Sami Ghantous’s three-and-a-half-year-old daughter bursts into his home office. His wife is on a Zoom meeting that cannot be interrupted, and Ghantous is currently the point-person for his little one. She’s obviously excited, but it’s difficult to make out what she’s saying. Ghantous, both a little embarrassed but undeniably supportive of his daughter, replies, “That’s right. No job is too big; no pup is too small.” She laughs and exits the room.
The creed of children’s TV show Paw Patrol is one seared into most parents’ heads, but Ghantous’s daughter’s encouragement is perfectly timed. The vice president of engineering and construction at EVgo, the country’s largest public electric vehicle fast charging network, is a year-and-a-half into a mission of finding the right balance and size of contractors, in-house talent, and the scalability necessary to create the future of transportation for the world.
What separates EVgo from its competition is vitally important for the future of sustainable and equitable renewable energy solutions. The company both deploys private capital and leverages public subsidies to build its charging stations, and that includes a clear mandate to construct its network of electric charging hubs near more than just gated communities and affluent suburbs.
“We’re focused on building a network for everybody,” Ghantous says. “The cost of so much of this technology can create an unintentional but all-too-real red lining.” If renewable energy is going to supplant fossil fuels, EVgo understands that it has to look at a bigger picture than simply those who can spring for a new electric vehicle right now.
Ghantous is the perfect spokesman for a better future. His Lebanese father, a mechanical engineer, built power plants in the Middle East. Ghantous was born in Kuwait during one of those long projects. He also grew up going to the jobsite with his dad in the ’80s on one of the last power plant projects he managed in Kuwait.
He eventually followed the same path of his father and three uncles who were all engineers working in energy and infrastructure. But he noticed something early in his first job during the dot-com boom that would help shape the rest of his career. “When I looked around, everyone my age had gone into software or tech,” Ghantous remembers. “All of the [engineers] seemed like they would be retiring soon. It seemed like things were getting ready to change quickly, and I wondered who was going to handle all of this energy infrastructure needed in the future.”
Ghantous would later develop a passion for utility scale solar and energy storage while those around him couldn’t understand why he didn’t want to continue building straightforward and profitable fossil power plants, but sought to take the risk on an expensive and unproven technology. Then he saw a presentation from EVgo CTO Ivo Steklac at the 2019 ESA conference. “He convinced me that the company’s mission could have real impact to start flattening out the consumption of energy and could help balance out our power grid,” Ghantous remembers. “That’s what clinched my coming here, especially considering EVgo’s network is 100 percent powered by renewable electricity.”
While there are millions, if not billions, pouring into the renewables space, EVgo has saddled itself with a much higher degree of accountability than some of its competitors in its desire to make its technology for more than a small, well-off user base. It means Ghantous’s team and their colleagues across EVgo are tasked with evaluating thousands of potential properties to ensure all of the necessary technical infrastructure can support a charging station, meets ADA requirements, and is located where electric vehicle owners want to be while their vehicles charge, like at a grocery store or other retail center.
Ghantous introducing Sitetracker at EVgo has provided the most data-driven way to work efficiently and cross-functionally. The technology was initially adopted by telecom companies whose cell towers often require leasing land. Ghantous has implemented the Salesforce-based tracking software to give the engineering and construction team tools for efficiently managing budgets and schedules of thousands of projects. “We were initially worried they wouldn’t be able to handle all of our data,” Ghantous says, laughing. “Once we started using it, it was eating our stuff for breakfast.”
The evolution couldn’t come at a better time. Ghantous says he’s at an interesting fork in EVgo’s expansion. The more budget-friendly projects are typically done by the smaller contractor outfits that are eager and on-the-ball. But there is so much work to be done. His team will either keep adding more in-house help to manage an ever-growing roster of smaller contractors or add the right larger contractor or two to the mix.
Ghantous is fairly blunt on his relationship with big contractors thus far. “It just feels like we’re always waiting and negotiating,” the VP says. “We are a company that cannot afford to wait. I know once these larger firms get things going, they can work fast and efficiently, but getting them comfortable to perform these projects at the competitive costs we need takes time.”
The VP says the flywheel is turning for the grand roll out of EV chargers across the country while implementing a more cohesive process for building out wider engineering and construction practices. Ghantous may have been born into a power plant family, but he knows the future is brighter for everyone if it’s built on renewable energy.
Electricity and Equality
The protests of 2020 empowered EVgo CEO Cathy Zoi to expand EVgo’s commitment to social and racial equality. “Cathy said that we want to help be part of the change in finally addressing the long-standing inequalities in this country,” says Sami Ghantous, who coleads a training task force on inequality, Black history, and other prevalent issues. In fact, half of the entire company is involved in any one of six task forces of some type working to address ways to advance racial justice and provide more people more opportunities internal and external to EVgo.