Electric cars, bikes and scooters are in hot demand. The challenge? Keeping all their batteries topped up while cruising around city centres. eChargie believes it has a solution. Instead of building full-scale charging stations, the startup turns existing power sockets into charging points for electric vehicles (EV).
“eChargie is an add-on unit that can be installed over any public or semi-public socket. It enables anyone to sell electricity to anyone,” explains founder and CEO Katja Koponen. “Our system is a safe and cost-efficient way to monetise the existing power infrastructure. It can be used to charge almost anything – electric cars, bikes, scooters, smartphones.”
The setup is simple. It takes only a few minutes to install an eChargie unit, and no special skills are required. The socket owner then logs on to the accompanying mobile app and defines charging fees, times and payment details. Now the charging point is visible on the eChargie app and available for EV users to find and plug in their vehicle. Neither side needs to worry about power overload as the charging unit comes equipped with an automatic safety switch.
Plugging a gap
Koponen is the brains behind eChargie. Four years ago, she was hosting an automotive industry delegation in Finland and heard how big the plans were for electric cars.
“I started to think about services that could accompany this development and that is how the idea began brewing,” Koponen recalls. “At first, we thought an EV owner could have a cable and an app for purchasing electricity. Then we realised they would need to ask permission to use someone’s power plug in any case. So we moved our focus to property owners.”
The “we” in question are Koponen and her business partner, Oliver Hussey. The duo founded eChargie in late 2017. The company quickly secured early-seed funding from the Finnish Ministry of the Environment and later an R&D loan from Business Finland to speed up product development.
The goal for eChargie is not to replace fast charging – an hour’s charge only adds 10-25 kilometres to the range of a vehicle – but to fill gaps in the EV charging network with a cost-effective alternative. Consequently, the company is initially targeting B2B customers such as office buildings, hotels, airports and housing complexes, where people typically park for longer periods.
eChargie has already piloted its service with the City of Tampere and the IoT Campus in Salo, among others, and is now preparing for a wider launch by the end of 2019.
From Finland to India
The appeal of eChargie is its simplicity. Unused power sockets are everywhere, and so is demand for new charging solutions. The Nordics are also an excellent test bed for eChargie because the cold winters mean cars are already plugged into sockets to keep their engines from freezing.
But it is the Asian markets, India in particular, which tempt Koponen. This is where the number of two- and three-wheeled electric vehicles is on a steep growth curve. This is good news for eChargie for two reasons. First, these smaller EVs don’t need fast chargers to charge quickly and, second, they cannot use electric car charging points.
“There is a huge demand for our kind of a digitalised, mobile-payment enabled power socket,” Koponen enthuses. “In India, there are 170 million two- and three-wheelers with combustion engines, half of which the government wants to replace with EVs by 2025. It’s an opportunity we can’t miss.”