How will gas stations change as US moves toward electric vehicles?

Written by Amy Ta, produced by Marcelle Hutchins

An illustration shows an electric charging station with a market. Photo by Shutterstock.

California is banning the sale of new gasoline-powered cars starting in 2035, and President Biden has pledged that half of new vehicles on the U.S. market will be zero emissions by 2030. Some gas stations are preparing now by building charging ports. But with the nation’s maze-like electricity infrastructure and competing utilities in each state, it’s not an easy transition. 

David Ferris has been exploring what the future might hold for gas stations in a big piece for Politico’s E&E News. He begins with an example of the chain Kum & Go, which has 400 stations in 11 states. One of its stations outside Denver epitomizes the problems that gas stations are facing now. 

“Kum & Go … intentionally put its charging station in that location and not in other surrounding locations — because there's one particular fee that gas station is required to pay to the electricity company that is far lower in that spot than it would be in other utility areas,” he explains, “And that gets to a big, continuous problem that gas stations are going to have with electric vehicles.”

He adds, “Because [the gas station] doesn't have any control over when those [EV] drivers are going to come and can't manage its power use, it can end up paying far more in electricity bills than it can ever hope to charge you for charging your electric car. And so that gets to a big disconnect between the way that the electric utilities manage electricity, and the way that gas stations typically work.”

Installing EV chargers will make the difference between whether a gas station will lose or gain money — “a matter of financial life and death,” he notes. 

However, some relief comes from the new infrastructure bill — it includes $7.5 billion for EV charging stations. So Ferris says gas stations will start embracing this “not because they see it as a wonderful opportunity, but because they don't really have much of a choice.” 

Still, drivers will do most of their charging at home or the workplace, and it’s unclear how often they’ll stop on the road to refuel. That plays into the question of how many charging stations the U.S. will actually need, he says. 

Other businesses are also becoming competition for gas stations, specifically when it comes to fast chargers that can fully power your car in 15-40 minutes. Gas stations aren’t fun places to hang out at for that length of time, whereas you could spend half an hour at a grocery store, Walgreens, or Starbucks, Ferris points out. And so, those businesses are starting to offer fast charging. 

Who will suffer the most as gas stations close? Small and local entrepreneurs. Ferris explains, “Gas stations have these signs for major fuels like Shell and BP and Chevron. … But in fact … most of them are small business owners that own just one or a few stations. And those small owners are the ones who are least financially prepared to make the jump to servicing electric vehicles.”