Charging ahead: Electric cars get easier

If you’re thinking about an electric car, it’s getting easier to install the infrastructure you need at home.

Solar Alliance, a Canadian company with its commercial office in Knoxville, has become a pre-approved certified installer of electric vehicle chargers for Jaguar/Land Rover, BMW and Chevrolet. It was already a certified installer for Tesla, which handles its own certification.

The certification for Jaguar/Land Rover, BMW and Chevrolet is through Qmerit, a national partner of those companies and several charging manufacturers, said Ken Sapp, general manager of EV Solutions at Qmerit.

“When you go to the actual carmakers’ primary websites and you look at their electric vehicles, when you ask about home charging … they recommend Qmerit,” he said.

Now Solar Alliance is part of Qmerit’s network, appearing in Qmerit-powered searches on the automakers’ websites when buyers search for a certified installer.

Vehicle manufacturers are concerned about their reputations, and that extends to who they recommend for follow-up service or after-market products such as charging stations, Sapp said. They’re looking for dependable, high-quality service, he said.

Package deal

A Solar Alliance client in Nashville asked if the company could install Tesla chargers — the client wanted a bank of eight — so Solar Alliance got Tesla certification for that job, said Harvey Abouelata, Solar Alliance vice president for commercial solar. But then they wanted to go broader, he said.

Tina Ball, Solar Alliance office manager, said Qmerit saw the company’s location in Knoxville and asked if it could serve Nashville, too.

In the last few years Solar Alliance, seeking to move into the residential solar market, developed a small-scale two-tier package called SunBox. Standardization makes it more affordable, Abouelata said.

The kits generate 5 kilowatts or 7.8 kilowatts. They cost $22,000 or $25,000, respectively, including panels, battery and a power inverter. Buyers can add an electric vehicle charger and backup natural gas generator.

The smaller SunBox system fits on a two-car garage roof. The larger version is enough for a whole house; or the units can be combined for even more power.

A vehicle charger is part of an integrated “high-performance house,” Abouelata said. Solar Alliance also just became a dealer for Loxone, an integrator of devices for smart homes and commercial buildings, he said.

System setup

The minimum requirement for vehicle charger installation is to be a locally licensed electrician, Sapp said. Qmerit’s certification goes further, doing background checks on the company, making sure it’s licensed and insured, and setting terms of service through contracts, he said.

“It is really a big deal,” Sapp said.

Certification in an area is not exclusive; local companies other than Solar Alliance could qualify, he said. Nationwide, Qmerit has hundreds of charger-installing partners, including several in East Tennessee, Sapp said. But Solar Alliance gets “leadership points” for being the first really active one, he said.

On Qmerit’s national map, the company can track where the number of EV charger customers is increasing rapidly, Sapp said.

“Tennessee is growing and growing,” he said.

Sapp said Qmerit is a software company. Through its system, vehicle buyers can walk through an “EV readiness survey” and submit pictures of their electrical panel and garage. They’ll get a list of up to three recommended local contractors, who can bid on the job, using the submitted pictures to help make estimates, he said.

“It saves everybody time, it saves everybody money,” Sapp said.

Contractors are scored based on a customer survey after each job, he said.

The assurance offered by certification makes buying a charger as routine as ordering gutters, Abouelata said.

“It makes the whole thing mainstream,” he said.

Power and price

Solar Alliance’s preferred EV charger now is ChargePoint, which works with any current brand of electric vehicle, Abouelata said.

He owns a Chevrolet Bolt, the all-electric successor to the hybrid Volt. Its charger snaps into place like a gasoline hose; Abouelata’s is a 32-amp charger, but the latest model is a 50-amp version, which charges even faster. The 32-amp is adequate for charging his Bolt about once a week, but more frequent drivers will want a more powerful Level 2 charger hardwired into their electrical system. It can fully charge a car in four or five hours, he said.

A ChargePoint 32-amp charger is available on for $519, but that doesn’t include installation.

Knoxville Utilities Board is offering a $400 rebate for customers who install a new Level 2 charger, and Solar Alliance is currently adding $100 to that. After rebates, the fully installed price for a Level 2 charger from Solar Alliance is $786, Abouelata said.

Each electric vehicle can save drivers $3,300 a year in fuel and will keep 6 metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the air, according to Asad Khattak, Beaman professor of civil and environmental engineering at UT.

There are many reasons to buy an electric vehicle, Abouelata said. A solar-powered charger not only takes away the cost of buying gas but turns fuel into a fixed cost, ending price fluctuation, he said.

“But you know what my biggest reason is? I’m not pumping gas in the rain,” Abouelata said.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Jim Gaines

The East Tennessee Economic Development Agency markets and recruits business for the 15 counties in the greater Knoxville-Oak Ridge region of East Tennessee. Visit

Published September 27, 2019