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Street Lamps That Charge EVs? Mumbai Startup Develops Solar Smart Charging

From being started on a terrace to building an Electric Vehicle Charging Corridor on the Mumbai-Pune highway, EV startup Magenta has come a long way from its humble beginnings. It is now developing a one-of-its-kind streetlight charging station.

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In 2017, Maxson Lewis was sitting inside the tin shed on the terrace of his Mumbai apartment building, revising his speech on solar installation for his first client. After oscillating between glancing at his watch and praying the rain stops, a few moments later, his client arrived. By the time the meeting ended, both of them were drenched and Maxson bagged his first clean energy solution project.

Today, four years later, Maxson’s startup, Magenta has scripted history in the clean and renewable energy space with various projects, including Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations. It has close to 2,000 stations in India. 

A year after launching Magenta Group, Maxson and his co-founder and nephew, Darryl Dias, came up with its ChargeGrid segment to create a robust EV charging infrastructure across the country. 

Maxson Lewis and Darrly Dias, founders of Magenta Group

According to Maxson, they are the first ones in India to launch a solar charging station followed by an EV charging corridor on the Mumbai-Pune highway and a one-of-its-kind streetlight charging station. 

Both Maxson and Darryl hail from an engineering background who decided to trade their secured and comfortable jobs with a startup offering e-mobility infrastructure. 

“We have worked in the automotive and clean energy space long enough to know the hazardous implications of non-renewable resources like coal, petrol, etc. After visiting several countries to set up bio-energy plants, I wanted to do something for my own country and leave behind a better future for my child. I messaged Darryl and told him about the idea. He was on board immediately and we launched Magenta in 2017,” Maxson tells The Better India

While solar was the obvious choice given their expertise and experience, EV was a segment that they chose after studying the market trends of 2017. EVs were on the cusp of a boom in India with startups launching two and three-wheelers and the government promoting EV-friendly policies. 

According to a recent Grant Thornton Bharat-FICCI report, India will need close to 4,00,000 charging stations by 2026 for 20,00,000 EVs.To meet this massive demand, various stakeholders including government and private players will have to play a key role. The duo saw companies rushing towards EV manufacturing and sensed that insufficient infrastructure was going to be a bigger problem. 

“EVs won’t be a solution to pollution unless the electricity generated is clean. We focussed on the ‘Made in India’ solution as none of our hardware parts and software are imported from outside,” says Darryl. 

Darryl and Maxson share their experience of developing cost-friendly EV charging solutions while constantly coming up with new innovations to improve the EV ecosystem. 

‘Free of fossil fuel’

Considering that EV manufacturers were giving custom-made batteries and charging options, coming up with a standardised charging station that catered to all kinds of vehicles was the biggest challenge the duo faced followed by finances. 

The duo first cleared their liabilities and focussed on generating revenues from their solar segment. Solar’s credibility also helped them procure seed funding from HPCL. Later, Magenta was incubated by Shell and backed by Microsoft. 

It took an intense amount of concentration, manpower and finances in researching the suitable and universal charging options.

“There are multiple standards and charging characteristics with respect to two-wheelers. Fortunately, India has only two standards for four-wheelers. So our first fast-charging station was for four-wheelers in Turbhe, Navi Mumbai. However, the acceptance was rather slow. People were already unaware about EVs in addition to that it was solar. Our charging station had double question marks and thus the apprehension to use. In addition to that, rains and clouding directly impacted outcomes as the entire system is solar-dependent,” says Maxson. 

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Despite the issues, Magenta managed to make a statement of being ‘free of fossil fuel’ with a solar-powered grid-connected charging station. The DC fast charging station can charge the vehicle in 30 minutes giving a range of around 140 kilometres. The DC charger has a 15-kilowatt capacity and saves time on AC to DC conversion. 

Charging pioneers

The solar-powered station was followed by India’s first EV charging corridor ‘ChargeIn’ at Mumbai-Pune Expressway, Lonavala. All the six points on the integrated corridor are connected via a central monitoring system. The stations have an automated payment system and users can charge the vehicles using OTP-based payment by downloading the ChargeIn App. The application also allows a user to locate the nearest centre. 

Besides their own charging stations, the company also allows other EV charging operators across India to be part of the ChargeGrid network app. Users of two, three and four-wheelers can detect chargers within 500 metres of their location, using eco-fencing algorithms. 

“Driving EVs on a highway is a challenge due to lack of charging options. Our corridor gives people the confidence that they won’t be stuck on highways. Through this, we want to tell the world that India is getting ready for mass EV adoption,” says Maxson. 

A year later, the company experimented with the installation of three EV charging stations powered by solar energy at a residential complex in Navi Mumbai. The charging station, each with a capacity of 3.3 kW is for community use. Residents can plug in their vehicles for overnight charging, as it does not possess the ‘fill-as-you-go’ one-hour charging facility. Apart from the added comfort and convenience, the complex also started to generate additional revenues as there are no EV charging stations in the vicinity. 

EV charging station in a residential complex

Magenta’s latest innovation is the streetlamp electric vehicle charger. In March 2021, the company launched ChargeGrid Flare at two locations – HPCL Bandra Kurla Complex outlet in Mumbai and Nitimarg T&E outlet in Delhi.

In-built with a power-saving LED lamp, it offers charging from within a streetlight. Darryl came up with this idea while researching feasible charging options in urban areas. 

“In congested metros which struggle to get proper parking spaces, finding a spot for a charging station is a real challenge. Why not use the existing wiring system of the streetlight and modify it a little for two, three and four-wheelers?” says Darryl. 

The company aims to deploy 1,000 more such stations across India soon. 

World’s smallest EV charger

After gaining considerable expertise and experience in the EV segment with its slew of innovations, Maxson and Darryl are now onto a large-scale project. They have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with eMatrixmile India Pvt Ltd to install around 10,000 electric charging stations across India in phases. 

The duo will also soon launch the world’s smallest EV charger, which will be a “defining moment in the history of EVs”. Without revealing much, Maxson says its size will be similar to a mobile phone’s box.

“Just like all our solutions, this one too is built keeping the needs of and conditions in India in mind. Our motto is to come up with a solution and take it to the world instead of simply borrowing foreign innovations and tweaking them as per our needs. EV is a fast-growing segment and we won’t be able to solve all the problems but with people’s feedback and constructive criticisms, we can march forward steadily,” says Maxson. 

Edited by Yoshita Rao

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