- Electric vehicles need very different charging infrastructure.
- The gas station model won’t work when it can take 15 minutes or more to charge a battery.
- Ikea is adding EV chargers to its store parking lots.
Ikea's plan to put electric car charging stations in store parking lots could be a preview of how we use our cars.
It takes way longer to charge an electric car than it does to fill up a tank with gas, and that alone makes the current gas station model totally obsolete. Even Tesla's Superchargers take 15 minutes to deliver enough power for a 200-mile trip. This means gas stations are over, but how do we replace them? IKEA's plan is one model, but there are others.
"Supermarkets are already a place where people spend a lot of time, and if customers were waiting on their cars to charge, they could spend even more time and money inside these stores. The future could see supermarkets, warehouses, and other retailers become some of the largest charging centers in the US, Europe, and beyond," Ian Lang, senior editor at the Bumper car blog, told Lifewire via email.
Time and Distance
Gasoline is an amazingly dense form of energy storage, way better than batteries. A basic Tesla Model 3, for example, has a 54 kWh battery capacity. A subcompact gas-powered car can store "the energy equivalent of 7 Teslas," according to Menlo Energy Economics energy consultancy. And it only takes minutes to fill up.
This means stopping at a gas station to quickly top up your tank is no longer viable. Queues would be huge, with people waiting for cars to finish charging. This means the entire gasoline infrastructure needs to change. Right now, fuel stops are located on roads because it's convenient for quick pit stops and because gas stations need tankers to deliver the gas.
Electricity, though, already goes everywhere. There isn't a building or street that doesn't already have power unless you're out in the middle of nowhere, in which case, you'll probably be sticking with gas for a long while yet.
In practical terms, charging should take place when the car is parked. That could be an overnight charge in your garage or at a dedicated street charger, as found in some cities. Or it could mean you constantly top up the battery as you park in different places throughout the day.
"Charging behavior is different [from] filling up your car with gas. Most charging will be at home or work," Till Quack, EV owner and co-founder of Zerofy, an app to help reduce carbon emissions, told Lifewire via email. "But malls, supermarkets, etc. are also great places to charge while [you] shop. [It's possible] charging at IKEA doesn't have to be very fast, as folks spend an hour plus in such a store (I assume)."
Because power can be hooked up relatively easily compared to putting in gas tanks, the market suddenly opens up. Tesla already makes its superchargers free to use for some people, and IKEA could do the same. Charging your car could become a kind of loss-leader, a free—or subsidized—service that attracts you to use certain stores.
"The concept of charging electric vehicles at supermarkets is not new, as many chains such as Kroger, Hy-Vee, Harris Teeter, Whole Foods, Fred Meyer, Lucky's, and others offer charging stations," says Bumper's Lang. "Providing this free of charge with the loss-leader model could become more common as businesses see how many customers they could gain."
In Europe, it’s common to see city parking spaces reserved for EVs, with charging units alongside. This is essential for city dwellers who live in apartments and don’t have their own parking spaces.
In Melrose, MA, the local utility company has installed charging stations onto electric utility poles. The whole unit remains out of reach until you use an app to lower the cable, which helps to avoid vandalism, and you get free parking along with your recharge, which costs $0.25 per kWh.
Perhaps this kind of thing will become commonplace as demand for chargers increases. Ideally, this would be regulated so poorer neighborhoods, or areas with fewer residents or traffic, would still be covered, but we might also see an explosion similar to that of electric scooters, with multiple companies and multiple apps jostling to charge our vehicles.
But however it shakes out, the gas station, as we know it at least, is on its way out.