Making Electric-Car Chargers Faster (and Making Them Fit in Manhattan)
Good morning. It’s Wednesday. Today we’ll look at a former professor who’s now running a company that is designing and manufacturing chargers for electric vehicles.
The word “fast” seems to suit Moshe Cohen.
It’s how he talks, and it’s how he says electric-vehicle chargers should work.
When Cohen, a professor turned entrepreneur, decided a year ago that existing chargers did not work fast enough, he started a company to design and manufacture quicker ones and put them in Manhattan parking garages.
He says that in five minutes — about as long as it takes for a fill-up at a gas station — one of his chargers can deliver the power to drive an electric vehicle 200 miles.
“If we’re going to have mass-E.V. adoption,” he said, “it has to be cheaper and more convenient than gas-powered vehicles. That’s the comparison.”
But the charging options available now are compounding car buyers’ “range anxiety” — the fear of running out of juice with nowhere to plug in. That, in turn, is deterring people from going electric, he said.
Size also figures in the equation, as it so often does in New York City. The key component in the charger his company is developing is about the size of a dorm-room refrigerator, far smaller than the space-eating equipment now seen at some charging stations. In the Hell’s Kitchen garage Cohen uses as a staging area, the chargers are on concrete beams near the ceiling. No parking places were relinquished to make room for them, a concern in a city where every square inch counts.
Chargers are already in some garages, and more are coming. In May, the city’s Transportation Department and the New York Power Authority announced plans for as many as 13 fast-charging hubs that can accommodate 50 vehicles in municipal parking garages and lots in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens. David Do, the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s chairman, noted then that the hubs were in neighborhoods where many for-hire drivers live.
Officials said those chargers could provide 90 miles of range for every 10 minutes of charging. The first are expected to be switched on next year.
The Transportation Department has already installed eight fast chargers in garages in Manhattan and Queens, and, separately, some 100 curbside chargers in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens. The units were designed and paid for by Flo, a company that began manufacturing car chargers in 2009. The Transportation Department reported in May that some 7,200 users had plugged into the curbside chargers 49,250 times from July 2021 through December 2022. The average session lasted just over three hours.
A new nationwide network of 30,000 charging points, a $1 billion joint venture involving seven carmakers, may provide faster charges. But plugs can be a problem: At the moment, those on electric vehicles made by General Motors and Ford won’t work at Tesla charging stations, and vice versa. But Tesla has agreed to it open its charging network to G.M. and Ford, making it more likely that its plug will become the industry standard.
Cohen, who said his equipment could accommodate any and all types of plugs, argues that electric vehicle charging should be tailored to the cityscape. It is one thing, he said, to live where it’s easy to plug into a charger in your own garage. But most people who have cars in New York do not have their own garage — they pay to park in one, alongside dozens of other cars, or they park on the street.
Cohen was an assistant professor of finance and economics at Columbia University who pivoted to the charging business in 2021 after trying to create an electric-vehicle taxi fleet.
“We loved the brand of yellow taxis,” he said, even though the taxi business was devastated in the pandemic, with revenue dropping 81 percent, according to city data. Many drivers were already on the edge financially as they struggled to pay off exploitative loans they had obtained for their medallions.
But operating a taxi is a low-margin business where success depends on maximizing time on the road. “You don’t want to have these guys, the drivers, off shift for too long,” Cohen said. “It was clear to us that charging has to take, like, a few minutes, ideally.”
He considered putting chargers in garages that taxis could pull into for rapid refills. The task became “more like an architecture thing — how do we hide equipment,” he said. “You basically kind of lost a space” for each charging unit. He figured that “we were going to maybe modify the enclosures” of existing chargers to squeeze them into garages.
Then he concluded that the charging equipment on the market was not fast enough, and started Gravity, his charger-making company. The ones in the Hell’s Kitchen garage, at the Manhattan Plaza apartment complex, draw power from the building.
That is a different approach than, say, putting chargers into suburban homes with garages, where solar panels could collect sunlight by day for storage in a battery unit that would recharge a car by night while the owner slept. “We’re in New York City,” Cohen said. “Nobody has a house. There’s no roof to put solar on, and the only batteries that are allowed in a lot of buildings are the ones inside the cars. So a different solution was needed, and I thought, this is a really exciting opportunity.”
It’s still summer, and New York knows it: An unusual post-Labor Day heat wave is pushing temperatures into the 90s. The National Weather Service even extended a heat advisory for the area through 8 p.m. Thursday.
What to expect today? Prepare for another hot and sunny day with temps again in the 90s. At night, it will be clear, with a low in the mid-70s.
In effect until Sept. 16 (Rosh Hashana).
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It was 1964, and I was at Port Authority after getting off a Greyhound bus from Austin, Texas. I was headed to a job at the Texas pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair, where I would hand out quarters from a booth to parents putting their children on kiddie rides.
“How do I find the subway to Flushing?” I asked a young man rushing past me in the terminal.
He picked up my light blue suitcase and led me to the subway platform while I carried the matching light blue makeup case. I was too tired and too grateful to be suspicious.
That first subway ride was punctuated by a whooshing sound noisy enough that other riders began to glance in my direction. I realized it was coming from the makeup case on my lap.
With a red face, I unlatched the lid to find a can of hair spray going off. What could I do on a subway car with an inert can emitting a stream of sticky lacquer on its own?
I slammed the lid back down and pretended that a whooshing makeup case was the most natural thing in the world.
I think that’s when I became a New Yorker.
— Sally Lehr
Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.
Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.
Bernard Mokam and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].
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James Barron is a Metro reporter and columnist who writes the New York Today newsletter. In 2020 and 2021, he wrote the Coronavirus Update column, part of coverage that won a Pulitzer Prize for public service. He is the author of two books and was the editor of “The New York Times Book of New York.” More about James Barron
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