Nissan claims more EV chargers fuel stations, still not enough

Nissan kicked off a wave of reporting in the UK, after announcing that there were now more than 9,300 EV charging stations in the country, compared to 8,400 fuel stations serving conventional ICE cars. However, in terms of the number of vehicles served by each, the EV camp still has a lot of catching up to do – but it’s far from insurmountable.

In a straight like-for-like swap, the typical eight-pump fuel station can serve far more cars in a given time period than eight EV chargers. The pumps will fill most fuel tanks in around two minutes, and the process of paying for fuel can often take longer than this. We feel confident saying that completely fueling an ICE car would take about five minutes, meaning that in an hour, this eight-pump station could serve 480 cars – at an admittedly hectic pace.

Even the latest fast chargers seem to top out at about 80% charge in around 30 minutes of use, meaning that in a direct comparison, a fuel station that ripped the pumps out and replaced them with EV chargers could serve 16 cars in an hour – and thanks to the cost of electricity, make a fraction of the revenue that a conventional fuel station would.

Even converting more of the footprint of the station to accommodate additional EV chargers wouldn’t make much of a difference to this number. Rounding EVs up and bit and perhaps ICE down a bit still hits a ratio of about 1:20 – meaning that on this basis, the fuel stations are around 20x more efficient, if the goal is simply refueling a vehicle as fast as possible.

However, ICE vehicles do not have any alternatives for refueling. They have to use fuel stations. EVs can charge at home, at a place of work, and in time, in car parks that want to increase footfall by offering free or discounted charging at retail parks, superstores, or even inner-city or commuter car parks.

To this end, the data needed to properly compare refueling stations is what number of EVs will actually need to make use of these systems. How many EVs are caught short in their regular routines, how many are on long-range trips that fall outside the usual usage, and how many simply don’t have access to chargers at locations when the EV is at rest – and so on.

This data is not exactly readily available, and so most of the coverage concerning the Nissan announcement has considered the milestone as if an EV charging location is directly equivalent to a fuel station. Nissan was previously forecasting the milestone to occur in August 2020, so it seems that the market has outpaced expectations.

Nissan said that there were just a few hundred locations in 2011, and that 1,600 of the locations provide ‘rapid charging’ that can reach 80% capacity in under an hour. Notably, Nissan never defines how many EVs a single location can support.

In the past year, Transport for London (TfL) has installed 1,000 EV charging points, as well as piling on the pressure with its Ultra-Low Emission Zone charge that has pushed London drivers towards EVs. BP Chargemaster announced that it will install 400 ‘ultra-fast chargers’ in the UK, by the end of 2021.

BP has just opened the first of these points at one of its existing fuel stations, and claims that a 100-mile range can be provided in just ten minutes. Most interesting is that BP predicts a dwell time of 10 to 12 minutes for these chargers, compared to the 7 minutes used by petrol and diesel cars on its forecourts today. In the accompanying image, there are two EV chargers adjacent to the fuel station.

Returning to our above calculation, where the 8-pump fuel station swaps to 8 chargers, the ratio of vehicles-served using BP’s figures would be 40 EVs served in an hour compared to 68 ICE vehicles served – or around 1 to 1.75. That’s a much better ratio than the 1:20 above, but one that is highly dependent on the EV drivers only needing a partial charge, rather than a complete recharge. To this end, the ratio is going to end up somewhere between these two examples.

The other dynamic to consider is that refueling an ICE vehicle is an active task, while recharging an EV is more of a passive one. Because of this, there is a greater chance for wasted time at these charging points, as the EV owners are likely not with the car at all times. They could be enjoying the amenities or shopping, rather than standing at the fuel tank, nozzle-in-hand. As such, there will be overlap between the finish of the charging cycle and the point at which the car drives away and the next EV can begin charging.

Also of note was Nissan’s claim that 80% of UK fuel stations have closed since 1970, which might require some further research to get to the bottom of. The emergence of supermarkets and their move to provide fuel stations at their largest stores likely has much to do with this, as the UK hasn’t exactly undergone a revolution in public transport in the past five decades.

However, demand for EVs in the UK has increased substantially. Some 14,000 have been registered in the country in the first seven months of the year, up 70% compared to that period in 2018. However, these EVs still only account for around 1% of total car sales. By 2030, the Energy Saving Trust estimates that there will be 8-11mn hybrid or electric cars in the UK, and over 25mn by 2040 – when the ICE ban comes in for new sales. This compares to the 31.2mn cars in the UK in 2017.

Nissan Motor GB’s managing director, Kalyana Sivagnanam, said “many consumers are saying their next car will be electric. That means the industry needs to ensure their desires are met with both the car – how far it can go, what technologies it has – and how it interacts with the world around it – where they can charge and how convenient that is for them.”

Sivagnanam concluded “we’ve moved beyond the early concerns of range anxiety with EVs now exceeding the vast majority of customer’s daily driving needs. The next challenge is for charging infrastructure to keep pace with the number of EVs on the road, and that the experience of recharging is as enjoyable and effortless as that of all-electric driving.”