We recently sat down with Olalekan Ogundairo, Founder of BlueTanks, to learn more about his career path and what excites him most about the future of transportation electrification in North Carolina and beyond. This feature is part of NCSEA’s celebration of Black History Month and our ongoing focus on elevating exemplary individuals in the clean energy community.
A Path Guided by Renewable Energy & Positive Impact
Olalekan Ogundairo is attempting to make the energy transition seamless and inclusive of everyone in North Carolina and beyond. Driven by the opportunity to make a real-world impact, Ogundairo is committed to keeping his passion for energy and people as the foundation for his professional and personal pursuits. “I want to see how I can benefit society at the intersection of energy, finance, and technology,” he explains.
Olalekan recalls the moment he was introduced to photovoltaic solar panels in undergraduate studies while growing up in Nigeria, and how he was left with a sense of fascination. Motivated by the realization that technology could harness the sun to generate electricity, he entered the energy space in 2015 managing solar installations and development. This path led him to becoming a Sustainability- Climate Corps Fellow for the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), as well as consulting for the non-profit, a few years later.
In 2019, Ogundairo moved to United States to pursue his doctorate in Electrical Engineering at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. He considered North Carolina as a center for energy and innovation in the country, which led him to research opportunities in the area. As a current PhD candidate, his research is centered around renewable energy, as well as energy optimization and management. He went on to win the EDF Innovation Award in 2021, which enabled him to turn an idea he had to address a gap in the electric vehicle (EV) charging market.
A Quickly Evolving Market
Olalekan founded BlueTanks in the summer of 2022 after eight months of beta testing and development. The company was co-founded by Deborah Awoyemi, a Black woman and veteran with unparalleled “acumen and insight,” according to Ogundairo. Olalekan says that as the company grows, he wants to continue to foster a culture of diversity that supports creativity.
The company is striving to provide EV drivers with easy access to data analytics, allowing them to find the charging station that best meets their needs. As a one-stop shop, Ogundairo’s open-source platform gives users the ability to sort stations based on characteristics like charging speed, price, availability, and location (a process that has historically required 5-6 separate apps). Not only does the comprehensive app keep the customer in mind, but it is also helping address range anxiety and other potential obstacles for future EV adoption. Further, BlueTanks offers a notification on where to participate in bidirectional charging, meaning unused energy in a battery can be utilized to provide a financial benefit to the user.
BlueTanks’ scope is quickly expanding, with the company now covering over 35,000 charging stations and 2,000 users. This fast growth led Ogundairo to believe that North Carolina was the perfect place to have launched a pioneering company. The state’s political and regulatory landscape offers a conducive environment to scale EV technologies and meet the growing demand of drivers. Its robust, skilled workforce and influx of market investment also offer the state an opportunity to remain at the forefront of the clean energy transition.
The growth in the transportation electrification market is further catalyzed by levers like Governor Cooper’s Executive Order 246 (which calls for 1.25 million zero-emission vehicles [ZEVs] on the road by 2030 and 50% of new-vehicle sales as ZEVs by the same date), the development of the NC Department of Transportation’s Clean Transportation Plan by April 2023, and unprecedented levels of federal funding leading to fleet electrification and a nationwide charging network.
Amidst this momentum, Orgundairo emphasized that we must continue to expand market participation to avoid leaving low- to- moderate income (LMI) communities even further behind. He explained that BlueTanks is continuously attempting to promote community engagement, inclusive education initiatives, and equitable funding within its network and beyond.
“BlueTanks is seeking to democratize the EV charging market to create a sense of ownership in the transportation electrification movement,” Olalekan explains. “We want to enable users to understand the roles they are playing to accelerate growth.”
Interoperability, Data Democratization, & Equitable Funding Allocation
Olalekan urges that various aspects of the EV market need to be democratized and decentralized in order to be successful. He explains that more policy and regulation will help North Carolina avoid a monopoly in charging station ownership that can be seen in other utility activities, like generation and transmission planning. More market participation can lead to interoperability that is prevalent in much of the solar industry across the nation. Healthy competition and EV adoption can also be facilitated with Direct-to-Consumer sales, or Freedom to Buy market structure, he explains. Finally, Ogundairo insists that innovations will continue to bring about smarter products that keep the customer in mind. As an example, as battery technology improves and prices fall, we need to explore uncharted territory in grid-edge compatibility and energy storage capabilities.
Investment remains crucial to the successes of this energy transition. To ensure that funding is properly allocated, Olalekan says that data-driven monitoring and third-party certification need to be greatly improved. To address this “black box,” as he describes it, BlueTanks is making data more accessible and transparent. As an example, the open-source platform is developing a constraint to allow users to select “Underserved Communities” to identify LMI communities most in need of funding and infrastructure projects. He hopes that this will more effectively create a pipeline of trust and community engagement, allowing companies to prove their commitment through tangible results.
Ogundairo also says there are a lot of opportunities for improvement in the way that information is shared with communities. “Without sufficient awareness, there are still plenty of people who don’t know what an EV or solar panel is— we need companies and organizations to support the education of a lineage, focusing on the entire generation.”
Addressing the Global Energy Burden & Drawing Inspiration
Olalekan witnessed the direct correlation between energy access and economic development as he started his career in Nigeria. He also noticed how energy poverty and quality of life were directly related, often being rooted in a lack of awareness and access. These challenges are global, Olalekan explains, and a need to help more people find clean sources of energy exists across borders. “We must find ways to lift up barriers and challenges for people while this transition is going on,” he stressed. “I draw inspiration from people that are bold enough to step into those spaces and create solutions.”
Ogundairo says that hearing the success stories of other Black and minority founders continuously inspires him to continue a pursuit of a just and equitable energy transition. For instance, he greatly respects Kameale C. Terry from ChargerHelp, Inc (CH!), a federally certified Disadvantage Business Enterprise and nationally and state- certified Woman Minority- Owned Business Enterprise that aids in the repairs of EV charging stations (also a member of NCSEA). He also mentioned Josh Aviv from SparkCharge, a company that offers EV charging services for businesses and consumers.
Excitement for the Road Ahead
As more players enter the clean energy space, Olalekan says North Carolina’s municipalities, businesses, and other stakeholders have the opportunity to lead by example by implementing the equitable and just solutions of tomorrow, today. He emphasizes that we must remain honest with the issues at hand, while continually seeking feedback and measurable results.
Ogundairo urges people to get involved— fund impactful startups, volunteer time and energy, and contact local policymakers. Above all, he hopes that more individuals will be ambassadors for the causes they believe in. “We can usher in a new era of sustainable mobility by learning from past mistakes and engaging with our communities.”