While it’s always good to see game-changing ideas come along, implementing them into the current infrastructure is always going to be a challenge. Nobody can go from a 1969 Dodge Dart to a flying car overnight; there has to be some kind of transition.
Here’s an example. You’ve likely seen some of these concepts for charging center “fueling stations” of the future. Typically these are a designer’s wet dream of solar panels, a coffee bar and treadmills for people waiting for their electric vehicles to charge.
source: Audi and Electrify America via InsideEVs
We’ll likely see these types of locations sooner than later, but there are currently around 168,000 traditional gas stations in the United States that look nothing like this. I guy I know named Sam has one of them.
Sam isn’t this guy’s actual name, but he is a real person; a part-time used car hustler and full-time owner of a gas station that I frequent. (With cars that get around 12 MPG and 17 MPG respectively, plus a Diet Coke habit, I really do mean “frequent.”) The last time I was there I showed him one of the above pictures. I might as well have been showing him an image of a space station on Mars. Seriously, how was he supposed to convert to this? What about even smaller locations? Sam’s station is hardly small; with a car wash and a sizeable parking lot, he might even be bigger than average. But Sam admits a change is coming, and he will need to adapt… but how?
More than likely, he will have to start to invest in chargers, and for now, it looks like even the fastest ones require some kind of wait. That is why these future stations offer things for people to do while they sit and offer things for them to buy. But Sam’s little shop is already jammed packed; at some point, this whole thing will need to be razed and then start from scratch. For now, or in the next few years, what could he do to throw the least amount of money at temporary fixes?
source: Wikipedia /KMJ(shipping container)
The idea came to me from this concept shown at a Tesla charging station in Germany. No, not the stupid swimming pool idea; that is so absurd that at first, I thought it was an Onion article. It’s the use of shipping containers.
Shipping containers are naturally a great size and modular by design. You could throw one in the parking lot where Sam puts the unlicensed old Lexus and Mercedes he has now, or if you mount beams in the ground they could actually go above the pumps or the car wash. You could even put one above the other, or elevate one above chargers to create a covered area to plug your EV in.
source: The Bishop
I am seeing a couple of different standard modules that could be offered. One would be for coffee or food service. Another could be retail items (with more expensive items behind the counter) to supplement any convenience store on the premises already. There would also be the ‘lounge’ area with seating and places to work, sit and watch a screen, or even treadmills. There’s also that stair/lift module; not shipping container based of course but mass produced in the thousands to make them cost-effective.
source: The Bishop
One positive and negative of the shipping container is the eight-foot width. This means it will fit easily in many gas station environments, but it also means the interior is quite narrow and the design needs to work with that. However, the layouts seem to work with the space available equal to the number of cars that could possibly be charging.
Will this help the 168,000 Sams out there? It won’t reduce the pain of the cost of the chargers themselves. They’re quite expensive, and nothing’s gonna change that in the short term. On the other hand, for the amenities to attract EV owners, this might be an interim solution—and an affordable upcycling and eco-friendly solution at that.
Also, given how absurd gas prices have been over the past year, he should be able to afford something.
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Six Flags did something like this with their Haunted Castle attraction. It ended…not well. Turns out structures built cheap and quick tend to compromise on other things, like safety.
I think the future of charging along the interstate looks more like Buccee’s. Big, sprawling place to waste time and take your money while you accumulate electrons.
The whole “Charging station” design needs to be centered around a HUGE roof covered in solar panels. Underground batteries. 2-story building with the ground floor being nothing but parking spaces with chargers and well-designed easy-maintenance bathrooms with shower stall rentals. Central pillar is stairway and elevator. Second story is convenience mart/coffee house.
Make these places NICER than the best gas stations out there.
I think you came close, but missed.
Don’t use these as places to store people while the car charges, but use them to store electricity for when the car shows up.
We are getting to the point where charging times are tolerable (800V infrastructure, +/-8 minutes to charge from 20% to 80%). What is missing is the incoming electrical service is massive to meet that surge demand.
Make the shipping containers a big battery box. Let it charge at a slower rate, boost if off hours when the electric rate is cheap. Surge it into the vehicle based on the onboard charger capability. This is how you are going to get the charging infrastructure built out.
This. Do it with LiFePO4 batteries buried underground(they must be kept above 32F in winter) and it will last for decades and turn a net profit.
At a certain point, it’s just going to be cheaper to raze the station than turn it into shipping container Jenga.
My personal opinion, make highway charging stations something like Admiral’s Clubs in airports. For an annual fee, you could get free snacks/drinks, a clean toilet, and a nap chair.
Baron- in the long run, everything is razed. That’s why I’m using semi-temporary structures. Admiral’s Club idea is great- maybe membership comes when you purchase certain EVs
In spite of their undeserved status as excellent building blocks shipping containers are terrible to build with. The minute you cut into them for windows or doors they become structurally unsound. They’re also single wall and un-insulted. By the time you make all the upgrades needed to make them inhabitable you could have easily built a standard construction box for far less.
Dan Stiles- I do see a number of structures made with these things. Still, if what you’re saying is the case, I’m all for making a tiny house type structure from scratch. I don’t have a horse in this race; my only concept was the modular way of getting semi-temporary structures to places that will likely need it.
This so much! Shipping containers are great if you have a quick need of a lot of storage of items that are temperature insensitive and just need to stay dry. Once you introduce, humans, temperature controlled items or electrical power, the value proposition falls apart.
I rather like this guys take on the EV picture at least in the short term.
Definitely applicable to the chunk of Canada where I live and the myopic political view.
Who says the stairs/lift module can’t be shipping container based?
Stand one on end for an elevator. Stand two on end next to each other for a staircase. Or use two shorty containers and stack them. It would be easy to configure a container or two to house a ramp for wheelchair access.
The fact that they’re available in multiple lengths between 10 and 53 feet (although most are 20 and 40 feet) makes them even more flexible than you portray.
PaysOutAllNight- that is true, but I just wasn’t sure about weather sealing when you turn the thing on its side. Likely you’ll end up resealing it and putting some kind of roof on the new ‘top’ anyway so it would still work.
Man why does it seem like car designers get all the good drugs?
I thought you were on to something for a second but then U Turn what started out as a partial solution turded out. Building charger stations in shipping containers good idea. Easy to hit economy of scale and your chargers/containers could be mounted in the air and not take up ground space. Or they could be stacked up and 1 spot could be stacked 5 high. Only taking one spot. Or anyplace that wanted to attract customers order a shipping container charger not just gas stations. Really kind of brilliant.
However it is not solving the main problem. Producing enough electricity and getting it to the charging station. I bet old Sam has 220 at best. Multiple charging stations will need multitudes of that to charge on demand. My state Pennsylvania is giving out millions in rebates to people to reduce their electricity usage because we dont have enough production capacity. BO shut down coal mines and coal power plants. The State Democrats refused to extend the life of Nuclear power plants. Republican NIMBY shut down any new plants close to them and cities refused to let new plants be built near them even though they are using the power. Enviromentalist dont want wind or solar because it is ugly and kills the mosquito swamp snake that kills people at a glance. We NEED to solve electricity production before distribution before EV adoption. Yeah charge at night. Well you would be surprised how much production in business is do e at night. Hospitals have great need 24 hours. Many companies including mine have gone to nighttime production and early AM delivery. There aint no down time including maintaining the grid.
So dont make no more gas, gas cars, gas anything just plug it in is not a solution.
tacotruckdave- whoa, way above my pay grade there! I mean, I can design stuff all day long but I can’t solve things like supply chain issues (as I was made well aware of on a project today). We were essentially paid to put LED lighting into our facility and can get solar for a heavily discounted rate since it’s still cheaper for the power companies to subsidize energy saving systems than build new stations.
Still, glad you like the idea if this were a perfect world.
Hey Bishop props for doing more here than posting a story and leaving. I dont think any columnist here has been as forthcoming. Now we may disagree but hey that happens. And considering what my friends say disagreeing with me usually means you are right.
Here in Canada, if your conversation turns to cars and shipping containers, it’s usually about how your stolen car is on it’s way to west Africa.
Someone could repurpose these as EV charging stations…
Nayrbflat6- we’ve already repurposed those as our clubhouse, remember?
Shipping containers have a lot of issues with weight, strength (surprising but true) and are limited in dimensions. A better option for plunking down amenities in random parking lots is specialized trailers like the ones used in fire camps to provide dining, showers, laundry and even tiny bedrooms. These can incorporate slide outs for more interior space and are built to be towed, obviating the lifting gear needed to place containers. You can even build an easily wheelchair accessible trailer with a drop deck or lift
Slow Joe- that would work as well. I’m actually less concerned with what the basis is then actually being able to mass produce these things in a modular fashion in whatever the most cost effective way possible is. Tiny house manufacturers could likely have a field day with this.
Oooh, and this is much lower complexity than fitting a home into the space. They could do really well for significantly less than a tiny house build, I’d guess.
Drew- as long as you have the option of going vertically. I think there are locations where that could be a positive thing. The inspiration was Habitat 67, a community for a Montreal expo which was the second coolest thing from that 1967 show (coolest thing? The Alfa Montreal concept, of course).
These guys do it for school buses:
I think they need to bring back and adapt the drive in movie theater to a short form for quick charges. The folks don’t have to leave their car to go sit in a discount airport lounge (how many really want to anyway), and the owners can make more on the concessions and ads.
They can buy up all the 10-15 minute shows from Quibi on the cheap, except for Tesla which will just show a constant loop if Elon Musk bio pics and shows trying to get you to buy into indentured servitude on Mars.
In the summer won’t these things be like the boxes I always see the prisoners thrown into as solitary punishment, where they’ll bake you? How easy is it to put in windows and emergency exits?
jcbeckman- it would use the same wall mounted A/C units that the current little snack shops between the pumps uses. Windows can be installed- there are places that sell things like this already. Again, these will be semi-mass produced in certain formats at a facility that takes in the old containers and then trucks them to stations that order them. Specs would be available for contractors to prepare the site unliess they are just going to be dropped in the parking lot (which they could be).
As easy as cutting a hole in metal, so fairly easy.
Dad bought one for storage and a workspace a while back, we’re in Florida. He had the inside sprayed with expanding foam insulation, then put up interior walls. Cut down the space inside by about half a foot in the width? Go in there in the middle of summer and it is as warm as any other non-AC’d building, but not baking. If he runs the AC its as cold as you want it to be.
Mr. Asa- I mean, taking a look at some of the ‘mini marts’ at gas stations the structures are hardly fully insulated double walled units. They don’t seem to have much if any more structure than a shipping container.
There are even shipping container apartments and houses. Insulation, windows, doors, etc. are fairly easy problems to solve here.
I think it’s more likely we’ll end up seeing chargers at existing retail locations (grocery stores, walmart/sams, etc.) with large parking lots than trying to retro-fit retail and activities into gas station footprints. Also, think of highway rest stops with rows of chargers. They already usually have picnic areas and tables for people to eat or relax and bathrooms.
TheCrank- I think that’s true especially in urban locations. I think these would work quite well at gas stations by highways where people HAVE to get electricity right now.
And I think that we may see those highway stops build out businesses, since they can expect visitors to stay a bit longer.
I’d like to agree with rest stops but many states have been closing them down. All of the ones within 100 miles of me in either direction in South Dakota have shut down over the past decade. I suppose it’s possible EV charging could stem or reverse this if states could turn it into a money making partnership with private industry, although I haven’t heard of any such proposals.
While I appreciate the thought here, and this is better than simply adding chargers, we have a lot of electrical infrastructure and gas stations are only the most efficient way to fuel gas vehicles because of fuel storage. The best way to charge EVs is not to replace all the gas stations, but to put chargers in a lot of places people want/need to be. The sad thing is that we’re going to see this push to create the EV gas station and we’ll watch people convert many gas stations that simply won’t last.
Charging at museums, parks, malls, restaurants, etc. will beat the gas station on the corner. Easiest/cheapest way to help people get the most out of their stop isn’t to build something upscale when you install your chargers, but to build the chargers where people will stop. I think we are going to see a LOT of chargers installed near restaurants just off freeways. Get people in for a meal and get some money off them charging all at once.
That said, by doing the shipping container thing, one could give their gas station the best chance of survival. Reduce the price of going upscale and you may not find yourself struggling as much to compete with established businesses that just had to add charging. If you lease the space to other businesses, you might be able to make it. But it will be tough.
The thing is, gas stations don’t really make money on gasoline. That’s pretty much their break-even point. The figure is something like three to five cents per gallon, and your average station fills under 5000 gallons a year. So $150-250 a year with those figures?
Everything they sell in the store is where gas stations make money. The fact that they are selling gasoline is pretty much just an excuse for them to be there.
I predict that whether they are charging EVs or filling tanks, the gas station won’t really go anywhere.
That is true. But gas stations tend to sell things because people are gassing up. If a business that you would go to anyway installs chargers, you’ll skip the convenience store. And the gas stations are going to have to install the charging stations, too, so it’s not really a situation where their current position gives them an advantage.
You’ll still have some, as long as they are in convenient locations, but I suspect the market for them will be strongly reduced. On the flip side, I do think that EVs could save malls, though. A place with a bunch of stores to shop where you are fueling up could turn out to be popular.
Like you said in another comment, we’re probably going to see something more akin to business centers cropping up with shops and eateries. If a number of businesses can share a parking lot with a bunch of chargers, they’ll all benefit.
You’ll still have some, as long as they are in convenient locations,
I mean, isn’t that the definition of a gas station’s location? They don’t survive if they are in an inconvenient location.
I should rephrase. “As long as they are the most convenient place.” Which is often not true, since gas stations often stand alone, away from other businesses and they have had to build in places where they can bury a big tank. If a place that you actually want to go is just as convenient, you’ll skip them if everywhere is your gas station. Some will absolutely lower prices or go upscale to try to entice people, but a lot will fold because people will choose the place that has something they want or the place that costs less. And the gas station is rarely either of those places, especially with the decline in smoking.
Really, the average station fills under 5000 gallons/year? That seems incredibly low, given that any time I fill up, its about 12-15 gallons. Lets say the average is about 12 gal/car (some people fill up at a half-tank, but more frequently, and some trucks will double or triple that, and I don’t mean class-8 HD trucks). That equates to 400 cars/year, so just over 1/day? I think you must have skipped a digit there somewhere, that seems awfully low.
You’re correct, that should have been a day, not a year. My bad, I was scanning the figures too quickly reminding myself what they were.
It is still only a break even point, though. That part is true.
Don’t post figures when you’re recovering from the flu.
Oh, that makes a lot of sense. And I looked up your figures. That few cents profit already includes their labor and everything. So they profit about 55k per year on gas. They might be able to lower their margins in the convenience store to compete. 2% margins on gas is tough, but the margins may actually be higher on EV charging. They might have a chance if they are willing to Wal-Mart it and run on razor-thin margins until they dominate the market. Still going to be tough, but maybe not as tough as I thought.
Let’s assume a digit was skipped. If the $1500-2500 is their gas profit, they still probably make most of their profit on overpriced snacks, drinks, and cigarettes. I don’t know how profitable they are, but they’ll probably need to be less profitable to compete when other businesses add charging stations. Especially the ones that aren’t on heavy travel routes. If you rely on locals, home charging is already going to hurt you, and the mall or whatever else will finish it.
Not to pick at you because it doesn’t change the overall story that stations don’t make much on gas, but the average is more like 5000 gallons per day, not per year. Using your estimates of $.03-.05 per gallon you are still only looking at $54k-91k per year which isn’t bad if that is free and clear of all expenses, but you aren’t getting rich off of that and you aren’t funding major renovations to creating the infrastructure for charging talked about in the article.
‘The figure is something like three to five cents per gallon, and your average station fills under 5000 gallons a year.’
That works out to less than one car filling up a day. I think it’s safe to say most filling stations sell quite a bit more gas than that.
I SINCERELY hope that you mean 5,000 gallons per DAY, because assuming a 15-gallon fill, you’re saying that gas stations average 333 fills per year
This is spot on, stopping on a trip to charge at a gas station (or sams club) is pretty crappy, we try to use the ones that are just added to a small town, downtown parking lot, where we might have parks, food, and other things close by. It is not uncommon for us to only spend $3-4 to charge just enough for a buffer for upcoming mountain passes, and spend $30-40 on lunch if there’s something good nearby. We would happily patronize small towns on our trips if the chargers were provided and reliable.
This looks nicer than any gas station, so I like that! However, I’m hoping charging technology improves (soon!) and negates the need for such a thing. I’m shocked that I have yet to see charging banks at any gas stations. Seems like a no-brainer.
They’re semi-common here in the Tampa area. Mostly at the larger/newer stores. Wawa has been expanding into the area in the past 10 years or so, I mainly see Tesla chargers there.
Mr. Asa- my company does a lot of retail display work in convenience stores, so I’ve seen those new store concepts. They’re very nice but I think the EV/Gas balance isn’t ready for a whole tear down approach, especially with thousands of gas stations. Hence this stopgap approach.
I think a large number of filling stations will simply have to go away. The ones that remain will likely be the larger “travel center”-style stores (Love’s, Pilot, TA, etc.) or ones where they’ve built fairly significant secondary businesses and even dining areas (Sheetz, Wawa, etc.). The biggest losses will be the “neighborhood” gas stores, since in a 100% electric world, most people will only need these facilities for charging when they’re on long trips, and will charge at home/work/the mall/anywhere but in a small, dirty, boring place otherwise.
fencing_elf: I fully agree with you. There’s a reason I suggested shipping containers since this will NOT be a long term solution to anything. The whole station will need to be demolished and this is just a stopgap, so why not do it with something that could be done quickly and even reused at a different location later?
I hadn’t thought of the reuse angle, but that is a great benefit of this.
Drew- eventually these things will be rusted messes and could not be reused but at that point the world should be ready for the next generation of EV charging (i.e. not 50/50 gas/electric but more pure electric).
I predict, at least until the charging times come down, a resurgence of malls, small shops, and a huge explosion of places to eat.
I also predict at least a small change in societal norms. Unless its such an emergency that you have to take the ICE powered vehicle, being ~30 minutes late is going to have to be acceptable for some things.
Small parks and sitting areas would be nice as well. No gasoline smell, no leaking oil smell, provided there aren’t any EV Dodges around it should be fairly quiet. Might be peaceful to “fill the tank”
Mr.Asa- I actually thought about letting you drive into the mall and park to charge! I mean, in malls near me there’s sadly plenty of room to do that.
MATTinMKE: “You got us into this parking lot, pal, you get us out”.
“You want out of this parking lot? OK”
The new Oldsmobiles are in very, very late this year…