Charging into the future

  • By Peggy Shaw
  • Published June 2016

You won't find the newest green multifamily amenity in an apartment or a condo. It isn't in the clubhouse or at the pool or the business center. You have to go to the garage to find it, located near the driving machine that inspired its creation.

Charging into the future

The electric vehicle charger, product of the transportation revolution, is an amenity residents are requesting in ever-greater numbers.

Three companies that provide those chargers to multifamily-SemaConnect, ChargePoint, Inc., and EverCharge-all operate under different business models, but share the belief that EVs are good for the environment and represent the future of the automotive industry.

No room in the lot
Jason Appelbaum founded EverCharge out of need, he said in early May.

The CEO of the three-year-old company that provides smart electric vehicle charging solutions to apartment and condo communities nationwide bought an electric vehicle in 2013.

He drove it home and planned to figure out the charging situation the next day. But, it wasn't that easy.

The condo community's management wouldn't allow him to plug into house power and the cost of bringing in more power was exorbitant-more than the car was worth, he said.

"I live in a small building and there was only 50 amps of spare power, so running my own meter wasn't possible because there wasn't any space in the electrical room," he said.

"I was a pretty early adopter and I realized that this was going to be a problem for people that live in multi-unit communities. And, considering the urbanization of America, this isn't a problem that's going to start happening in a couple of years. This is a problem that's going to start happening now and it's only going to get worse as we reach sort of the mythical 200 miles for $30,000," said Appelbaum, referring to the vehicles like the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3, which should hit the road at the end of this year and next year, respectively.

Patented technology
When he and his team started EverCharge that same year, they focused on the development of EverCharge's patented SmartPower power management technology.

The original patent for the technology that maximizes a building's power via an intelligent system that allocates available power to fuel up to 10 times the number of chargers than previously possible, dates back to 2010, when pre-purchase of EVs began and Appelbaum and his colleagues were considering the possibilities the nascent industry offered.

Electric vehicles are tricky, he said, because they don't draw all of their current over the course of the charging session.

"At the end of their charge, they start to slow down because the batteries, as they become more full, are harder to charge, which requires more amperage," said Appelbaum.

"So, what ends up happening is, as vehicles start to finish, we reallocate that power to other vehicles that are waiting or at a lower power level," he said, explaining that EverCharge has an intelligent learning algorithm that becomes familiar with drivers' schedules and can predict when people are apt to finish charging and other vehicles are expected to start.

And, it isn't as if EV drivers need a complete fill-up every night, any more than drivers of gas powered cars need to fill the tank every day. "You come home and plug in every day, and you've driven between 20 and 40 miles, on average. Putting 20 to 40 miles into the vehicle takes anywhere between one and two hours," he said.

A smart partnership
The SmartPower solution forestalls the need to build additional infrastructure for EV charging into a garage, said Appelbaum, whose company recently established a partnership with Schneider Electric, a multinational corporation that specializes in electricity distribution and automation management and produces installation components for energy management.

The partnership, he said, is a real game-changer for EverCharge, indicating that the company has reached the attention of a global audience.

That partnership facilitated the development of Wattson, EverCharge's newest charging solution that was introduced to the world in February.

Utilizing SmartPower technology, integrated with Schneider Electric's industry expertise, Wattson can charge or power just about anything, from golf carts to E-bikes to Teslas and also offers a trickle charging solution for cars and motorcycles.

EverCharge sells those charging stations to multifamily communities for roughly $1,000 each. The communities get fully managed stations, the SmartPower technology, RFID identification capability and the power monitor, all enclosed in one box, along with billing services.

The company also handles all the complexities of EV charging regulations, permitting, approvals and capacity limitations for the installation of the stations.

And EverCharge, which provides maintenance for all the chargers it sells, also designs infrastructure layouts for the installation of the electric vehicle chargers to meet each customer's needs. Traditional charging solutions require dedicated and metered runs from the main electrical panel. EverCharge uses technology embedded in its chargers to monitor electricity usage to manage customer billing and reimburse the building's owners or managers for power used, without the need for meters or submeters.

Charging ahead Appelbaum is seeing a rapid ramp-up of installation of electric vehicle charging stations in multifamily communities.

"For example, there's a new condo community-Lumina Towers in downtown San Francisco-that we just signed up and we're seeing a rate of two per week customer sign-ups. Once the ball starts rolling and there are electric vehicles in the garage, it's sort of a runaway train," he said, adding that EV owners in that building have told EverCharge they would have had to sell their vehicles if those chargers hadn't been installed in the community.

The most rewarding aspect of EverCharge's creation is the emails the company receives from happy EV drivers, saying, "I wouldn't be able to own my car without a service like yours," said Appelbaum.

"It's absolutely the most rewarding thing to see because we really want to be able to make EV ownership possible and that's why we started the company," he said.

Plans for EverCharge's future include expansion into the international market, a constant point of discussion lately at the company, which is still finalizing timelines for that global growth.

SemaConnect SemaConnect's CEO Mahi Reddy founded the company that provides electric vehicle chargers to corporate offices, retailers, hotels and multifamily communities in 2008, inspired by electric vehicle program announcements by major car companies.

Entrepreneur Reddy wanted to pace the implementation of his company's sales and marketing program with the launching of the new industry, said Mark Pastrone, who joined the company in 2010 as VP of business development.

"The way we look at it is the starting point for this whole industry was essentially December of 2010, with the launch of the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt programs. And, it's amazing how far it's grown in just a little over five years," he said, explaining that SemaConnect sells its electric car charging solution as a product to the commercial properties.

"In the case of multifamily, we would be selling directly to that apartment property," he explained.

The retail price for a SemaConnect's charging station is around $3,500 and the property foots the bill for the installation. That cost is less for indoor garages because it involves running external conduit from the community's electrical panel to the station, costing around $2,000 per station.

"For surface parking, it can be more like $3,000 and maybe more if there's a necessity for trenching. So, that's where we really recommend that the stations be installed near the building, near the perimeter of the parking lot," he said.

The lease-purchase option
SemaConnect also offers a lease-purchase program for which the multifamily community pays $21 per $1,000 of the cost of the stations and installation for five years.

For example, if a property installs four charging stations, those stations would cost around $15,000 retail and the installation cost would be similar, totaling around $30,000, so the lease price would be $630 a month and, since it's a capital lease, the property owns the stations and can account for them as assets on the balance sheet. At the end of the 60 months, it's a $1 buyout to own the stations.

SemaConnect doesn't charge the users of the charging stations subscription fees, focusing instead on empowering the property where the charging stations are installed to decide what fees may be appropriate.

In an apartment scenario, he said, the management might charge by the kilowatt hour for the actual electricity the tenant uses to fuel up an electric vehicle. "When you're paying for electricity for the EV driver, you can think of the cost of fuel as equivalent to 75 cents a gallon," said Pastrone.

Charging four ways
Drivers can start charging sessions at SemaConnect stations in four ways-through SemaConnect's Network Pass, a PlugShare app, by scanning a QR code or by visiting on their mobile browsers.

One of the benefits of installing the SemaConnect charging stations is the small footprint of the 6-inch by 6-inch by 18-inch head unit, the main part of the device that looks like a high-tech parking meter with a cable and a plug that's mounted either on a pedestal post for surface parking or a wall mount bracket, if it's in a garage.

The head unit includes an 18-foot cable and a plug that is stowed in the center front, which contains a user interface that features an LED light band that indicates the usage status of the charging station. A blue