Renewable resources and policy has always had an interconnected relationship. Strong policies support the growth of renewable energy, while the adoption of renewable energy helps achieve the environmental goals set in public policy. It’s a mutually beneficial partnership where the public, and the planet, win overall.
Terry O’Day, COO of InCharge, has been an important part of this alliance throughout his long and storied career in the EV industry. His 25+ year career in the EV and charging infrastructure fields have been driven by, supported through, and occasionally joined with policy and government.
Terry’s work sits at the intersection of policy, economics, innovation, and environmentalism, giving him a unique perspective on what got the EV industry to where it is—and where it’s headed in the years to come.
Pursuing Capitalism for a Cause
Graduating from college after studying social policy, Terry began his career working for Edison International founding companies focusing on EV technology.
A couple of the companies worked, but ultimately Terry discovered that he was incredibly passionate about the industry as a whole. “I fell in love with the technology for EVs,” he says, “because, in my view, it solves a lot of problems for our people and our planet.”
Driven by that purpose, Terry moved on to found the first rental car company in the country with an electric-only model, EV Rental Cars. He says, “we found that, to get people to buy an electric car back then, they had to take it on an overnight test drive to believe that it worked for the lifestyle.”
The ethos behind that revelation became a north star for his career—capitalism can inspire change. Terry looked at the free market’s ability to power innovation and applied it to green movements. “I just continued to pursue what I thought of as capitalism for a cause,” he says, “how do you turn humanity’s most powerful creation, capitalism, towards solving the social problems that will make life better for all of us and protect the planet we live on?”
And, after a couple decades working in EV, Terry’s learned a few things about what it takes to succeed in the space. In fact, he’s lived through many of the ups and downs that once brought the electric car industry to the brink, yet are now responsible for its exponential growth.
He credits market timing as having a huge impact, although the rough early days of the EV industry were not too kind to entrepreneurs like him looking to make a mark. “I started in ‘96 with EVs. I lived the “Who Killed the Electric Car?” documentary,” Terry says, “Those early days, they are for the pioneers, and the pioneers take the arrows. I’ve got the scars to show that.”
Accelerating Change with InCharge
But in today’s market, Terry celebrates that consumers are embracing electric vehicles at much larger rates and the industry is gaining momentum due to factors like government incentives, rising fuel costs, technological advancements, and more.
This ultimately provides Terry’s current venture, InCharge, with increasingly favorable tailwinds. “I think EV adoption is now inexorable, and the moment for InCharge has really come at last. I’ve been able to support myself and my family well in the EV market all through these years, but this moment is when we really kind of hit an inflection point.”
InCharge creates EV charging infrastructure for commercial fleets, serving municipalities, school districts, freight delivery pools, and more. As demand for large-scale vehicle deployment grows, InCharge supports businesses investing in EV’s by providing planning, infrastructure, and long term support for the charging stations their fleet needs to stay on the road.
Their business model developed out of the increasing feasibility of the medium and heavy-duty electric truck market. Technological developments like bigger batteries and cheaper solar panels made these massive trucks increasingly efficient—to the point that they’d eclipsed liquid-fuel vehicles. As a result, more and more businesses are swapping outdated fleets for increasingly cost-effective EVs.
As a result, they needed the charging infrastructure to support their fleets, and Terry leveraged the consistency of their use to gain the interest of investors. “With the fleet market, you’ve got trucks in fleet operation that go out and run the same route every day. I know exactly the kind of kWh that’s going to go through that system,” he says, “that means that I can get third-party financing attracted to this industry who can come in and provide the kind of stabilizing force that can be a multiplier through adoption.”
And while they’re supporting the economic growth of the EV industry, Terry also finds that their success goes beyond the revenue. Since InCharge supports EV adoption in the commercial space, their impact on the carbon footprint is more noticeable. “We’re targeting fleets, in particular, medium and heavy-duty vehicles through this model,” he says, “so, we’re totally addressing a market that is solving social problems, namely, the health effects of diesel pollution and fuel consumption globally.”
Urban Planning for an Electric Future
It’s no secret that the world of EVs is interconnected with federal and local governments, as their incentives and regulations play an important role in shaping growth of adoption and infrastructure development.
Unsurprisingly, Terry’s career in the EV space has always aligned with public policy, and he’s no stranger to city hall either. He served as both the chair of the planning commission and Mayor Pro Tempore of the city of Santa Monica. “The work that I’ve done has always lived at the intersection of policy and commerce,” he says, “the better I understand that world of policy, the better I can be in commerce.”
While his work with InCharge focuses on a commercial industry, his time in office and prior positions have given him plenty of perspective on the consumer market. Working in policy and planning, he was exposed to many of the issues that arose from the increased EV adoption in the public arena.
Most pressing is the rising consumer need for accessible charging infrastructure. As the consumer demand for electric vehicles grows, the need for stronger public EV infrastructure is intensified. More vehicles on the road simply means more outlets that need a charge.
Unfortunately, Terry finds that many residential areas aren’t incentivized, or simply aren’t able, to adopt the chargers needed to support full-scale adoption. Owners of rental buildings receive no benefit from investing in chargers for their tenants or the population density of apartment buildings makes it impossible to serve everyone at once.
Terry encountered this very issue in his political career in Santa Monica. “The city is an early adopter market, but 80% of its residents live in multifamily housing. And getting chargers into a rental building or a condo building can be a real pain, and oftentimes impossible. So you’re just not going to see infrastructure adoption for overnight charging in those markets”
Terry sees one potential solution in public charging solutions, where the utility creates infrastructure to support widespread EV adoption in the consumer market, but this comes with its own disadvantages.
Public charging would need to take place in a large parking lot, which typically wouldn’t have access to power or the necessary components to safely run a charging system. Urban planning commissions would need to partner with a utility to create the infrastructure needed to meet consumer demand.
Unfortunately, utilities are often tied in red tape and burdened by administration. Terry says, “utilities are slow and bureaucratic. And for good reason, we build them that way because they’re using public money. We don’t want to have patronage in that model. We want to be cautious about how they can deploy their capital.”
Public Charging in Commercial Spaces
Instead of public or private infrastructure, Terry notes that commercial buildings can adapt to meet the consumer demand for EV charging stations. They exist as a commonly used space for the public to shop or congregate and have easier access to the utilities needed to operate a system.
Terry also sees that these property owners are incentivized to invest in EV charging infrastructure, as they increase traffic to businesses. He says, “if you have enough nodes and enough power, you’ll attract drivers and they will stay. It’s sort of like moths to a flame. With EV drivers, they do find those charges and they come to them.”
But, Terry cautions that property owners and managers need to be calculated in their approach to bringing EV infrastructure to their site. While they can bring new customers to their commercial buildings, EV needs to be well thought out and supported to be successful.
Fortunately, he offers tips to interested commercial property owners. He notes that usability should be a primary factor, so the system should be high-powered and, best case scenario, accessible by all vehicle types. Some systems may only work for a particular brand of EV or can’t complete a charge in the time it takes for someone to finish a shopping trip.
Terry also notes that current tenants need to be included in the decision and new leases should reflect an ongoing interest in the EV system. He says that “As you’re looking at your lease agreements, anticipate your desire to put charging in your parking lot. Tenants inherently do have an interest in changes in the parking field. They don’t want blockages of their signage or storefront. You’re going to want to figure out how to accommodate those needs and not have your hands tied in the areas where you want to provide this amenity for your customers.”
Ultimately, he believes overall commercial EV charging success comes down to working with a third-party, rather than paying for the system themselves. Consumer charging usage is unpredictable and intermittent, making the economics difficult to parse. A third-party is simply better equipped to manage risk.
Plus, Terry notes that third parties generally offer nothing but upside for owners. Oftentimes, they payr rent for the space, improve the tenant experience, and increase the value of your building. He says, “they’re bringing power to the parking lot where you don’t already have it. And that infrastructure is, I think, the true value. It’s going to last for decades. You do a seven-year contract with one of the providers, and that infrastructure is still there for another 15 to 20 years, you get to use that for yourself.”
Powerful Incentives, Exponential Growth
EV adoption is clearly fueling the need for electric charging stations, and that momentum shows no sign of slowing. But, Terry sees opportunities to increase that growth exponentially with a few developments in the industry.
He notes that further public education about the total cost of ownership and value of electricity is an essential piece of the puzzle. When people understand the economics behind the technology, it’s easier for them to apply their benefits to their lives. Terry says that “The public only sees the sticker price. They need an easy way to understand, from a lifestyle point of view, what it really costs to drive an electric vehicle and how much less it would be than a liquid fuel vehicle.”
The developers leading the market also need to understand how economics can sway public opinion. Rather focusing on environmentalism or sustainability, which are great benefits, demand is often driven by the dollar. He says “as I’ve founded these businesses over the years, I always think I’m trying to build a green brand, you know, and it always comes down to cost and value first and sustainability.
Most importantly, Terry sees further utilization of federal and local government incentives as the central driver of continued growth in the industry, primarily the Investment Tax Credit for renewable energy.
When these technological advancements, consumer accessibility, and innovative financing combine with policy support, Terry sees full-scale adoption as inevitable. “As soon as the investment and operator community figure out how to unlock the value from that,” Terry says, “We should have meaningful, long-term, sustained value.”
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