Convenience Store Chain Installs Network of Free Electric Car Chargers, at 120 Volts

By · March 22, 2011

EV Charger at a Kwik Trip location in Wisconsin

One of approximately 70 ultra-simple 120-volt electric vehicle "charge stations" installed by Wisconsin-based Kwik Trip convenience stores. Photo from

Electric car charging infrastructure is not such as big deal—at least according to Kwik Trip, a Wisconsin-based chain of convenient stores. Just stick a 120-volt outlet on a pole, plunk it in the ground, and print up a sign that reads, “Electric Vehicle Charge Station.”

Ben Nelson, a green car advocate, reports on his blog that Kwik Trip has quietly installed as many of 70 of these stations (outlets on poles with signs) in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. The EV charging spots give Ben another reason to like Kwik Trip. He already enjoys their coffee, and it’s one of the few locations where he can find E85 for this flex-fuel gas-powered pickup truck.

Kwik Trip should be applauded for this grassroots pro-electric campaign. Kudos for support of electric cars from the heartland! As Ben states, “It’s not part of any fancy ‘Brand-Name’ charging station, such as ChargePoint, which has a mapping system, iPhone Apps, or other sophisticated mapping/advertising system.” As we’ve discussed on, too many high-tech charging network start-ups take big public dollars yet keep access locked up in proprietary networks. Of course, Kwik Trip also has profits in mind—electric car owners might be more likely to stop there for a “kwik charge” and pick up some chips or coffee.

Of course, there are a couple of glaring problems with this picture. A gas station located in a remote location—without other worthwhile amenities around—is about the worst place to leave your electric car charging for a while. And at 120-volts, the rule of thumb is that you’ll pick up four miles of range during one hour of charging. So, even if you peruse the entire contents of the National Enquirer while sipping down your convenience store coffee, you might only pick up a mile or two worth of electric fuel. (Some of the locations have restaurants or are adjacent to shopping centers.)

Ben Nelson extols the virtues of grassroots simplicity brought to EV charging.

The good news is that Kwik Trip staff told Ben that the chain is planning to upgrade to “something more powerful in the near future” for its chain of 210 stores.

Thanks for the tip from Ryan Erdman.


· · 7 years ago

Well, it's not as bad as I thought. This from Ryan:

A large number of the Kwik Trip gas stations around here have truck stop style restaurants either as part of the gas station or very close by, some even have decent food, so although they might not be next to a shopping mall, they still might be the kind of place you would stop for a meal and plug in for an hour."

· Ben (not verified) · 7 years ago

My local Kwik-Trip is at the end of a mall which has two restaurants, a drug store, grocery store, and few other places a person might naturally spend as much as a few hours.

While not long enough to get an "overnight charge", it's enough to get a few more miles on. In the case of a Volt, it may be the difference between the gasoline engine firing up or not.

· · 7 years ago

Brad: It is as bad as you thought. Plugging in 110V while you eat dinner will barely get you out of the parking lot once you leave. I hope there is also a hotel next to the Kwik Trip gas stations because if you are in need of a charge and use their "charge station" you might as well catch some z's because you're gonna be there for a while...

Gotta love his entrepreneurial spirit though.

· · 7 years ago

So I'm not familiar with Kwik-Trip. I've never seen one. What I (and likely many others) are familiar with is Target. A new store just moved into town here, and as part of their permitting, they were required to do something green. They chose EV chargers. And can you guess what they did? Yup! 120V outlets on a pole with a sign. I kid you not. About seven of them in the parking lot. I have pictures for proof... just can't put my finger on them immediately. Stand by.

· · 7 years ago

So here you go. This is a brand new Target in Davis, CA.
The sign and space:

Here's what you get:

· · 7 years ago

I wonder how much of it is just sheer ignorance of what is really necessary and how much is greenwashing for publicity or to meet the requirement. In any event, the city planning department shouldn't let this qualify. They have the underground conduit, make them pull a bigger wire and install a real EVSE.

· · 7 years ago

LEED architectural certification for sites does take into consideration "EV Charging" when determining the level of energy “Savings”. To us EV wonks, EVSE means something. Based on the blogs I’m seeing from new owners of EVs, common knowledge about EVSEs is total ignorance, even inside the community.

Credit to Kwik-Trip and Target for good intent, and a conduit to the parking lot.

· · 7 years ago

This didn't have much to do with "good intent." It was for LEED points and it was for city permitting. I begged them to let me help plan these things, and was summarily ignored. They did the absolute minimum they had to do in order to get their LEED points and permit. A church that is just a block away installed actual chargers to meet the permit criteria... then turned the breakers off the day after inspection. The requirement was to install EV chargers... and there's nothing that requires them to be powered or ever offered for use.

They didn't pull one extra foot of conduit. Every one of these sits next to the power for the parking lot light poles. This cost them a box and an outlet. Oh. And a sign.

Good intent? Not in either case. Gaming the system? Both cases.

· EvDriver (not verified) · 7 years ago

From what I've seen so far are 20 amp outlets, if you can set your charger to draw more or already have a charger that is set up to connect to a 20 amp outlet then you should be able to get closer to 6 miles per hour of charge, no it's not alot of range but if you have lead acid batteries it will help keep them happy and thus have a longer life or if you have heat or A/C that runs off land power then your car will stay warm or cold while you shop or eat.
I'm not going to plan a trip based off of my being able to charge my electric car at a store, but if I have the option of two stores and only one of them offers charging I'll choose the one that offers charging even if it only increases my range by 10% for the day because plugging in can do more then just give you greater range.
Also only new electric cars are using the J1772 plug and in the mid west were kwik trip is based most of the electric cars on the road are either older models or home built and don't have J1772 plugs so a modern charging station would be useless so we would still end up using the standard 20 amp three prong outlet on the modern charging station.

· · 7 years ago

How about using a "Quick 220" adapter, perhaps like ? The idea would be to plug into two independent 120V outlets and charge at double the rate, when combined with a portable EVSE capable of plugging into a 240 V outlet.

· · 7 years ago

Target was smart enough to put up two signs in head-to-head parking spaces... meaning they claim TWO EV charging spots - with access to exactly one 20A outlet. The next set of spaces and outlet is several hundred feet away. Wouldn't be practical here! In fact, the only place it would work is where you have access to outlets are separate circuits.

· EvDriver (not verified) · 7 years ago

Yes, we could all go out and upgrade our current on board chargers to 220v and it would be a good idea to do that if we wanted faster charge times, but right now the standard in this area for charging is the 20 amp 120v 3 prong outlet, it's what I have at home and at work and everyone else that I know with electric cars uses that same standard 3 prong plug, maybe in 2013 when the next models of electric cars start being sold here we'll see a shift, but at best we are two years away as the mid west is pretty much the last area that anyone plans to sell new electric vehicles even tho there are a large number of old EV's here, so I don't blame them for not jumping on a charging option that no one can use, I see it instead as a business saying that they support EV charging and if their "charging stations" start getting used or if they start to get requests to upgrade then maybe they will upgrade,

· · 7 years ago

@darelldd: Now that is lame. If two EV's attempt to charge at the same time, they'll flip the breaker! And if I am viewing your photograph correctly, that's actually only a 15 amp outlet. Either the LEED standards, or the city permitting, or both need to be tightened up.

At minimum, for a given property to qualify as providing EV charging for permitting and/or LEED certification, I think there needs to be both a J1772 EVSE and a 120V outlet.

· Travisty (not verified) · 7 years ago

I'm beginning to think it's not complete ignorance but a combination of ignorance and business thinking...

Business Thinking:
Install 120V plugs so people have to come in and shop as they charge! If you allow them to charge quickly they may not come into the store!

220V still takes hours to charge a battery, it's only the industrial chargers that charge in 30 mins. So with a 220V you'd get more people coming by to charge and they'd still come in to shop because it'll still take a few hours to charge the car.

I'm thinking the first business that realizes this will make a killing while the other clueless commercial intaties will be scratching their heads - I'm hoping Whole Foods is one of the smart ones =D

· Travisty (not verified) · 7 years ago

After thinking about what I said I realized that in my example it's still just ignorance.... so ignore what I said.

· · 7 years ago

In the case of my local Target - from where I stand, it is primarily "how can we get away with this in the cheapest fashion" followed by a dose of ignorance. They definitely did not meet the intent of the law - and that wasn't done by accident (ignorance) it was done on purpose.

· · 7 years ago

Darell: When Target's local competition installs Level 2 EVSE's in their parking lot you can bet your a** Target will do the same. Unfortunately it looks like they will be forced into being EV friendly instead of taking the lead and showing support. Think of how small an investment it would be for them to do it right and how much good will it would foster. Some people just don't get it.

· · 7 years ago

Tom - Yeah... thing is - they have no competition. This is the first "big box" (medium box?) store our city has ever allowed in. And it doesn't look like it'll happen again. So truly, there is no competition, and there are really no other shopping areas anywhere near.

They were all lovey-dovey with me right up until the moment they got the OK to build here. Suddenly all communication stopped, and they no longer needed any educated input on the charging.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 7 years ago

For those of you that live near places with electric charging parking spaces, how is the accesability? I guess I am asking because I often see huge trucks and SUV's in compact car parking spaces, and apparently healthy looking people parking in handicap spaces, etc. I am really asking, are these spots being taken up by non plug in cars simply because they are avaialable/close to the store? Or do other drivers respect the fact they are for specifc types of carsand leave them open for plug ins?

· · 7 years ago

Accessibility depends on location. Some are fantastic (the ones that are patrolled!) and others are constantly "ICE'd" - meaning there is a gas car blocking the charger. There are laws against blocking the chargers, but for a ticket or tow, all the rules must be followed (proper signage and such) that nobody is doing yet. This will need to be dealt with as we get more charging spots and more cars.

· EvDriver (not verified) · 7 years ago

If a store like Kwik Trip did install a higher voltage plug or a modern charging station, who would be able to use it?
This is not California, most people here do not have fancy high voltage on board chargers.
So spout off all you want about how they are only doing it for good Public Relations or to get a tax right off, but if you ask almost any EV owner in the mid west what they look for in public charging they will point to a standard outlet because that is what works for their car.

· · 7 years ago

EvDriver - My comments were all about my local Target, so I assume you aren't speaking of *my* particular "spouting off." As I said initially, I know nothing about Kwik Trip, and have never seen one. I don't presume to know their situation or your location.

I think it is time to look forward, however - and not concentrate on what has been. Even there in the Midwest, you'll soon have production EVs that will make great use of EVSEs. And the good news? For very little money, every one of these EVSEs can and should have 120V outlets on the post as well.

· · 7 years ago

@EvDriver: I have absolutely nothing against businesses, on their own initiative like Kwik Trip, installing low-cost 120V outlets for EV owners. That should be applauded. On the other hand, Darell's local Target clearly installed the outlets (inadequate for the number of EV parking spaces) only to keep the city happy, with no concern for what might actually be best for local EV owners. This is unfortunate for their business as well, as they are blowing an opportunity to generate goodwill and loyalty from a growing segment of the population.

· Jim McL (not verified) · 7 years ago


The quick 220 only works if the outlets do not have Ground Fault interrupters. Outdoor outlets generally do have GFIs. So unless you carry a big isolation transformer (I do) you won't be able to combine two 120 volt circuits into a 240 volt source.

But why would anyone criticize a retailer for doing this? Sure, maybe not enough for a long trip, but great for employees. They are there all day.

When I talked with my employer about putting EVSE spots in the parking lot, I told them to put in a few level 2 EVSEs and lots of level 1 outlet. That is all local employees need.

· JJ - from Canada (not verified) · 7 years ago

This maybe a dumb question... are the cords from your EV's retractible?

If you are using an expensive extension cord for charging at 240 volts, won't someone just steal it to collect the copper?

Some people steal copper wires from utilities, some steal bronze markers from cemetaries. Some people just steal for the fun of it.

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