sHeryl E. Ponds, Inc., which designs and builds electric vehicle charging stations in Washington, D.C., has had success landing business from customers seeking home installations as adoption of new green technology grows.
But for Ponds, who is black, it’s hard to ignore the fact that these clients tend to be suburban, affluent and white. She values their work, but wants to make sure that the infrastructure she develops also reaches urban and black communities. So last year it began offering its services to residential property managers in areas where demographics tend to be more diverse — even though sales have been harder.
Bonds, CEO and founder of Dai Technologies Corp. Forbes. “In multiple families, if I am not willing to deal with superfluous [work] That comes with selling to property managers, black families will eventually have to get service in this industry. They will be prevented from adopting electric vehicles.”
Ponds is one of many black entrepreneurs with electric vehicle charging start-ups who are trying to ensure that blacks are not left behind as America transitions to electric cars. At stake, they say, is an opportunity to improve health outcomes in zip codes that have long been plagued by air pollution and rising asthma rates, which tend to disproportionately affect black Americans. They also say electric vehicle charging infrastructure will have implications for green jobs, mobility and participation in the urban gig economy, especially as companies like Uber pledge to own fully electric fleets within the next decade.
“The thing is we have more to gain from adopting electric vehicles than most societies,” Bonds said. “We tend to live in neighborhoods where we need decarbonization, need environmental justice and need health outcomes that will improve as a result of reduced fuel emissions.”
Black American children are nearly three times more likely to have asthma than white children, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and they are eight times more likely to die. A 2018 study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that black children are more susceptible to ground-level ozone from exhaust and smoke exhaust, even at lower concentrations and even when they use asthma treatments such as inhalers.
Environmental justice advocates are counting on electric vehicles to help mitigate this. Only about 2% of electric car owners are black. Vehicle costs are often cited as one factor, but another factor is the lack of charging stations in predominantly black neighborhoods, which industry experts have described as “charging deserts.”
“In a lot of the communities we live in, we don’t have access to electric vehicle charging,” said Josh Aviv, founder and CEO of SparkCharge, which offers on-demand mobile charging that can be ordered through a mobile app. “But I do think that as these barriers begin to be removed, we will start to see more people in our community buying electric cars.”
Aviv, whose company recently raised $30 million in Series A funding, said it started SparkCharge in 2017 in part because it believed the fixed-charging infrastructure wouldn’t be deployed fast enough to keep up with demand. Even with federal funding for electric vehicle charging stations, the process of building a new charging station could take 12 to 24 months, Abib said. “When we enter a city, in less than seven days, that city is so fully covered with power that any electric car owner anywhere in that city can press a button and bring the range to them instantly,” he said. Forbes. “We do it in a matter of days versus years.”
Aviv said his company also offers technical jobs and training for potential technicians. “Our hiring strategy when we go to a city is that we love hiring from underrepresented communities and basically getting them into the green economy and giving them green jobs,” he said.
Research firm Gartner predicts there will be 36 million electric vehicle shipments annually by 2030, up from 3 million in 2020, or a compound annual growth rate of 26%.
Paul Francis is the founder and CEO of KIGT in Ontario, California, which installs third-party charging stations. In an effort to develop an urban footprint, he began entering into revenue-sharing agreements with churches in South Los Angeles that allow KIGT chargers in their parking lots. He said the upfront costs can be prohibitive, especially with tens of thousands of dollars needed to upgrade inverters so that chargers can draw power from the local electrical grid.
“If we’re talking about the millions of people who will be driving electric cars soon, they have to come from these communities,” Francis said. Forbes. “They need enough fees, so I’m willing to bet investing capital there… and we’ll be there first and we’ll grow with them.”
William McCoy runs a software company called Vihya, which offers a marketplace that helps electric vehicle charger customers manage projects and find electricians. He said his interest is in making sure that blacks participate in electric vehicle transition deals with mostly economic opportunity. It’s common for electricians, in particular, to pull in more than $150,000 a year in some markets, because of the demand, he said.
He said, “The people I see need jobs.” Forbes. “So the ability to be the one who works with these companies, including the big car companies [original equipment manufacturers], I am able to get jobs for people. And that’s really what it’s about. In my head, how can I influence these communities the most.”