By Richard Stubbe, BloombergNEF editor. This article first appeared on the Bloomberg Terminal.
Charging an electric vehicle will need to be as simple as refueling a gasoline-powered car as the EV industry moves beyond early adopters and into the mainstream, Greenlots CEO Brett Hauser said.
“One of the things that the industry has failed to correctly address in the past, although we’re starting to do it now, is the interoperability and driver roaming,” said Hauser, whose company provides software for charging electric vehicles and managing electrical grids. “If everyone tries a proprietary approach, the driver’s ultimately not going to have a seamless experience and as an industry we will have failed the drivers.”
The company, founded in Singapore in 2008, operates a fast-charging network in North America and is expanding into Asia and Europe.
Hauser sees Greenlots as uniquely positioned in the growing EV industry, working not just to make sure EVs have access to charging stations but also to make the EV load a flexible grid resource by using demand-response applications to reduce costs of operation and ownership. The company has taken a strong position in favor of using open hardware and software standards as a foundation for industry growth as opposed to proprietary networks that can lock drivers into a relationship with a company.
Hauser answered questions from BloombergNEF in a phone interview in early October.
Q: Where does Greenlots fit into the growing electric-vehicle business?
A: We see ourselves as an enabler. If you look around the landscape at the incumbents — utilities, automotives, municipalities and big energy companies — they all have relationships with customers today that we hope are going to evolve into EV drivers.
We want these groups to use our solution to have deeper, more robust relationships with their existing customers, and as the business model evolves, being able to continue using our platform to have those new customer relationships and new revenue streams.
Q: What’s the outlook for electrified transportation?
A: We’re in the early days. We believe that rising tides are going to lift all ships. We’ve got to enable these various groups as they think about how electrified transportation is going to fit into their business models, to be able to reach those goals and try new things. If everyone tries a proprietary approach, the driver’s ultimately not going to have a seamless experience and as an industry we will have failed the drivers.
Q: How is Tesla Inc. affecting that with its proprietary charging network?
A: Tesla felt they needed to own the entire EV experience and they spent billions of dollars putting out that charging network. As automotive companies move forward, some might want to offer their own infrastructure, but others will want to have their drivers use existing infrastructure, as they do with the gas stations of today. We are trying to help build that infrastructure in such a way that the driver can have a positive, seamless, ubiquitous experience.
Q: Gasoline drivers don’t have to make all their purchases from a single brand. It’s hard to imagine that EV drivers will accept that limitation as they grow in number. What do you think?
A: I agree. You have early adopters that might have some willingness to be patient with vehicles and charging infrastructure as it comes out, but one of the things that the industry has failed to correctly address in the past, although we’re starting to do it now, is the interoperability and driver roaming. Just like using your cellphone in the early days, you couldn’t roam with your phone, and then when you could it was expensive. With EVs, if you’re on one network, you don’t want to have to pull out a different card to charge your car. We’re not there yet, although we’re making strides.
Q: How much help is Electrify America, the program set up with money from the settlement with Volkswagen Group after the VW emissions scandal?
A: The opportunity is good. Their mandate is to help everyone grow and help the industry grow. As they put out their high-powered charging network, that will help to serve a big part of the market that might otherwise be overlooked — folks who don’t have single-family homes or live in multi-unit dwellings. Greenlots was certainly proud to be chosen by them as a baseline, so they picked us as a software provider. We’re very proud of that.
Q: What are the keys to creating a broad-access charging network?
A: You can’t put a charge station in the ground today and expect to get enough utilization to cover both the opex and the capex of that site. So you have to have patient capital. You’ve got to be able to have the infrastructure in place where it’s going to enable more and more people and groups to feel comfortable purchasing that electric vehicle.
Q: What are some other potential growth areas?
A: The other areas of growth we’re going to see in vehicles is in fleets. That’s probably been where we’ve lagged the most in terms of adoption, but I am cautiously optimistic that fleet adoption — not just light-duty, but also medium- and heavy-duty — is just around the corner.
For instance, the city of Los Angeles by 2025, 80 percent of their fleet vehicles have to be electric. They are undergoing the transition with their vehicles.
There are also delivery fleets, like FedEx and UPS and commercial transport within cities. They have depot-based charging and predictable use.
When you look at the ride-hailing companies like Maven and Uber and Lyft and taxi fleets, those groups won’t have depot-based charging. So the opportunity to work with them has to be to make sure they have access to charging infrastructure when they need it.
Q: And those terminals need to be super-fast, right?
A: Right. We have 50-kilowatt fast chargers today, moving to 150 and then the next step is to 350. We have to have that energy available at a site at any given time where someone can get that charge without turning the value proposition upside-down because of demand charges. That would make it extremely expensive. That’s where energy storage comes in. From our side, we’ve been deploying high-powered energy storage both to mitigate costs for those providing the service and to mitigate demand charges for a site host that might be passed on to a driver.
Q: How are batteries coming along?
A: Pleasantly, the price has come down precipitously over the past few years, more than forecasts had anticipated. We’re getting close to sub-$200 per kilowatt-hour. If we get to the magical number of $100, that will help with materials costs for electric vehicles, energy management and grid flexibility.
Q: What potential hurdles do you see as we go into this next decade with millions more EVs hitting the road?
A: I think moving to two standards — California and the 12 states that follow versus everyone else — could be disruptive. Policy can always get in the way, and I’m not trying to paint an all-rosy picture, but there are reasons for EV adoption to happen, whether it’s concern about climate change or global warming, sustainability, but then there’s also job creation and infrastructure funding, which is going to be very important in the next few decades as we try to bring the U.S. infrastructure up to what I would call the global standard of some competing countries.
Q: What hot spots are you seeing around the world?
A: Greenlots was founded in Singapore in 2008, and we moved the headquarters to the U.S. in 2012. We still have that office there, and it’s in a good position for growth in Southeast Asia. In North America, California is huge but only part of the story. We see great things happening in New Jersey, New York and Ohio. There’s a lot of things happening across the U.S. and in Canada. India is another big, big market where things will be happening.
Q: Who are your customers?
A: Drivers are a very big part of what we do. We have to service the drivers and the call centers and make sure they get what they need. But our clients are the ones like the cities, the utilities, the automotives, the ones that are trying to have relations with the drivers. Our customers want to own that customer relationship.
Q: Which sector of your client base stands out for you at the moment?
A: We’ve seen utilities take initial steps forward over the past few years to think strategically about how EVs and how managing electrified transportation is going to fit into what they’re doing. In the era of energy efficiency, this is the biggest load growth that they’re going to see, that anyone’s seen, for the past few decades. How to manage that is important. Adding an EV to the grid is like adding a single-family home.
Q: What’s the future for Greenlots specifically?
A: We continue to grow exponentially year over year. Last year, we took on funding from Energy Impact Partners, which has about $650 million under management — their limited partners are the utilities. We’re moving from a startup to a growth organization.
As we continue to fund our operations with EIP and others, it will be with those strategic partners that also have a long-term view. You can’t expect traditional venture funding that gets in and looks for an exit in four to six years. We’re not thinking about it that way.
We’re a double bottom-line company. We want to do well and do good for the environment, for our shareholders. But we’re also a for-profit company, and it’s going to take some time for this market to mature. We’ve got people with purpose that believe in what we’re doing, and we continue to look forward to building an electrified, sustainable future.
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