Scaling EV Charging On City Streets, Creatively


Electric vehicles are the stars of the show as the Washington DC Car Show kicks off this week, with the show website even having a way to search for vehicles that qualify for the brand new EV tax credit. McKinsey says they are anticipating about 400 EV models available by 2035, courtesy in part of the new federal incentives passed by the Biden Administration in 2022, from every automaker from GM to Ford and beyond.

The federal government recently allocated billions of dollars for new EV charging infrastructure from sea to shining sea, on highways, and commercial parking lots, so you can charge while you’re shopping or at work.

But 83% of the U.S. population lives in urban areas, in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, DC, Atlanta, Dallas, Seattle, etc, according to the World Bank. Many of these urbanites live in apartment houses, condominium complexes, or townhouses (often called “brownstones”) without garages or driveways, so they cannot have their own charging station.

“Secretary Pete,” as Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg refers to himself, and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm extol the virtues of EVs and boast about the abundance of funding for EV charging across the country, and deservedly so, but charging on city streets is still a big hurdle.

“if you live in a city and you drive an EV and you don’t have a driveway or a garage, that’s your dedicated off- street parking that you can charge in, you’re really left to basically do what’s called destination charging, where you have to plan ahead,” Tiya Gordon, Cofounder and COO of itselectric said in an exclusive interview on Electric Ladies Podcast. “You have to find chargers, you have to plan within your weekend, in between your laundry and your food shopping and catching up on work, where you’re going to charge. And you have to leave time to go there and then hope that that charger is actually up and running and working.”

A novel solution

Enter a creative solution from Gordon and her cofounder. They bring zero EV experience, zero transportation experience and zero urban planning experience, but what they do bring is design experience, ingenuity and determination. And they are getting attention.

Gordon explained how their novel technology brings EV charging to city streets: “Why can’t we just make the (apartment) buildings the source of the energy instead of having to put in all this new infrastructure on the street?,” Gordon said. “To incentivize that building that we’re pulling that power from, we’re revenue sharing back to them. So, they’re creating a public amenity, they’re earning money every month, drivers are able to charge and park, and cities are able to meet their decarb goals.”

Itselectric works directly with municipalities and property owners, and says they welcome utilities into the fold to help scale the technology. As in many things EV, Europe is ahead, Gordon pointed out, saying, “it’s that distributed level two charging network that we already see as super successful in EU and the UK in Northern Europe. We already know that this model works.”

Ambitious EV goals meet the current reality

On September 29, 2022, New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced a directive to phase out the sale of gas-powered passenger cars, SUVs and pickup trucks by 2035, and the state is receiving $175 million in federal funding to support building out the state’s EV charging infrastructure.

But it’s easier said than done and often city-dwellers who want their own electric vehicle are left out.

“Right now, the biggest challenge we face is getting cities on board to start to get comfortable, the socialization of getting EV charging plans in place for their city,” Gordon explained. “There are some cities that are already way ahead of the curve. New York City is ahead of the curve. They have goals, they have targets, they’re working towards them. DC already has a pathway.”

Tapping into Gordon’s background as a designer of public-facing museum exhibits, they made their chargers “really, really small.”

Property owners make significant passive income from these chargers

The revenue model is unique, she said, “We’re free to cities, we are free to building owners, and we share revenue from those charge events. And that’s how we’ve built our business model.”

Gordon explained how the property owners get paid: “Basically, think about it this way. We need to create the charge points, which are the sockets for drivers to plug into. And so, the power source for those charge points, instead of it being the utility charge points,…we’re plugging into your building’s power. But we have a submeter, so your building’s not seeing their electric bill inflate every month….We pay that electrical driver charging cost separately so that that one or two family house, or that multi-unit dwelling, doesn’t see that balloon effect. And then you just get that passive revenue.”

What does that mean in real dollars? Using New York’s numbers, which means ConEd is the utility, here’s her math: “Based on ConEd’s rate of 40 cents per kilowatt hour, and based on a very, very modest utilization rate, let’s say we pop up a single charger in front of a one or two family house in a working class neighborhood like Ridgewood, Queens, and that charger is only seeing 20% utilization. That means, it’s only getting used 20% of a 24 hour day over a year. That one or two family house is getting $1,200 a year in passive income just from that 20% utilization.” That’s real money for a family.

Making EV charging as common as fire hydrants

“We want this to be as ubiquitous as a fire hydrant,” is how Gordon described their goal. “So the kids of today that grow up with these, take it for granted when they’re older. Yes, of course there’s an EV charging spot on my block.”

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