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Utility coalition invests in EV charging firm Greenlots

As more utilities wake up to the consumer and corporate hunger for low-carbon energy and transportation alternatives, more are moving proactively to ensure that they’re not left behind. One of the biggest signposts yet came Tuesday in the form of a "significant investment" by Energy Impact Partners (EIP) in nine-year-old electric vehicle charging company Greenlots.

Although the amount of the infusion wasn’t disclosed, EIP CEO and managing partner Hans Kobler described it as a "meaningful commitment from the fund," which was established to invest in companies that are creating technologies or services that optimize energy consumption or that contribute to sustainable generation.

The companies behind EIP include these global utility and power companies: Southern Company; National Grid; Xcel Energy; Ameren; Great Plains Energy; Fortis; AGL; Avista; Madison Gas and Electric; TEPCO; PTT Public Co.; OGE; and Transcanada.

All of these organizations have a vested interest in the rollout of EV charging infrastructure and could benefit from new services as this mode of transportation becomes more prevalent.

"It will bring them closer to the customer, and it’s also critical to be smart about where these things go," Kobler said. "The loads will be enormous. … Done in the wrong way, it could be a huge stress on the system."

Utilities are in one of the best positions to have a greater role in the deployment of (EV) infrastructure.

Some utilities, such as Italy’s Enel, are already testing two-way EV charging services in collaboration with software startup Nuvee. The idea is to turn EV batteries into energy storage devices in periods when demand on the grid is high and the vehicles aren’t being used, allowing them to charge when power is more abundant.

EIP evaluated a number of EV charging technologies before it decided on Greenlots. One of the biggest deciding factors — aside from the company’s existing relationships with utilities such as Avista, Southern and Southern California Edison — was that its technology is "open." In English, that means that it works with many sorts of EVs. Los Angeles-based Greenlots also has formal partnerships with BMW, Ford, Nissan and Kia Motors.

Greenlots made a strategic decision to work with others to propagate its technology rather than trying to build out a third-party network on its own, said Greenlots CEO Brett Hauser. "Utilities are in one of the best positions to have a greater role in the deployment of the infrastructure," he said. "Understanding what is happening with that load is critical to understanding what’s going to happen with your infrastructure."

Founded in 2008 in Singapore, Greenlots is focused squarely on building out its presence in North America and it has moved its headquarters to Los Angeles. Its technology is behind about one-third of the fast-charging station deployed in that market, Hauser estimated. The company doesn’t disclose how many stations is has installed in the 13 countries where it has a presence. In fact, its "brand" isn’t necessarily on the chargers it controls.

For example, Avista, a northwestern utility in Oregon and Washington state being acquired by Canada’s Hydro One, whitelabels the Greenlots technology and sells it as a service to both commercial and residential customers. Its pilot plan, announced in June 2016, called for the installation of about 275 charging stations.

Greenlots’ previous backers include Asia Cleantech Capital, SBI Group, the Singapore Economic Development Board and Tembusu Partners. But Hauser didn’t disclose the total amount of money the company has raised. The new money will go toward research and development and grid integration projects, he said.

As a result of the EIP investment, Greenlots is adding two directors: Kevin Fitzgerald, the coalition’s chief utility officer; and Philip Jones, a former commissioner of the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission.

This is EIP’s first investment in an e-mobility company since it was established about a year ago. The size of the fund isn’t yet a matter of public knowledge, but so far it officially has backed these companies aside from the new investment in Greenlots:

  • Arcadia Power, a service allowing consumers to request that their power comes from renewable sources
  • AutoGrid, which sells software and services to manage distributed energy resources
  • CIMCON Lighting, creator of a wireless LED lighting and sensor platform
  • Enchanted Rock, a natural gas microgrid operator
  • SparkFund, an energy-efficiency service company
  • Sense, an app that monitors home energy consumption
  • OpusOne, a grid resource management platform
  • PowerPhase, a maker of "advanced aerothermal" gas turbine technology

Stay tuned for other mobility technology investments that could play a role in the rise of EV infrastructure during 2018 and 2019.

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