Other emerging technologies will also give rise to new dedicated fueling infrastructure. As carmakers develop vehicles powered by fuel cells, a joint venture involving energy companies Shell, Total and OMV has announced plans for a network of 400 hydrogen filling stations in Germany.
Filling stations are set to play multiple roles in the energy systems of the future. Their canopies make good sites for solar photovoltaic installations, for example. Total is planning to install panels on 5,000 of its service stations around the world, 2,500 of them in Africa.
There’s some evidence that all this activity is slowing the decline of the filling station, and even encouraging big energy companies to revisit their retail strategies. In Australia, for example, BP has announced plans to buy a network of 527 fuel and convenience stores from retailer Woolworths. According to the European Petroleum Refiners Association, the number of filling stations in Europe has actually increased a little, rising to 125,000 at the end of 2015 from 118,000 two years earlier.
“Tomorrow’s filling stations look set to play a wide variety of roles in the communities they serve. That will have implications for their supply chains as well as their business models,” says Gert Van Dijck, Global Head of Energy Sector Strategy at DHL. “People need convenience more often than they need fuel or vehicle charging. Service station networks provide access to many consumers and are ideally located to extend services into final-mile delivery and community hubs in emerging markets. This requires flexible and responsive supply chains that support the different services in a cost-effective distribution network. Some companies are already starting to consider integrating their retail offering with the development of autonomous cars and the expansion of ride sharing. One day, a service station network may send an autonomous vehicle with coffee and a croissant to bring you to work and pick you up from work together with your groceries for dinner.” — Jonathan Ward