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Big Brands, Retailers Sold on Volta's Free EV Charging Network


Aiming to “goose” uptake and use of electric vehicles, San Francisco-based Volta Industries on June 10 announced it is building networks of free community-based EV charging stations in five major U.S. cities. Volta also announced the closing of $4.5 million in series A equity venture capital (VC) funding and another $3 million in project financing.

Following a successful “proof of concept” trial in Honolulu, leading brands and retailers such as Whole Foods and Macy's are helping fund the building of free Volta EV charging networks at high-end shopping malls and other high-profile, high-traffic sites in Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego and San Francisco. Commercial property owners such as General Growth, DDR and Regency like Volta's EV charging stations and community-based free services business model as well. So do venture capital investors and project finance providers: Three Bridges Ventures led Volta's $4.5 million series A equity funding round, while SQN is providing $3 million in project financing.

In building an income stream and the organization, Volta is using a business development model proven effective by Google and other leading Internet companies. It is convincing corporations behind leading brand-name consumer products to fund free socially and environmentally beneficial community services in return for high-profile advertising space, social and “green” credibility, as well as access to market data, Volta co-founder and CEO Scott Mercer told 3p in an interview.

Applying a Web business model to EV charging

Fascinated with the socioeconomic aspects of new technology adoption, Mercer and co-founder, now CTO, Michael Menendez thought long and hard about what sort of business model they could use to accelerate EV adoption. The two got together and founded Volta Industries in 2010.

“Our goal is to re-invent the model for community engagement by matching their needs for services like free electric car charging with brands and retail locations that believe in sustainability, for example,” Mercer explained.

“We’re driving the price of both the service and the infrastructure to zero as we tap major brands to join our community engagement model. We’ve seen early success with companies like Macy’s, Whole Foods Market and Sungevity, and we expect that list to expand as we grow.”

Success came fast, in the form of a first field trial at prominent shopping malls in Honolulu, the city with the highest per-capita rate of EV ownership in the U.S. The two co-founders were able to convince local brands to fund the project in return for advertising. Property owners, meanwhile, were sold on the potential for Volta EV charging stations to raise the level of engagement within their communities in support of an innovative, environmentally friendly technology, as well as attract more customers and trade for their retail tenants.

A new business model for free community-based EV charging

Volta is in the midst of parlaying its success in Honolulu by employing the same business model to build out free EV charging station networks at high-volume retail locations in Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego and across the San Francisco Bay Area.

“Visibility is really our main focus,” Mercer said. “Electricity is cheap, so we can give it away for free ... and adopting a Web business model based on attracting advertising and sponsorships from leading brands enables us to build out our EV charging station networks.” As a result, he continued, “brands get visibility and affinity of 'green' cachet at high-profile retail locations – Whole Foods and high-end shopping malls.”

Flush with the $4.5 million in series A funding and $3 million in project financing it raised last week, Volta has sufficient capital to fund its expansion plans through 2015, Mercer said. Longer term, Volta is looking ahead to building out free, city-wide EV charging networks in the top 20 major U.S. cities over the next four years – “kind of the top 20 NFL cities,” Mercer added.

Having grown its staff to 24, Volta is ranking prospective cities by attributes such as rates of EV adoption and cities in states that provide incentives for buying EVs.

Volta owns, operates and maintains the 30-amp, mid-speed Level 2 EV charging stations it is installing. Based on Volta's designs and with its oversight, they are being manufactured here in the U.S. by Peerless in Chicago and Walker Corp. in Los Angeles. Management is looking into upgrading to fast-charging technology in the future.

The company continues to expand its EV charging station network in Honolulu. Overall, Volta expects to have 400 charging stations installed across its first five cities by year-end.

Image credits: Volta Industries

Andrew Burger headshotAndrew Burger

An experienced, independent journalist, editor and researcher, Andrew has crisscrossed the globe while reporting on sustainability, corporate social responsibility, social and environmental entrepreneurship, renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technology. He studied geology at CU, Boulder, has an MBA in finance from Pace University, and completed a certificate program in international governance for biodiversity at UN University in Japan.

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