The Gas Station of the Future

A few days ago, Canadian newspapers published an interesting, but slightly misguided article on the issues of moving gas stations to charging stations. You can read it here.

The summary of this article is that the transition from gas to electricity for inter-city travel is too hard and too expensive. The article missed the fact that the transition is going to take years and that there are other factors at play that make the conversion of a highway service stations a potential money spinner.

Timing: Even if Canada stopped buying fossil/ICE cars today and switched over to 100% battery electric vehicles, it would take 10 years or more to replace the current cars on the road. We buy just under 2 million cars per year and there are about 22 million cars on the road. Many cars now last 15-20 years so the time for total replacement will be much longer. Given current projections my guess is that it will take 20 years or more for the transition to run its course.

Electrical supply changes: In 2016 the US generated about 65% of its electricity from natural gas (33.8%) and coal (30.4%) plus a small amount of oil and other non-renewables, 19.7% came from nuclear and 14.9 percent from renewables, Hydro (6.5%) wind (5.6%), biomass (1.5%), solar (0.9%) geothermal (0.4%).

US solar and wind capacity will continue to grow, even in the current political environment.  As renewables grow, the issue becomes matching sunny and windy days to electrical demand. Storing electrical power for use later enables the power grid to make much better use of solar and wind reducing the use of fossil fuel. Tesla’s Powerwall is designed for a single home, but local, regional and grid energy storage systems are being deployed now.

As the installed base of renewables rises, grid storage becomes more and more attractive and important. By storing power in the grid or at the edge of the grid, renewable energy can be captured when excess is available and delivered back to customers when demand exceeds supply. If we are to move to 100% renewables, this will require a lot of power storage. Homes will have power walls and EVs connected to act as storage, neighbourhoods will have local storage and there will be lots of grid storage whether it is battery or other techologies.

How does this impact gas station conversion? Urban areas will not require as much public charging capacity as most EVs will be charged at home or work. Existing models of deploying Level 2 and 3 chargers will be extended, supermarkets, shopping centres, hotels and other destinations with parking will continue to deploy charges because they want to attract customers. Local gas stations will slowly disappear and are unlikely to be replaced directly.  As home EV charging has about the same impact as running central air-conditioning, the impact on the grid will be small and will be off-set by home solar and battery systems.

Along highways away from urban centres the story is very different; there is a real need for significant infrastructure to support long distance EV travel. A typical gas station delivers of the order of 200,000km of range per day to the vehicles it services. This is a huge amount of energy and is highly variable. On a holiday Friday evening, some gas stations deliver much more gas than the average day.

The move from gas to electric does not need a one for one replacement of capacity as behaviour and patterns change as we move from fueling to charging. Rather than leaving on a trip in your fossil car with whatever gas you happen to have in the tank, your EV will be fully charged before you leave home. Your car will have a range of 4-500km before you need to charge. This may serve to limit the number of times we need to stop as Ottawa-Toronto would not need a charging stop and Montreal-Toronto would only need one quick stop.

What does a highway service station of 2025 or 2030 look like?  The obvious change is that all the parking spots have high power EV chargers. A visit to the service station is just pull up, plug in and go find the coffee and the washroom. With a new generation of EVs charging at 150kW, 200km range added takes only a few minutes and you are on your way.  As there is no holding a fuel nozzle in the rain to fuel up, more time is available to relax and take a break from driving.

So this all seems great but how do we get there? The obvious answer is slowly, there is a huge investment required to make this all work but there is a less obvious way this can all work and be economic. The one key technology is local battery storage to smooth demand on the grid. Tesla is already deploying battery storage and solar at their Supercharger locations with the long term goal of disconnecting Superchargers from the grid completely.

The scale required to support a highway service area in a world where most vehicles are EVs brings us back to grid storage. By building large scale energy storage at service stations to allow them to deal with holiday weekends without overloading the local grid service stations have a huge and potentially profitable asset they can use as grid energy storage.  Grid storage works by charging when electricity supply exceeds demand when prices are low or even negative and then selling that power back to the grid when prices are high.  This technology reduces the need to have lots of backup generating capacity in the grid.

Because we all tend to hit the road on the holidays, there will be a huge difference between the typical usage of the chargers and the peak usage.  This means that the energy storage can be used by the grid most of the time, providing a significant revenue opportunity.

This model has the possibility to move service stations to an entirely sustainable future, both economically and environmentally. As service stations are largely rural, colocation of solar and wind farms is also attractive.

For highway service areas, the transition from selling gas to becoming a key part of the electricity supply system will not be easy, but it is achievable and potential profitable.

 

 

Introducing Electric Alice

Electric Alice is our Volkswagen e-Golf, She is white, like a lot of Golfs and she is a 100% electric car.  With no gas or diesel engine we rely on charging at home or on the road to keep moving. Why Electric Alice? Alice as in Alice in Wonderland, buying this car was a trip down a rabbit hole to a different world.

Why did we buy this car?  We choose an e-Golf firstly because it was a Golf.  I like Golfs, they are smallish, well designed and well built.  Golf’s fit our lifestyle and fit in our garage without requiring a huge reorganisation of all our stuff.  The e-Golf is just a better Golf, all the nasty diesel or gas bits are gone, replaced with an electric drivetrain.  We bought the car sight unseen

Here are a few key facts about the car:

Power – 100kW or 134 bhp

Torque – 214lb-ft

0-100km – 9.6 seconds

Battery – 35.8kWh

Range – 201km

I am not a journalist, but Jonny Smith is and he has a great review of the e-Golf that reflects how we view the car.

 

A Fun Summer

Where does all the time go?  We have had a very busy summer and not much time to blog.  A mix of family responsibilities, setting up our new lives ashore and getting back to work have taken a lot of time but we did find time to take some road trips.  Starting with a trip to Solomons in Maryland and trips to see Jimmy Buffett, a break in Vermont we have put over 10,000km on Alice.

We have really enjoyed the road trips, other than a couple of charger issues, we had no problems, even on long trips.

 

Going Electric

As we prepared to leave on our Caribbean trip we sold our Mini and we talked, in passing, about the possibility that we might have just sold our last petrol/gasoline car (henceforth – “fossil car” ) We liked the Mini, but it had issues and the local dealer was useless and so we were not sorry to see the car go, but the idea of an electric replacement seemed a long way off.

I am a “car guy”  I like small sports cars, turbocharged engines, hot hatches etc but over the years I have become more and more concerned with the fossil cars impact on the environment. We have a rule that we don’t drive the car for one errand and we try to walk or cycle when it makes sense, but even with this reduction in use, our little Mini racked up some serious miles while we commuted to Kingston and back while we prepared for our boat.

Living off the grid on our boat gave us an appreciation for how little energy we really needed and a lot of experience managing a large battery pack.  This has translated into less “range anxiety” and a more analytical approach to looking at our needs.

While we were on our trip I casually kept an eye on the electric vehicle (EV) market and wondered if any of the current cars would meet our needs. Range is a big factor but needs and wants are a very personal matter. One data point we have is Ottawa, where we live to Kingston where one of our kids lives. This is about 196 km on highways and about 176 cross country. The Kia Soul EV seemed like a close fit, but with 150km range, seemed like too much of a compromise.

In early February, the Government of Ontario announced a new EV incentive program that raised the subsidy on an EV to as much as $14,000.  This subsidy is enough to put the cost of an electric car at the same level as a fossil car.  Ontario is seeding the market to drive the uptake of plug-in cars.  Tandemed with programs to rollout more charging infrastructure, Ontario is committed to make this work.  They are trying to crack the chicken vs egg issue and turn it into a hotdog vs bun issue.

At about the same time, Hyundai and Volkswagen announced new EVs each with 200 km range.  The Ioniq and the e-Golf represent a stepping stone between slightly lower range cars like the Leaf, Focus Electric and Soul EV and long range cars like the Bolt and the Tesla Model 3.

We had seriously considered a Golf TDI a few years ago, only escaping the Diesel scandal by not making a quick decision to buy one when we went shopping.  The e-Golf seemed to meet our requirements and the price was right so we came up with a plan:

The plan:  Buy an EV, use it for local trips and set a budget for rental cars when we want to take a road trip.  This plan went right out the window within days of buying the car, but more on that later.