Home » The Grocery Store Should Be The Gas Station Of The Electric Future

The Grocery Store Should Be The Gas Station Of The Electric Future

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One of the biggest qualms many people have about electric vehicle charging is the time lost spent sitting in the car, waiting for the charger to replenish electrons. Hell, that’s why Tesla, Ford, Polestar, and just about every EV manufacturer is starting to add video games and apps like TikTok or Zoom—just to make that time spent while charging more useful. But what if we ignored the games, and instead, made effort into placing our EV charging stations in useful places? My local Kroger grocery store just added a set of DC fast chargers, allowing EV drivers to conveniently charge up while grocery shopping. Let me tell y’all, this is absolutely the way of the future. 

It’s no secret that EV charging takes a long time compared to a simple refill of a gas-powered vehicle. Even under ideal circumstances, most cars will take at least 20 minutes to reach 80 percent on a hyperfast DC charger, way longer than the five minutes or so we’d spend at any given gas station. Thus, that extra time is often one of the biggest points of contention amongst EV skeptics; “I can’t wait that long, I’ve got things to do!” they’d say. 

The missed opportunity cost eaten up by sitting in an EV and waiting for the car to recharge, isn’t acceptable to them.

But, like, what if you didn’t have to wait and twiddle your thumbs? Why not fold EV charging into another activity?

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Photo: Kevin Williams

I’ve been doing that for a while now with my Mitsubishi i-MiEV. I’ve picked a local coffee shop that has access to charging, allowing me to work from home, sip a coffee, and charge my car. By the time I’m done with a substantial portion of work, the i-MiEV is good to go for the next 45-50 miles of use. Similarly, my Kroger grocery store has installed DC fast chargers, making it a boon for the off day I have a press car and need a full charge. By the time I’ve finished my grocery shopping, DC fast charger has just about finished recharging the car. [Editor’s note: The HEB grocery store near my parents’ place in Texas has the fast Tesla Supercharger stations, and I can confirm this is a superb way of adding range and being productive at the same time. Go grocery stations! -PG]

I didn’t sit in the car, twiddling my thumbs, lamenting that I’d wasted half an hour of my time, that could have been spent doing something else. There was no lost utility recharging, and the time spent charging was used valuably for grocery shopping. The experience was so seamless and convenient, that I had convinced myself that every grocery store or department store should have DC fast charging facilities.

True, concerns about charging don’t exactly evaporate. I’ve written about them before, there are plenty of class and work schedule constraints that don’t seem to pan out for the folks who don’t have a specific 9-5 office job, or live in an area with a robust charging infrastructure. Even the grocery store where I recharged was in a neighborhood that definitely has been accused of being gentrified, but that’s beside the point. 

Being able to turn the charging experience into a passive thing that happens while you’re doing something else, is something that should be available to EV drivers of all incomes. Maximizing opportunity cost is good for everyone, y’know?

I suppose that’s easier said than done, though. In my experience, most DC fast charging stations are in the middle of nowhere, next to things that aren’t exactly desirable. In Autopian Slack, Patrick George commented that he slow-charged a Polestar 2 next to an awkward light pole at a random CVS in Brooklyn. Not ideal. Even plenty of DC fast charging stations are in weird spaces, often poorly lit, and in areas where some drivers just don’t feel comfortable enough to leave their car.

To me, EV charging will likely always be relatively slow compared to refilling a fuel-powered car. Instead of working to close the gap with what are likely diminishing returns on charging speed, why not work within the limits of the service, offering tangible, useful things to do while charging? Sure, some charging stations and service providers have that idea, like Subway’s charging oasis.

But charging stations paired with useful points of interest should be the norm, not just a gimmick to sell sandwiches where they refuse to tessellate the cheese correctly.

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99 Responses

  1. Kwik Trip is way ahead of you. They turned their gas stations into grocery stores, largely I think because of the “Well I’m here anyway, so I might as well pick up some milk and eggs”. If you live in the midwest you know their strategy has worked because I swear there’s a Kwik Trip about every other block these days.

  2. DC fast charging at grocery stores or other shopping centers is not the future. Your car gets charged up too fast to meaningfully do anything. At best, you can order a cup of coffee to go or pick up some takeout, before you need to head back to your car and unplug. You need to have a plan, and it’s a little bit stressful.

    Shopping centers would do much better with slower AC charging, which would allow customers an hour plus to shop before their vehicle is fully charged.

    DC fast charging only makes sense near freeways so travelers can use it on road trips. That’s the only time anyone ever needs DC fast charging. For everything else, slower charging is more desirable. It’s easier on the grid and puts less strain on the battery.

    1. I don’t think I’ve ever grocery shopped for an hour. 30 minutes is pretty typical for our once a week shopping trip.

      Personally I would like DC charging near restaurants convenient to highways because trips are the only reason I have to use a DC charger. I charge at home for day to day driving. However, only about 60% of the US population own their own home with off street parking. Apartment dwellers can charge in their apartment parking lots but something still needs to be done for the street parking public. DC charging once a week at the grocery store could fit that bill.

      There isn’t one solution for charging.

    2. Two advantages to somewhat slower chargers:
      1. Price – 3 medium speed charger for the price of one fast charger.
      2. Captive audience – “The app says i still have another 15 minutes; might as well go back to the (insert favorite section of store, full of stuff you’d probably buy if you’re paycheck and house were bigger, but you don’t because you’re a responsible adult with bills to pay).

    3. Most people are in and out of the grocery store in 30 minutes. If you’re spending more than that, well, just don’t stand in the middle of the aisle.

      But there are different speeds of DC fast charging. While everyone is rightly concerned about the fastest speeds for travel corridors, grocery stores would be better suited for 50kW stations. They MUCH cheaper than 150-350kW stations, so more can be installed so more people can charge while they run errands.

      EVs won’t take hold until apartment dwellers and renters can charge at home. But fast charging at destinations is an important part of the equation, and 50kW chargers all over should be put in place.

  3. While being able to charge around town is nice, generally around town is close to home, where you can already charge overnight. Its the locations far away from home that stretch your range, that you need to be able to charge while doing other activities. Hiking trails, parks at the beach, lakes where you towed your boat, so you can charge while your fishing, etc etc etc.

    So while I agree the solution is being able to charge while doing something else, the priority shouldn’t be on charging 5 miles from home, it should be on charging while at the edge of your range.

    1. Some people can’t charge at home. Hubnut recently did an excellent video series borrowing a new Fiat 500 E and showed that you could easily daily an EV without home charging by charging at the grocery store or motorway services and treating it like a gas car. While I agree we need to work on long-distance solutions, local charging stations should not be overlooked and might be what most people need to go EV. If you’re towing cross country you’re in the minority of road users and should probably just stick to PHEV or ICE for now.

  4. I agree that grocery stores and similar are ideal places for chargers, and not just DC chargers. L2 is similarly useful for those of us who spend upwards of 2 hours doing the weekly shopping. I’d also like to see them at City and County offices, libraries, movie theaters, and restaurants.

    One thing that gets overlooked a lot in these discussions is that when you drive a BEV it changes the way you think about refueling. You don’t wait unit an idiot light pops up to inform you that you’re low on electrons – you become an opportunist.

    In our normal travels around town I know where the Level 2 chargers are, and select my parking spot accordingly – sadly, the Kroger stores here don’t have chargers. I charge on “level 1” at the office in EV-specific spaces. When we go out there are L2 chargers scattered all around, many of them free. I select a parking garage, in part, on the availability of charging.

    As a result of this opportunity charging, I rarely need to charge at home. When we travel we use DC charging of course, but by being opportunistic at the destination city we can minimize time spent at the interurban DC charger.

    I realize that this doesn’t fit every use case – nothing ever does – but once you make the transition in mind set from “Gotta fill the tank” to “Hey look – a charger” it’s pretty easy to stay charged up.

    Now; about all these apps, RFID cards and online wallets for each charging network……..PITA!!!! It’s gotten better and I appreciate EVGo making the jump to plug and pay but Electrify America and Flo (and possibly others, I’ve lost track) are holding my money in online wallets while I have no need for their services. That ain’t right.

    1. This is exactly why the Grocery story isnt the complete answer. My grocery stores have as required by law handicapped spots up front and i am 100% for that. But if you have chargers government will require a percentage of chargers at these spots. No problem but as most of these spots are usually empty wasted chargers. Now thecstores added pregnant spots, new mommy spots, spots for customers who ordered online etc. I am half a parking lot away if noone is at the store. Now chargers added probably in the next open spots. Now am I supposed to park even further away? Are EV drivers going to take these spots even if not needed and hook up just to top off or get a good spot? Sorry i am parking in the charger spot EV drivers are not a protected class even though they seem to think they should be. If you want dedicated spots put them at the end of the parking lot and share with the Porch drivers.

  5. EV owners without home charging are electron vampires, always seeking their next fix. The magic of the automobile is the freedom to go anywhere, anytime, for any reason. As an auto enthusiast, electron addiction turns a joy into a chore.

    And yes, I realize that I currently have fossil fuel addiction but my fixes last a long time and I have dealers on every street corner.

    1. I dunno, I feel like adding those constraints would be a fun way to gamify the commute with careful route planning and trying to maximize range. But I guess my idea of fun is different from everyone else’s.

    2. Absolutely. I’ll also add that every single broken charging station on the road adds to range anxiety and slows adoption.

      What’s more, I think we need to examine ways to limit customer exploitation at charging stations, because if I’ve learned anything about corporate behavior, it’s that companies will happily ruin customer experience on purpose if there’s a buck in it.

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