Awesome Solar-Powered EV-Charging Station Initiative In San Francisco Aids Apartment Dwellers

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Many of those who live in apartment complexes in the San Francisco area will soon have access to solar-powered electric vehicle (EV) charging stations (equipped with battery storage) thanks to a new initiative put together by a startup named Powertree Services, which is utilizing Panasonic batteries.

As per the new program, 68 apartment building complexes throughout San Francisco will be outfitted with solar charging stations — with parking spaces and roofs for said purposes being rented by the company.


Given the potential barrier that living in an apartment has on EV ownership, the initiative makes a lot of sense. And given that a good deal more than half of San Francisco’s residents are renters, many who live in apartments, there likely is a decent market there. Whether this market can be captured or not by this specific initiative is of course a different question. But it seems like a very attractive proposition.

The buildings incorporating the service will rent a number of parking spaces in the garage to Powertree Services, which will provide level-two EV-charging. Space will also be rented on the buildings’ roofs and outfitted with solar panels. This power will then feed into lithium-ion battery packs that power the aforementioned chargers.

The landlords pay nothing themselves and simply get a new cash stream — no doubt a strong selling point.

Tenants will reportedly pay a flat fee for the use of the chargers, but that fee has not been made public.

Furthermore, they will be able to use the company’s chargers in other buildings in the city if they wish, which is both helpful for charging and finding a parking space!

All in all, this looks like an excellent idea that will help to address one of the biggest barriers (if not the biggest) to broader electric vehicle adoption: apartment dwellers not having a place to charge overnight. (The other big barrier in our minds is simply EV awareness, and that is also partially addressed by rolling out options like these.)


Here are some more details via the company itself:

  • Flat rate “all you can eat” charging services for all current plug-in vehicles at  or less than the cost of gasoline. (BMW, Tesla, Nissan, Smart, Fiat, Chevy, Ford, Mercedes, etc.)
  • Generates on-site renewable electricity for your tenants or building use creating savings for the tenant and rent + value for the owner.
  • Provides all needed management and customer services so you don’t have to.
  • Pays rent and is zero money out of pocket for the property owner.
  • Increases safety of building with optional off-grid backup power.
  • Complies with new (2014) and future state laws mandating plug-in vehicle charging support.
  • Supports a cleaner, less expensive, and more reliable power grid.

Panasonic’s project manager, Jon Ethington, commented that the integration of the charging stations with solar generation and battery storage “has multiple benefits for every stakeholder, be it EV customers, the building owner, or the utility.”

Well said. That seems to be the takeaway, that an approach such as this — where all the participants seem to benefit — is likely to have a future.

Image Credit: Powertree Services

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

James Ayre has 4830 posts and counting. See all posts by James Ayre

24 thoughts on “Awesome Solar-Powered EV-Charging Station Initiative In San Francisco Aids Apartment Dwellers

  • the flat fee could most likely be a deal breaker. without grants or subsidies, just to break even, the fee would be pricier per mile compared to gasoline.

    • Perhaps they merely hope to promote EV use in the area without intending to profit from it.

      Panasonic is a battery giant. Any growth in the EV market is growth for them, so it might make sense for them to help build a charging network as a loss leader if that would lead to higher EV adoption.

      It worked for Google, which gives its Android OS away for free in order to promote the money-making advertising services that come with it. Or for Gilette, that practically gives away razors to profit from blades.

      • “Perhaps they merely hope to promote EV use in the area without intending to profit from it.”
        Sounds nice, but I don’t buy it. We can’t assume everyone will operate their company with the same principles as Tesla…

        • Read the next part of the post. The chargers make life more convenient for EV owners, thereby potentially increasing EV (and thus battery) sales. That’s where the profit is for Panasonic.

          Tesla isn’t installing their chargers from the goodness of their hearts either. It’s a simple commercial strategy: EV sales increase when the supporting infrastructure increases. You can bet that Tesla will stop investing in chargers the second they no longer translate into higher demand for their vehicles.

          • Tesla chargers – or more specifically the electricity they use – is paid for with the purchase of the car. This also supports the installation of the stations – we have seen that math on the site several times.

    • In recent articles there have been a couple of programs Instituted in California that could help with the finances of this program. The first being obvious of incentive or tax rebates for EV charging stations.. The second was the state wanting more grid storage and backup, it says in the article that the storage for these EV chargers can also be accessed by the buildings during black outs. So the installation costs could be reduced by this state plan. Also as Larmion pointed out Panasonic could be helping with the financing in order to have a test site for their batteries.
      It doesn’t seem that any company would be trying this and having state approval to do so without having the financing figured out ahead of time, without an excessive cost for the EV drivers..

    • Being with the company I can tell you that:
      – The cost for EV charging service will be (significantly) lower than gasoline, even in the current dip in oil. It also includes parking while charging.
      – Each charger port is capable of the full SAE J1772 rate of 80Amps (19.2 KW) AC so 100% of vehicle can charge as fast as their mfr spec allows instead of being limited to 3.3KW or 6.6KW as many existing charge stations are.
      – Users will be required to move their vehicle once fully charged and notified/incented to do so.
      – The cost for a tenant to get solar will be less than retail price from the utility.
      – The building can obtain backup power capability to keep the tenants and the building safer during grid outages.
      – The utility or the grid operator gets to use the battery system to help maintain the grid
      – The savings from each service stay local and help the local economy without raising taxes as we redirect the 81% (per DoE) of each gasoline dollar that leaves your community with oil and instead keep it local via savings to the driver, tenants and the rents to the building owner.

      Yes, we’ve worked out the economics after several years of study.

      Thank you and please do try us when we’re up and running.

      • So how much are you charging per unit time and per kWh whichever is higher? We can tell you without a doubt if your husiness would make sense after all the blah blahs. And what is the assumed parking charge per hour or per day?

      • And how will you ensure that owners move out promptly after finishing their charge? That would seem like a considerable challenge…

      • Awesome! Thanks a lot for chiming in. This is the most exciting development I’ve seen in the EV charging space since Tesla Superchargers were announced.

      • Our service is flat rate per month per vehicle. Think of it as netflix for fuel: Unlimited charging sessions at any location for a fixed fee per month per vehicle based on vehicle characteristics. (pat pending)

        Parking at at any of our locations is included while you’re charging.

        When done, the owner of the vehicle is notified to move (via text or our mobile app) and if they don’t move by the end fo the grace period, a per hour fee specific to the property is charged to their account. This assures fair access for all members and keeps the stations available for others. This also helps keep costs down by assuring high utilization of each station.

        Non-member vehicles or vehicles which are not plug-ins and blocking the spot (ICE’ing the spot) are towed.

        All systems are battery (48KW) and solar powered so there is power for lights, communications and charging and gate/garage access even in the case of a grid outage. When the grid is out, the solar is used to keep a charge on the battery system and provide the energy for member vehicles to receive a charge or charge their cell phone.

        In our first announced project we currently have over 100 buildings currently
        committed with sites in construction throughout San Francisco. We are actively seeking more throughout California currently.

        • Thanks for the info.

          I know it is early, but what are your expansion plans?

  • So is this a parking space with a charger or is it a charging space?
    Once the EV is fully charged, will the owner be induced to move the car so someone else might use it? Even at 4:00am?

    • @storkwh:disqus – As you claimed to be “with the company”, can you comment on this? 😀
      @ZShahan3:disqus – can we confirm that @storkwh is actually a representative of PowerTree?
      (Just realized we can tag people, great :D)

      • Yep, the email address indicated that he/she is. The comment from @storkwh:disqus indicates that the EV drivers must move their cars after charging, so it is not a dedicated parking space where they can leave their car overnight — unfortunate, but also understandable and will surely have a greater net effect since it lets more people use the space and helps the company earn a profit.

        • Thanks 🙂 Given that a full charge is typically 4-5 hours…the average charge would likely only be 1-3 hours depending on commute, etc.

          I couldn’t imagine my car or the charging station texting me at 11pm telling me to physically go out and change the charger…it’s just a pain and not consumer friendly.

          It would be ideal to have designated electric car parking which was designed to allow multiple cars to plugin to a single station (let’s say 3 cars/station). Then, the station could automagically switch to the second car, third car as each stopped charging which presumably would be in the middle of the night. From the apartment owner’s perspective, they could have EV owners register to gain access which would ensure they had enough chargers/alternate parking spots for their residents and guests.

          • Great point. The inconvenience of going to the garage at 11pm (or 3am!) crossed my mind. I imagine they have thought about that, but I really like your idea. @storkwh:disqus, can you comment on this?

  • This is a great idea, if it is set up right. David makes a good point, if these are shared spaces then there will be some issues. I could see them being a mix of spots, ones that you own like at most apartment complexes, and then a public space for guests or those who don’t want to pay a higher fee for their own spot. This is something I’ve recommended at most apartment complexes where I have lived, but this still seems a way off here in Michigan. Seeing as how we will have a lot more city dwellers/renters in the future, this needs to be implemented more and more, I hope this works.

  • deja vu…I feel like I just read a similar article from another ‘local’ author on treehugger… 😀

    • lol. 😀 i’m stoked about this. wrote about it two places now, and edited this article. 😀

    • and i really hope people copy the strategy in other cities quickly, and have even considered doing so myself. 😀

      • You have seen the ubitricity idea? Any outlet can be a charging facility, and their wifi connection sorts out billing. Just park and plug, no worries about dedicated chargers, ID, cards, or moving at 3:oo AM

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