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Coulomb Raises $15M For Plug-In Car Charging

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A global network of electric vehicle charging infrastructure can only get built out if the money flows. This morning, Coulomb Technologies, which sells plug-in car chargers, announced it has raised $15 million in a Series C financing round. Investors in the round included new participants Harbor Pacific Capital, LS Cable, and LS Industrial Systems, along with existing investors Rho Ventures, Voyager Capital, Siemens Venture Capital, and Hartford Ventures.

Coulomb was one of the earlier startups to tackle the electric car charger space (see our video clip below), but there’s also been a rush of new charging station companies launched recently, including chargers from GE (s GE), Ecotality, Aerovironment, and Better Place. ClipperCreek, founded in 2006, is also an older startup that sells charging infrastructure. The Plug-In 2010 conference in San Jose in July was filled with new charging options.

Coulomb needs to ramp up quickly to be able to compete in a market that is getting rapidly crowded — hence the fund-raising. Coulomb just raised a Series B round of $14 million in February, and a Series A round of $3.8 million in 2009, bringing the company’s total funds raised to over $30 million.

Coulomb already has some significant sales, considering its startup status and the early state of the plug-in car charging market: The first mainstream all-electric Nissan LEAF just officially went on sale last month. Coulomb says it has shipped 850 stations to over 200 customers and has a Department of Energy-funded program that will lead to another 4,600 charging stations built in the U.S.

At the heart of it, the electric vehicle charging infrastructure business isn’t a great venture capital and startup play. It will eventually be a commodity business, which will be led by large companies that can scale quickly. The infrastructure will be standardized; the designs likely won’t play a huge role in differentiation; and it will eventually be the software that will be the valuable business proposition.

In the market’s nascent stage, some of these hardware startups could do pretty well. Expect acquisitions down the road, and then an eventual shakeout in the market. Coulomb was smart to partner with German energy and engineering giant Siemens (s si) as an investor and a strategic partner. Siemens has agreed to sell its smart grid IT products in conjunction with Coulomb’s smart electric vehicle charging stations, and Siemens Ventures is an investor in Coulomb.

The growing need for intelligent management of electric vehicle charging could create a $297 million industry in the U.S., and $1.5 billion globally as of 2015, according to analyst John Gartner of Pike Research. That market forecast encompasses the tech ranging from applications, servers, networking equipment and other hardware, to ongoing services for collecting and monitoring data about vehicle charging.

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