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Electric Vehicle Charging Station Footprints

This is part three in a series dedicated to helping electric utilities prepare for a future with wide-spread electric vehicle (EV) usage.

A few weeks back, we discussed the infrastructure that electric utilities will need to invest in to support expanded electric vehicle (EV) charging. This week, we consider the area (footprint) that commercial EV charging stations will require.

EV charging stations will likely be similar in size to today’s gas stations, including spots for 16 to 20 cars to charge, plus a convenience store, additional parking, and some extras, such as an air pump to refill tires. Some EV charging stations may also wish to install a battery storage system, which will significantly increase the footprint.

Let’s compare the footprint of today’s gas stations, commercial EV charging stations, and commercial EV charging stations with onsite energy storage. We’ll also look at the benefits of onsite energy storage, and review ideas to reduce the associated footprint.

Today’s Gas Stations

A gas station with 16 pumps, underground storage tanks containing 40,000 gallons of gasoline, plus a convenience store and parking for 10 vehicles, typically has a footprint of about 150 feet wide and 250 feet long. This station can refuel about 200 cars per hour. Quite often, competing gas stations are located within a few thousand feet of each other, and each have a similar footprint.

Passersby will notice the visual impact of gas stations: typically, cars, SUVs, and trucks being refueled. Gas stations like this are so common in the US that many people don’t even consider the visual impact.

To refuel the gas station’s underground storage tanks, gasoline is delivered during off hours using 10,000 gallon tank trucks. When electric service is interrupted, portable, diesel-fueled generators can be used to power gas pumps until electric service is restored.

Tomorrow’s Commercial EV Charging Stations

A commercial EV charging station with 20 chargers, a convenience store, and parking for 10 additional vehicles will occupy an area that is 200 feet wide and 250 feet long – nearly the same footprint as a gas station with 16 pumps. This EV charging station can recharge 80 cars per hour when electric energy is available at reasonable prices.

As more renewable energy sources are integrated into the power grid, energy should be available at a reasonable price throughout most of the day. With additional energy storage systems at EV charging stations, energy could be available at a reasonable price almost any time.

The visual impact of a commercial EV charging station will be similar to that of a gas station. Competing commercial EV charging stations will each require a separate electric distribution line, as each will be a high-power load. When electric service is interrupted after ice storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, or other severe weather events, charging will be unavailable.

Commercial EV Charging with Onsite Energy Storage

The commercial EV charging station described above would find it extremely useful to also install a 125 MWH storage battery. Although EV charging stations with battery backups will require more land than the typical gas station, there are many benefits to having stored energy onsite.

A battery can provide energy during times of peak electric demand and during times when energy costs are extremely high, such as on a hot summer day. A battery backup could also provide stored energy for 24 hours after electric service is interrupted, such as during a blackout or after a severe weather event.

Electric energy stored in batteries can be used to support the grid during voltage dips, preventing wide area blackouts. And, in the event of an emergency, stored energy can be used like back-up generators for 24 hours or more, depending on capacity and demand.

Challenges of Onsite Energy Storage

The size of today’s battery storage options could pose a challenge when considering the footprint of a commercial EV charging station with a battery. The same charging station with 20 chargers, a convenience store, parking for 10 vehicles, and a 125 MWH storage battery will occupy an area that is 200 feet wide and 700 feet long – three times larger than a gas station or a commercial EV charging station without energy storage onsite. *

An EV charging station of this size would be challenging to implement in areas occupied by today’s gas stations. Ideally, EV charging stations will replace at least half of the corner gas stations throughout US cities. Those with battery storage onsite will require more land than may be available in urban or suburban areas. The visual and spatial impact will be like that of a self-storage facility.

EV charging stations would also be necessary along interstate highways. Rest areas, which are typically about 100 feet wide and 700 feet long, may not have the space necessary to accommodate a large battery in addition to parking and restrooms. Instead, EV charging stations could be installed at regular intervals in smaller, rural towns along interstate highways, which may have available space.

Smaller Onsite Energy Storage Options

In our last article, we talked about a method of reshaping battery storage technology to create “high top” battery storage containers. These 20-foot-tall containers will reduce the footprint of large-scale batteries and increase the number of batteries that can be stored at any given facility.

High top containers can make battery storage more accessible in urban areas, or anywhere with limited space availability. The visual impact will be like a two-story self-storage facility.

Electric Vehicles are the Future

Options for electric vehicle charging stations must be expanded if EVs will successfully upend traditional, gas-powered cars. This will be a necessary step to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate some of the worst impacts of climate change.

In addition to slow charging options at residences, fast charging stations must replace at least half of today’s gas stations. By creating battery storage options that are slimmer than today’s storage containers, battery storage can be implemented at many EV charging stations, providing benefits to both EV charging and the entire electric energy grid.

This article was written in collaboration with Prescient's Lead Editor Alyssa Sleva-Horine.

*The approximate size of this footprint is based on the size of the Hornsdale Power Reserve in South Australia, a large-scale lithium-ion battery.

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