EV charge management isn’t just for fleet depots: Q&A with Qmerit founder and CEO

  • Highway fast chargers seem to get most of the press, but the EV charging market is quite diverse. Workplace charging, multifamily residential, auto dealerships, home-based fleets of passenger cars—all have unique use cases and installation needs.

  • Charge management systems are not just for large-scale charging installations. For some individual homeowners, installing load management can allow them to avoid the dreaded panel upgrade. Qmerit estimates that around 30% of EV buyers will require either load management or a panel upgrade.

  • Even licensed electricians may not understand the fine points of installing EV chargers. Much residential electrical hardware is inadequate for the demands of EV charging, which involves delivering high power levels at frequent intervals.

Q&A with Qmerit founder and CEO Tracy K. Price

EV chargers aren’t the kind of hardware that’s typically installed by the customer—whether that customer is a homeowner who’s charging one EV, or a company with dozens of charging sites. An EV charger deployment generally requires the services of an installer (and larger projects sometimes involve several companies).

The installation can affect the operation of an EV charger in many ways, from safety to convenience to reliability to energy consumption, so the installer is a critical piece of the puzzle.

Qmerit is a North American provider of distributed workforce management solutions for EV charging and other electrification technologies—its certified-installer network handles EV charging installation jobs of all shapes and sizes, from residential installs to commercial fleets to auto dealers.

Charged spoke with Qmerit founder and CEO Tracy K. Price about the importance of a quality installation, and the growing importance of emerging technologies such as charge management and V2X.

Charged: How many installers do you have in your network?

Tracy K. Price: We have 3,000+ locations, so pretty good coverage throughout North America. I would say that any time that we talk to a large multi-location, geographically dispersed national customer, we have somewhere between 97% and 98% coverage of all of their locations. Certainly urban, suburban, and a lot of times rural as well. We’ve got most of the metro areas covered that they would want to be putting charging equipment in.

Charged: What percentage of your customers would you say are homeowners versus commercial installations versus fleet installations?

Tracy K. Price: If we got approximately 30,000 work orders in Q4, probably a third would’ve been residential and the rest would’ve been, well, maybe 50/50 at this point because it’s tilting more towards a combination of residential and mid-market commercial. We don’t do any of the large fast chargers off the freeway. We service and retrofit mid-market, commercial and industrial, through multifamily down to residential.

Charged: Do homeowners or individual property owners contract with you directly, or do most of your jobs come through your partners?

Tracy K. Price: Probably the preponderance of the customers that we service come through the auto OEMs, their fleet programs, the charging hardware providers, the customers that they’re calling on their fleets, and then maybe 10% to 15% are direct consumers.

Our model is home and away. Home-based fleets fit in really nicely for us. Because the larger vehicles aren’t really there at scale, the vehicles that are available for companies that have made declarations that they want to electrify everything by 2030 are small to mid-sized vehicles for their people who are running routes: salespeople, technicians, executives. Most of them are charging at home and showing up at the office or the campus with a fully charged vehicle.

That obviously lends itself to all those bidirectional business cases and use cases that get pretty fun for us. And I think for the industry at large, that’s going to be the exciting part. It’s not that you have a thousand cars descending on a location that need to be charged, but you have a thousand fully charged cars descending on a location. What are you going to do with the optionality value of that battery that’s fully charged? I think the utilities could make an argument that it’s in their best interest to give free cars away to Millennials and Gen Zers for the optionality value of the battery over time.

We work with General Motors, Ford, Lucid, and virtually every car company we talk to has some aspirational desire to be a whole-home backup provider.

Charged: What are you doing to facilitate V2X?

Tracy K. Price: We have done early installations for some Ford F-150 customers. One in particular is [EV expert and prolific writer] Tom Moloughney. We just did Tom’s house, and he’s got the full cradle-to-grave F-150 bidirectional system, including whole-home backup. The conundrum, I think, that hadn’t been contemplated by some of the auto OEMs when they were looking to put this configuration together is that there’s no port to plug in a generator, so if you have a generator and you want to put in a whole-home backup, you have to choose. It’s an either/or situation.

In Tom’s application, we brought in a 400-amp service and split it into two 200-amp panels. One of the 200-amp panels is backed up by the generator. The other one is connected to the whole-home backup. Our motto has always been that complexity is the opportunity in electrification. We used Level 2 charging as the entry point to kind of fan-fold out from there and earn customer trust and be the company that legitimately has the right to take them on that electrification journey.

We work with General Motors, Ford, Lucid, and virtually every car company we talk to has some aspirational desire to be a whole-home backup provider. Do they know how many times they can cycle those batteries without causing grief? I don’t think so. I think there’s a lot of new frontier, brave new world stuff that they’ve all contemplated, but we just don’t have any empirical data or evidence to suggest how viable these business models are going to be. But we are the systems integrator, installation support, OEM capability for those bidirectional systems. They’re V1 so they’re expensive and they’re a little bit complicated and they’re a little bit clunky.

There are some great models and pilots that have been done. It’s really cool when you can have a fleet of Nissan LEAFs show up to a building and offset the demand charges to pay for the vehicles and the fuel. That’s a great model.

Bidirectional for the consumer, once they figure out what the legitimate clearing price is for those electrons, will be great because utilities want to sell electricity, they don’t want to buy it.

To me, bidirectional for commercial should be a win. Bidirectional for the consumer, once they figure out what the legitimate clearing price is for those electrons, will be great because utilities want to sell electricity, they don’t want to buy it. Right now, they’re buying it for a very low price—what they’ve locked in with some of the recent legislation for solar net metering, those numbers are coming down but realistically, the value of that managed charging capability or distributed energy resources is higher than the current market price.

So once this happens at scale, the consumer’s going to be in a better position to offset the cost of these systems. Commercial buildings will be as well. I think the utilities are going to have to raise the prices that they’re willing to pay, and there’ll be all kinds of people being aggregators and organizers—it should be an interesting market.

Charged: What companies are offering bidirectional EV chargers right now? Will there soon be a decent selection of bidirectional chargers for people to buy?

Tracy K. Price: I believe so. Today, there’s some EV charger manufacturers that are offering bidirectional chargers. There are some auto OEMs: Ford’s the most recognizable, but Lucid has made their announcement, and GM’s made their announcement. A ton of the auto OEMs and the EVSE companies have either announced or have a bidirectional product coming to market.

Right now, I’d say maybe 30% [of homes] require either load management or a panel upgrade…For some people, load management is the way to go, and we do a significant number of those systems.

Charged: Let’s talk about the dreaded panel upgrade. I know that for homeowners, and probably for a lot of commercial customers as well, that can be a real nightmare. What percentage of customers end up needing some sort of panel upgrade or service upgrade?

Tracy K. Price: Right now, I’d say maybe 30% require either load management or a panel upgrade, and the reason is that a lot of the houses in California have 100-amp service. When they were 40-amp chargers, that’s one thing, but once you’ve got a Hummer or an F-150, you’ve got an 80-amp charger. There’s not really a house in California that can add 80 amps to the load of an existing panel. Do you not want to use your steam shower, your jacuzzi, your HVAC? What’s the trade-off? For some people, load management is the way to go, and we do a significant number of those systems. For others, who want to have the ability to use all of the things that they have in their house or building at the same time, then a panel upgrade is the way to go.

I think what’s exciting is that the largest strategic partner for us, Schneider Electric, is coming out with their Square D load center that is going to be fully addressable, digital circuits. And so, once that happens, you’ve got a company who has probably 40% of the domestic market as the incumbent coming out with a load management product. That, I think, is going to change things quite a bit because it’s going to give people the ability to discreetly manage a ton of loads and also do load management. It’s just a smart panel. Today, the options are expensive. My bet is that over the next nine to 12 months, there will be more options. They’ll be less expensive. So that dreaded panel upgrade will look more like something facilitating your ability to control energy in your house than spending a lot of money.

But the functionality is going to justify the cost and I think, maybe to your point, there’s 48 million homes in the US that are going to require a panel upgrade to accommodate EVs and broader electrification. And when we talk about load management, in the Midwest or the Southeast, those people and those contractors are thinking, “I have a customer that just bought an EV.” In California, we have customers that have three. They don’t want to buy three chargers, and load management is impractical at that point.

There’s 48 million homes in the US that are going to require a panel upgrade to accommodate EVs and broader electrification.

Once you have an EV and you realize okay, this is very cool, it’s a lot of fun, I’m done with gas stations, and you start buying multiple EVs for your family, now you almost have to valet charge at your own home. So having a charger with multiple ports is great. Having load management is great. But at the end of the day, a lot of these houses are going to need a panel upgrade.

Charged: We hear a lot about load management for big fleets, depots, etc. But you’re saying that load management is a good option for an individual homeowner. What kind of load management system do they buy?

Tracy K. Price: It’s a combination of hardware and software. One of our partners is Demand Charge Controllers (DCC). We’ve done a lot of work with those guys, and we promote them to our network. Schneider has capabilities for load management with their digital panels—it’s a function of putting in the hardware next to the panel, doing the associated wiring, and then doing the programming, because you have to identify which loads you’re willing to sacrifice and which ones you want to automatically shed during peak demand charges so that you’re not running all of those devices at the same time at the highest cost of electricity. They’re very straightforward and they work really well.

Charged: So, this does involve adding additional hardware, but it’s cheaper than doing a service upgrade or installing a new panel.

Tracy K. Price: Absolutely. Especially for multi-family. That’s kind of the riddle that everybody’s trying to solve—whether you’re stacking panels, whether people have dedicated meters for their parking space or whether they have open parking and you want to just be able to subscribe to the charging infrastructure that’s at the facility. But there’s some pretty clever ways to go about cracking the code on multifamily and we’re involved in a ton of that stuff too.

Charged: We’ve written about two different little splitter gadgets, which cost like 600 or 700 bucks. You put it on an existing 220-volt outlet, and it will automatically shift the load from the dryer or whatever to the EV charger.

Tracy K. Price: I haven’t seen that. For that price, you can get a load management panel and get it integrated. We do all the associated larger loads, you do your hierarchy of programming, and then it does all the thinking for you when you plug in the local utility rate structure.

A lot of things we won’t do, and I’ll give you an example. These NEMA 14-50 dryer outlets are not designed to carry a load of 40 amps or 60 amps for 7 or 8 hours a day. These plugs that you can get at Lowe’s or Home Depot for $20 are just not commercial-grade. Unless you get these devices at a commercial supply house and hardwire them in, you’re begging for problems, because the wiring, when it heats and cools repeatedly it starts making the screws come loose.

At my house, I was concerned because I was unplugging my EV and this was coming loose in the wall and it had been done when I built the house by a reputable contractor. So, if this is happening at my house, you can understand what must be happening with people who aren’t using the right equipment, the right wire gauge. They make assumptions, and they can get in trouble.

These plugs that you can get at Lowe’s or Home Depot for $20 are just not commercial-grade. Unless you get these devices at a commercial supply house and hardwire them in, you’re begging for problems.

There’s just a lot of things with EV charging that are different and may have greater repercussions because of the amount of load and the amount of time that load is engaged. I talked to one of the guys that was working on my house in Texas and they had just started doing EVSE installations and he hadn’t really been told about the different requirements. Everybody wants to think it’s just like installing a 14-50 plug for your dryer, and it’s not.

Charged: So that’s part of the service you’re offering—specialized expertise. In a recent episode of his State of Charge video series, Tom Moloughney spoke with one of your electricians, Matt Trout, who explained some of the safety considerations specific to installing EV chargers—things that even many licensed electricians might not fully understand.

Tracy K. Price: Yeah, because for 13 years, we’ve been at the vanguard of the movement. In the early days I had a company called The Linc Group, which we then sold to ABM. We wrote one of the first million-dollar purchase orders to Coulomb Technologies, which then became ChargePoint. We did virtually all of the commercial automotive dealership installations, Level 2 and Level 3, for a bunch of years. Then I ended up spinning this business out of ABM, and I was also one of the founding board members for InCharge Energy, whose founders had been past employees and customers of ours. We spun out and formed Qmerit to be a distributed workforce management platform at scale, across a broad geography to drive high quality at scale for residential, and have moved back into the commercial space.

What we make sure, on the front end, is that every job gets a load calculation. Every job gets a permit pulled—there’s so many contractors, licensed or not, that will not pull permits. That is the inspection that has to happen for me to have peace of mind and for the auto OEMs to have peace of mind. You have to make sure that nothing’s going to happen in that garage when you’ve got that size of a battery that you’re loading and unloading. We torque all the screws to the right specs. We guarantee everything we do. We train. We vet. We pull people through a knothole. We make sure they’ve got the minimum insurance requirements. It’s all about making sure the consumer experience is safe.

We’re an advocate for programs such as EVITP [the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Training Program] because our ambition is to make sure the certification bar is high enough that the people doing the work are certified, licensed and insured to prevent damaging the reputation of the electrification industry.

Charged: You tell customers to ask the vehicle manufacturer which charger they recommend. Is there really a difference? Do certain brands of chargers work better with certain brands of EVs?

Tracy K. Price: Yeah. Absolutely. And certain brands of chargers, whether it’s available on Amazon or eBay, it doesn’t mean it’s a good product. It’s unbelievable. I mean there’s like four different accreditations from labs: UL, CSA, ETL, TE. We’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work. Some things that are programmable, some things that are not. Some things that have dip switches, some things that have dials. Some things that the inspectors like, some things they don’t.

So generally speaking, the auto OEMs are defaulting towards a prescriptive charger that they want to use because they’ve done the backend integration with their vehicle. Some of them leave it to the homeowner and then we’ll make recommendations. There’s a half dozen of them that we like, that we think are good companies and have great products, but we try to maintain an agnostic position and use whatever the auto OEM or the leasing company recommends. Obviously, the EV companies are going to recommend their own chargers, so we’re kind of neutral there but we do have opinions about which are good and which are bad, and the auto OEMs certainly do as well.

Charged: But would you say that, as long as a charger’s UL- or ETL-certified, then it’s going to work with any EV?

Tracy K. Price: Sure. And the only question is, are you just buying a dumb charger, or do you want something that’s upgradable to bidirectional, and are you willing to pay for the feature functionality over time? But again, as EVs become more democratized, so will the hardware and the cost will come down.

Charged: The IRA and the BIL both have some tax incentives for people to install chargers. What do you think are the most important aspects of that?

Tracy K. Price: For me, it’s the incenting of the bundle. When you look at the whole-home backup from GM, Ford and others, it’s not an inexpensive package. And so, the utilities are trying to incent solar and storage, and the federal legislation’s trying to go towards more localized storage. To me, it’s the right way to go. I don’t think solar-only was going to get the country on the footing that it wanted to. But solar and storage or using your vehicle for storage, having those addressable assets and being able to manage them, to me that’s a home run for the grid, the consumer and the commercial business. So I think they are incenting the right things through that legislation.

Charged: And part of your service is helping customers get all the incentives that they’re entitled to.

Tracy K. Price: Yeah. If you go through our customer journey, on both the consumer and the commercial sides, when you load in your zip code at the end, after you’ve gone through the digital site survey and we match you up and we have our tiered pricing, that’s when the contractor would show up. At the very end, it’ll say, per your zip code you’re entitled to apply for this federal tax credit, this utility rebate and this city incentive, so we’ve got it titrated down to as local as it can get. Obviously, that’s pretty cool for them to offset the cost of the installation.

There’s certainly sticker shock, but we try to avoid that through this digital site survey. We also have some panel AI coming out that’s going to identify whether they’re going to need load management or a panel upgrade so we can prep the battlefield.

Also, we provide financing, so if we go out to do a standard installation and we open the panel and it’s a hornet’s nest, well…let’s just say we go out there and there’s going to be significantly more trenching than was required, and the customer is looking at $3,000 or $5,000. We can finance that for them, so it becomes an $18 a month for 5 years kind of thing, and takes a little of the shock out of that.

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