Meet the Proptech Firms Capitalizing on the Surging EV Charging Trend

Building owners are hustling to stay competitive, and the price gap between electric- and gas-powered cars is closing. You can see where this is going.

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In 2023, Americans will very likely for the first year ever buy more than 1 million electric vehicles.

Even as EVs remain more expensive than gas-powered vehicles, proptech startups are steadfast in their belief that EV owners will drive property owners to provide more and better charging stations to satisfy their needs. And these startups plan to capitalize on that.

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One of the most bullish EV-charging proptech entrepreneurs is Moshe Cohen, CEO and founder of Gravity, the first 500-kilowatt infrastructure system to earn Underwriter Laboratories (UL) certification from safety monitor UL Solutions.

“I think property owners are seeing that regulations will require EV charging, maybe seeing the need, and are probably getting bombarded with a bunch of different style companies that are making different promises,” said Cohen.

Gravity’s new 500-kilowatt charger is no bigger than a conventional AC/Level 2 charger, but is 90 times faster, which the company claims is the fastest charging available anywhere in the country. Unlike Tesla’s charging equipment, it can fit inside even the tightest indoor parking garages, said Cohen.

The 2-year-old, Manhattan-based startup manufactures its hardware in Southern California and writes all its own code, he said. It’s installing the first 24 of its 500-kilowatt chargers at its new flagship facility on West 42nd Street in Midtown Manhattan. Each unit is capable of providing vehicles with a 200-mile range after just five minutes of charging. The site will open to the public this fall.

“The way we’ve engineered our technology is that the car battery can send power back to the building, not just pull from the building,” said Cohen, adding that a lot of utilities have recently released smart meters that provide real-time electric consumption data. Gravity uses that data to provide what it calls “distributed energy access points,” or DEAPs, which embed the EV and its battery into the property’s electrical grid, allowing high-capacity sharing and transfer of power.

“The way I think about it is that electric vehicles are probably more interesting for their batteries than for their motors, and that’s something that has been ignored across the board in the market,” Cohen added. “We need batteries, and here they are. They’re on wheels and in your building. So it’s a pretty different paradigm.”

The question of whether landlords or EV-owning tenants are driving demand for chargers is clear to Cohen.

“I can’t say I’ve seen something very recently that’s coming from the real estate owner side,” he said. “I do see a lot more demand for our services from the actual users, which are the car rental companies, the car share companies that are increasing their fleets, and the taxi fleets. I’ve seen a big spike because they’ve made commitments for 2025 of having 20 to 25 percent of their fleets electric.”

Gravity isn’t the only company to recognize that New York City residential and commercial buildings can present a distinct space challenge for property owners wanting to provide charging stations.

Tiya Gordon, co-founder and chief operating officer of itselectric, an EV curbside charging company based in the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s New Lab, thinks her 2-year-old startup has a solution for that challenge.

“Itselectric solves the biggest problems that cities face in the deployment of public electric vehicle charging,” said Gordon. “We’re the only Level 2 charging company that’s focused on charging solutions for densely populated cities.” (Level 2 is the highest standard for EV charging.) 

New York City has 100 public curbside chargers and wants to go to 10,000 by 2030, she said, adding that itselectric hopes to bridge the gap through a partnership with the New York City Economic Development Corporation. The startup has six chargers deployed with plans for 400 chargers across eight cities next year.

“The problem right now is that every other electric vehicle charging company powers their chargers by connecting to the main utility in the street, the Con Ed main utility line,” Gordon explained. “This is a time-consuming and costly process. We are the first public charging system that is, quote, powered by buildings, meaning we never need to connect to the utility. Instead, we pull power from adjacent buildings. We run a small conduit below the sidewalk and we erect a public charger so we’re powering that charger from the spare capacity on the panel of that building. We don’t have to go through conversion.”

The itselectric hardware, installation, operation and maintenance are free to the property owner, who also benefits from revenue sharing with the startup, which charges the EV charger user, she said. “They’re receiving passive income every month just by creating this partnership with us.”

The demand for EV charging is projected to grow exponentially over the next seven years, with 1 million Level 2 charging ports at publicly accessible locations — including high-density neighborhoods, office buildings, and retail outlets — needing to be installed, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

However, EV charging can be wildly expensive, and creative technology innovations are required to bring down the cost, Gordon said. “Anyone that’s doing fast charging, putting in a four-unit charging station, meaning four cars can charge at the same time, is using as much power in a week as a skyscraper,” she said.

EV charging electricity cost is an issue for property owners everywhere, said Mike Mulqueen, director of commercial partnerships at Toronto-based SWTCH Energy, which provides EV charging for multi-tenant properties.

SWTCH recently partnered with Bethesda, Md.-based Washington Property Company to help its Solaire 8200 Dixon apartment building in Maryland achieve LEED Gold certification, in part through SWTCH deploying enough EV chargers for 1,600 of its 1,800 units by the end of this year.

“We’re certainly seeing lots of efficiencies on the software side of electricity pricing,” said Mulqueen. “There’s going to be a lot of pressure on electricity pricing. It costs a lot of money to generate electricity. The cheapest kilowatt hour is the one that you don’t consume, so a lot of effort is focused on conservation. Electric vehicles will play a very interesting role in that because they are a consumer of electricity, but they can also be a really important tool for utilities in helping to reduce costs. If you can use an EV charging network to reduce the demand, then you’re able to free up capacity for other critical processes.”

Luckily, Mulqueen says, there are enough tools in the distributed energy space that costs should eventually come down. “If we can move quick enough to get the system flexibility, then I don’t think there should be upward inflationary pressure on kilowatt-hour pricing,” he said.

As the sale price difference between EVs and gasoline-powered cars continues to shrink, EV drivers will find their driving and fueling lifestyles change, said Eric Roseman, chief revenue officer at Xeal, a Manhattan-based EV charging software startup for apartments, condos and workplaces.

“It’s now become more affordable to buy an electric car,” said Roseman. “And, unlike a gas car where you go to a gas station to fill up, you charge an electric car where you are, which is at home or an office. So the future of electrification exists in apartment buildings, office buildings and the home.

“Couple that with where the real estate market is right now, which is buildings now having to do more to stay competitive. There’s more asset management and operational focus right now because transactions have gone down. Therefore, people are looking for ways to improve their assets more than they were over the last six years when interest rates were low and anything would lease. So our focus is EV charging where people are, which is multifamily, office, schools, hospitals, not necessarily gas stations.”

Xeal has partnered with Harrison Street, a Chicago-based investment management firm exclusively focused on alternative real assets, to deploy more than 300 EV charging stations at properties in California, Massachusetts, Texas and Virginia. It also works with multifamily owners such as Avalon Bay and Greystar.

The startups’ EV charging technology does not rely on Wi-Fi or cellular connectivity, which contributes to 55 percent of charging failures, according to a company statement. Instead, Xeal relies on what are called time-bound cryptographic tokens and distributed ledgers, which basically allow a user’s phone and the charger to communicate offline by exchanging information via tokens.

Through such technology, Xeal addresses the challenge of EV charging hardware failures, said Roseman.

“About a quarter of chargers are nonfunctional right now in America,” he said. “And the reason has to do with how they are built. These are smart devices that need to talk to the internet at all times to basically authenticate you or do payment processing.

“That central reliance on the internet is a huge issue. It’s the No. 1 reason why chargers don’t work. You go up to a charger and it will say ‘Network Unavailable’ or ‘Can’t Reach Signal.’ That is a huge problem, and that’s why we were founded. We’re out to solve the reliance on that central bottleneck and breaking point.”

Philip Russo can be reached at prusso@commercialobserver.com.