TECHNOLOGY

How Elon Musk Inspired a Russian Immigrant to Create Smarter Chargers for Electric Cars

Valery Miftakhov is transforming electric cars to make them even more energy-efficient.

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BY Steve Goldberg - 05 Sep 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Raised in Siberia, son of an oil-field engineer, Valery Miftakhov caught the startup bug working in high-energy physics--and avoiding winter--at the Stanford Linear Accelerator. Later, he was at McKinsey & Co. and then Google, where the launch of Tesla and other EVs got him thinking about how electrons move through the power grid. This led to eMotorWerks, which sells JuiceBox, a fast, app-enabled EV charger that taps the grid at the most carbon-efficient time. --As told to Steve Goldberg

A Russian in California's car culture

I started driving cars only after I came to the United States. I got my first license in 1998, at age 24. Most of my life, I lived in Russia, in western Siberia. Being in Silicon Valley and seeing what Tesla was doing really got me interested in clean transportation, clean fuel--the whole mission that Elon Musk put forth, which is, effectively, the decarbonization of everything. I started thinking, "How could we speed up the transition to that?" The initial idea was, if we figure out how to convert gasoline vehicles to electric, at scale, then we could begin replacing vehicles and moving to cleaner mobility sooner. We developed
a conversion technology and got some patents on it.

Fix it where the sun don't shine

The BMW 3 Series was our base. We did a few conversions, developed a kit, and participated in a few car shows. But the people who have the disposable income to buy conversion kits like new cars. Following Tesla's lead, the Nissan Leaf got launched, the Chevy Volt got launched, and then the BMW i3. There will be millions of them on the road at some point, and all will be connecting to the grid every day. On the energy side, there is an increasing push toward renewables. The main problem is their intermittency. The wind blows when it blows, and the sun shines when it shines, so you have these wild variations of power supply, which are very hard for the grid to absorb at scale.

The need for smart charging

Having so many vehicles connected to the grid will create conditions that are not optimal. Somebody will need to solve that. The bright side of solving it is converting these vehicles from being liabilities to being assets to the grid. That's where we saw the opportunity to further our mission of cleaner transportation--through this different approach, which is vehicle-grid integration. We make sure that the vehicles are charging in the safest and cleanest possible way given the grid conditions. That's what we were aiming for with JuiceBox, our first product--a smart grid-integrated charging station and charging system.