Volta Industries plans to triple the number of free electric-car charging stations in Hawaii by the end of this year, as well as expand nationally, thanks to a $200,000 investment by Hawaii Angels.

Scott Mercer, co-founder and CEO of Volta, says Hawaii residents can expect 20 more free electric-car charging stations by the end of 2012.

The company is pioneering a business model of providing free electric-car charging stations that are supported by business sponsors. Mercer said the company places charging stations in locations with high traffic, such as shopping malls, and finds advertisers to sponsor each station. This allows consumers to charge their vehicles for free.

Chenoa Farnsworth, managing director of Hawaii Angels, said that the organization was impressed by the effectiveness of Volta’s business model and the dedication of the management team.

“They have proved the model,” Farnsworth said. “They have bootstrapped their way to this point and were able to gain some market traction … For Angels that seemed to be a good fit where we could make a big influence.”

Honolulu is one of the top 10 electric vehicle ready cities in the nation, according to data on Plugshare tracking public charging stations.

There are 272 public charging stations in the state, according to Margaret Larson, program manager of the Hawaii Electric Vehicle Ready Program at the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

But Larson said the community needs more charging stations, and that the addition of free stations could serve as extra motivation for people to go green.

“I think that in addition to the current incentives that are out there for potential buyers —the tax credit as well as the free parking in the state —the installation of more charging stations will help to incentivize the purchase of electric vehicles,” Larson said.

Volta Industries has so far installed nine free charging stations on Oahu, in addition to 40 paid charging stations. According to Mercer, the company intends to grow to more than 500 stations locally and nationally in 2013.

Successful Energy Entrepreneurship

Mercer started Volta Industries with co-founder Christopher Ching, who is originally from Hawaii, in March 2010.

Jeff Mikulina, executive director of the Blue Planet Foundation, a Hawaii nonprofit dedicated to ending fossil fuel usage, said that it is exciting to see local entrepreneurs succeed in energy innovation.

“It’s that sort of innovation that our foundation is really excited about: innovating energy solutions in Hawaii and diffusing those across the globe,” Mikulina said.

While entrepreneurs in Hawaii can be deterred by the high cost of doing business in the state, Mercer said that being focused and making sacrifices helped the start-up overcome that barrier.

“I worked out of a coffee shop the last two years,” Mercer said. “We joke that our rent is still $2.50 a cup.”

Mikulina said that the company has been helpful in generating buzz for electric vehicles.

“In a way they’re doing all of us a favor in helping to support electric vehicles as sustainable mobility,” he said.

Hawaii Ideal for Electric Vehicles

Mercer said he and Ching chose the Aloha State as a starting point for their venture because of the excellent conditions for electric cars.

According to Dave Rolf, director of the Hawaii Automobile Dealers Association, the combination of short commutes, great weather and encouraging public policy such as electric vehicle rebates make Hawaii ideal for the electric car industry.

“We’ve often said that Hawaii is to the electric car what Napa Valley is to grapes,” Rolf said.

As of July 31, there were about 900 electric cars registered in the state according to state energy data. Larson said new figures should be released in the next week.

The growth of the industry has been spurred by national policy encouraging the sale of electric cars.

The Obama administration released new fuel-efficiency standards last week mandating that U.S. cars average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Manufacturers will receive a 2-for-1 credit for electric vehicles.

“There would have to be a considerable amount of electric cars sold for that number to work,” Rolf said. “Hawaii plays a key role in having the country unlock the key to that standard.”

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