While car companies and other organisations build networks of charging stations to accelerate the move to electric vehicles, a Kiwi company has won backing for its alternative approach.
Startup business Invisible Urban is trying to cut through the crowded field with a "charging-as-a-service" approach. The company says it has already fielded US$22.7 million ($35m) in orders for its electric vehicle chargers, which it hopes to start introducing from the middle of this year.
Co-founders Jake Bezzant and Nigel Broomhill are targeting the likes of large property developers, city authorities and hotel chains. They have so far landed six anchor clients, including the on-again, off-again Ovation development near Nashville, Tennessee, which include about 130,000sq m of office space, two hotels, plus retail and restaurants over 58ha.
The idea is that Invisible Urban owns and maintains the EV chargers at a location, monitors usage and adds more if demand dictates, clipping the ticket along the way.
The co-founders have complementary skills.
Bezzant - a prototypical blue-green - is best-known to the general public (to the degree he is known at all) as National's candidate to replace Paula Bennett in the Upper Harbour electorate as the deputy leader goes list-only.
But in entrepreneurial circles he is best-known for his four-year stint in charge of Parking Sense USA - the maker of sensors for managing carparks that was founded in the Waikato but made its bones with a monster 21,000-space contract in Los Angeles. Over the past half-decade, its success has allowed Bezzant to develop a network of contacts among large parking operators.
Broomhill is chief executive and founder of another startup ChargeSmart, which sells home and business charging solutions in New Zealand.
Invisible Urban's chargers will be similar to the discreet designs sold by ChargeSmart, and will be white-labelled (that is, they will bear the name of the shopping mall or hotel chain or other business that has them installed in its carparks). They will be contract manufactured in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
For the time being, Invisible Urban's focus will be entirely on the US. That's partly because North America is home to an un-named hedge fund which is bankrolling a larger part of their plans, though Invisible Urban is also open to giving local investors a cut of the action.
Partly, it's just maths, says Broomhill. The US has around 1 million electric vehicles (EVs) on the roads compared with New Zealand's 20,000-odd. More broadly, this country is home to 3.4 million cars, compared with some 247 million in the US.
And partly it's because the US has more public incentives. President Donald Trump might love internal combustion engines, but at the state level a lot is happening - and right across the country.
Bezzant points out that it's not just the usual suspects, either, such as California and New York, which requires that a quarter of new off-street parking be electric vehicle–ready.
"In Georgia for example, they're stipulating that any new parking facility must have infrastructure for a minimum of 25 per cent of parking spaces to have EV charging - Georgia being a southern state in the US that has not traditionally been all that clean and green."
Compare that to two of Auckland's newest malls: NorthWest, which opened with two EV charging spaces out of 1100 carparks in total, and Westfield Newmarket, which opened with 2700 parking spaces, of which zero have EV chargers, though a representative says chargers will be added in future.
Those who already own an EV will know that it requires an "ABC" lifestyle - for "always be charging". Trickle charging from a standard AC outlet at home is gentle on your EV's battery but can take anywhere from 18 to 60 hours depending on the size of the battery array in your electric car.
There are various EV chargers for the home market that will speed that up, but for most people, charging their electric car is a mix of overnight charging in the garage with fast-charging top-ups when they're on the go.
Direct current (DC) fast chargers can give you a half-charge in 30 to 45 minutes, but DC charging can also be tougher on batteries, or at least can entail a heat buildup that can reduce their efficiency if they're older, or their thermal management isn't up to snuff.
When I tell Broomhill I was recently driving Hyundai's new Kona, he tells me there's a section in the hefty manual warning against too much use of fast chargers (and true enough, on page 47 I find: "While DC charging is very fast compared to AC charging, prolonged and continuous use of DC fast charging may reduce the long term life of the EV battery. Usage of a DC fast charger should be minimized when possible in order to help prolong the life of the EV battery."
"Where we see the sweet spot is more lower-cost AC charging," Broomhill says, "rather than replicating the gas station model, which is what a DC charger is."
Invisible Urban's AC chargers will deliver 40 to 50 kilometres of range per hour.
Broomhill and Bezzant's thinking is that the AC charging is appropriately gentle on your battery, and suits "destination charging", or plugging your car in while you shop for a couple of hours at the mall, or stay overnight in a hotel.
There are lots of players already in the game, but Broomhill cites one survey which says there are 69,000 public EV chargers in the US today but 1 million required by 2025. So there's room for more than one contender, even before you allow for their unique focus on charging-as-a-service, and targeting the top end of town: "A single hotel, no. A hotel chain, yes," Broomhill says.
For now, that necessitates focusing on the larger EV market in the US.
And Bezzant says that, ironically, focusing on North America initially, and getting money rolling in the door from that market, makes it more likely that Invisible Urban will be a local success story, and remain one.
"Tech is going to be our biggest industry in New Zealand inside 10 years," he says.
"We know that from export dollars. But the issue is that companies in New Zealand ... we do all the hard work in terms of innovation starting it up, and they will go overseas and the tax goes overseas as well. So our ability to keep this company as a New Zealand company, and have New Zealanders involved in it, is quite important to us."
Broomhill acknowledges that electric vehicles aren't the only game in town. Toyota is making a major investment in hydrogen fuel cells with its recently previewed Mirai Mk2, which would well cost more to "fill up" than an EV, but which will charge in minutes and at 650km has about a third more range than top of the line EVs.
Trade Minister David Parker has checked out Hyundai's prototype, hydrogen fuel cell Nexo SUV as his Government weighs subsidies for the sector (although if they arrive, the Government funds could be to support more industrial applications).
And hydrogen developer Hiringa Energy has announced a $40m partnership with fuel retailer Waitomo Energy for four hydrogen refuelling stations, initially aimed at heavy transport - the first of which could be in operation as early as next year.
But Broomhill thinks that with EV networks already well underway, "hydrogen has missed the boat".
"The difference between hydrogen and EVs is centralised versus decentralised refuelling. You have electricity at your house; you will never have a gas station in your house. And you will never have a hydrogen refuelling station in your house."
In his view, the decentralised charging model of EVs will prevail.
More broadly, Bezzant notes that venture capital and investment funds are turning green, starting at the top with BlackRock - the world's biggest asset manager, and a frequent name on the share register of NZ's top companies - shifting its focus to sustainability.
BlackRock's attitude reflects what Invisible Urban has found speaking to US investors as a whole and Bezzant wants Kiwis to follow suit.
In part, because it's a good look and the right thing to do.
"We're doing something that is environmentally conscious. We can look back and say to children and grandchildren that we did something in the face of all the overwhelming information (on climate change) that we got on and did something about it. And that's really the appeal for some of these [investment] players as well. You can't really sit around the cocktail party these days and go 'I just invested in a massive coal mine in Australia'. That's not going to get you too many slaps on the back."
But he also sees a shift from free EV charging to user-pays as charger networks go from a handful of show pony efforts to serious numbers that can sustain mainstream EV adoption.
"We're seeing everyone shift to monetisation. And we're focusing on that from the start. Making sure there's a return for the city or the developer or the major employer that puts our chargers in," Bezzant says.
As Gordon Gekko might say these days in a Wall Street reboot, "green is good".