Oodles Energy CEO Keith Berger Discusses EV Charging With Green Business Impact

Oodles Energy
February 13, 2024

Keith Berger, CEO of Oodles Energy, discusses EV charging station adoption at multi family properties with Billy Fetzner of Green Business Impact. Oodles Energy works. Oodles Energy partners with multi-family properties, as well as hotels and mixed use developments, to own and operate EV charging stations. Specializing in DC fast charging, this solution is a white glove, turnkey solution.

Billy: EV adoption is on the rise. However, it's really been isolated to single family homeowners who can charge their EVs at night, which just really isn't fair for apartment dwellers. And in terms of trying to convert to more sustainable and green alternatives, for apartment dwellers, you can't even convert to solar because you don't own your own roof. But hey, check back to Episode 14 with Sunified Group to see how you can still make this happen. And so between that and not being able to charge your electric vehicle at night, just feels like apartment dwellers are getting the shaft. But there's another company who's looking to change that. They are Oodles Energy, and in this special interview, I'm speaking with their CEO Keith Berger, about how they are working with multi-family property owners and helping them provide apartment dwellers with an opportunity to charge their EVs at night as well. So stay tuned to this entire episode to see exactly how they're making that happen. 

Billy: Keith, do you mind telling us a bit about Oodles Energy and what you guys do?

Keith: Sure, absolutely. Oodles Energy is a EV charging network that's focused on multifamily properties mostly. We looked at the EV space a couple years ago and the high levels of adoption and noticed that most of the people that were buying them were living in single family homes. So we thought one of the big barriers to this EV green adoption is going to be where people charge at home if they live in an apartment or a condo. So we formed the business just to focus on that.

Billy: Yeah, definitely. And that's super important because even if you're living in an apartment, that doesn't mean that you don't want to get an electric vehicle or something like that. It just makes it a little bit more difficult, and so you guys are helping solve that problem, “Okay, where do we go charge?” Because it's a lot of this market is right now, the infrastructure isn't really there and the wait times to have your EV get fully charged is not a really great situation. So being able to charge it at home at night is the ideal situation. And so being at an apartment building, that makes the things a lot harder. So you guys are really trying to solve that issue.

Keith: Yeah, absolutely. About 80 plus percent of charging is done at home and that's the huge preference. People don't mind charging at a Tesla or Electrify America station if they're traveling, but it's never the desired solution. So if you have somebody who lives in a condo or an apartment, and they've got to go outside of their home area every day to charge or every week to charge, becomes a really bad experience for them. And you're right, the infrastructure in the US is definitely lagging behind so that it even magnifies the problem.

Billy: Exactly. Because you don't want to be, have the situation where you're parking down the street and then having to walk a block or two blocks home and then having to go all the way up the stairs in your apartment building or anything like that. You want to be able to park it where you normally park it, charge it, and then go up into your apartment. So that's definitely a much more ideal situation than having to walk extremely far away. And in terms of apartment buildings, what is their reaction to trying to install EV chargers?

Keith: So it's early, right? EVs just hit about five percent of the market for new cars, and most people that have them are still single-family residents. So the apartments I think are lagging behind in the awareness that this is something they need to solve. When we talk to them, a lot of what we do is educating them on the upcoming need in their demographic, how this is going to change, and then making them aware of some of the challenges. It's not just about throwing in one or two level two chargers and thinking you've solved the problem. I would say that they are sometimes hesitant to step into it because it's a capital investment, and they're uncertain about what they need to do because it's a relatively new market for everyone.

Billy: Yeah, definitely. And what is usually your preference for these multi-family owners? What do they have to do in order to figure out what is the right amount of chargers to install and go through that process?

Keith: Yeah, that's a good question. That's a big part of what we do. Rather than, we kind of joke, have a warehouse of chargers that we want to ship out, we work with the property to maybe survey their drivers to understand how many people plan on getting an electric vehicle. We'll look at their parking strategy, is it a dedicated parking spot or do you park anywhere? Is it indoors or outdoors? And then we'll send someone, sometimes even an electrical engineer to look at their infrastructure to say, okay, this is what you can put in now, but based on your demographic, but this county that you live in is a high EV adoption county, you're actually going to need 10 times this over the next five years. So here are your choices. We could do more AC and stack them up, but that gets expensive, or we could go with a DC solution and then we can have the technology to keep those things moving so people have a good experience.

Billy: Yeah, definitely. And what is the capital investment that property owner would have to put in to see an adequate number of chargers in place for their building I guess probably on average?

Keith: You can generally get in two level two chargers for somewhere between five and twelve thousand dollars. It all depends on how updated their electrical system is if there's room on the panel, but that is definitely a short-term solution. You have two AC chargers will probably take care of 10 or 12 EVs, which might be fine today, but in 2027, ’28, it's definitely not going to be enough. So they're either looking at more capital investment now, or potentially ripping that out and putting in a bigger system in the future, so it's a decision they need to make.

Billy: Yeah, definitely. I've been seeing a lot of news lately about the inflation reduction act, the bipartisan infrastructure bill that was passed not too long ago as well. Do you see those bills as being able to fund some of these movements to install this infrastructure in for multi-family homes?

Keith: A lot of the large federal bills that we've seen and that have passed really are focused on the large supercharger sites. They have requirements that they're in either economically disadvantaged areas, they're certain distance from another charger that's funded, or that there have to be say four large superchargers at that location. So to a large extent that pushes this outside the realm of what an apartment would want. Which isn't to say there aren't great subsidies from the municipalities or the utilities, and there's always still a federal tax credit on the equipment. So that helps.

Billy: Okay, that's good to know. I was wondering how much that was going to be able to impact, so that's really good to know. And do you see the EV adoption happening as an exponential rate coming up here soon? Or where do you kind of see this kind of market going, especially for property owners? Are they seeing, “Oh, I have three or four more years,” or it needs to be something I'm thinking about now?

Keith: Yeah, so it's a big question for everybody [laughs] and we're always challenged with that. If an apartment owner or any of our clients have one or two EV and they don't see them, then they're pretty hesitant to believe us that this wave is coming. We look at the data and we believe there's going to be the year over year compound growth of 25 percent, at least the next 10 years. So just looking at the OEMs and their commitment, the regulatory environment, the government sort of mandating the push to retire the ice engine, we're really optimistic about it, which is what makes this so exciting for the business that we know it's going to happen or at least we believe it's going to happen.

Billy: Yeah, definitely. That that is super exciting. And how many installations have you guys done so far up to this point? 

Keith: So we're small. We're a startup. We've got some installations in Florida and Georgia and Texas. I think our pipeline's more interesting. We have hundreds and hundreds that are in final contract stage to install, but at the moment like any startup, we had to define our product and deal with the year and a half of Covid, but now we're out there and pretty hopeful that this is going to be a banner year for us.

Billy: Yeah, that's exciting. You mentioned you do a lot of talking with the property owners and consulting them through the process. Do you also, do you have a certain brand that you sell with your EV charger, or do you have your own kind of EV charger that you supply?

Keith: We use whatever product and whatever technology is the best for the apartment. We're not beholden to a single manufacturer. Anything we use is what they call OCPP1.6 compliant, and that's like the USB standard of a EV charger. So if it's compliant like that, we could put it on our network. And then we have brands that we really like, we find to be high quality, but the beauty is we can even do a retrofit and move somebody onto our networks, so long as their existing charger is using that standard.

Billy: Very cool. You guys also have like a technology stack. Can you talk more about that?

Keith: Sure. The plug, I always joke around and say the plug's basically a toaster. It's either on or it's off. But the information coming off, it's really interesting. There's the kilowatts that it's supplying to the vehicle, it can be turned on and off at a certain time for a reservation. We can build a client if we're doing a revenue share with the property, we calculate the energy used and the cost and we share the revenue back with the client so they can pay for the electrical cost and also monetize that spot. So the technology stack is the whole from turning the plug on right through to the customer experience and our applications, and it's our understanding of what its needs are going to be in the future are continuing to grow. So now we're looking at some more sophisticated systems and different ways to really make the plug replicate the single family experience, and that's all done by the technology.

Billy: Yeah, that's awesome. And so do you have algorithms in place that help with determining the best time to charge based on the given energy supply and different other factors?

Keith: We can do that, but the truth is if you're charging at home and you're in your apartment or your condo, then you're pretty much going to charge at night. Most people are charging in the evenings and then they're going about their day, and there are time of use plans that the utilities can put an apartment building on, but time of day charging for us, we haven't seen it as much of a driver as just replicating that convenience of put the plug in and then come down the next morning and your car's charged, and it's a couple cents more a kilowatt for the [unclear 00:10:03] and the customer. It's just easier for them.

Billy: Yeah, definitely. Interesting. Okay. And what is your flagship example of an installation that you had? How long did it take to install the chargers, and how many chargers did you install for this property owner? Can you give us an example of one recent installation you had?

Keith: Sure, and I won't pick anything fancy. We are doing some DC chargers at big properties, but one of the ones I think worked out the best, was two properties with the same management firm in Texas. They knew they wanted EV chargers, they were really hesitant for the capital expense, but they saw with the Ford Lightning, they knew they were going to be residents there, but nobody had really asked for it. So we went through both properties and we said, “Okay, this property really needs two chargers and that's because it's closer to the city, it's more sort of an EV centric environment. And this one, we had an electrician go out, we evaluated the electrical panels and the capacity of both and the installation process itself was two days. The first day we went in, we installed the circuit and pulled the conduit and pulled the conductors and put in the charger. The next day essentially, we had poured the post for the pedestal and screwed everything in and put up the signage and it was done and they were using it the next day.

Billy: Wow, that's awesome. That's really fascinating to know about how long that was.

Keith: DC ones. The bigger ones, the DC ones. They can take several weeks because then you're actually bringing in a piece of equipment that can weigh a couple thousand pounds and connect in at a much higher voltage. So those are more exciting, but for the apartment environment, a lot of times we're going to go with the AC, which is a relatively painless installation.

Billy: Got you, cool. And you really customize this for each complex that you go and install that, right?

Keith: We do. That's important to us. We have bigger competitors in the market, and we always joke that they're selling as many of their product as they can and more power to them. But one way we can stand out, is by looking at that property and saying, “Look, you don't need 20 of these right now. You need two and we'll put in a little extra in either conduit or whatever for your next ones, or look at a small DC solution.” But yeah, the fact that we're smaller, lets us go out and really work with the property, which I enjoy. Frequently, I'll just go to one of the properties and do a site survey, which is fun.

Billy: Nice, that's great. And yeah, I've also been seeing a lot in terms of where do you really see recharging going over the next couple years? Where do you really see this industry developing?

Keith: I think the preference for people to charge at home is definitely real, and they want the convenience of not having to go to what a gas station is now. And even if the gas stations evolve, they would rather just come home and not have to go back out or make a second stop because the range anxiety's real. I don't know if… actually I never asked. Do you have an EV?

Billy: I do not right now. We aren't in the market for a new car right yet, and so we're trying to wait until that one kind of phases out and then we'll go for the next one.

Keith: Okay, cool. I've got one and I could tell you right now it's got 130 miles of charge left. So I know that if I need to go over the next couple days, I've got to charge. I can always just plug it in the garage so it's nice. And I don't think I would want to have to know that I'd have to go to a gas station or a Walmart to find a supercharger. That to me is going to be one of the big continuing trends, is this desire to charge at home. I already told you I'm a huge fan of these EV adoption predictions, and I think cars are going to continue to bifurcate to cars with some smaller batteries for daily use and people that live in the cities, and some cars with larger batteries that are more meant for long trips.

The beauty of that is, people with a smaller battery, they don't drive as much, they might charge a little bit more, they're still going to get what they need if you have a good system. It doesn't matter if it's yet your apartment or your workplace or wherever, they can still not have to worry about making it home. And the last one is this change to DC charging. People said, “Do you think all charging's going to be DC in a couple years?” And I think a lot of it will be. I think the battery chemistry use from what I read are getting more tolerant of DC charging, there's more cells, so you're kind of distributing the energy across more batteries, and it's just very convenient to be able to charge a car in like 20 to 30 minutes. So I think people are going to really start to do that as much as they can.

Billy: Yeah, definitely. That's really exciting. Can you go more in depth into what's the difference between AC charging and DC charging right now?

Keith: Sure. So AC charging is generally like 208 volts. It's essentially in a single family home it would be your 240 volt dryer outlet. So you plug in the device at that voltage, and it can generally supply somewhere between seven and 11 kilowatt hours. So if you want to charge your battery, say you have a model three is a good example, it has an 80 kilowatt battery. Most people try to bounce their battery between 20 and 80 percent. That's generally the recommendation. That's about 40 kilowatt hours. That means an AC level two charger would take somewhere between four to six hours to charge the car that way, where a DC charger is actually converting generally 480 volt electrical, so more like commercial, into a very high voltage DC current, and the car can take that directly into the battery. 

So the charge rates can be seriously an order of magnitude better than that. Some chargers on the market today can charge at 320 KWh, and there's all this talk about these mega chargers coming, but most cars can't take it. Some of the Hyundai products and the Porsche can take really high rate charging. Most cars hop out in the mid-100 range. So if you put in a lot of extra DC capacity, that really helps you for the future because we think more cars will be able to take it at a higher rate.

Billy: But if so for these batteries that can't take it right now, if you were to plug those in with the DC chargers, is that going to be really problematic for the vehicle or what happens to the battery there?

Keith: The beauty is the car and the charger communicate back and forth, and the car kind of makes its demands of the charger or pulls what it needs. So even if you were to plug in, say you had a really high-end Porsche and you plugged it in, it might draw at a very fast rate for the first third of the charge, but then it's going to start dialing itself down, and that's for a lot of reasons. There's heat generated in the battery and heat's one thing that really damages the cells, the fact that a battery wants to charge more slowly as it fills up so the car's going to really control that. And the same is true of AC, that by plugging it in you're not going to damage the car.

Billy: Definitely. There's also talk of the stations where you'd pull in and swap out your battery. What do you think about that, and do you see that as feasible?

Keith: Honestly, to me that sounds like such a nightmare. Like you're driving around and you've got to know you're going to go somewhere and you hope there's a battery, and you hope what you get is the same quality as the one that you dropped off. To me it's just not practical. If you can charge in 20 minutes on a DC charger, then why would you have somebody under your car swapping out a battery? I just don't see it. But I know there are some cars coming on the market. I think there's a Vietnamese SUV that's coming, where they actually separate the car purchase from the battery purchase, and it's designed that you can switch them out over time. So it's interesting. I just, I'm not a big fan.

Billy: Got you. Interesting. And where are you standing on the hydrogen side of things? I know recently hydrogen came out with, they have a new innovation that leapfrogged the number of years in advance of what they currently were projecting. So what do you kind of see as hydrogen and how is it going to play in this market?

Keith: I think hydrogen is a really interesting technology. As an engineer, it really has an appeal to me and the whole idea of a fuel cell and converting that into energy. The problem with that is, getting the hydrogen into the car, meaning storing it at a fueling facility or a gas station. I had done a project a couple years ago building one of the hydrogen fueling stations in California, and the closest thing I could compare that to was like a nuclear reactor. There were these giant tanks of hydrogen, there were dispensers, tubing went under the ground up to the dispensers. The tubing had to be covered with brine cooling tubes to keep everything at the right temperature and pressure, and it just seemed like a bomb. And I'm sure it was perfectly safe, but I can see it for like long distance trucking and things where you could really pack in a lot of hydrogen and then professionals can do the fueling of it at certain places. I don't feel too threatened by it, as interesting as it is, taking over the EV, like the BEV market.

Billy: Interesting. What are your goals for Oodles Energy in the next six months or so?

Keith: We're like any startup. We need to prove ourselves. We have some great relationships with portfolios of properties. We're installing the revenue model, got to prove out as the cars start to move into those communities to show that people are using them. We are out there in the marketplace getting our brand out there and growing. We're also doing some work installing superchargers, which I think is really interesting. So my goal for the next six months is just continued growth and to be able to have a conversation like this six months from now and say, yeah, then the first half of 23 we installed 400 chargers and 50 DC chargers. But we'll see.

Billy: Yeah, definitely. That would be great. I'd love to have you back on the show and we'll be able to give an update in six months or so and say, “Oh this is how far you've come.” That'd be really cool. And I love to ask this question just because I get a lot of varied responses, and it's really interesting because I know that as entrepreneurs we are always learning new things, trying to better ourselves in some way. What are you currently learning right now?

Keith: A lot about the EV market definitely. But the other thing, being in a startup, a lot about how to work with customers, how to understand their needs, there's the capital raise aspect of what we do. I was fortunate enough to be on the executive side of things in larger companies earlier in my career, but I've forgotten a lot of the skills that really matter. So building out like a 12 month business plan, running the financials, doing payroll, it's really fun because I'm learning a lot of the stuff that I probably should have known or used to know years ago and I'm relearning it painfully. But the most exciting part is just the technology. Watching the EV market accelerate and working with equipment providers and charging providers to see what they're coming to market with.

Billy: That is super exciting, that's really cool. And is your background, I don't think we really got to touch on that yet. Tell us a little bit more about where you come from and when did you start Oodles Energy? I know you mentioned a little bit right before the pandemic was from your transition.

Keith: My background originally, I'm a mechanical engineer with a degree in metallurgy. I started off doing like jet engine casting for GE, and that led to going back to business school and working for Nokia and Blackberry when they still existed. And then I got this urge to do smaller companies, so I started a solar company, which we grew and sold. So I got into the green and then just did a bunch of really exciting stuff that I was lucky enough to get to work on. And in 2020 I guess, I was chatting with my co-founder, not my co-founder at the time, but a friend. We got talking about the EV space and decided that there was a market there somewhere, so we spent some time figuring it out to find out that in our heads at least it was the multi-family. And yeah, we kicked it off as everything was still locked down.

Billy: That's really cool. And just to finish off with the last couple of questions here. For any ecopreneurs in the audience who are looking to grow their green business or start a green business, what is one tip that you would have for them to help them really grow?

Keith: That's a good question. Just to pick something that you're passionate about because it is a long trip through the process. Look for things that are in your advantage. If there's a segment of it that's moving quickly or that there's incentives or something that you can take advantage of. And then if you're going to get into an area that's already pretty busy, try to find yourself a small segment of it to carve out, and I think if you do those things, you have as good a chance as anyone.

Billy: Yeah, definitely. For sure. And if anybody's looking to reach out to you to learn more about Oodles Energy, learn more about what you do, how can they get in touch?

Keith: Just email me at keith@oodlesenergy.com.

Billy: Perfect. Keith, it's been great having you here on the podcast. It's been such an awesome time learning all about what you're doing with EV chargers and where we are seeing the EV market going and how you're really helping solve this issue of how do apartment renters be able to charge their EVs at night. It's much, much more convenient that way. Thank you so much for coming on the show and I definitely hope to have you back on some time in the future, where we can see how many chargers you've been solved and all the sorts of other things. So thank you again for coming on the show.

Keith: Yeah, and thank you for having me. I'd love the chance to come back, so thank you very much. 

Billy: Definitely. If you enjoyed this interview with Keith Berger from Oodles Energy, where they’re providing EV charging solutions for multi-family properties and giving apartment dwellers the ability to go out and purchase an electric vehicle, knowing that they can charge their vehicle at night, which is really the most convenient, then I invite you to check out this interview with Power. They have created another awesome EV solution to help owners of small EV fleets to be able to charge their vehicles and have all their receipts in one place. So make sure you go check out this interview with Power.

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