Tesla's former head of product explains how his Amazon-backed startup is enabling electric driving with a new way to plug in at home
- A surge of electric vehicles is anticipated to hit the automotive market in the next few years.
- Many consumers are hesitant about switching away from gasoline power.
- Span, an energy-storage startup, is rethinking at-home charging to quell those worries.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
While the popularity of electric vehicles is heating up, the industry still faces obstacles in selling drivers on electric. One of the biggest issues is range anxiety: Would-be customers tend to be skeptical of not just of how far an EV can go, but also how long it takes to recharge and where they can plug in.
But while the Biden administration is proposing funding for public charging stations, and companies like ChargePoint are installing stations at offices, most charging happens at home. Most EV drivers do more than 80% of their charging while at home, according to the Department of Energy.
“Gasoline prices would have to be very cheap or electricity prices would have to be very high before it’s going to cost you more, on a per-mile basis, to charge an electric vehicle than to tank up a gasoline vehicle,” said Timothy Johnson, a professor of the practice of energy and the environment in the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University.
But plugging in at home isn’t quite as simple as, well, plugging in. Going from the gas pump to the wall outlet changes a home’s energy load, and, depending on your utility, can cost more than you’d like – or need – to pay.
Which is why one San Francisco-based startup has developed a new “smart” electrical panel that operates as a central control system for various energy outlets in a home, including EV charging. With Span, the customer dumps the old-fashioned breaker switches for a sleeker solution with app-based controls. It’s like a Nest thermostat but for electricity.
“The traditional electrical and electrical-utility model is inadequate. That’s the problem we’re solving,” Span founder Arch Rao told Insider.
The startup has pulled attention from Amazon as its primary investor and is also backed by the Nest founder Matt Rogers, bringing in a funding total of about $20 million.
Span says its electrical panel more efficiently manages the electrical load of the home. Span also offers solar-panel options, for customers who choose to go as environmentally friendly as possible.
“The reason why we remain in the panel is all of these devices come into the panel,” Rao said of the startup’s main product. “If you think about what needs to be solved, it’s intelligent controls. And the traditional panel is just not capable of doing any of those things.”
The Span smart panel takes power from the grid and distributes it throughout your home, much like a Wi-Fi router, Rao told Insider. It can also prioritize what needs the most power, measuring and controlling how much electricity flows into each appliance and circuit in your home. This makes it easier to balance your energy load when it comes to charging an EV. Essentially, the panel charges your EV when it’s most convenient for you – when you’re not using a lot of electricity otherwise, like overnight.
The tech not only brings a new approach to energy into the home, but it also familiarizes customers with how mindless EV charging can be. You don’t have to drive to a charging station and wait to “fill up.” Instead, Span seeks to bring electromobility into the fold of your home and everyday life. The company’s goal is to make clean tech, starting with EV charging, a ridiculously easy-to-use no-brainer solution to both saving energy and range anxiety.
“We’re proud of having Amazon as an investor,” Rao said. “Not only are we able to pair with products like Alexa, bringing this part of your home energy into your consciousness, it becomes more organic – how you interact with this stuff. Amazon is also arguably the largest distributor of products in the world. So we see an opportunity for us to bring this to every home.”