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A new way to charge your electric vehicle

Clean Energy Zone startup seeks to revolutionize charging stations
By: Will Sloan
March 28, 2017
Ahsan ul Alam

Photo: Ryerson Electrical Engineering grad Ahsan ul Alam is cofounder of Electrefy.

Not long ago, the electric car was as much a presence in the automotive market as the flying car. But with the emergence of Tesla as a powerful brand, and increased awareness of the technology’s financial and environmental benefits, entrepreneurs are looking for ways to make the electric car more accessible.

Enter Ahsan ul Alam, cofounder (with Joseph Tam and Sabbir Ahmed) of the startup external,Electrefy at the external,Centre for Urban Energy (CUE). “Five years ago, nobody knew what an electric car was,” said Alam, a Ryerson external,Electrical Engineering graduate. “But now, people know what they can do. Looking at the Tesla pre-order numbers—400,000 pre-orders all over the world—infrastructure is becoming a concern. What happens when I get the Tesla model? How am I going to charge it?”

Electrefy seeks to provide the answer. The business specializes in fast-charging electric vehicle (EV) charging stations that recharge an electric vehicle up to 80 per cent in less than 20 minutes, and recharge themselves during off-peak hours. Unlike a gas station, the smart grid-integrated technology can be installed anywhere.

“You can install charging stations at shopping malls, groceries stores, gyms, clinics,” said Alam. “You can make charging stations more accessible, and it’s an additional source of attraction for any location. The charging station is a means to bring in more people.”

An EV charging station has the potential to bring traffic to wherever it is placed. “If you ask any gas station owner, they’ll say, ‘We make money by people coming into the convenience store and buying a cup of coffee, or buying a chocolate bar.’ That’s what makes the revenue for a gas station. With an electric car, you can have that station anywhere you want. You’re not limited to a permit from the city about how much gasoline you can have, because electricity is everywhere.”

Electrefy is growing alongside the growth of the electric vehicle market. “When I go and pitch this idea to a property manager, the feedback I’ll get is, ‘Wait, wait—why should I even drive an electric car?’ That conversation starts with promoting the electric car first.”

To spread the word, Alam is seeking opportunities to use electric cars to provide power at events and festivals. “The traditional solution for events is relying on diesel generators and gas generators. We’re providing a clean alternative solution, run by electric cars. That’s going to spread awareness that electric cars will not only drive you from Point A to Point B, but can also power your home.”

Electrefy is one of 14 innovative startups at the Centre for Urban Energy’s external,iCUE incubator, which will be rebranded as the Clean Energy Zone. “This is where the energy experts are,” said Alam. “It helps us find the answers to questions we otherwise don’t get easy access to. Talking to utility companies is not easy, but the experts here have already worked at utility companies and have connections.”

The incubator also offers a space for emerging entrepreneurs to help each other. “We have a solar panel business; we have a cell phone-charging startup; we have another startup that’s doing financing for solar technology… and all of it is complementary. I can help other startups, and others can help me.”

The rebranded Clean Energy Zone will launch April 5 at CUE’s external,2017 Open House and Student Research Awards. Visitors will be able to meet researchers and students, tour the Schneider Electric Smart Grid Laboratory, learn about education programs, and test drive electric vehicles (courtesy of external,Plug’n Drive).

The centre is also launching the external,CUE-Toronto Hydro Student Award Program, which rewards cross-disciplinary teams with $2,500 in financial assistance to develop their urban energy technologies. The teams will have access to the Clean Energy Zone, and a range of hands-on programs to develop skills. The deadline for applications is April 14 at 4 p.m.

To visit the Open House, register at external,Eventbrite. Find more information on external,Electrefy.

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