Charging into the future

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.

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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 optionSemaConnect 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 SemaConnect.com 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 LED light means the car isn’t plugged in to the station, although it may be parked there. A pulsing green light means the station is actively charging the electric vehicle and a steady green light indicates the battery is fully charged, but the car is still plugged in.

Small is good

Pastrone said the compact size of the head unit that allows both facility managers and resident users to monitor the charging progress, is a point of pride for SemaConnect because fitting all the elements into it was a major challenge for the company.

“We worked to make that compact so it has a small footprint when you install it in a garage, particularly in those indoor garages, where space can be quite tight,” he said.

The company also takes pride in its full replacement service policy. “If the property has any issues with those charging stations, we’ll ship a replacement unit and a simple swap can be done and the property is up and running again,” said Pastrone.

SemaConnect also provides all the network services for the life of the product for which the property pays $20 a month per station, which covers the data communication cost of the cellular network that relays their data up to SemaConnect’s network.

That fee also funds the company’s customer service department that provides support to EV drivers through a 1-800 number where they can get answers to their questions and help with the charging infrastructure.

Setting price and access

It also pays for the cloud-based SemaConnect Station Management Software that allows the property owner to configure pricing for station use and the access policy.

An apartment community may have some stations that are for dual use by both the tenants and visitors to the property. They might charge the tenants by the kilowatt hour and charge $2 an hour for public use by visitors or people touring the property and the property managers can implement access and pricing policies via that cloud-based software.

“And, that same software allows them also to print out reports that show transactions, show how many charging sessions were done in a given amount of time, like in a month, and how many kilowatt hours were dispensed,” said Pastrone, adding that the charging stations include electricity metering so they can track the kilowatt hours delivered.

The fourth element of the $20 service fee is 24/7 state-of-health monitoring that alerts SemaConnect of any issues with the chargers so they can be corrected as quickly as possible.

The EV chargers also represent a marketing opportunity that SemaConnect manages for the apartment or condo communities to promote their images as environmentally responsible, leading-edge supporters of sustainable energy solutions and can help with LEED certification.

Make it beautiful

SemaConnect also encourages properties to go all out on site design. “Paint those parking spaces green, do some innovative stenciling to really make it stand out and do some nice signage,” he said.

The company also helps its multifamily clients, which represent between 25 and 30 percent of the company’s commercial customers, by issuing press releases to announce the installation of electric vehicle chargers and provides educational materials for multifamily tenants and other users about the program.

SemaConnect’s customers include some of the most well-known names in the multifamily industry—national management companies like Pinnacle, Greystar Real Estate Partners and FirstService Residential and apartment owner-managers that include Camden Property Trust, The Bozzuto Group, Mill Creek Residential, Kidder Mathews and the Hanover Company.

“A third area is developers. We’re seeing developers really see this as an important amenity for multifamily,” said Pastrone.

The tremendous response to announcement of Tesla’s Model 3 EV that will have a range of greater than 200 miles for $30,000 to $40,000 underscores the future need for more and more EV chargers in multifamily communities and elsewhere.

“They already have more than 400,000 deposits on that model and, if 400,000 people across the world have committed essentially $1,000 to this electric car that’s not expected to be out until the end of 2017, it’s a real indication of the future growth and the future impact this is going to have on commercial properties and multifamily properties and that’s exciting to see,” he said.

ChargePoint

ChargePoint started focusing on creation of electric vehicle chargers for the multifamily market in the middle of last year.

Early in 2015, the company that already had a fairly significant number of customers in the multifamily market, unveiled two products for the residential sector—ChargePoint Home for single-family homes and ChargePoint Multifamily Home Service for apartment and condo dwellers.

The visionary company that installed its first public charging stations in 2009, a few years before electric vehicles were even on the market, was founded in 2007 by entrepreneur, electrical engineer and former mayor of Cupertino, Calif., Richard Lowenthal, who was its lead investor, creator and CEO until 2011 and now serves on ChargePoint’s board of directors and, since its creation has installed EV chargers in more than 29,000 parking spots across the country that are EV charging enabled.

About 1,300 of those chargers are located in multifamily communities, spread across 400 to 500 properties nationwide, said ChargePoint COO Tony Canova in early May. He lists as clients companies like Greystar, Alliance, Sares Regis, Prometheus, UDR, Inc., Camden Property Trust, Fairfield Residential, The Bozzuto Group, AvalonBay and The Sobrato Organization, which was the first to sign up under the new multifamily plan.

The company added 30 new properties to its roster last April alone, he said, adding that the market is really starting to heat up as cities like Los Angeles and Denver enact new building code regulations requiring a percentage of parking spaces in multifamily communities be wired for EV charging.

Airbnb-like business model

“We don’t own any of these stations. They’re owned by a host or operator of the stations,” said Canova, who joined the company in November 2010 as chief financial officer and was promoted to COO about a year ago, explaining that the company has an Airbnb-like business model.

The multifamily owner/operator pays around $1,500 per charger and covers the cost of installation, which runs between $3,000 and $5,000 per parking space for existing construction and quite a bit less for new builds.

ChargePoint, which specializes in the creation of advanced hardware and cloud-based software, bills the EV drivers $19.95 a month for the service that is provided to dedicated parking spaces.

That service includes 24/7 support to resident EV drivers and there’s no long-term contract, so property managers and tenants can participate in the program on a month-to-month basis.

The special sauce

“What we do for the property owner is we find out how much their cost of electricity is and we charge the tenant a usage fee for the electricity that we then provide directly to the property owner so they’re getting their cost of electricity reimbursed.

The property owners and managers have the option of charging their residents for electricity use, as well.

“Different property owners have different philosophies about that, so we’re flexible and we let the property owner decide how much they want to charge for electricity,” explained Lyuba Wolf, ChargePoint’s business development manager.

Some properties provide free electricity for charging tenants’ EVs and charge rent for the parking spot, she said, adding that ChargePoint can work with either model.

“Our special sauce is the cloud services that enable the charging station to operate, to effect policies that are required by the site host, be able to authenticate a driver to make sure that he or she is allowed to charge at that site and also enact the transaction and charge for the session, if necessary,” Canova explained.

In the case of the multifamily asset owner, that includes reimbursement for the cost of energy to power the station, he said.

Drivers can get on a waitlist for ChargePoint’s EV charger, if the station is in use, and operators can set pricing by time, session or electricity usage, encouraging EV drivers to share the station after their charging is complete.

Powering through the night

Because the chargers that ChargePoint designs, builds and supports are networked, the company can allocate power to vehicles throughout the night so that all of them are powered up by morning.

“The energy management feature is really important, not just in multifamily environments. It’s something our larger corporate customers have been asking for, so we really have an expertise in this. We’re designing it for companies that have thousands of chargers and we’re able to offer it to multifamily properties on a lot smaller scale, as well,” he said.

The charger also comes with a maintenance package that includes over-the-air updates, much like an iPhone, so new features can be added as they become available, said Canova.

He said that one of the most rewarding aspects of the creation of ChargePoint’s EV charger is seeing the market develop as the company’s founders expected it would and seeing the “massive level of acceptance and adoption of EV vehicles and realizing that we are a solution that is enabling this very, very dramatic shift in transportation to occur.”