Op-Ed: Crowd Funded Charging Stations

JUL 9 2016 BY DAVID MURRAY 34

Crowd Funding For Charging Stations - A Good Idea

Crowd Funding For Charging Stations – A Good Idea

OK, so the reality in 2016 for most geographical locations is that the charging station business is unprofitable. The primary reason is a simple equation of the cost of the installations versus the number of customers to use the station. The customer base simply isn’t there yet, but it will be eventually. Here in Texas, our charging infrastructure is pathetic. But there are plenty of areas where the situation is even worse. How can we fix this?

Building a business case for charging stations can be a daunting one

Building a business case for charging stations can be a daunting one

Well, I came up with an idea. I’ve read how many people have installed an outdoor station near their driveway just so they can put it on PlugShare. Now the reality is that not many people will stop to recharge their cars in another person’s driveway, unless they are literally going to be stranded otherwise. There’s nowhere to go, and it is probably awkward to sit in a person’s driveway for hours to use an L2 station.

So I had the thought of “crowdfunded charging stations.” And I’ve got the whole thing figured it. I just lack the time to put it together. So hopefully somebody else will take this idea and run with it. Imagine a website where you can pick a geographical area and see a list of potential charging station installs. I’ll make up an example. Let’s say there is a Target store nearby that would be a fantastic location for a charger. Somebody could create the project on the website. At which point it would just be a suggestion.

Next, somebody would have to go down and actually speak to the manager and explain it to them. Basically the points of the conversation would go like this.

“Would you be willing to have a charging station installed on your property, at absolutely no cost to you. We would pay for the wiring, the station, the sign, and painting the parking spot. The station would be free for your customers to use. The only cost to you would be the electricity.”

At which point you might mention how little that is likely to cost. If they are worried about somebody mooching every day you could put something like a 1 hour limit on the sign. Once they agree and you have a signed document, you scan it and upload it to the website, and now that project is highlighted as approved.

Crowd Funind A Station Easing Burden Of Profitability

Crowd funding of charging stations eases the burden of profitability

Next somebody would need to look at the facility, figure out where the station is going to go, and do an estimate as to what it would cost to install it. So that figure is posted and the project goes live and people can start donating funds. Once the project is funded, work can begin installing it.

So that is the gist of how it would work. Now here are some finer points to consider:

Any location could be considered as long as there are people willing to donate. A more remote area used by only a handful of people will mean that the donors would have to each spend a LOT of cash to make it happen. Whereas a business like a local mall with hundreds of thousands of customers, could be funded with larger amounts of people each donating a smaller amount of money.

Prime locations to consider would be a business with a lot of traffic, excess parking, and preferably a few parking spots next to the building which would prevent having to trench cable under a parking lot. Also, exposure is good. In areas where people aren’t familiar with EVs, it does help for people to see cars charging when they walk by. It is a reminder to them that Evs are real and they can be driving one today.

Part of the contract would have to include that parking rules would be enforced, with a proper sign notifying people that violators will be towed. There’s no point in taking people’s money if the station will be blocked by gasoline cars 24 hours a day.

More "basic" (non smart) stations would often be the more ideal end product of crowd funding

More “basic” (non smart) stations rated for outdoor use would often be the more ideal end product of crowd funding

L2 stations would be the primary focus due to the cost, but in theory if the donors are there then DC fast charge stations could be considered.

The type of station being used would be basically a home station. Since it would be free to use, there is no point in adding the cost and reliability problems of putting in a station that is setup to charge money. There are plenty of home stations rated for outdoor use. Most of the broken blink stations around are broken because of those features, and yet in many places the stations were setup to be free for use. So had they just installed a home unit in the first place, they’d likely still be working and be very reliable.

A small sign could be placed near the charger with some names of any high-profile donors, that might incentivize some businesses to donate to the cause.

Donated services would also be a big plug (via ATOH)

Donated services would also be a big plug (via ATOH)

Besides donating money, professionals such as electricians or even regular people could sign up to donate their time. That way when it comes time to do the install, you could have a workforce of people there to help, thus further reducing the cost of hiring professionals.

Just based on the cost of installing the station at my own home (which I did myself) and also my experience being involved in the station that was installed in the parking lot at my workplace, I have a hunch that many of these installs could be done for $2,000 to $3,000 a piece. If all of the labor were free, probably half that. This is much more cost-effective than most commercial installs.

And to wrap this proposal up. I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is. I’m willing to donate $500 of my own money to any local installs in my area around Kennedale, Arlington, or Mansfield (assuming I agree with the locations). I will also donate my time helping with the actual installs in any way I can.

Categories: Charging

Tags:

Leave a Reply

34 Comments on "Op-Ed: Crowd Funded Charging Stations"

newest oldest most voted

The free chargers are nice and would be very useful but there is a second way to make this work well. Make it a nominal, albeit escalating, charge per hour of charging to discourage people from leaving their cars there for more than a few hours. I know it adds complexity and cost, but you will get campers if you don’t. And I doubt the neighbors will be happy to see BEV owners camped out next door waiting for their cars to charge.
Make the deals with commercial properties. They get increased traffic and the drivers have something to do. And finally, at the commercial ones, put the chargers in less popular/convenient spots to reduce ICE’ing.

Haha, we’ve already participated in “forced crowdfunding” here in WA state.

Since our tabs expire this month, we’re among the first to pay the added $50 (for a total of $150) EV tab state tax. The increase was said to be earmarked for charging infrastructure.

Now… problem is when you pay into the state budget, you never know what comes out of it. Now that I read the fine print, we’re certainly getting for charging stations less than the added $50, and possibly nothing at all.

Check the WSDOT website. They have an RFP out right now and should have about $1M in funding.

This seems like it would be a great thing for PlugShare to take on. They’ve got the users, the eyeballs, and the cache. PlugShare is pretty much the first stop for anyone with an EV and anyone wanting an EV.

While the Washington DC area has a lot of charges, my neck of the woods in Arlington/Alexandria VA is a wasteland. is gladly support installs in the area.

Like the other commenter, I think you do need to charge for use to prevent hogging.

Don, you probably know about them already but the free chargers at Lee and N Harrison in Arlington have several good dining options! Amd the MD Volt that used to camp out there hasnt hogged a charger for several weeks…

I feel strongly that avoiding the complexities of networking and billing should be done.

A ChargePoint L2 unit runs at least $5000 plus monthly fees on top of that – equipment only, install extra. If you can do a whole install for $3000 and use a $800 JuiceBox, Clipper Creek, Aerovironment or other non-networked charger – you could get twice as many chargers or more for the same money.

Now – how about signage for a “Pay it forward” payment method – put up a sign that suggests for every hour charging that they turn around and contribute to another crowd sourced charger. Some people may not bother to contribute, but others may contribute more than a suggested minimum.

I too would gladly contribute time and money towards this type of project – for chargers that are in my region. I’ve thought about making a donation to a local zoo to install a charger – I could donate the equipment (I like JuiceBox) if they did the install and provided the electricity.

electric-car-insider.com

I have a charger on Plugshare, in fact have made new friends as a result of having it listed.

If your proposal gets off the ground, Jay, I’ll match your $500 for another one in San Diego.

We are wrapping up a Kickstarter for a new mobile app version of our EV Buyers Guide this weekend, it ends Monday night. We’re close, but not over the finish line yet.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/electric-car-insider/electric-car-insider-interactive-app-for-mobile-an

I’d be willing to give your crowdfunded public charger idea a plug in the next issue. You need to come up with a snazzy name though.

How about the J-plug network?

Since David Murray, not Jay Cole wrote this article, maybe the network should be called D-plug 🙂

electric-car-insider.com

lol, yeah, Jay updated the byline and set me straight.

D-plug just doesn’t have the same fun double entendre.

On the other hand, maybe that could be part of the business model. Naming rights!

The thing about this type of crowd funded solution is that it does not well address the ongoing post-install R&M of the charger. I’ve too often driven up to a single point charge location to find that it’s not working. Also, this type of crowd funded charger install serves mostly local charging (charging near home instead of at home) rather than long distance travel charging needs.

What is needed is a robust, convenient, and reliable (well maintained) national EV supercharger infrastructure along all the major federal & state highways; Basically a Tesla Supercharger network scaled up for the exception that there would be a simple unified pay at the charger method…perhaps simply a credit card same as a gas pump. This can be achieved via-a-vis a national consortium of electric utility cos in cooperation with the DOT. Until then, only Tesla will have a meaningful supercharging network giving Tesla an exclusive competitive advantage.

I’ve been working on a similar idea, albeit the locations would be at non-profit organizations. The offer to the non-profit would include the request that the location be listed on Plugshare and no fee for charging, at least of the first x years. The non-profit would therefore be contributing to the common good and would get green-cred. A small sign at the charger would inform those charging about the work of this non-profit (incl. web address, QR code) and invite voluntary contributions. Those contributing to the installation of the charger would be making a designated contribution to the non-profit, therefore making this tax deductible.

I like the idea of crowd sourcing. Question: who owns and maintains the EVSE? Or would it be a donation to the property owner, and up to them to maintain?

Non-networked equipment makes total sense, as it can save thousands of dollars.

Do you all think it would be possible to crowd source DCFC locations? Perhaps in outlying communities that would be too small to attract the networks. I would imagine you would place these at either convience stores or well known local restaurants. My understanding is that BTC Power has a 50kW unit that runs on 240V, which opens up a lot of possibilities.

The ongoing maintenence and operation is definitely a big concern with this proposed scenario, and I personally doubt the idea will gain much traction at all.

As far as DCFC, they wouldn’t fit into this type of model of crowd funding IMO. Also, it’s certainty not a 240V hook up for a 50 kW DCFC. I believe its something of a 3 phase 480V connection to the grid that’s needed.

And… reliable DCFC infrastructure for intercity travel is not something that anyone but a well run company that owns and maintains them can do properly. I’ve seen otherwise too much, and I’ve seen companies like Fastned and others do it well!!

How is crowdfunding a charging station substantially better than having a charging network provider, like ChargePoint or Blink, install one at the same location? It’s well known where ideal EV charging points are, so all the steps are the same.

The only differences are that with crowdfunding, some people (over)pay in advance so that the station is free, and with ChargePoint, et. al, the company fronts the cost in advance and the users pay as they need to. Lastly, and more importantly, charging stations require continuous maintenance. Are you going to keep running crowdfunding campaigns to replace broken chargers every n years, while still not requiring any actual users of the charger to help pay for it? There are only so many rich philanthropists in any given area willing to (effectively) give money to other EV drivers.

It’s not an either/or question. ChargePoint does a great job. But there’s still plenty of opportunity for Adopt a Charger and whatever David Murray decides to call his project.

The more charge options and business models, the better.

The Target idea already exists. In San Luis Obispo, CA, there are several parking spots for extremely fuel efficient cars and electric vehicles. There are also Clipper Creek free chargers installed at select spots.

The Adopt-a-Charger has a somewhat similar concept:

http://adoptacharger.org

We are working on a similar concept in eastern Washington for DC charging. Our company will donate some of the chargers, so we need the cash to pay for installs / maintenance. Electricity is dirt cheap in Washington state (and very green with hydro and wind power). The difficulties in rural areas are many:

1) low EV adoption rates

2) low interest

3) the equipment still costs a boat load of cash

4) low usage

5) difficult telecommunications (potentially no cell phone service)

6) prone to be vandalized

7) maintenance cost alone could exceed any income

The bottom line, it is a non-profit application dependent on donated cash and labor.

Anybody who would like to help us throughout eastern Washington can contact me directly:

TonyWilliams (((@))) QuickChargePower.com

@Tony Williams,
Your above list of challanges illustrate why donated/adopted/crowd-funded charger installs is (although well meaning) not the answer.

Well, obviously we read something completely different with the same words!!!

For all the reasons expressed, ONLY a non-profit / crowd sourced / donation / angel gift can make it happen.

The alternative is sitting on your hands and doing nothing.

@Tony, Angels are NOT going to show up to pay for your & my EV fuel tab. Electric utility cos though (for a use fee) are inherantly well geared to manage the challenges you outlined.

Another way to say it, why ask for the charity of others to fuel your and my EV when we can take the bus?

Well, I think your comments might very quickly fall into the “clueless” department. So, I’ll just make the following simple observations:

1) I never mentioned, nor impugned, that somebody was paying for electricity. Quite the opposite, actually. The end user NEEDS to pay for the electricity and the service and upkeep of the station. The capital required is largely to get the equipment in the ground.

2. Electric Utilitites are generally PROHIBITED from engaging in post meter activity, and for good reason. You may not agree with those reasons, obviously, but the facts remain.

3. Please tell me what bus service is operating in eastern Washington / northwest Oregon. I’ll help you… besides WITHIN large metro areas like Spokane and Pasco/Tri-Cities, there’s not much. This area is very rural, hence the issues I posted originally.

So, I recommend that YOU sit on your hands in a bus somewhere and wait for utilities to build EV infrastructure. Those of us that actually do stuff will handle the heavy lifting.

Good move. But free charging will not make a business case in the long run unless someone wants to divert their donation from charities to free charging.

May be some type of system should be created where a person can drop 1 or 2 quarters to get an hour’s worth of charge just like those old parking meters and after this the charging should be stopped.

Whoever is the authorized owner of that charging station should have the key and some code to come and collect the coins.

So another question for the crowd…What would be your thoughts on a crowd-funded co-operative EV station network in your area?

The co-op would allow members to help select best spots. The co-op would install and charge a fee designed to pay for the electricity and maintenance, but not necessarily enough to recoup full installation cost. The co-op members would contribute funds to pay for stations and installation, and get a vote on who the board of directors are.

But if you charge for usage, how do you do so with non-networked equipment? So I think you might be able to setup a kiosk like a paid parking lot meter, that can take payments and turn on individual EVSEs. This centralizes payment and communication point. This would work sort of like Liberty Plugin’s hydra device that can control something like 8 EVSEs. The down side is this could still be costly to implement, and is more complicated than what David is advocating.

I think we would be better off taking a page out of the history books and look into setting up local EV club. Auto clubs were popular in the early days of auto and where popular in funding things like roads. An EV club could be formed and membership could handle creating and most importantly maintaining L2 and DCFC stations in their area.

It might not work as well in very rural area’s although I could some area like Denver supporting stations future out and nothing says they have to be free most people don’t mind paying something reasonable to use. Make the stations free for members of the club but cost for non-members.

electric-car-insider.com

There’s plenty of room for new financial/business models for public chargers.

Let a thousand flowers bloom!

Tesla gives out destination chargers for free (J1772 as well). All you need to do is go on the Tesla site and propose a location. Installation and electricity is at the cost of the location.

Chargehub has a filter that gives all free chargers.

Meanwhile in Germany; 23 crowdfunded chargers have been built, 8 more are being worked on:
https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&js=y&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.goingelectric.de%2Fforum%2Fgoingelectric-crowdfunding%2F&edit-text=&act=url&act=url

https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1y3NQRWbzk_33nCPJjqMPIJ30s6c

While DC fast chargers cost several thousand Euros, Typ2 43kW AC fast chargers can be built for 1000-2000 Euro thanks to the three-phased EU grid. And that’s what the community of goingelectric.de is doing. The rules are: open 24/7 at a desireable location. Most chargers work on a paypal donation per charge basis (so no hard paywall at the chargers). Time has shown that the cost of free riders are much lower than the costs of installing a coin- or rfid-based payment system.

Public charging stations that cost nothing to use are abused by those who don’t really need to charge thus making a relatively scarce commodity more scarce than necessary. When I see a public charging station that costs nothing to use, I think, “Do I want to pay 25¢/kWh to charge on my home EVSE or do I want to pay nothing to charge at this public charging station?” I usually take the free electrical power which might prevent an EV owner who really needs to charge from charging (e.g., no ability to charge in his apartment parking space). So public charging stations should not be free to use to prevent such abuse. But when the cost of a kWh of electricity at a public charging station exceeds the cost of a kWh of electricity at one’s home EVSE, many EV owners complain, even comparing the cost of charging to the cost of refueling an ICE vehicle as if lower fuel costs were the main reason to own an EV. Maybe the cost of a kWh of electricity at a public charging stations should be similar to the cost of a kWh of residential electricity. That would discourage freeloaders like me… Read more »

If only gasoline stations would install level 2 and DCFC charging…problem solved.

Why aren’t we all just pressuring ChargePoint to take on this idea? They have installers and warranties, they sell the chargers so they have a financial incentive to get on board. Businesses could also ask for chargers versus us asking businesses if they want a charger.