The ethos behind California-based, electric vehicle charging startup Loop is perhaps best encapsulated by its mission: to enable access to affordable and convenient EV charging for everyone.
The company has set out to prove that bigger isn’t always better, introducing a comprehensive suite of highly compact and affordable EV charging solutions for all passive charging use cases: at home, at work, and on the go. This effort is led by its laptop-sized flagship product, the EV-Flex, which looks like it could be an accessory to a Stormtrooper uniform.
In contrast to that evil galactic empire, however, the company is composed of a group of altruistic entrepreneurs who are aiming to solve one of this generation’s biggest carbon reduction challenges.
Their timing could hardly be better. The automotive industry around the world is undergoing a mass migration from gas-powered to battery electric vehicles in efforts to help combat climate change. That shift matters — Up to 29 percent of carbon emissions come from the transportation sector alone. Emerging automotive companies like Tesla have spearheaded the current electrification trend, but things have been heating up across the industry as nearly every major automotive OEM looks to introduce their own line of EVs.
Currently, electric vehicles make up a mere 2.5 percent of the cars on the road in the U.S. That number is almost guaranteed to rise significantly in the near future as the introduction of more affordable cars drives EV adoption. EV sales are already up 119 percent compared to last year, and by 2022, there will be more than 100 models of electric vehicles for consumers to choose from.
Despite this progress, Loop’s founders rightfully believe that access to affordable and convenient charging solutions is the biggest challenge facing widespread EV adoption. The transition from gas to electric as a vehicle’s primary fueling source can only move as fast as the EV charging infrastructure available to support it. It’s this main challenge that the team at Loop is addressing head-on.
“With electric vehicles, we have the generational opportunity to completely redefine the fueling experience to prioritize convenience above all else,” says Dustin Cavanaugh, CEO of Loop in an interview with Interesting Engineering. “In order to ease adoption, the market needs to make available solutions that are affordable and accessible to every property type, be it a residence, a business or a public property. At Loop, we’re introducing uniquely affordable turnkey EV charging solutions specifically designed to be accessible and profitable for property types where consumers are already spending the majority of their day.”
Loop’s focus and efforts are encouraging. While the idea of EV adoption continues to grow in popularity, progress will be significantly hindered if charging infrastructure can’t keep up with interest and demand.
How Loop approaches EV charging technology
The U.S. currently has over 45,000 public charging stations and over 120,000 charging ports according to U.S. Department of Energy statistics. With President Biden’s recent executive order calling for 40-50 percent of new cars to be electric by 2030 and major U.S. auto manufacturers such as Ford, GM, and Stellantis committing to the same, the country could see as many as 26 million EVs on the road by the end of the decade. As a result, an estimated 9.6 million charging ports will be needed to support the growth of EVs in the U.S. by 2030.
“If we are going to see widespread EV adoption, nearly every building type is going to have to be able to provide some form of charging solution.”
Supporting this level of coverage for a broad set of drivers, however, brings with it its own set of challenges. How does an emerging California startup like Loop expand their territory while facing competition from publicly traded companies like Tesla, Blink, and ChargePoint?
“The first generation solutions on the market have done a great job providing an initial foundation of public EV charging infrastructure,” Dustin explains. “However, when we studied the early competition in this space, what we identified was that the solutions offered by these companies are ultimately too expensive and impractical to scale to the broader private sector.”
To Dustin, many industry players are focused on the wrong thing: recreating the traditional gas station experience, something that leads to over-engineered public charging stations that mimic the look and feel of a gas pump.
“Ultimately, these solutions are bulky and very expensive, limiting the types of properties and businesses that can implement them,” Dustin continues. “If we are going to see widespread EV adoption, nearly every building type is going to have to be able to provide some form of charging solution.”
Loop’s intuitions about these logistical inhibitors do seem to be justified. The gap between growing market demand and the lack of availability of affordable and scalable passive charging solutions is something the market desperately needs. With all of this in mind, the company introduced its first EV charging product, EV-Flex, in 2019.
“In creating our first EV charging solution, we took a software-centric approach,” says Frank Nau, COO of Loop. “By focusing the user experience around the Loop mobile app, we were able to eliminate bulky and unnecessary hardware components to scale down and create a hardware solution that maintains functionality and performance at a fraction of the size and cost compared to others on the market.”
The result was an affordable charging station solution designed for any commercial, multifamily, or residential property, offering on-site charging services to their tenants, employees, or customers. Loop’s early successes have led to their being included on Fast Company’s list of top ten most innovative joint ventures of 2021. The company has since introduced a range of charging hardware since introducing EV-Flex, including those for single-family residential use in EV-Flex Lite; a solution for medium to heavy-duty fleet vehicles in EV-Fleet; and one for high-foot traffic commercial and retail properties with its modular DC fast charging solution in partnership with Tritium, the Loop EV-Fast. Loop is similarly expanding into the European market with the recent introduction of the EV-Flex EU.
Building out a nation-wide EV charging network
Charging hardware aside, the company views the Loop Network software platform as their most important asset. This consists of a cloud-based Charger Management System (CMS) for automated network management and the Loop Mobile App for end-user EV drivers.
The combination of this turnkey hardware, software, and ongoing operation approach aims to simplify and streamline the process of owning and operating a charging station network. Aligning with broader goals of large-scale EV adoption, Loop’s customers are further incentivized to offer EV charging as a revenue-generating service to their tenants, employees, or customers.
To date, Loop has installed nearly 5,000 public and private networked charging stations throughout its local market in California and is rapidly expanding across the country and the world, where they are forecasting growth to deploy over 400,000 Loop charging stations by 2025. “It’s a substantial endeavor,” says Frank Nau. “But we have built our business around a go-to-market strategy that has been designed for rapid scalability.”
Finding a way to quickly disseminate EV chargers across a large geographic range is a demanding task. Dustin points to Loop’s growth strategy as one way to engage that task effectively. Their strategy orbits around the Loop Network Partner Program, in which they form partnerships and alliances with third-party organizations in both the public and private sectors.
“The electrification of the transportation sector is allowing property owners to participate in the $110 billion dollar per year oil and gas revenue that is dominated by only a handful of players.”
“Our primary sales and growth strategy is built around empowering third party partners such as electrical contractors, engineers and distributors to be our outside sales teams. This allows us to keep our overhead low, while simultaneously leveraging the relationships that these organizations have with their customers to introduce to them our product-line,” says Dustin. “We currently have over 75 partners in the program made up of national and regional companies whom we have trained to be authorized resellers or certified installers.” Loop sees this distribution model as a massive game-changer. They provide network partners with the training, tools, and support they need, and in exchange, working with established supply chains helps the company scale up and establish themselves in new territories. This combined partnership-service distribution approach seems to be working well for Loop, even attracting business from some of their direct competitors.
“Having one of — if not the lowest — total cost of ownership solutions on the market doesn't hurt,” says Frank. “At the end of the day, we are working with our network partners to help them make their customers money and their drivers happy.”
So happy, in fact, that the company has raised millions in seed investments over the past couple of years to support scaling up their operations. They’re also currently undergoing a Series A investment round that will be closed by Q1 of 2022 to further support their global expansion.
Loop also administers what they call Loop as a Service, wherein they provide cash flow positive financing to complete the turnkey installation and operation of EV charging stations with no upfront investment.
“The electrification of the transportation sector is allowing property owners to participate in the $110 billion dollar per year oil and gas revenue that is dominated by only a handful of players,” Says Zack Martin, CFO of Loop. “With networked EV charging, we are democratizing the sale of energy into the hands of everyday businesses to offer to the public or to their private networks. We’ve put together a financing program that can allow a business to install chargers at no money down, and then utilize a portion of the monthly revenue generated by the stations to pay off the upgrades over time.”
Sustainability and the global EV market
Loop is keen to expand to the international stage as the global EV market continues to grow dramatically. Even during 2020, a year in which the worldwide market for all cars fell 16 percent, EV sales rose by 70 percent.
Europe recently overtook China as the largest EV market in 2020, with countries like Germany, France, and Norway each registering hundreds of thousands of new electric cars that year. These numbers underline the effects of countries rushing to meet the European Union's targets for CO2 emissions standards as well as EV-friendly, government subsidy programs bound up in pandemic recovery stimulus packages.
“To truly affect change as a company combating climate change, we need to practice what we preach.”
“Southern Europe is a much different market, far less developed,” says Jim Nork, Loop’s Chief Revenue Officer who is helping guide Loop’s global expansion. “It's one of Loop’s most immediate targets. The company is already establishing a foothold in Greece, where we plan to deploy tens of thousands of chargers to the country and surrounding territories.” One of the largest problems European nations face with EV development is a chicken and egg issue that could be applied to the U.S. as well. Without increased coordination between governmental authorities, EV charging infrastructure providers, and final users, disincentives rule. It's possible that the involvement of companies like Loop can better incentivize the kind of cooperation needed for these markets to more quickly stabilize and expand. Meanwhile, the company is also in talks with potential partners in Portugal, Serbia, Croatia, Brazil, the Baltic States, and Australia.
Back in the U.S. market, with clear indications from the latest government and social policies, the need for sustainable charging infrastructure is starting to move its way from the public and private sectors’ peripheral to a dead-center focus. The country still has a long way to go before it establishes itself as an international EV contender capable of competing with the European and Chinese markets that are dominating the global EV revolution.
If handled carefully, however, the seismic transition to EVs in the U.S. could end up being a win-win situation for sustainability advocates and the businesses involved in ending the era of internal-combustion engine dominance. Such a paradigm shift represents an opportunity for society to fundamentally change the antagonistic relationship that often exists between the urgent need to build and manage a greener, healthier world and the market incentives that drive the economics on it.
Going beyond carbon neutrality
“To truly affect change as a company combating climate change, we need to practice what we preach,” notes Dustin. “That is why we’re implementing a framework for our internal operations beyond carbon neutrality to strive toward climate positivity.” This approach includes plans for Loop to implement on-site, renewable energy generation at their facilities, convert the company’s vehicle fleet to an all-electric one, and actively participate in philanthropic initiatives. Happily, Loop is interested in supporting non-profit organizations that go beyond achieving net-zero carbon emissions to remove additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
One such initiative is a plan to donate funds and resources to planting trees and saplings around the world in parallel with various milestones achieved in kilowatt-hours of energy consumed on the Loop Network.
“By matching our stations’ energy production with various climate positive contributions, we can continually improve our positive environmental impact along with the growth of our company,” Dustin says. Such a commitment to actively benefiting the environment rather than simply breaking even with it is simply a nice, hopeful thing to hear. Giving back to a troubled planet while helping improve the sustainable energy landscape in the US and around the world? There are certainly worse ideas. For now, we'll be keeping an eye on the company as they continue to grow. We advise you do the same.
A new understanding could finally "guide the way towards higher-performing [solid-state] batteries of the future."