean, I think first and foremost, when we’re looking at an existing fueling station, just space considerations are probably the first thing that we look at. Most EV charging that we’re adding is not displacing other fuel pumps, right? You’re adding it in a grassy area, potentially taking away a couple of parking spaces. And so just making sure that there is physically enough space for those chargers, it’s probably the first thing that we’d look at. You know, I think that by and large, there is an understanding that this is an investment for the future and not necessarily something that’s going to have a quick return on investment today. So I wouldn’t call that a concern. So much as a consideration and a reality that our customers need to accept. I think that the other thing that we’re seeing in terms of just general concerns are, you know, how to best engage with the utility to understand operating costs and rate structure, how to interface with the equipment and software. So that they can manage load in an effective way, potentially adjusting prices throughout the day. So really optimizing both kind of the utility side and then the kind of revenue creation side are some of the things that our customers are thinking about.

JE: I think that’s critical. And one of the things we’ve been trying to do is I’ve been kind of brokering conversation between the retail leaders and utilities to talk about demand charges because right now the demand charge can make it very non-economical. The capital investment they can justify, they can figure out how to get away and that sort of operating cost when there’s not enough throughput. And we’re creating a calculator that we’ve been testing. We’re to release it pretty soon. We’re a retailer can go and put in what their investment is, what their are. All I want is what the type of charger they’re putting in, how many transactions are going to have to calculate what the Roy is, find out how much is going to cost them to sell the electricity, how much it’s going to cost, how much they have to charge the customer to overcome the demand costs. And what came from that was the more transactions you have, the less of a challenge the demand charges are. But until you have that throughput and that demand those demand charges can be an absolute killer, which is why so many convenience stores are partnering the third party network provider who takes care of all of that. And basically, you know, they come and go, we’re going to pay you x number of a month for these 10 parking spaces. To do anything, the challenge is now that retailer is now basically outsourcing their brand and their customer to somebody else, and they don’t have control over that, so it makes it challenging. The other thing we’re doing is we’re putting together a pilot project right now where we’re going to try to evaluate what the economic value of a customer is while they’re on site. We want to be able to try to track them from the charger inside the store, find out what they’re buying in there, how long they are milling around in the store and how that compares to another type of customer. So we can actually really understand the full value of that visit. And then roll it out to the industry. So we can create benchmarks so we can actually accelerate that calculation. So that a retailer can say, I know this is going to be good for my business and I’m going to make the investments. So a lot of uncertainties out there, a lot of questions about the economics, a lot of questions about the level of demand and all those things need to be answered before you’re going to have a lot of people jumping into this.

BSLO: Well, that’s really interesting, but I can’t wait to see that data. Personally, I’ve always heard, you know, that a lot of money is coming from a lot of revenue is coming from the purchases inside the gas station, the convenience store and not necessarily just from the gas itself. So it’d be really interesting to see that cost differential there. And how it plays out.

JE: Yeah so for the benchmark, you know, 2/3 of a store’s revenue comes from the pump, 2/3 of the profit comes from inside the store.

SG: Wow!

JE:  It’s a very low margin business, and it’s going to be a low margin at the charger as well. How do we tie it all together and just make the economics work out?

BSLO: Well, on that note, in terms of the differences of what people are doing when they’re charging, I’m an electric vehicle owner and I primarily charge at home. I’ve used a public DC fast charger twice in my year as an EV owner because it’s really my daily driver. So you’ve got historically where I would have had to go to the gas station every time I wanted to fill up. Now I can do that at home, so or at the grocery store. And I’m wondering how in terms of, and John and Annie and Gerard, this is for everyone how you look at the placement of those vehicles are sorry of those Chargers. And we’ve got a question in the Q&A as well on this topic about what’s the different strategy for charging infrastructure to support long trips versus everyday daily drives. And so I’m curious as to how those different strategies and where you’ve got these, this infrastructure place now come together as we look at this rollout.

AG: I’m happy to take a crack at that one, Blair. You know, I do think it’s important to just first recognize that we’re at the early stages of EV adoption, so you’re right. Today, the majority of charging happens at home. That doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what it will look like exactly in the future, right? As more apartment dwellers adopt EVs. Maybe garage orphans. I don’t have a garage myself or a driveway, so public charging is super important to me. So maybe the early adopters lean a little more heavily on residential than we might expect in the future. And I guess the other thing I’d add there is just commercial vehicles will increasingly also be using that, that public charging infrastructure. So I I, you know, in thinking through what does the landscape look like? Where are we placing charging equipment? I do think that today’s fuel providers are really well positioned to meet the need of around town, long distance travelers, commercial vehicles, rideshare vehicles, anyone who needs a quick charge. Of course, that won’t be the only way you’re charging, right. You charge your cell phone wherever and whenever you can. And I think that’s kind of more similar to what we’re going to be seeing in the EV space. So I do think it’s important to realize that it’s not going to be a one to one conversion of gas stations to EV charging stations. And so I guess just circling back to what we were talking about earlier, I think that’s why we’re really trying to encourage the fuel providers and convenience stores that we work with to move quickly. So that they can secure their footprint as the transportation landscape changes. You know, it’s not necessarily going to be that every gas station becomes an EV charging station that we’ll be looking to use those lands and businesses for other things, potentially. I guess the other thing I would just say the question was about best use cases for different charging types. And you know, that is one of the nice things about electric vehicle charging is that you have some flexibility or fast Chargers or getting faster. Those are also more expensive, usually to use. So those are great for road trips or emergency scenarios, folks who have long, long shipping routes, for example, something like that. If you’re going to the library or the grocery store, a level 2 charger that charges a little more slowly is probably right for you. I think. Various speeds is that also gives the folks who are more interested in kind of grid integration. A lot of room to make sure that we’re charging in beneficial ways as well.

JE: I think I agree, I think and I just said and you kind of took some of the words out of my mouth is. We hear we need 1/2 million chargers, but they don’t have to all be the same charger and we don’t need 350 kilowatt Chargers everywhere. If you’re in a community where people are driving 20 miles a day, but they need a quick charge, maybe a 50 kilowatts enough that they’re not replenishing that many miles on a regular basis. And the message, I think given the convenience retailers is right now, as you said, you will need to travel. You have to go buy gas, you have to go to convenience store gas station with an EV. You don’t have to do that. Anybody but charge in a lot of places at home, at the grocery, you said library. I don’t know. Do we even have libraries anymore? But you said libraries will go with that. But when you get in your car and you go, Oh man, I didn’t charge what’s top of mind? You’re going to the gas station if that gas doesn’t have a DC fast charger that gas stations no longer on their list of options. And so that first mover advantage that demonstration of commitment to your customers is critical. So when they need a charge and they don’t have time to wait, you can give them a 50 mile charge in five minutes. You have to have that capacity to do that. So it’s all about right sizing the market, the right timing. And if we can do it that way, we can itemize what our use case scenarios are, what charging configuration works for, what use case. We can actually save a lot of money and investment in insulation and accelerate it if we do it strategically and smartly. One size fits all is not going to work. We need to be very customized on how we do this. And luckily, I think there’s a lot of people looking at that. Our research that we’re doing right now, it’s going to is looking at that specifically as well to kind of help accelerate that discussion.

BSLO: That’s really interesting, thank you,