Michael Colijn

New heights are being reached in sustainability and petrol filling stations (PFSs) are struggling. In 2020 we saw the closure of 5,000 PFSs in the UK. This shows that our moves towards a greener future are finally coming to fruition, but what does this mean for forecourts? With Starbucks set to introduce EV charge points at 15 locations in the US, and Shell’s electrification efforts at their PFSs in Fulham and Argentina, forecourts have been left with a lot to answer if they want to continue to compete.

Will forecourts and retailers use this new approach in their bid to reduce emissions? Will PFS conversions become the ‘new normal’ for electric vehicle (EV) charging stations? And are we set to see widespread upscaling of our PFSs to meet the demands of the future?

EV sales in the UK have skyrocketed with an increase of 110% between 2020 and 2021, and 90% of EV drivers will not look to go back to their petrol or diesel alternatives. The future will be electrified. Meaning traditional petrol stations are in need of a rebranding. One where a lot less harmful sources of energy are used and consumers and retailers alike are minimising their environmental effect.

Charging hubs

A charging hub is a public station solely designed for rapid electric charging. Typically using rapid chargers ranging up to 175kW, it takes 10 minutes for an EV to be charged from 0% to 80% as seen in Shell’s charging hub. To the other forecourts wondering whether charging hubs are the answers to their emission reduction aspirations, the answer lies in the facts.

As it stands, the UK government has invested £1.2bn in the rollout of EV rapid charging hubs and local EV charging infrastructure. Though this may seem like a blessing, Ofgem predicts that EVs and vans will need 50 to 60TWh of energy annually by 2050, an increase of 20% to 30% on 2021. This means that we need financial investment as well as physical assets in the energy and land use system to meet decarbonising goals

If we continue on our current path, a total of £275tn would need to be invested in physical assets to reach our committed net-zero goals by 2050. Charging hubs answer this by making more efficient use of existing assets.

Converting PFSs into charging hubs has clear benefits. Forecourts can upscale their existing petrol infrastructure to electric chargers, avoiding electricity upgrades and making the process cost-efficient. Charging hubs can also help forecourts mitigate unpredictable price spikes by balancing the need for more electricity and the strain on power grids.

But all services must be considered by forecourts and retailers looking to make this switch. When the Kia e-Niro, one of the most popular EVs in the UK, takes 44 minutes to charge to 80%, supplementary services like toilets and cafes will be essential in ensuring a positive charging experience for consumers.

Forecourts must be prepared to meet the changing demands in the mobility sector. By increasing the availability of rapid charging systems, forecourt closures won't be necessary. It’s not too late for forecourts and retailers to take similar action to Shell and still remain competitive. Charging solutions are the key to saving petrol stations.

Michael Colijn, CEO, Heliox