August 5th, 2020 by Kyle Field
This week, ChargePoint closed a massive $127 million round of incremental equity financing to further its expansion into fleet charging and to continue the push into Europe. We spoke to Pat Romano, President and CEO at ChargePoint, about the new round of funding to better understand how the company plans to leverage it in the coming months and years.
ChargePoint Continues to Push Forward Into Fleets & Europe
Publicly traded companies in the electric vehicle and broader clean technology space have seen unprecedented interest and growth this year, even in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. “The whole industry now is seeing an unprecedented level of investment,” Pat said. Based on the current investment climate and the continuing expansion of the company, the time was right for ChargePoint to raise another round of capital. “We’re already in 18 countries in Europe and every time we enable a country, there are resources that get consumed.”
ChargePoint has raised $660 million since it was founded 13 years ago, and with the increase in electric vehicles around the world, the opportunity for ChargePoint to continue to ramp up operations in new geographies and new market segments is significant. Accordingly, ChargePoint plans to continue the push into new territory in Europe and to fund the continued push into the fleet segment.
Intelligent, Connected Charging For Fleets
Fleets present a unique challenge for a charging company, with traditional budgets aligned to the purchase of lower cost vehicles up front, offset by higher monthly charges for fuel. Electric vehicles completely scramble that equation, with vehicles requiring more up front capital, offset by lower monthly charges for electricity.
That is, if the electricity is managed properly. That can easily get out of hand if fleet managers simply install a bank of uninspired, unconnected, unintelligent chargers that pull power from the grid and pump it into the vehicles with no regard for the instantaneous cost of electricity, the state of charge of the vehicle, the number of miles it will drive the following day, or how long it has to charge. “Unconnected hardware is uninteresting,” Pat told me. “You can’t do anything with it. You can’t manage the energy, you can’t manage access control. It’s a liability for the customer.”
ChargePoint made a strategic acquisition in 2018 of fleet management solution Kisensum and has actively been building on that solution ever since. The result is a fully integrated energy management solution that takes into account all the relevant metrics from the disparate data systems for that fleet and proceeds to conduct a symphony of charging of all the vehicles in the fleet to ensure they all get charged by the time they’re needed next. Or maybe that’s just what it sounded like to me as Pat talked me through it.
“They’ll give you a route planning feed the minute they know next day’s routes,” he said. “You know temperature, weather, you know vehicle type, you know historical electron mileage for the vehicle, you can leave enough buffer. These are all parameters in the system. You also know energy cost curves, so if it’s gradated via time, you know everything about the demand charge structure, etc. Then you run an optimization that basically says ‘Okay, I know the VINs of all vehicles and how much energy they need, so when they come in, I need to read the state of charge of the vehicle, either through the telematics or through the connector, depending on how you want to receive it.”
It’s complicated and required a massive amount of work from ChargePoint to integrate a constantly increasing set of applications that may or may not have a public application programming interface (API) to make it easy. Once everything is buttoned together in the back end, ChargePoint’s systems get to work. “When I look at all the vehicles that I need to charge, I can essentially, like playing Tetris, fill in the charging schedule with all the trucks, buses, cargo vans, whatever they are, make sure that right before they have to leave or sometime before they have to leave, they get adequate energy at the lowest cost.”
The result is a comprehensive solution that optimizes the cost of charging for fleets and ensures every single vehicle has the ideal charge when it’s needed next. That is a massive benefit for fleet managers who understand the opportunity to lower the cost of fuel for their vehicles, but don’t have the time, desire, or ability to manage each and the charging cycle for each vehicle in the fleet. Automation is the key to making music here, and from the sound of it, ChargePoint has automated fleet charging to make the transition to electric vehicles painless for fleet managers.
DC vs. AC Charging for Fleets
With so many variables in charging, I dug into the difference between AC and DC charging for fleets with Pat. What’s better and why? ChargePoint has seen it all in its 13 years of existence and has great perspective on the nuances of fleet charging. “In general, what we like to see is a flexible DC architecture that can dispense anything from a very low power to a very high power,” he said. Coming from the guy selling chargers, going with the more expensive charger seems like the obvious answer, but the reasoning for it is actually buried deep in the software: flexibility.
“Maybe today you want to park a vehicle there that needs more or less capacity. Tomorrow, you don’t want to have to rewire your depot when that changes,” he continued. “DC gives you very high flexibility to use a parking space and not have to constrain the parking assignment part of the equation to the amount of energy that you’re capped at or the style, meaning AC or DC.” Essentially, installing a slightly more expensive DC charger at the depot future-proofs the stall and gives the charging optimization software a larger margin to work with on the charging speed side of the equation.
“It’s a little bit of a premium, but when you think about the total life of your depot and the flexibility, in many cases, it’s more cost effective to go in that direction,” he said. It makes sense, if fleet managers can squeeze out enough budget to build out the depot the right way up front. Who knows what size batteries fleet vehicles will have in 3 years, 5 years, or 10 years? If there’s one thing we can bank on, it’s the fact that the batteries probably aren’t going to be smaller, so why install a charger that might not be able to handle that?
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