architecture technology transport

Building of the week: electric forecourts

This autumn, if all goes to plan, the first all-electric forecourt in Britain will open in Braintree, Essex. Like many forecourts, it will have a shop and a cafe, and the facilities to top up your car. The difference here is that it will have 24 fast charge points for electric cars, and no fuel pumps.

This notable charging point is being built by Gridserve, who are planning to spend a billion pounds building 100 of them around the country. They’re also the company behind Britain’s most advanced solar farms, so their charge points will be backed by 100% renewable energy. In some cases the electric forecourts will be on the same site as the solar park, making use of the energy locally.

The chargers at the Essex facility will have rapid chargers, but that’s still a stay of twenty to thirty minutes, so this isn’t exactly the same as popping into a petrol station. The cafe is going to be more important here. There’s also an airport style lounge, and meeting rooms. Since it’s a bit of a flagship, this one includes an electric car visitor centre where people can find out more about clean energy and transport, and test drive EVs.

We’re going to see a lot more of these as electric cars become more popular – and there’s no question that they are. What I’m most interested in though is not so much new charging points opening, but petrol stations closing. That would be a more significant signal of real change, not just rising demand for electric cars but falling demand for fossil fuels.

On that front, the oil company Shell announced in February that one of its petrol stations in London was going to be converted into an entirely electric forecourt. That shouldn’t be a surprise. Companies that run forecourts stand to lose their shirts if they don’t move with the market and include more charging. An all electric charging hub is good PR for Shell, while they still get to make money on oil for as long as possible.

Other places have already seen pioneering transformed forecourts. A private gas station in Maryland claimed the first US example last year, taking out its pumps and installing chargers instead. They were beaten to the world first by a matter of days by a Circle K branch in Oslo, Norway. As a major operator with some 16,000 petrol stations, Circle K is going to have to do this more often – EVs currently outsell petrol cars in Norway. Fuel sales are now declining, and where Norway leads, others will follow.

I look forward to seeing more of these in the years to come.

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