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Founding FlexCharging—Brian’s Story

Updated: Feb 8, 2023

From Microsoft to making a difference, Brian Grunkemeyer’s professional trajectory took quite the turn when he left his engineering role of 21 years. With a passion for climate change, Grunkemeyer found himself researching, volunteering, and exploring the positive impact of electronic vehicles (EV).

Today, he is the founder and CEO here at FlexCharging, a powerful electric vehicle telematics and smart charging solution. Learn more about Grunkemeyer and how this innovative company came to fruition —and the powerful impact it’s having on transportation, utilities, and EV owners in the U.S.

From computer services to climate change

Grunkemeyer, who lives in Redmond, Washington, spent years working on developer tools and a big data system at Microsoft, with his last role focused on running computer services on 300,000 machines. Always in the back of his mind, however, were climate change and his desire to help.

Starting in 2005, this led him down a path of volunteering for the Sierra Club Energy Committee while conferring with utility economists and regulators for a decade and attending public utility meetings. Of his proudest achievements, Grunkemeyer counts helping to get an agreement to shut down half of the Colstrip coal power plant in Montana, the rest of which will shut down in 2025.

All the while, he made shifts in his personal life that supported his climate change goals, including switching from a gas vehicle to an EV for his personal mode of transportation. On a long drive to Silicon Valley in 2017, Grunkemeyer found himself ruminating about EV charging.

His thoughts? Electric cars can help the electric grid—or they can break it. If 100,000 electric cars were to charge at the same time, roughly one gigawatt (GW) of electricity must be provided. (That’s like turning on and off a new nuclear plant every day!)

The grid is already running into capacity problems, from power plant outages in Texas to transmission lines that spark fires in California. While wind and solar are great solutions, there is too much renewable electricity at times, so they are “curtailed,” meaning we waste some of the power generated.

In 2015, Brian asked his local utility, “What are you doing to prepare for electric cars?” Their response was “Not enough.” Grunkemeyer knew he could help. He began investigating the feasibility and economics of planning for an inevitable surge in EVs—and the electricity to power them.

How to efficiently power electronic vehicles in the U.S.

In his own home, Grunkemeyer couldn’t help but notice the impact his EV was having on his household electricity bill. While no longer having to pay for gasoline was saving him an incredible sum, charging his car at home had a massive increase in the total power his energy-efficient house consumed.

When thinking about his neighborhood alone, Grunkemeyer began to wonder if the local electric utility company would be able to handle the increased demand for energy if everyone switched to EVs. Imagine if everyone came home from work and plugged in their car at the same time. Would utilities be able to generate enough renewable energy to match the need, or would there be an uptick in natural gas power plant usage (and subsequent pollution)?

The average person drives less than 40 miles a day.

EV owners typically leave their car plugged in overnight, as well as at work.

Depending on the charger, these 40 miles can typically be recharged in 1.5 hours.

If a car is plugged in for 12 hours or more at home and 8 hours at work, the goal is to shift when it charges to match up with when renewable power is being produced.

In doing so, this removes the demand spike and eases the burden on electric utilities. It also allows electric utilities to focus on building renewable power to safely address the increased demand with respect for the environment while keeping costs low for their consumers.

And so, FlexCharging was born.

Climate change, electric vehicles, and FlexCharging

“Electric vehicle adoption is increasing worldwide, motivated by a mix of energy independence, environmental concerns, and vehicle performance. Utilities must be prepared to provide enough energy throughout the day and power at the right times of day to charge vehicles.”

Said Grunkemeyer and Laura McCarty in a whitepaper, “Electric Vehicle Managed Charging in the Real World,” for the 33rd Electric Vehicle Symposium.

FlexCharging provides smart charging that encompasses the needs of car drivers and supports utility companies. Cars are central to work and everyday life for most people. As such, FlexCharging emphasizes the need for Demand Response programs to be extremely careful with load (i.e., demand) shifting around drivers’ needs.

The FlexCharging app, available for iOS and Android, allows drivers to take control of their personal charging needs, all while:

Reducing their carbon impact,

Saving money, and

Demonstrating the change in use of electricity vs. gas consumption.

All EV owners have to do is download the app and enter in their schedule to ensure the vehicle is always charged when needed. Their EV is instantly connected because there is no added hardware or installation required. The app also supports an emergency charge level and a minimum state of charge (SoC) for battery health.

Electric utilities spent a century getting generation to follow load (demand). Now, FlexCharging can harness demand flexibility by using communication and control technologies to shift electricity use throughout the day to make load follow generation. In a future powered by renewables, this is a necessary step to keep both costs and carbon emissions low.

“The FlexCharging team has been working for five years with utilities and other agencies to prepare for an influx in EV charging. We’ve had an integration with Tesla and an app on the market since 2017, have since expanded to support 56 EV models, and we’ve worked with utilities across the U.S. and the largest utility in Australia,” said Grunkemeyer. “EV owners are using FlexCharging in 38 states in the U.S., 4 states in Australia, 2 provinces in Canada, and even one user in Ukraine. We’ve developed the deep analytics capabilities necessary to understand how EVs and smart charging are being used, and we’re ready to scale up.”

Success can be measured in many different ways, but to FlexCharging, all that has ever mattered is a demonstrated positive environmental impact. From day one, Grunkemeyer’s goal has been to build a great and useful product and deliver value to his customers. The seasoned team he has built boasts extensive knowledge of and connections to the electric utility, carbon market, and automotive industries—allowing them to further refine this product.

No one understands what’s at stake better nor is more passionate about solving this problem than Grunkemeyer, and FlexCharging is living proof.

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