The company has created software to help fleet managers, including school districts and municipal agencies, plan when and how to charge their electric vehicles, to make sure they hit their marks at the lowest price.
As the world gradually buys into alternative fuels and electric vehicles, existing energy infrastructure is going to have to change, too. The transition away from fossil fuels will place a burden on electrical grids, and a software company in San Francisco is getting ahead of this demand with an algorithm to help e-vehicle fleets recharge with maximum efficiency.
Founder and CEO Muffi Ghadiali said he started Electriphi in 2018 after he noticed a unique challenge faced by enterprise vehicle fleets, as opposed to consumer vehicles. His experience in the field included being a senior director at ChargePoint, the largest vehicle charging company in the U.S.
“We are transitioning from fossil-based fuels to electricity. Electricity works in very different ways, in the sense that your rates will vary depending on what time of the day you use it,” he said. “As these rates vary on an hourly basis — and given the fact that too much energy drawn by the user can cause high charges, called demand charges — it requires a new way of thinking about how these vehicles are going to be energized.”
Ghadiali said a typical municipal transit bus with a battery of 400-500 kWh, for example, needs to be refueled overnight with roughly the same amount of energy that a single-family home uses in a month. A fleet of these buses puts an entire neighborhood's worth of energy on the grid, and a school or city agency that operates them could be stuck with exorbitant demand charges.
That's the exact problem Denver Regional Transportation District ran into with its electric buses. According to a blog post from RTD, at one time 80 percent of the agency's electric bill came from demand charges.
To answer this problem, Ghadiali said, Electriphi’s software as a service assesses a fleet’s operations: the capacity and efficiency of batteries, when vehicles come and go, how long their routes are, the topology of those routes, weather conditions and local energy rates at different times of the day and night. It then uses an algorithm to estimate the fleet’s energy cost and come up with the most efficient charging schedule, ensuring each vehicle has enough energy for the next day’s route at the minimum total cost.
Ghadiali said Electriphi has contracts with cities, school districts and private fleets across the United States, including with Twin Rivers Unified School District in Sacramento, which runs the largest electric school bus fleet in the nation.
“Our ambition is to transition to a fully electric fleet in the coming years,” said the district’s transportation services director, Tim Shannon, in a statement. “This is a significant undertaking, and we needed a trusted partner that could provide us state-of-the-art charging management and help us with data collection and monitoring. Electriphi has absolutely been that partner to us, by helping reduce operational costs and simplifying our data collection and reporting.”
For Ghadiali, one of the exciting things about Electriphi’s position in the market is that demand is just getting started. He said there are about 16 million fleet vehicles in the United States spanning private and public sectors, and if only 10-15 percent of those go electric in the next few years, that’s another million e-vehicles on the grid.
“If you look at the energy consumed by transportation today, which is primarily oil-based, gasoline and diesel, if all of that were to shift to electricity, you would have to almost triple the grid capacity just to meet those energy needs,” he said. “There are many different approaches. There are solutions targeting consumer charging, for instance. There are solutions looking to offer charging as a service. There are solutions looking to offer fleet as a service. The approach we’ve taken is a broader approach, where we offer software, and third parties can take our software and package it up with their own charging service or their own infrastructure.”
The company announced $3.5 million in seed funding last week, and Ghadiali said the scale of the market, and how fragmented it is, will guarantee space for competitors. He was adamant that the fleet-efficiency market is still in its infancy, and a key part of “the biggest energy transition in history.”
“If you look at the last 80-100 years, oil was moved on ships across oceans, and suddenly, you have that replaced with electrons that move in a very different way. The whole value chain — how electrons will be produced, distributed, consumed — is changing in a dramatic way,” he said. “That’s cause for a massive disruption in all of energy economics, in terms of utilities and business models coming into play. What ties everything together is data and insights, and that’s what we’re building at Electriphi. … Fleet management is the first step in that direction.”
Editor's note: This story has been corrected to clarify that Denver RTD is a regional agency.