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Connected Driving 9 min read

Debate worth having: are gas stations winning in the electric car era?

Man EV Charger Charging Station Charge Point Chargepoint

With billions being spent on the transition to EVs, questions remain regarding rural America's journey toward an electric future.

Are gas stations actually the future for electric vehicles? This statement might sound like a paradox - that is, until you take into account that electric vehicle (EV) chargers up and down the United States are now being installed at existing gas stations in the race to electrify the nation’s roads.

The Biden administration revealed funding of US$623million in January from the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) program. It aims to build out a robust network of EV charging points across the US, amid fears that the transition to electric vehicles isn’t currently keeping up with targets. 

The grants will pay for 7,500 charging points across the country, in 22 states. The Biden administration has set a target of 500,000 EV chargers nationwide by 2030, with only around 170,000 accessible at present. 

Last year, 9% of vehicles sold in the US were electric, which the Biden administration wants to increase after a recent slowdown in sales. 

While many oil companies were initially EV-averse, many are now applying for the grants in a bid to make a name for themselves as places where you can easily charge your vehicle.

“We are building the charging network to win the EV race,” Pete Buttigieg, the US Secretary of Transportation, previously commented. “The electric vehicle revolution isn’t coming, it is here… America led the world in the automotive revolution. Now we are in the midst of a second automotive revolution, it’s critical [that] America do so once more.”

Many rural areas across America are currently known as “charging deserts” as they lack many, if not any, places to charge EVs. Much of the government funding will go to create rural “charging corridors” in these deserts, which politicians such as US Virginia congresswoman Abigail Spanberger have been lobbying for. “There’s much more than needs to be done to strengthen the network,” she told NBC12

“It would be catastrophic [if rural areas were left out of the plans]. Those can be major drivers of tourism to rural and agricultural communities. We want to make sure that if someone’s driving through [a rural area], they’re not just having to hug the interstate because that’s where they think that they’ll be able to find the charging station.” 

And a great place for many of these new EV charging points? At gas stations. 

Infrastructure insecurity

Loren McDonald is the CEO of EVAdoption, a company that provides data-driven analysis of the EV industry. He told HERE360 that the installation of EV charging points at existing gas stations is only a good thing.

“If you look at maps of the US, there are big holes in rural areas when it comes to EV chargers, in places such as Montana. But there are also areas such as Upstate New York that you’d be more surprised about when it comes to the lack of chargers.

“We need to give Americans confidence that when they go to visit their grandma for Thanksgiving three states away, or when they go on a trip to Yellowstone, they can jump in their EV without facing range anxiety. And that’s why we need to eliminate charging deserts - with gas station a brilliant option as a place to install chargers.” 

McDonald explained that it’s about “filling in the gaps” when it comes to EV chargers. “Right now, you might only have an EV charger every 100 miles or so in some areas, but you’ll have a gas station every 30 to 40 miles on the highway. And that’s one way that we’ll bridge those gaps.” 

HERE EV Charge Points

HERE EV Charge Points’ prediction capability is powered by an applied machine learning (ML) algorithm that weights GPS probes, vehicle sensor data and correlated historical time/day, weather and traffic pattern data. 

This enables HERE to have a granular view of EV charge point user patterns and surrounding traffic conditions. The volume of real-world data provides a virtuous loop of ML training data for HERE to continually improve the prediction service.


McDonald commented that it makes sense to install EV chargers at gas stations on a practical level. “They’re already known by drivers, they’re already built and staffed, they have restrooms and are well-lit, and are open 24 hours a day. They line up very strongly with the requirements of the program.” 

He also said there are significant commercial upsides to creating charging hubs at gas stations. 

“Whether it’s 7-Eleven, Circle K, Sheets or Wawa, these are locations that people actually look forward to visiting when they’re driving. They’ll head there to charge their car, and they’ll also grab a bite to eat or a coffee at the same time. Gas station bosses are now cottoning on to the fact that a driver will stay for a half hour to charge their EV. While they may lose money for several years on the actual installation of the EV chargers, they’re realizing that it’s a great chance to start turning a profit in terms of what drivers will buy once they’re waiting for their car to charge.” 

But the issue of building these rural charging corridors isn’t proving to be totally straightforward. 

A man charges his electric vehicle at an EV charging point.

Rural regeneration

Sam Houston, Senior Vehicles Analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told HERE360 that she’s not against usage of gas stations as EV charging points, but she has concerns about the location of the charging corridors in terms of rural economic benefit.

“We’re in an all-hands-on-deck moment where we need to build out our network of EV chargers as quickly as possible if we want to meet targets on climate change and local air quality,” Houston said. “And in that way, I can see some value in gas stations becoming involved - it’s a welcome change from just a few years ago, when these kinds of entities were putting up roadblocks against the investment in this kind of technology.” 

However, Houston said that she’s not convinced rural areas will fully benefit from the tourism and economic boost they could get from passing drivers, due to the NEVI requirement for chargers to be within a mile of the highway. 

“Of course, this one-mile requirement is meant to be convenient for drivers, as folks don’t generally want to have to go too far from the highway if they’re doing a road trip,” said Houston. “But sometimes, that main street of a town is more than a mile away, which means they can’t get the funding for the EV chargers, and that’s creating tension. I think more needs to be done to widen the inclusion of who can take part in the buildout of the EV network. We need to make sure that people who have not historically benefited from federal investment have the opportunity to do that.” 

In Houston’s eyes, the funding allocation works best when there’s more flexibility on the distance from the highways that the EV chargers can be. 

She also stressed the need for businesses aside from major gas station corporations to benefit from the funding. “In Georgia, they recently announced the recipients for their round one funding, and one was a homegrown business called EnviroSpark, based down in Atlanta. This is the kind of business I would like to see involved with the program.” 

Indeed, McDonald explained that it's easier for larger companies to apply for funding as they have more in the way of resources when it comes to administration. “Applying for the grants is very time-consuming, and larger companies tend to have entire departments of staff dedicated to doing this, which is why they’re winning 50 to 60% of the request for proposals.” 

Houston said there needs to be more encouragement for “smaller entities and local businesses, as well as female and ethnic minority-owned businesses” to apply for the funding, including more technical help on offer. “Right now we’re in the early, messy days of getting this task done. But I think this would go a long way as we build out the charging network,” she said.

Rosie Gizauskas

Rosie Gizauskas

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