Friday, June 7, 2013
Helping Electric Vehicle Drivers Plug In Wherever They Are, With EV Connect
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
It seems like there are more and more electric vehicles on the road every day--particularly here in Southern California. However, it's still not the easiest thing to charge them, particularly at work or outside of home. One local company which is looking to change that is EV Connect (www.evconnect.com), which installs and runs charging stations for companies. We caught up with CEO Jordan Ramer, who has previously been at NanoH2O and Aerovironment, to hear more about how EV Connect is hoping to make it easier for companies to offload all of the issues behind installing electric vehicle charging stations for their employees and customers.
What is EV Connect?
Jordan Ramer: We're a technology company that enables electric vehicle charging management, what we call private charging networks. From there, we enable other applications and third party hardware and deployment off that technology that we've developed. At the end of the day, we help anyone and everyone with a parking lot to become fueling provider of the future. Essentially, electricity as a fuel enabled distributed fueling, in the same way that a gas station is distribution now, except without the underground tanks and gas pumps, and having to handle distribution from a central location. With electricity everywhere, we enable the last mile so that anyone with a parking lot or parking space, can be the fueling provider of the future for transportation.
Who are your customers - parking providers?
Jordan Ramer: It's not necessarily parking providers, although they are in the mix. It's anyone with a parking lot. We work a lot with corporate campuses, doing what we call workplace charging. That happens in two places. At a company's home office, or at an office property location or office park. We also do a lot with hotels. We recently won a project with Marriott, for example. We're helping hotels and hotel chains, and individual owners/operators of hotels to deploy, and ultimately manage their charging infrastructure, using our technology. We also work a lot with the government sector. We have a big project with the Los Angeles Metro, managing infrastructure at their park and ride and transit locations. Going back to the workplace, we manage corporate campuses, for example, Warner Brothers' studio lot is one of our customers. We have customers all over the country, where we're deploying and managing charging networks.
I see a lot of "run the extension cord to the parking lot" happening nowadays. Why do customers decide they need to install a station and engage someone like you?
Jordan Ramer: It depends on the customer. In the end, there needs to be an organized way to do this. What we're providing is not core to our customer. Someone running a corporate campus, or an office property, a hotel, or even a transit agency or university does a lot of different things, but the core of their business is not managing fueling infrastructure. It's not something they ever had to do before with gasoline, and it's not something they want to have to do today. They want someone who can handle all of that, and take over and take the headache away. They want someone who can manage drivers if they have questions, to talk to the facility folks and sustainability folks, and to work with people on infrastructure, to help set pricing, and to manage issues as they happen along the way.
What's the trigger for when they think about managing the process?
Jordan Ramer: The primary one is demand from drivers at a particular location. They'll come into human resources or their facility folks, their employers, and say they want to be able to charge at work. Or, a regular guest at a hotel, who is there for the third or fourth time, asks if they can stay here and also charge, and want to be able to visit and charge their car. That's enough for a property to see that there's demand there, so that they start to look around, and understand to deal with those--that's when they turn to us.
How'd you get involved with EV Connect, what did you see in the company?
Jordan Ramer: My vision for the company, is to be the master of charging at every parking lot location. I think we're unified here, as a company, with our partners, in the vision that every parking space can be a fueling location for electric vehicles. It's a distributed opportunity for vehicle fueling. That's what drives me every day. I think we've now hit over 100,000 EVs in the market here in the U.S., and the market is growing at a nice clip. I think we have an opportunity to change the way transportation fuels its vehicles. I came to EV Connect, and had been at Aerovironment for seven years, from 2001 to 2008. I was heavily involved in getting their electric car charging infrastructure business going in the early 2000's. One of the big challenges that I saw at the time in the industrial market, where we were focusing on at Aerovironment, was the need for managing all of this infrastructure. It's not something that's core for our customers. I recongized there was a need. After a few years, I had left Aerovironment, and in the meantime started hearing about the Nissan Leaf, the Chevy Volt, the Tesla in the market, and realized that the on-the-road-world would face some of the same challenges. The core of EV Connect is to help manage that infrastructure.
Some of the big industry news recently was the Better Place bankruptcy. Your thoughts on that?
Jordan Ramer: It's an unfortunate situation for them. I think they were pretty early, and they also tried to bite off a lot. That's where EV Connect is different. We're really focused on private charging networks, as opposed to what Better Place was doing, which was building ubiquitous, public charging stations across the country and large geographic regions. We're much more focused on the private charging networks where people regularly charge. I'm an EV driver myself, and I can relate--there's only typically three or four places that you charge your car on a regular basis. It's the 80/20 rule. That's what we're focused on: the eighty percent of places where people are charging during their daily activities, versus the 100 percent that Better Place was trying to provide. I think that so far, we've been very successful doing that.
From your experience, where do you think the whole charging/EV market is in terms of stage?
Jordan Ramer: With plug-in hybrids, I think we're starting to hit the mass market. The driver profile is very close to mass market, and there is really very little compromise with a plug-in-hybrid like the Chevy Volt or plug-in Prius, and a number of other models. I think we're at a place now, where adoption is really starting to pick up, and people are recognizing that they can drive an electric vehicle with little compromise. I think that we're seeing that in the adoption of charging infrastructure, as well. People are demanding charging outside of their home, at their workplace, when they stay at a hotel, when they go to school or to a university, or where they park to interface with public transportation. That's where we're really focused.