Fuels for Ireland – A Vision for Forecourts as Dynamic Community Hubs  

Fuels for Ireland –  A Vision for Forecourts as Dynamic Community Hubs   
Kevin McPartlan, Fuels for Ireland Picture Conor McCabe Photography.

IF&CR’s regular column by Kevin McPartlan

It was a successful and energetic 2023 for Ireland’s forecourts and the Irish fuels industry. As everyone who reads this is aware, our industry remains at the forefront of Irish society, delivering for the public and for the country.

Our integral role in Irish life will become even more apparent in 2024. Fuels for Ireland (FFI) members have ambitious plans for the year ahead. As we continue to provide excellent services and vital energy, we are going to be putting a focus on our work in two key areas: Our vision of forecourts as dynamic community hubs and the development of transformational liquid fuels.

Together, we are building a brighter future for Ireland, one that is powered by sustainable fuels and vibrant community hubs. Our 2024 activities will highlight this simple fact and show the pivotal roles our industry plays in the transition to a low carbon economy while simultaneously being the beating heart of communities across Ireland.

Forecourts of the Future

As a reader of this magazine, you know better than most that forecourts have long been integral parts of Irish communities, providing essential services to local residents, local businesses, motorists and travellers. As we move towards a more sustainable future, forecourts are evolving to meet the changing needs of their customers, becoming versatile hubs that offer a wider range of services.

 Expanding Convenience Retail and Recreational Spaces

Forecourts are more than just fuel stations. They are the places where people meet, where they shop, where they eat, have a coffee, access services and even take a well-deserved break. They are community hubs as much as thriving businesses. FFI’s vision is that these spaces will be expanded further with larger convenience stores, quick-service restaurants, recreational spaces, and even co-working areas.

However, forecourt providers can’t deliver on this vision alone. As customer needs evolve, FFI is also advocating for a review of retail planning guidelines, particularly regarding the floorspace limitations for convenience shops within forecourts (capped at 100 metres squared). We believe that these limitations should be relaxed to allow forecourts to expand their convenience retail offerings and provide more recreational spaces for customers who are waiting for their vehicles to charge. In 2024, we will be engaging directly with Government and the relevant authorities to ensure that forecourts are freed from unnecessary shackles that prevent them from growing to meet community needs.

The Rise of Electric Vehicles and the Need for EV Charging Infrastructure

The increasing popularity of electric vehicles (EVs) is driving a significant shift in the forecourt industry. There are currently over 15,000 fully electric vehicles registered in Ireland, and CSO figures show that in the first 10 months of 2023, 19% of all new cars licensed for the first time were electric compared with 15% in the same period in 2022.

The imperative to reduce carbon emissions in the road transport sector, central to Ireland’s net-zero ambitions, hinges on the success of EVs and hybrids. Forecourt operators, with their established success, are ideally positioned to contribute to this transition by providing world-class EV infrastructure.

However, there are currently several obstacles that are hindering the expansion of EV charging infrastructure at forecourts.

  • Grid Capacity Constraints: The existing electricity grid is not always capable of supporting the demand for EV charging at forecourts, particularly in urban areas.
  • High Connection Costs: The cost of connecting to the grid can be prohibitive for forecourt operators, especially in areas where grid upgrades are required.
  • Slow Bureaucracy: The process of obtaining permission to install EV charging points is slow and bureaucratic, discouraging forecourt operators from investing in this infrastructure.

In 2024, FFI is pushing for a number of measures to be adopted to accelerate the expansion of EV charging infrastructure at forecourts. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Streamlined Planning Process: The planning process for the installation of EV charging points is little short of a joke. The process for obtaining permission to install EV charging points is too long, too expensive and too inefficient. It needs to be quicker, cheaper and more efficient so that Ireland can move towards net zero and forecourt providers can provide infrastructure that Irish people badly need.
  • Matching Funds Provided by Government: the cost of providing EV charging points is excessive to the point of being prohibitive. As such, the necessary roll-out of these charging points is being hindered with a resultant disincentive for members of the public to switch to EVs. In order to address this challenge, the Government should provide matching funds for EV charging point projects to reduce the initial outlay for businesses.
  • Access to Climate Action Fund (CAF) Funding: Alongside the point above, funding at a national level already exists to aid in the roll-out of EV charging infrastructure but forecourt providers are not allowed to access it. FFI will be advocating to free up Climate Action Fund (CAF) finances so that forecourts are eligible to apply for CAF funding to support the installation of EV charging points.
  • Waiving of PSO Levy: Quite simply, the PSO levy should be waived for forecourts that install EV charging points.
  • Energy Savings Credits: Forecourts should be rewarded for quantifiable emissions reductions achieved through EV charging.

Forecourts are integral in the transition to a low-carbon economy and in creating more sustainable and liveable communities. FFI is committed to working with the Government, industry stakeholders, and local communities to shape the future of forecourts in Ireland and ensure that they are recognised as the community hubs they truly are.

In the pursuit of a sustainable future, Fuels for Ireland (FFI) champions the pivotal role of low-carbon liquid fuels, not just as an option but as an indispensable component in the journey towards net-zero emissions. Our commitment extends beyond the realm of traditional alternative fuels, embracing advancements in synthetic and biofuels, complemented by the integration of fast electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure at forecourts.

Low-Carbon Liquid Fuels: A Key Element for a Sustainable Future

Low carbon liquid fuels (LSLF) are an indispensable leg of the journey towards net-zero emissions.

We already have deep experience in providing innovative LCLFs. Earlier this year, FFI’s members facilitated a seamless transition to E10 petrol. This resulted in carbon emissions savings surpassing those achieved by all EVs on Irish roads.

This success highlights the broader potential of alternatives such as Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO), capable of reducing carbon emissions by nearly 90% compared to traditional fossil diesel. HVO, available at various forecourts nationwide, seamlessly integrates with existing diesel vehicles.

However, for these environmentally friendly options, including HVO, to become financially viable for consumers, Government intervention is imperative. The current pricing disparity, where consumers pay more for HVO than traditional diesel at the pumps, is unsustainable. It is time for the Government to incentivise the adoption of advanced, synthetic, and biofuels.

Furthermore, FFI urges the Government to actively support research and development in LCLF’s, fostering early adoption. We applaud the recent transatlantic flight powered solely by Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), a significant milestone for the industry. We call on the Irish government to provide similar support for these initiatives.

As the Irish Government prioritises decarbonisation efforts in heating, FFI advocates for a broader perspective. We urge the Government to focus on the 700,000 households reliant on liquid fuels, encouraging them to transition to alternatives that emit almost 90% fewer emissions than traditional oil. This shift necessitates an innovative approach to fiscal policy, prompting our call for Finance Minister Michael McGrath to establish an expert group on taxation. This group would review fiscal policies related to energy for transport and heating, fostering a transition towards low-carbon liquid fuels that are not only environmentally friendly but also economically accessible.

FFI is committed to making Ireland’s energy transition a reality, and one that works for all of society. Working together, Fuels for Ireland members are part of the electrification revolution and will play a key role in the transition to net-zero to build an environmentally sustainable future. 2024 will be key in delivering that future.

Kevin McPartlan,

CEO Fuels for Ireland