With plug-in cars like the Chevy Volt, Tesla’s Model S, the plug-in Prius and Nissan’s (s NSANY) LEAF all set to hit the market in the next couple of years, get ready for an electric vehicle infrastructure boom. Investors are — this morning Coulomb Technologies, an EV infrastructure startup based in Campbell, Calif., announced that it has raised $14 million in second-round financing. Voyager Capital and Rho Ventures led the round, while Hartford Ventures (s HIG) and Siemens Venture Capital also joined.
At more than triple the size of Coulomb’s$3.8 million Series A round funding round a year ago, this latest funding suggests a serious ramp-up ahead for the 3-year-old company. Coulomb says the new funds will help it expand research and development, operations and sales, and gain ground in markets in Asia and South America — the latest targets in the overseas expansion Coulomb began last year, focusing initially on Europe.
With the governments of China, France and other countries investing heavily to build out national infrastructure for plug-ins, early movers in Coulomb’s space have a significant opportunity. Raising this capital to accelerate its efforts in foreign markets could help carve out a larger piece of the increasingly competitive, but still nascent EV infrastructure market.
Coulomb offers smart charging — coordinating vehicle charging and discharging according to the power grid’s needs and user preferences through software. Coulomb’s subscribers can get a lower rate for charging sessions if they agree to allow the utility to temporarily suspend their charging when needed. A company like smart grid firm GridPoint can connect the dots to let utilities dynamically shed portions of that load based on set parameters.
Coulomb’s business model involves selling subscriptions for access to the charge points, and also collecting fees from retail stores, home and building owners, and other entities to install the equipment. Those property owners will get to keep single-use fees to cover electricity costs (with more to spare), while Coulomb draws revenue from subscribers with pre-paid charging plans. According to today’s release, more than 120 customers, including McDonalds, Dell, as well as municipalities like San Francisco, have signed up for Coulomb’s charge points, which are used by “thousands” of electric vehicle drivers.
By selling access, rather than electricity, Coulomb could avoid a potential roadblock now facing companies like infrastructure startup Better Place, which plans to provide electricity sell electricity directly — generally the province of utilities — to drivers through a network of battery charging stations (see “5 Misconceptions About Electric Car Charging“). In California, expected to be one of the largest early markets for electric vehicles, it remains unclear whether and how the state’s Public Utility Commission will regulate third-party electricity providers.