While cardlock fueling had humble beginnings as an honor based system, it has grown to encompass millions of cards in many networks across the country. From national brands such as Fleetwide/CFN and Voyager to regional networks, the advantages of each vary but all have two things in common: cards and fuel.
However, with an expanding tide of state governments mandating zero emission vehicles in 2035 (and legislation circulating at the federal level), our definition of fuel has been forced to expand beyond petroleum based products. Working in the fuel industry in California, this is has been ground zero for progressive emission restrictions for the past decade. So, we've been grappling with the coming change even at a time when viable zero emission options were scarce.
The petroleum company I worked for over the past decade was pretty forward thinking and had been running their retail stations on solar for years. We worked with the California Air Resource Board (CARB) to advise on challenges companies like ours would have in meeting regulations as well as staying up to date with ever evolving restrictions. Our company owned a commercial solar company that built solar farms, as well as two ethanol plants, both of which helped to offset our carbon footprint.
Years ago, I was tasked with researching the viability of offering zero emission fuels at our cardlock sites. Our two main electric vehicle (EV) options were hydrogen or fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) and Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV). Hydrogen was a more attractive alternative for us because it behaved more like our existing fuel offering. Pull in, swipe your card, fuel up and you are back on the road in 5 or ten minutes. From the supply side, it was like gas and diesel in that it would be trucked in and stored in tanks at the site. Theoretically, transactions could be processed similar to existing fuel products.
Unfortunately, hydrogen has remained far behind BEV due in part to its high infrastructure and production costs, as well as slow support by automakers. Currently, Toyota, Hyundai, and Honda produce a hydrogen model, although Jaguar has just announced a Land Rover FCEV concept. This slow acceptance have kept prices high for all related technology. When I researched equipment costs, a hydrogen dispenser alone cost $750,000.
Ultimately, our sights settled on the the BEV market and how we could accomodate this new customer. A successful cardlock site is a numbers game. No matter the size of the site, the more vehicles that fuel up per hour, the more profitable the site. The BEV scenario throws a few curveballs to the formula on several levels.
Not all sites can accomodate one or more EV charging stations. You would need a site large enough to dedicate at least a lane dedicated for BEV that would not impede the flow of gas/diesel customers - for most cardlock sites, this means commercial customers with medium to large vehicles. Smaller sites then, could not spare the room to dedicate to longer-stay customers. For sites that could dedicate the room, it would most likely require not just the charging equipment, but an electrical upgrade to power Level 3 fast charge stations.
Whereas residential Level 1 and 2 stations cost well under $10,000, a Level 3 can cost upwards of $35,000 plus a new 480V service if not already equipped, permitting, construction costs, etc. Add to this, the utility company practice of demand charges, which are fees based on a customer’s peak electricity draw. These charges can account for 90% of a sites electricity bill even if its draw is typically very low. In many cases, it negates any profitability not to mention an accounting nightmare given the unpredictability of an accurate and/or consistent kilowatt cost.
So, where does that leave us? If your point of view is that of a cardlock site(s) owner then it makes little sense to invest in either technology unless your market dictates it. For example, if you have a large municipality as a fleet customer that is converting its fleet to BEV or FCEV, it might be worth the investment for one site to service that customer.
For the consumer, the options are more interesting and far less costly. The current BEV offerings continue to expand and improve, but still have not conquered the range vs. recharge stop dilemma, as well as a reduced range in cold weather. All of these will likely improve, but trying the FCEV options will provide a more "fossil fuel" experience without the emissions (although currently limited to California).
The good news is that as we move closer to 2035, both technologies will evolve and improve, making these decisions easier. And of course, this will just apply to new vehicles, so the gas and diesel vehicles will still travel our highways for long after, further extending the EV evolution window.