Food Trucks Get Greener With Startup’s Plug-In Technology

The estimated 25,000 food trucks in the United States for the most part depend on gas or diesel generators, which are noisy, costly and not exactly energy efficient.

New York City startup Simply Grid hopes to change all that by helping food trucks and other vehicles tap into the electric grid. The company, founded in 2010 by CEO Michael Dubrovsky, installs charging pedestals on sidewalks and in parks, allowing vehicles to plug in for access to electricity.

“It’s huge amounts of pollution – three cars’ worth for every small generator,” says Dubrovsky. The expense of using generators quickly adds up, as well; between fuel, maintenance and replacement costs, he says generators can cost a food truck more than $6,000 annually.

Simply Grid, which has raised $160,000, is currently running a pilot program in New York City’s Union Square, in addition to 10 charging pedestals in Atlanta and Austin, Texas. Food trucks are able to drive up to pedestals, plug in, and turn on the electricity by texting the company’s server. A mobile app is in development, says Simply Grid COO Jeffrey Hoffman.

Despite being a relatively young company, Simply Grid is already benefiting from the support of elected officials. New York City councilwoman Gale Brewer, the Manhattan borough president-elect, has introduced legislation that would require the installation of curbside chargers. Chargers could be used not only for food trucks, but also for grocery trucks and ambulances, which run generators to refrigerate medicines.

Brewer and her office are concerned both with the environmental impact of generators, as well as the effect on quality of life.

“One of the most common complaints that we receive from constituents each day is that there’s a food truck with a noisy generator -- a smelly generator -- below their apartment, or there’s a Fresh Direct truck idling eight hours a day and the noise is unbearable,” says William Colegrove, Brewer’s director of legislation and budget.

However, there are plenty of challenges standing in the way of expansion. Drilling into the sidewalk to connect to the electric grid can be costly, and Colegrove says the liability associated with placing a charging station in the public way is also an issue.

While the future of expansion in New York City has yet to be decided, Simply Grid already has its eyes on other cities, including Boston.

“Obviously the first one is the hardest,” says Dubrovsky. “Since the New York pilot ... Actually, Boston came and talked to us, and we’re hoping to have a pilot with them by the second quarter of next year.”