Green Wallah

Energy, Ecosystems and Political Economy

Wiser Capital Rates the Unrated, Raises Capital & Invests in Small, Mid-Scale Solar PV Projects

Solar power investment specialist Wiser Capital on September 10 announced it has raised $3.6 million to fund five small- to mid-sized solar PV projects. Located in Arizona, Colorado and Hawaii, the small businesses and non-profits on whose sites the emissions-free PV systems will be installed will save on their energy bills from day one and for many years, decades actually, to come, Wiser touts in a press release.

Wiser Solar PV Colorado 0915

The first of an expected series of non-profit, commercial and industrial (C&I) solar investment tranches extending through 2016, Wiser’s initial C&I solar investment partnership is also of significance insofar as the creditworthiness of the recipient small businesses and non-profit organizations are, or rather were, all considered too insignificant to be worth rating.

Santa Barbara, California-based Wiser surmounted that hurdle by making use of its proprietary online solar power project assessment system. As explained in the press release, ¨the Wiser Capital platform standardizes and automates the evaluation and transaction process for hosts, investors and equipment providers, calculating an impartial Wiser Solar Asset Rating (WSAR™) for each opportunity.¨ Continue reading “Wiser Capital Rates the Unrated, Raises Capital & Invests in Small, Mid-Scale Solar PV Projects”

Cheap, Reliable PV Monitoring and Maintenance for the Developing World

For all its touted benefits and promise, solar photovoltaic (PV) technology has a big credibility problem across the developing world. Besides a perception that solar PV is unaffordable, thousands of solar panels aren’t producing electricity. Damaged and broken due to any of a variety of factors – from normal wear and tear to poor quality, improper installation, vandalism and theft, they lie idle or are discarded, damaging the credibility of the technology and the industry, as well as failing to deliver on the promise of readily available, affordable access to clean, renewable sources of electrical power.

SunFarmer Nepal village

The high-tech solar PV monitoring and maintenance equipment and devices now being used in developed countries to assure the performance of PV systems performance aren’t viable in developing countries due to their high-cost and the need for readily accessible, highly reliable broadband Internet service.

All this has led social enterprise SunFarmer to take a new approach. Leveraging widespread use of mobile phones and networks, SunFarmer’s Energy X monitors energy generation of PV systems of 2 kilowatts (kW) and more. A “radically affordable technology,” SunFarmer CEO Andy Moon touts, “with Energy X we can monitor energy generation and consumption from anywhere on the planet. We can remotely troubleshoot issues, and assess conditions most critical for preventing system damage.” Continue reading “Cheap, Reliable PV Monitoring and Maintenance for the Developing World”

Flow Batteries to Help Bring Assetz Industrial Warehouses Off-Grid

Rooftop PV on an agricultural warehouse in Handewitt, Germany
Rooftop PV on an agricultural warehouse in Handewitt, Germany

Installing intelligent battery storage systems is an increasingly attractive, and broadly beneficial, investment for commercial and residential property owners in developed and developing world countries alike. Having developed some 3.2 million square feet of commercial and residential property Singapore-based Assetz Property Group in early June announced it will work with Fremont, California’s Imergy Power Systems to install vanadium-flow battery systems at its new and existing industrial warehouses in India.

Installing Imergy’s advanced vanadium-flow battery technology is a key element of Assetz’s plans to bring its Indian portfolio of industrial warehouses off-grid. The real estate development and management services company intends to integrate Imergy’s flow batteries with solar and possibly other renewable energy generation systems.

With Indian e-commerce growing rapidly, Assetz has plans to expand its industrial logistics warehouse holdings over the next five years by acquiring and investing in industrial land across the Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and parts of Maharashtra. Management sees the combination of solar/renewable energy generation and advanced energy storage as a means of demonstrating its commitment to social and environmental responsibility, as well as a smart investment economically.

Combining flow batteries and renewable energy generation

Imergy GK-ESP250_slide-edited

According to Assetz, its solar and renewables-plus-storage initiative will lower its energy bills, minimize the risk and costs of power outages and reduce its carbon footprint. Owning and/or managing an extensive real estate portfolio that encompasses properties in Australia and Bhutan as well as India, the property development and services company plans to install its first off-grid renewable energy system at a new warehouse located in the Indian state of Karnataka.

“APG’s off-grid warehouse energy system initiative will demonstrate that the real estate industry can take a leadership position in India’s shift towards a cleaner, more reliable energy infrastructure,” Assetz CEO Ben Salmon was quoted in a press relase.

“The need of the hour in India and around the world is clean energy solutions, and as a responsible corporate citizen, APG will continue to adopt cost-effective solutions that reduce our carbon footprint.”

The low life-cycle cost and high performance of Imergy’s vanadium-flow battery systems were the main factors in Assetz choosing Imergy as its project partner. Critical attributes management cited include:

  • Provides reliable and consistent power with fast charge and discharge times.
  • Features unlimited cycle life.
  • Can operate in temperatures ranging from -20 degrees to 55 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees to 131 degrees Fahrenheit) with no degradation in performance.

Added Imergy CEO Bill Watkins: “APG’s use of off-grid, renewable energy for its industrial warehouses will help it significantly reduce its environmental impact. By providing APG with a way to store the energy generated by their renewable energy systems, Imergy’s vanadium flow batteries will help APG maximize the value of their investments in off-grid renewable energy.”

*Image credits: 1) Avanics; 2) Imergy Power Systems

Duke Renewables Upgrading West Texas Wind Energy Storage Facility

Back in January 2013 the nation’s largest power utility began using batteries at grid-scale to store surplus energy generated from the 153-MW Notrees Wind Power farm in West Texas and dispatch it to the regional power grid in order to help maintain the frequency of electrical current within required bounds. Some three years in the making, Duke’s commercial energy business group installed a “smart” lead-acid battery storage system with the capacity to store some 36 megawatts (MW) of power from the Notrees Windpower farm.

The Notrees Windpower farm in West Texas
The Notrees Windpower farm in West Texas

This past week Duke Energy announced it is giving the Notrees grid-scale battery storage facility a face-lift. One of the largest energy storage facilities in the nation, Duke Energy Renewables, part of Duke’s Commercial Energy Portfolio, is working with primary engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) manager  Samsung SDI to replace the lead-acid batteries at Notrees with lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries and an associated battery storage management system. Duke and Samsung SDI are working with Younicos to install its energy storage management system (ESMS), another key element of the upgrade.

Integrating Younicos’s ESMS with Samsung SDI’s Li-ion battery storage management software will enhance the efficiency of the Notress energy storage facility. Moreover, the new Li-ion battery storage system will be able to respond even more quickly to variable electricity output from the Notrees wind farm and signals from ERCOT, the regional grid operator, to dispatch electricity to the grid as needed at any given point in time.

The project highlights the potential for intelligent energy storage technology to serve as the missing link capable of spurring yet faster growth in adoption of clean, renewable energy resources. It’s these new energy alternatives that are viewed as the best means of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and keeping a lid on climate warming and other forms of environmental degradation associated with our dependence on fossil fuels. There’s more in the way of benefits and advantages to making greater use of the latest intelligent battery and energy storage technology – both in front of and “behind the meter” at utility customer sites, however. Continue reading “Duke Renewables Upgrading West Texas Wind Energy Storage Facility”

Water and Corporate Culture at Golden State Foods


New emergency rules for water use are now in effect in California as government agencies and residents attempt to address long-term water needs as well as cope with immediate shortages.

Akin to its industry peers, Irvine, California-based Golden State Foods (GSF) requires lots in the way of water to produce and distribute food products for the likes of McDonald’s and other restaurant chains and food retailers. Founded in 1947 and growing alongside California’s burgeoning agricultural sector, GSF has been addressing the issue of water use and conservation directly since at least 2008 – not only in California, but across what’s grown to be a multinational business.

Part and parcel of institutionalizing its overall sustainability strategy, GSF in 2014 set an organization-wide goal to reduce water consumption 20 percent by 2020.

“We recognize that water is a vital natural resource that is of utmost importance to our business, our associates, and the communities in which we operate,” Dimetria Jackson, GSF’s director of sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR), told TriplePundit.

Doing its part to conserve water in California

Aiming to reduce water usage by 25 percent state-wide, the California State Water Resources Control Board in early May instituted the first mandatory water reductions in the state’s history. The emergency water conservation measures went into effect this month. Since then, it has even gone to the extreme of curtailing diversions of water to senior rights-holders in the Delta, San Joaquin and Sacramento watersheds. Fiercely protected, some of these senior water rights, which are mostly owned by farmers, have been held since as far back as 1903.

Having developed and grown alongside water access and California agriculture, Golden State Foods is well aware of the history of water resources and use in the state – and it’s intimately involved with water conservation efforts. Management takes the view that ingraining water conservation into its corporate culture will boost the company’s economic performance and financial bottom line, as well raise consciousness and contribute to improving water management in California and beyond.


Its 2020, water conservation and broader sustainability goals, “will improve the overall efficiency of our operations; reduce the company’s environmental impact and its economic spend by reducing costs associated with wastewater, waste disposal, fuel and utility expenses; and engage our associates in corporate social responsibility and sustainability practices,” Jackson continued.

GSF’s distribution center in Chicago, for example, recently earned LEED Gold status. There, GSF harvests rainwater in a 40,000-gallon cistern. The harvested rainwater is used to irrigate the surrounding landscape. In addition, GSF Chicago makes use of ionized water, which is a by-product of the hydrogen fuel cells used to produce electricity, for cleaning warehouse floors.

GSF’s water conservation and sustainability plans

More broadly, the GSF distribution centers dedicated to supplying food products for McDonald’s have collectively reduced their water usage by 2 percent compared to a 2012 baseline.

Across the organization, GSF uses reclaimed water for cleaning and landscaping, and it has installed high-efficiency plumbing fixtures in most of its facilities. Water and sprinkler audits, as well as leak checks, are conducted regularly. The company even has a hotline number posted in facility bathrooms and kitchens, so employees can call facility maintenance personnel to report leaks or water waste.

A water cistern being installed at GSF's LEED Gold distribution center in Chicago.
A water cistern being installed at GSF’s LEED Gold distribution center in Chicago.

Company-wide, GSF’s innovative water conservation policy encompasses:

  • Using reclaimed water for washing vehicles, cleaning and irrigation
  • High efficiency plumbing fixtures in most facilities
  • Posting monthly water use at facilities to show progress toward water-saving goals
  • Planting native, water efficient landscaping
  • Conducting sprinkler and water audits
  • Posting a hotline number in bathrooms and kitchens to report leaks or water waste to facility managers or maintenance personnel
    Educating associates on water conservation and seeking their input.

The CSR and sustainability goals GSF instituted last year extend well beyond reducing water use, however:

  • Reducing GSF’s carbon footprint by 20 percent
  • Achieving zero waste-to-landfill at all facilities
  • Implementing an EMS at 100 percent of its locations
  • Incorporating renewable energy/alternative fuel in 100 percent of its fleet
  • Active engagement of at least 75 percent of its associates in these programs

Furthermore, GSF is focused on improving wellness among its associates (employees), and responsible sourcing of the materials and other resources it needs to see to its day-to-day operations and long-term viability, Jackson added.

CSR-Sustainability Champions

GSF’s efforts to ingrain CSR and sustainability into its corporate culture extends to the creation of its CSR-Sustainability Champions program. Led by a steering committee, CSR-Sustainability group members are drawn from across the organization’s functional lines. Representatives from each of its domestic U.S. facilities, as well as IT, finance, and health and wellness, are actively involved in a range of activities, from setting CSR and sustainability goals to implementing associated initiatives.

GSF’s commitment to assuring sustainable water use and, more broadly, the overall environmental sustainability of its operations is also evident in its Statement of Environmental Policy, Jackson noted. The policy, she pointed out, “recognizes environmental protection as one of our guiding principles and a key component of sound business practices.”

Looking ahead, “We recognize that there are many opportunities for improvement and through GSF’s top-down/bottom-up approach, management and associates continually seek to identify additional solutions to help achieve our goals and objectives,” Jackson told 3p.

*Image credits: Golden State Foods

Interfaith Power & Light Gets a Charge from Pope's Encyclical


For 15 years and counting, Interfaith Power & Light (IPL) has worked to turn people of all religious faiths onto the idea that addressing climate change by deploying renewable energy technologies. Renewables can not only deliver clean, affordable electrical power, they say, but it can also address unemployment and spur socially beneficial development in communities nationwide.

San Francisco-based IPL received a big boost in the form of Pope Francis’s encyclical on climate change, which the Pope presented in a crowded St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on June 18.

The people’s rally that took place during the Pope’s presentation gave “quite powerful witness that Jews, Muslims, Christians and people of all faiths can all work together based on common interest,” IPL president and founder, Rev. Canon Sally Bingham, told TriplePundit. “The Pope is telling everyone that we all share this planet and have a moral obligation to care for each other and all God’s creation.”

With a membership that reaches across some 18,000 congregations, each with around 400 members, the people-power IPL brings to the climate change and renewable energy “table” is substantial. Hundreds of those congregations have taken advantage of IPL’s solar finance guide to have solar photovoltaic (PV) energy systems installed with no up-front payment. The faith-based nonprofit believes the Pope’s encyclical will spur many more to do the same.

Bridging divides

Coinciding with presentation of the Pope’s climate change encyclical, IPL held an interfaith panel on climate change. Webcast live, a rabbi, an imam, a Baptist, an Evangelical and an Episcopalian discussed the Pope’s message and how renewable energy offers the means to address the challenges of climate change, energy, and environmental and social justice.

“We’ve been preaching and teaching the moral dimension of climate change for 15 years now,” Rev. Cannon Bingham told 3p. “This is a spiritual, a religious and moral issue, not merely an issue of economics and politics.

“Up until now, even people of faith that recognized we have been destroying God’s creation have let money and politics trump their faith. But when someone like Pope Francis comes out and speaks so clearly and so eloquently, well, we think this will be very powerful.”

Ramping up faith-based climate change, solar energy campaigns

IPL ramped up its public outreach and educational campaigns in the run-up to presentation of the Pope’s climate change encyclical. Its official release should add momentum to its climate change and clean energy initiatives. For example, IPL has launched an online campaign entitled “Many faiths, one Earth” via which Web users can sign on in support of the Pope’s message.

IPL is also running an online campaign dubbed the Paris Pledge, which aims to raise public voices in calling on world leaders to agree to a strong global climate change treaty at the upcoming U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP-21) to be held in Paris this December. The more than 100 IPL congregations that have made the Paris Pledge aim to reduce their carbon footprints in half by 2030 and to be carbon-neutral by 2050, Rev. Cannon Bingham explained.

Helping fuel its ongoing efforts to promote solar energy deployment across its 18,000 member congregations, IPL is running an online Solar Pledge campaign.

IPL sees prospects improving when it comes to stronger climate change action and renewable energy use in the U.S. resulting from the Pope’s climate change encyclical. It may even be powerful enough to turn the tide in the U.S. Congress, where climate change deniers and the influence of fossil fuel companies to continue to squash climate change action and stronger clean energy and energy efficiency legislation, Rev. Canon Bingham said.

“Hopefully [the Pope’s climate change encyclical] will be the game-changer. I firmly believe that when hearts and minds change, the politics will follow.”

*Image credits: 1) Order of Carmelites; 2), 3) Interfaith Power & Light

Report Confirms: 2015 Is (Yet Another) Big Year for Solar


New solar energy installations will grow faster this year than previously expected, according to Mercom Capital, which will make 2015 another strong year for the global solar market.

Releasing an update to its 2015 solar market report, Mercom predicts new installations will reach 57.4 gigawatts worldwide in 2015.

New market data from China, along with revised installation goals, prompted the upward revision, Mercom Capital Group co-founder and CEO Raj Prabhu explained in a press release.

The Austin, Texas-based market research, consulting and communications company also revised its 2015 forecast for new solar installations in India upward. Fueled by a renewed drive on the part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, some 2.2 GW of new solar capacity will come online across India this year, Mercom predicts.

The geography of new solar installations

China, Japan and the U.S. will account for around 60 percent of new solar installations this year, according to Mercom. China again raised its 2015 solar target by 20 percent, to nearly 18 GW, since Mercom made its previous annual forecast three months ago.

“With the specific steps put forward by the [China] National Energy Administration (NEA) and the 5 GW already installed in the first quarter, 17.8 GW is a more achievable target this year,” Prabhu was quoted as saying. “Omission of a specific installation target for distributed solar projects, which contributed to missing the 2014 goal, is a positive.”

China raised its solar installation target several times last year. Mercom expects it will do the same in 2015 if installation issues crop up on the ground.

Solar grows in Japan and the U.S., slides in Germany

Japan will continue to be a leader in new solar installations in 2015, Mercom predicts. With the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Commerce (METI) having reduced solar feed-in tariff (FiT) rates this past March, Japan expects to install around 10 GW of new solar capacity this year.

An ongoing ratcheting down of solar FiT rates will continue to dampen solar energy installations in market-leading Germany. Some 400 megawatts of new solar power capacity came online in Germany during the first four months of 2015, as compared to 622 MW in the same period a year ago. Mercom predicts a total 1,300 MW will be installed across the country in 2015.

Highlighting the marked difference between U.S. and German solar incentives, residential photovoltaic installations have been the main growth driver of German solar energy capacity. Rather than an FiT, as is used in Germany, the U.S. relies on investment and production tax credits. That’s resulted in utility-scale solar energy development being the predominant driver of solar energy deployment in the U.S.

That said, Germany conducted its first auction for utility-scale solar in April as it looks to identify a cheaper alternative to its solar FiT. With a proposed 150 MW up for bid, the auction was four times oversubscribed, Mercom notes.

With awards being made to the lowest bidders, the average cost for Germany’s first utility-scale solar auction turned out to be slightly more expensive than it would have been under the FiT model, according to Mercom. With a second auction slated for August, the market research company expects the program will be modified in 2016.

Here in the U.S., Mercom predicts a total of approximately 8.8 GW of new solar power capacity in 2015. New installations are expected to reach new highs this year and next in advance of a scheduled scaling back of the federal solar ITC at year-end 2016.

The U.S. has been a leader when it comes to developing innovative ways of financing solar energy deployment, such as third-party solar leasing and loan programs, the formation of tax-advantaged yield companies (“yieldcos”), and securitization of pools of solar loans and leases, Mercom points out.

“In the first half of this year, third-party solar finance companies have raised almost $3 billion dollars in lease and loan funds, on course to make this the best fundraising year for solar lease companies. As the ITC expiration draws closer, we expect this activity to strengthen in 2016,” Mercom writes in its latest annual market report.


Surge in U.S. corporate solar investments expected

Santa Barbara, California-based Wiser Capital says corporate investment in small- to mid-size American solar projects is poised to soar. Released on June 16, Wiser Capital’s 2015 Solar Investment Index report reveals that more than 60 percent of managers with influence over corporate investments intend to put company capital to work by investing in solar energy in the U.S. OnePoll carried out the research on behalf of Wiser.

Furthermore, a third of corporate managers surveyed said their companies would make their first solar energy investments within the next year. Looking out over the longer term, no less than 83 percent of the 100 corporate managers surveyed said their commercial organizations will make investing in the solar energy sector a priority by 2020.

Aside from addressing climate change and environmental degradation, the potential to earn comparatively high, stable and longer-term returns on investment (ROI) is a primary motivating factor for U.S. corporate investors, Wiser Capital highlights in a press release.

International trade disputes surrounding Chinese solar photovoltaic exports cloud attempts to accurately gauge and forecast the amount of solar energy that will be installed worldwide, Mercom points out. Following the imposition of punitive import duties in 2014, the EU has opened an investigation into EU imports of Chinese PV panels from Taiwan and Malaysia.

In addition, the EU is reviewing the current minimum import price established for Chinese PV panels as a result of an agreement with the Chinese government last year. Due to expire in December, the EU recently imposed tariffs on three solar companies for violating the agreement, Mercom notes.

*Image credits: 1) Flickr/Jason Morrison; 2), 3) Mercom Capital

Pressure Builds on Amazon to Clean Up Data Center Energy Use

amazon_climate_logo-forweb-300w Renewable energy advocates got a shot of encouragement this past week when Amazon Web Services (AWS) – the world’s largest provider of cloud computing-data center services – announced it will invest in what is to be Virginia’s largest solar energy farm.

Responding to calls for it to power its cloud data centers with renewable energy, AWS announced it would craft and follow through on a plan to power all of them with 100 percent renewable energy. However, AWS management didn’t offer up any target dates, and it hasn’t been forthcoming with data regarding its energy usage or progress being made to achieve this goal, clean energy and environmental groups say.

AWS should do more, and it should be transparent about its energy usage and progress, they contend. Nonprofit organization Green America on June 11 launched an online campaign to raise the heat on AWS management to do just that.

Cleaning up AWS’ dirty cloud

AWS bandwidth usage growth

Internet and cell network data traffic continues to grow rapidly as use of mobile devices, access to wireless broadband services and machine-to-machine (M2M) connections proliferates. Coincidentally, more businesses are turning to third-party cloud data center operators such as Akamai, AWS, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft to host and manage their information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure. As a result, the power needs of cloud-data center operators is rising rapidly as well, even as energy efficiency improves significantly.

The decisions regarding the type of energy consumed in cloud data centers will go a long way towards determining the mix of energy sources economies and societies rely on for decades to come. Meanwhile, the social and environmental, as well as strictly economic, costs of fossil fuel energy use are rising fast and becoming increasingly apparent. In spite of this, government subsidies are benefiting fossil fuel companies to the tune of a “shocking” $5.3 trillion, more than all the governments in the world spend on health care, according to a recently released study from the IMF.

Virginia is home to more AWS cloud-data centers than any other U.S. state. Though significant, AWS’ decision to partner with Community Energy in developing the 80-megawatt solar farm in Accomack County on Virginia’s eastern shore will meet only a small percentage of AWS’ cloud/data center power needs in the state, much less across the U.S. and worldwide.

“No one should have to choose between using the Internet or protecting the planet,” Green America writes in launching its “Amazon: Build a cleaner cloud” online campaign.

Grassroots consumer campaigns put pressure on cloud-data center operators


Green America works to foster socially and environmentally responsible economic growth in part by organizing grassroots campaigns that enlist consumers in putting pressure on businesses to enact changes in line with these core values. Having worked on climate change issues for several years, Green America is extending its efforts by zooming in on the impacts of energy usage on the part of the world’s largest cloud data center operators, Green America campaign director, Elizabeth O’Connell, explained in an interview.

“’s Amazon Web Services (AWS) servers are some of the largest and dirtiest in the industry,” Green America highlights on in its online campaign launch page. “While other major technology firms have established data centers powered by renewable energy, like wind and solar, Amazon continues to build data centers in areas where coal and natural gas are the dominant power sources. The burning of these fossil fuels increases the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, leading to climate change.”

“The environmental, and health, impacts of cloud-data centers are growing larger and larger every day. As the largest provider of cloud services, AWS needs to be held accountable and responsible” for the decisions it makes regarding energy supplies and usage,” O’Connell said.

“AWS is dragging its feet with regarding its renewable energy commitment and overall transparency,” she continued. “Google, Facebook and Apple have made strong renewable energy commitments. AWS has made a strong long-term commitment as well, but it has not set any firm date, and it hasn’t been transparent when it comes to disclosing data regarding its energy usage.”

Green America is calling on AWS to power all its cloud data centers entirely from renewable energy sources by 2020. “We think this is a reasonable time frame,” O’Connell explained. “Apple has proven that it’s possible to be 100 percent reliant on renewable energy sources today.”

In announcing plans to build the Virginia solar farm, AWS, for its part, said it expects that 40 percent of all cloud-data center power needs will be met by renewable energy sources by the end of 2016. Management added that renewable energy sources already meet 25 percent of the power needs of its global infrastructure.

Earlier this year, AWS announced that it is investing in a wind power farm in Benton County, Indiana, capable of generating 500,000 megawatt-hours of clean, renewable energy per year.

*Image credits: 1), 3) Green America; 2) Amazon Web Services (AWS)

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

Volta person charging EV

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.

Volta CTO and CEO and EV charging station

“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

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