Electric vehicles are on the rise, and nowhere is the growth as fast as in California, where nearly half of the nation’s 330,000 electric vehicles are registered. While this is a coup for groups like CEC that have been long-time advocates for the growth of clean fuel vehicle markets, challenges exist, particularly when it comes to infrastructure. At UC Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, a group called EVMatch is taking an entrepreneurial tack on solving one of the most highly cited barriers to EV adoption and ownership: convenient and reliable charging.
Most EV owners today also own a single-family home, where they charge their car in the garage overnight. This charging scenario presents a major challenge to the growth of electric vehicles; it is unworkable for the large portion of Americans who rent. Yet even for homeowners, charging becomes an issue when they are out and about, or traveling between cities. The number of public electric vehicle charging stations is growing, but to date it has not kept pace with demand, leading to a call for “electric charging etiquette” as owners take turns juicing up.
Enter EVMatch. Their solution? Tap into the ever-growing supply of residential chargers. Using a smartphone app, EV owners in need of charging will be able to connect with local homeowners who are willing to “rent out” their residential EV chargers. The app includes a reservation system (so two cars don’t show up at the same house at once) and a mobile payment processor, allowing homeowners to set a charging rate and get paid by those who want to plug in. Consider it an Airbnb for plug-in electric cars.
While the app is not quite ready yet, a successful pilot program in Santa Barbara is up and running, using a simple Google Calendar for reservations. For their first charging host, EVMatch turned to Katie Davis, a former CEC Partnership Council member who has been an EV advocate for many years. A Goleta homeowner, Katie’s rooftop solar panels regularly power the family’s two all-electric Nissan Leafs. However, their home chargers sit open once the family is out for the day.
EVMatch’s first charging customer is UCSB graduate student Rick Thomas. When he moved to the area with his new Chevy Volt, the university set him up at student housing. Unfortunately, no chargers exist at the complex. With the aid of EVMatch, Rick now reserves and pays for a charging spot in Katie’s driveway, plugging in while she’s at work. This pairing gives Rick an affordable place to charge his car in Goleta, while also helping Katie earn extra income by selling surplus electricity generated by her solar panels.
“The charging reliability EVMatch provides has taken a lot of the stress off of me as an EV driver,” commented Rick. “I think this is due both to the ease of service, as well as to the hospitality of my host.” Better yet, he adds, is the fact that Katie’s power is generated by the sun, giving him the ability to use clean energy, something public charging stations can’t always offer.
Opening up new models for charging, and hence making EVs accessible for a broader demographic, is critical to Governor Brown’s goal of having 1.5 million EVs on the road by 2025. The EVMatch team feels they are poised to help reach this EV adoption target by creating a dense network of affordable, convenient charging hosts.
Behind EVMatch is a team of four students in Bren School’s Eco-Entrepreneurship program. In addition to being a business solution for mitigating California’s greenhouse gas emissions ( over one-third of which come from the transportation sector), this sharing economy startup serves as the students’ Master’s thesis.
For more information about the pilot project and how to take part in EVMatch, visit EVMatch.co or send the team a note at EVMatch2016@gmail.com. To learn more about CEC’s work on alternative fuels, including a readiness task force and plan for the central coast, visit CECSB.org/choose-electric/.