SpaceX alums say they'll bring rocket reliability to EV charging

Electric Era says it cracked the code for fast and reliable electric-vehicle charging stations that can go wherever they're needed.

Founded by former SpaceX engineers, the startup just announced an $11.5 million Series A round led by HSBC's asset management arm. Climate-tech fund Blackhorn, lithium-mining giant SQM and mobility-focused investor Proeza also chipped in.

Electric Era intends to use that cash to prove that its soon-to-launch PowerNode stations can help turn around public chargers' wack reputation in the U.S. It's a worthwhile goal, since subpar and scarce public chargers, as well as grid infrastructure challenges, are altogether slowing down EV adoption in the U.S. — hampering the nation's decarbonization plans. But is four-year-old Electric Era up for the challenge?

Founder and CEO Quincy Lee tells TechCrunch that the team's experience developing Starlink satellites in particular will help make it happen. Lee worked at SpaceX for seven years, while CTO Sam Reineman spent nine years and software VP Sith Dharmasiri spent seven at the Elon Musk-co-founded private space company. Lee argues that their experience there grants Electric Era both an outsider's perspective and deep technical engineering competencies. "We've really gone from space down to earth and are working on building the infrastructural backbone that EV drivers need," added Lee.

Electric Era is developing its own software — PowerNode OS — and some hardware, while outsourcing other key components. "We don't build the chargers or the batteries," said Lee. "We focus instead on the entire EV fast charging station." The CEO says the startup's "battery-backed and software optimized" PowerNode stations bring a "rocketry level of reliability" to public EV charging, without requiring serious grid upgrades.

These stations can apparently scale up gradually, wherever they're needed, such as gas stations, convenience stores, grocers and restaurants. "We can, as part of our software stack, incorporate real-time management of battery systems and solar systems to bring energy and generation to the sites, so that we can add more capacity to the grid locally, as opposed to kind of redoing all the wires," said Lee.

As for where you can find a PowerNode station, the company plans to launch in nine states before the end of the year. That'll be about 27 chargers in total, or about three per station, Lee tells TechCrunch.

Lee says the startup's thesis is that "legacy car refill is dying. They're facing extinction from this shift to electric forms of transportation, and we are keeping them in business." Electric Era handles everything from real-time monitoring to on-site energy management. That's one factor in the company's plan to keep reliability high. Another is extensive testing, which includes running these power-management systems through "a ton of different crazy edge cases" and charging 20-30 different types of vehicles — Teslas, Rivians, Bolts, Leafs and so on.

The company is on a "warpath to have about three gigawatt hours of installed battery capacity and utilities all across the country by 2030," according to Lee. That'd equate to operating about 10,000 stations across the U.S. — a serious undertaking, but not all that huge a figure if you consider that S&P analysts expect to see 28 million EVs on U.S. roads by the end of the decade.

Electric Era has raised $19 million to date, and its Series A values the firm at $48 million (post money).