When Mahi Reddy looks into the future, he sees highways filled with electric vehicles. It doesn’t matter that the industry is still in its infancy or that, at last count, there were only 200 electric cars in Maryland.
He wants to be part of what he calls the “clean technology revolution,” and he’s found a way to do it.
In 2009, Reddy started SemaConnect, Inc., a manufacturer of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, in the basement of his Annapolis home. No stranger to technology or start-ups, Reddy had already co-founded and sold a successful IT company, and he brought that experience with him.
“When these [electric] autos are out and about, they need the ability to plug in,” says Reddy, a longtime member of the Electric Vehicle Association of Washington, DC, and owner of a Chevy Volt.
SemaConnect has since left Reddy’s basement for an office in the Chesapeake Innovation Center, an Anne Arundel County business incubator; its manufacturing facility is nearby. The company currently has 11 employees, and CEO Reddy is hiring 10 more.
Reddy, 51, is a burly man dressed corporately in a striped shirt and slacks. A native of India who came to the United States over a decade ago, he proudly displays his company’s product, the ChargePro Electric Vehicle Charging Station, a sleekly modern machine poised to fuel the future.
About two feet high, the silver-and-black charging station (essentially a “gas pump” for electric cars) is Internet-based. Wired into a 240-volt power source, the station can be mounted on a wall or pedestal. Pulsing lights indicate usage; drivers pay by swiping a Smart Card; and station owners track operations remotely. Each station comes with a one-year, extendable warranty.
“It’s a sophisticated design that has been engineered to be user-friendly and to charge safely,” says Reddy.
The machine comes in different models and works on both types of EVs currently on the market, plug-in hybrids and electric. It can fully charge a Chevy Volt in four hours, compared to the 10 hours it would take using the manufacturer-provided home charger.
SemaConnect isn’t the only manufacturer of EV stations in the country—others include General Electric and Siemens—but its sole business is its product.
The number of charging-station manufacturers is expected to increase as the industry responds both to President Obama’s call for one million EVs on the road by 2015 and to the hundreds of millions of federal dollars being pumped into the EV infrastructure.
“You cannot have an electric-vehicle industry without charging companies. They are an integral part,” says Alireza Khaligh, a professor in the electrical and computer engineering department of the University of Maryland College Park’s A. James Clark School of Engineering.
The reason, he explains, is that most residences don’t have the capacity to charge EVs at home without, for example, overloading neighborhood transformers. While the charging technology is not new, adds Khaligh, the challenge is to make a station that is compact and competitively priced.
In 2011, SemaConnect sold 400 of its $3,500 model. In 2012, it expects to sell 1,600 of that same model. The anticipated jump reflects industry trends. In 2011, Reddy points out, General Motors and Nissan produced 10,000 EVs total; in 2012, that number will skyrocket to 100,000.
“We are going nationwide within the next six months,” says Reddy, whose customers, thus far concentrated in the Mid-Atlantic, include parking-garage owners, real-estate developers, and corporate-office owners who may have their own fleet of EVs or view the stations as a value-added feature.
Corporate Office Property Trust is a $4-billion office-property owner, over 80 percent of whose properties are in or near Maryland. To go along with its commitment to sustainability, the trust put out a bid for stations at two of its properties at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport and Fort Meade. SemaConnect won.