Karen has spent a decade working in clean energy, most notably at Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) where she lead customer acquisition strategy for PG&E’s EV Charge Network program in Northern California. Her role at PG&E was the perfect transition into her current role at Volta where she develops partnership strategy and manages utility relationships as part of corporate development.
What was it like transitioning from a large corporate company to a startup company?
It’s definitely a change of scenery! Sometimes I still have to remind myself that decisions move a lot faster in a startup environment so I need to keep up that pace, but it’s been a really fun ride so far. There’s value in working at a startup because you get to dive into the details and develop hands-on skills whereas at a bigger company, you’re leading large teams. Both positions offer unique opportunities to develop skills in different areas, and that’s exciting to me.
What excites you about electric vehicles and charging?
What I find particularly exciting is the huge transformation we have ahead of us. From a climate change perspective, transitioning this country and the world over to electric vehicles is a linchpin to the whole strategy of combating climate change.
We’re in the beginning stages of building out electric vehicle infrastructure which means that there are a lot of remaining pieces that still need to be thought through. Volta has a unique approach with our business model, and I’m excited to see all the different approaches to come. All charging companies today have important roles in this movement and need to be successful to ultimately transform how the world drives.
Is the charging industry mostly competitive or collaborative?
Yes, and yes. Charging companies sometimes compete over location and potential customers but from a broader perspective, no single company is going to accomplish the enormous task of electrifying the world.
Volta engages regularly with members of other charging companies in addition to members of utility companies and policy makers. Every stakeholder is tightly linked together and needs to collaborate to be successful. While business is competitive by nature, I think it’s possible to do both.
What is Volta all about?
When I joined Volta in 2018, the business model is what stood out to me most. Volta delivers free charging to electric vehicle owners and free charging solutions to real estate owners through a media sponsorship model. Volta charging units are equipped with a screen that displays advertisements in high traffic locations like shopping malls, grocery stores, movie theaters, etc. As a result, Volta’s revenue source is separated from the advancing technology allowing for creativity and flexibility as a company.
Volta has agreements with over 100 real estate owners and brand partners who understand the value of charging as an amenity for the community. Since I joined the team almost a year ago, Volta has more than doubled in its employees as a result of nationwide expansion and is on track to have more than twice as many stations in the ground as we did only a year ago.
At its core, our mission is about accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles and we accomplish this by installing highly visible and free charging units.
Would you consider Volta a disruptor in the industry?
Yes, I would. I think what separates us is our business model and siting strategy. We are very intentional with our charger placement and data analysis, and as a result, have extremely high utilization on our chargers.
Many other charging companies are installing chargers in places they know electric vehicles will eventually be, which is necessary because people want to see that chargers are abundantly available, but that’s only one use case. Volta is trying to solve for a different use case by asking: “how can this charger best fit into a given community’s daily routine?”
Who are the leaders in the industry and how does Volta stand out?
There are a lot of great companies out there like EVgo, ChargePoint, and Electrify America to name a few. These companies have different business models and are more heavily focused on fast charging whereas Volta believes in a healthy mix of fast charging with Level 2 charging.
I would also like to call out specifically what Tesla is doing for the industry. They created a car people actually want to drive, and in doing so, overcame an awareness barrier that is leading to a market with an abundance of exciting cars to drive as more automakers release new electric models.
What predictions do you have, if any, about the future of EV charging and infrastructure?
My prediction is that EV charging and infrastructure is going to roll out differently than people might think…
I frequently hear people say: “we’ll know we’ve succeeded in deploying EV infrastructure when we’ve duplicated and replaced the gas station model” but it’s the gas station model that is actually going to go away. The idea that you have to drive somewhere special to sit and fuel your car is an expectation that often comes from someone who has never driven or fueled an EV.
Once you own an electric vehicle and have spent some time driving it, you understand that you can charge anywhere. The benefit is that you don’t need to have a dedicated fueling location because electricity is everywhere.
The charging should come to you while you’re living your everyday life. You shouldn’t have to go out of your way just to fuel your car. This is something ICE (internal combustion engine) owners will figure out as EV adoption increases.
Where can readers learn more about Volta?
You can visit Volta's website or email Karen Zelmar with questions or inquiries.