C-Stores Need to Ask Tough Questions of EV Charging Vendors

Due diligence can help owners avoid risks such as faulty equipment and long project delays, advises Scott West of HFA Architects + Engineers 

FORT WORTH, Texas, Oct. 24, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — C-stores evaluating EV charging vendors need to ask tough questions to avoid headaches caused by equipment failure, supply-chain delays and subpar software, advises Scott West (P.E.) of HFA Architects and Engineers.

Smaller-scale pilot programs conducted in partnership with third-party engineering firms can help them answer such questions, cut through vendor hype and gain a better sense of what scaling up might look like, West writes in an “Expert Viewpoints” piece for Convenience Store News.

“You could liken this to commissioning a fact-finding mission by an objective source,” writes the senior mechanical engineer. “These limited, fee-based engagements can involve everything from installing a small number of chargers at one or more sites to running detailed computer simulations populated with site, performance, cost and other data.”

In the Sept. 28 piece (“What to Explore in an EV Charging Pilot Program“), West offers three key questions for finding the right fit.

The first is to consider what could happen if the charging system fails. As noted by J.D. Power, EV drivers across the United States are reporting frustrating experiences with out-of-commission chargers. “Chalk it up to underinvestment in maintenance and/or the failure to employ data systems that provide immediate alerts when the equipment breaks,” writes West, an energy efficiency specialist and design lead in HFA’s Fort Worth office.

In their pilot programs, C-store executives should push for answers on:

  • the reliability of the specific equipment to be used, whether owned by a vendor or purchased by them outright;
  • the reputation and track record of any vendor and/or subcontractors that will be handling equipment repair and maintenance at the test locations;
  • expected costs for equipment replacement and repair, along with cost trends and vendor/contractor repair timetables and deadlines; and
  • the capacity of the system to monitor performance and provide alerts.

West also advises retailers to make sure the vendor’s payment software and IT infrastructure match their needs. “A national c-store chain with an app-based loyalty program could be laser-focused on all things digital,” he writes, “while a company with just five or six sites might be content with a more conventional approach.”

C-stores should consider sending vendors a detailed RFP to find out if their charging systems offer advantages such as:

  • good mobile apps for both Apple and Android;
  • robust reports and data visualizations on charger performance and use; and
  • interoperability with other platforms—a prerequisite for providing more detailed reports on customer behavior.

“If finding synergies between EV charging and the rest of your business is a priority for you, use your pilot program to explore your options,” West advises.

Lastly, he encourages retailers to inquire into how supply-chain bottlenecks for critical electrical equipment could affect the project timetable. By some accounts, it can take a year or longer to get new utility distribution transformers or certain switchgear components, such as switchboards. One contributing factor—uncertainty about planned federal regulations designed to make electrical equipment more efficient. “Some manufacturers are waiting for clarity before they invest in new production capacity,” West explains.

Keeping the pilot program small could reduce the chance of encountering such difficult delays. “You could install just one or two Level 3 fast chargers and give them some extra oomph with onsite battery storage,” writes West, who has partnered with multiple retailers on such projects.

“EV charging is in high gear, but it doesn’t have to be a blur,” he concludes. “By asking the right questions, an objectively administered pilot program can provide a clear picture of the path ahead.”

The full column is available at:

Additional columns in West’s three-part Convenience Store News EV charging series:
For Smart EV Charging Rollouts, Geek Out on the Tech
Wild Cards in the EV Fast-Charging Business Model.”

Media Contacts: At Jaffe Communications: Elisa Krantz,
,  (908) 789-0700.

SOURCE HFA Architects + Engineers