Sometime in early 2019, Shwetabh was forced to drag his electric scooter for nearly three hours in Bengaluru because he could not find a spot to charge it. This inspired his friend, tech entrepreneur Sameer Ranjan Jaiswal, to come up with a unique idea – electric vehicle charging stations at kirana stores.
A resident of BTM Layout, Shwetabh had to travel over 20 km to reach the International Tech Park, Bangalore (ITPL) for a work-related meeting. On his way back, however, his electric scooter ran out of charge. Shwetabh stopped at every shop he could find asking establishment owners whether he could charge his scooter’s portable battery there.
Not one shop owner allowed him to charge his scooter battery at their establishment fearing that it may damage their electricity connection. Finally, as he arrived in Koramangala, he paid a shopkeeper Rs 150 to charge his scooter battery for 20 minutes so that he could at least get back home. At the time Shwetabh vowed never to travel in an EV, but Sameer assured him that a proper solution was just around the corner.
By the end of October 2020, 100 IoT-powered electric vehicle charging stations will go live in Bengaluru thanks to ‘Charzer’, a startup established by Sameer and his team in February 2020. Called Kirana Charzers, the Bengaluru-based startup claims these low cost, compact and low maintenance EV charging stations can be installed at small shops and by individuals, which will allow them to earn an additional source of income.
Working in the EV segment for over four years, Sameer and his team had earlier established FAE Bikes, which is an EV scooter rental and fleet management startup.
“The incident involving my friend Shwetabh last year really pushed us into thinking about charging infrastructure and building something which could be adopted on a mass scale. We thought about what exists on every street in the city, and these are small kirana shops. If we can offer a solution with which these small shops can also earn money by setting up these charging installations, the EV ecosystem in the city could really expand. The biggest hindrance to the expansion of the EV segment in this country has been the lack of charging infrastructure,” says Sameer, speaking to The Better India.
The startup began developing the Kirana Charzer in the middle of last year. After months of research and developing prototypes, they launched the Kirana Charzer in February 2020 at MOVE, a global platform for major players across the transport industry, in London.
“The response there was overwhelming. In fact, we weren’t ready for it. We had done market surveys and already sold a few Kirana Charzers, but weren’t expecting the sort of response we got there. Before we knew it, our first batch of 200 charging stations was already sold out. We had made only 200 because we didn’t have access to large scale manufacturing. Now, we have orders for 2,000+ Kirana Charzers still pending,” he says.
Partnering with manufacturers in Bengaluru and Chennai, the startup was supposed to start manufacturing and delivering these charging stations by the end of April. But things came to a halt thanks to COVID-19. It has only been more than a fortnight since they have actually started delivering these units. Their initial focus is on fulfilling 150 orders in Bengaluru.
“We have more than 2000 orders to fulfil, and they have come from 62 cities across 22 States from tea shop owners to malls and other big commercial establishments,” says Dheeraj Reddy, co-founder and COO, speaking to The Better India.
For the benefit of small business owners
One of the unfortunate outcomes of COVID-19 has been the heavy financial losses small businesses have taken. With the idea of supplementing their (small shop owners) regular income, the upfront cost of these EV chargers had to be minimal.
“We removed a lot of fancy features that are present in a typical EV charging station. Our Kirana Charzer unit has been priced at Rs 10,000. If no charging is happening at the station, the shop owner incurs no additional expense. The additional expense arises only when a vehicle is getting charged. Shop owners also don’t have to make any special arrangements like a separate electricity connection. We wanted to develop something that fits in the existing establishment. It’s a compact solution, does not require a lot of space, and it can work with a basic single-phase electricity connection,” informs Sameer.
The Kirana Charzer is a 3.3 KW charging station, which will be available to all small commercial establishment owners. For a two and three-wheeler EVs, based on the current battery technology available, it would take about 2.5 to 3 hours to ensure a 100% charge. However, surveys contend that customers will, on average, charge their vehicles for 45 to 50 minutes – instead of 3 hours.
An EV owner will have to pay about Rs 25 per hour to charge their vehicles at any one of these small commercial establishments. However, shop owners have been given a little flexibility on this front. If their shop is in a very commercial area, they can charge a 10% premium as well.
But what is the expected revenue shop owners will likely see?
“We need to wait for more on-ground data, but based on our minimalistic projections, which assume 10% daily utilization per charger (2 to 2.5 hours of utilization per day for a single charger), these shop owners will make an additional income of Rs 1500-2000 per month based on the current economic scenario and number of EVs. They can break even on these charging stations within 10 months based on our projections,” says Dheeraj.
He goes on to argue that these figures can change with greater EV adoption.
“With 20% daily utilization, they can make Rs 3,000 to 4,000 per month. If the number of EVs in a city like Bengaluru even reaches 5% of the total on-road vehicles in the city, these shop owners are expected to earn about Rs 6,000 to 7000 per month just by hosting our product. The return on investment here makes sense for small shop owners. Customers have not quite flocked to EVs because of range anxiety. That has to be eliminated, but a smart, scalable and RoI focussed charging solution can change everything,” he adds.
“Once these units are sold to these small establishments, we are not charging any annual maintenance cost (AMC) or other fixed costs. These charging stations will be listed on the Charzer app. EV owners can locate them, reserve a charging slot in advance and pay for it through the app. Any transaction that happens on the app, the revenue share on charging in the Charzer network stands at 80% for Kirana shop owners and 20% for us,” says Sameer.
In the coming year, Charzer is looking to establish 1,00,000 charging stations across the country. Today, India has barely 250 EV charging stations combined. Compared to China, which stands at 5,16,000 based on numbers published at the end of 2019 and Europe with 1,70,149 public charging stations as per Statista, India is seriously lagging.
Sameer believes trends are looking up for EV adoption because the cost of ownership is much less today than it was five years ago.
“Since people want to avoid public transport because of COVID-19, EVs make so much more sense. There are many reasonably priced lower speed and lower battery range models in which the cost of ownership is similar to using public transport. Once a proper charging infrastructure exists, there will be much greater adoption of EV. Despite the government’s real push towards EV, it’s the customer who has to buy into it. For our expansion, we have recently entered the market again to raise funding from angel investors,” he adds.
At the moment, the startup is working on multiple propositions to expand without necessarily having to dip in for more funding.
“Some people are even eager to partner with us and become EV charging entrepreneurs. We are coming up with a model where highly motivated and visionary individuals can partner with us and also participate in expanding this charger network for the future of EV mobility in their respective places. This could be a franchise model or something else altogether. We can do ten times more if people are willing to invest with us and replicate what we are doing in their own city or area,” says Dheeraj.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)