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Rapid charging startup Chargefox raises $15 million to solve electric vehicles’ “chicken or the egg” problem

Dominic Powell /

Chargefox

Marty Andrews, Chargefox co-founder. Source: Supplied.

Australia’s electric vehicle industry could soon have the infrastructure it needs to thrive thanks to a $15 million investment into ultra-rapid charging station startup Chargefox this week.

The investment was contributed to by multiple parties, including a $6 million grant from the federal government’s Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and a significant contribution from Australian mobility clubs such as RACV and the NRMA.

This money will fuel a new network of open, ultra-rapid electric vehicle (EV) chargers stretching across four of the country’s biggest capitals, from Adelaide through to Brisbane, a move which Chargefox co-founder Marty Andrews says will solve the eternal “chicken or the egg” problem the industry has faced until now.

“The most difficult problem to solve for electric vehicles so far is the problem of national infrastructure. Research shows consumers value price and infrastructure the highest when buying an electric vehicle, so having a national charging network should really stimulate the industry,” he says.

Andrews is the co-founder of Melbourne-based software company Cogent, and tells StartupSmart about two years ago he began to look for investment opportunities in the renewables and transport space, and happened across a startup called JetCharge which was the leading supplier of electric vehicle chargers in Australia.

Teaming up with founder Tim Washington, the two decided to seize the opportunity to expand the business and create the framework for a national charger infrastructure, creating Chargefox about 18 months ago.

Since then, the business has expanded, and now has over 350 plugs under management and has provided over 70 megawatt-hours to electric vehicles across Australia. Today, Andrews says Chargefox is the fastest-growing EV charging provider in Australia, and one of the largest behind the Tesla Supercharger network.

However, unlike the Tesla network, Chargefox’s will be open to all makes and models of electric vehicles, with Andrews saying the priority is to be “accessible and cost-effective” for drivers across the country.

Two of Chargefox’ stations. Source: Supplied.

Millions of electric vehicles on the road by 2030

Last year, over 2,500 electric vehicles were purchased in Australia, bringing the total count to an estimated 10,000 across the country. While that may seem like a paltry amount compared to the number of traditional cars, reports forecast there will be millions of electric vehicles on the road by 2030.

As mentioned, Andrews says this growth will never occur without sufficient national infrastructure and praises the federal government for throwing their hat in the ring via $6 million in funding support.

“I think it had to happen to break that chicken and the egg situation. Something like this doesn’t make commercial sense unless there’s government support, and it’s the exact area where the government should step in,” he says.

Chief executive of ARENA Darren Miller said in a statement the Chargefox network would go a long way to alleviating “range anxiety” felt by drivers of electric vehicles.

“EV charging networks are being rolled out in other countries, and Australia needs to catch up to ensure that we can experience the same benefits of improved driving experience, lower operating costs, and better environmental outcomes that electric vehicles offer,” he said.

“This will not only encourage more people to purchase EVs, but will also ensure that all charging is coming from renewable energy and provide a useful test case for charging EVs from remotely located, distributed renewable generation.”

Having negotiated with a number of government and industry partners on the raise, Andrews says the most important thing he learnt was to maintain tenacity and persistence when it came to the fundraising process.

“When you’re working with government and industry at the same time, balancing their different needs and outcomes between partners becomes crucial,” he says.

“It always takes longer and is harder than you can imagine.”

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Dominic Powell

Dominic is the features and profiles editor at SmartCompany.

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