Innovative programs expand electric vehicle charging in Vermont

Across the country, more and more states recognize electric cars as one of the most promising ways to transition away from fossil fuels and decrease greenhouse gas emissions. In Vermont, innovative pilot programs are moving the state closer to its clean energy goals.

Above: Heather Hochrein, EVmatch founder and CEO (Source: EVmatch)

Burlington Electric Department and Green Mountain Power are working with start-up EVmatch to reduce “range anxiety” for Vermont's electric vehicle owners. Although Tesla's Supercharger network has a good presence in the state, fast chargers aren't readily available for all EV owners. Quick, easy, reliable access to charging stations could be a potential barrier for future EV buyers — especially in Vermont. And, let's face it, additional charging options, regardless of speed, are always welcome.

“We live in a rural state,” said Graham Turk, who works on innovation development for Green Mountain Power, “and Vermonters drive a lot of miles. Home charging can cover the vast majority of a driver’s needs, but that’s not always an option.”

In addition to road trips, EV owners that live in apartments or condos may have more difficulty charging. Granted, some buildings provide charging. However, some buildings can present a challenge for EV owners — there are solutions, but they may not be easy (or quick) to implement.

Two new pilot programs are underway with EVmatch to address the issue. DeltaClimeVT (formerly Accel-VT), a climate economy business accelerator, awarded EVmatch pilot projects with Green Mountain Power and The Burlington Electric Department in 2019, in an effort to expand Vermont’s EV infrastructure by leveraging the sharing economy for EV charging.

“EV adoption is only about two percent nationwide,” said Heather Hochrein, EVmatch founder and CEO. “The main barriers are limited battery range, high upfront cost, and limited access to charging infrastructure. Our goal is to increase adoption and reduce harmful transportation emissions by making charging stations more readily available.”

EV Charging for Multifamily Residences

The EVmatch platform offers two relevant solutions to Vermonters. First, it makes private chargers available to the public through a peer-to-peer sharing app that allows EV owners to reserve and pay for charging at private locations. Second, the platform allows multi-family dwellings, such as apartments or condo associations, to easily process payments and make reservations.

Above: AJ Rossman, Managing Director of IOT Conduit and DeltaClimeVT Mentor, shows the EVmatch app on his phone, which displays locations of private EV chargers for rent by local hosts. Photo by Erica Houskeeper.

“EVmatch presented a solution that is of particular relevance to our customers,” said Darren Springer, general manager of Burlington Electric Department. “We serve 17,000 residential customers, 60 percent of whom are renters. This platform offers an affordable and logistically simple way for property owners to make EV charging available to multi-family residences.”

The EVmatch platform works for those customers by offering a manager (property owners or homeowners associations) an app-based program that allows residents to reserve and pay for charging time. Because the platform runs on WiFi, it’s less expensive than current models that run on cellular and use RFID technology for payments. If so inclined, the manager can also make the charger available to the public when not being used by residents, say, during the work day. The platform even allows for residents to pay a lower rate than the public. When coupled with rebates offered by the utilities that help to offset, or cover completely, the price of the hardware, EV charging stations become an increasingly economically viable idea.

Green Mountain Power already has two such charging stations online at a condo association near Mount Snow. Their pilot program with EVmatch will test the platform at the homeowners association and a workplace location. “Small businesses, condos and multi-family dwellings are a huge unmet need in Vermont,” said Turk. “EVmatch allows a ‘subnetwork’ of users—in this case, residents or employees—to easily reserve and pay for charging through the app. These are the kind of innovative solutions we need to vet if we are going to move toward greater EV adoption in Vermont.”

Transportation and Climate Change

The push toward EVs is part of a broader move toward “strategic electrification,” widely seen as the path to independence from fossil fuels and decreased carbon emissions. A 2018 report by the Energy Action Network states that transportation is responsible for 44 percent of energy use and 53 percent of emissions in Vermont, putting it just above heating, which combined account for 86 percent of Vermont’s energy use and 71 percent of emissions. In order to meet 2025 targets set out by the Paris Agreement and Vermont’s Comprehensive Energy Plan, environmentalists, government, utilities, and the private sector are all looking for ways to promote EV adoption with the goal of 50,000 EVs on the road in Vermont by 2025. As of January 2019, only 2,985 were registered in Vermont.

Above: Graham Turk of Green Mountain Power charges a Nissan Leaf using an EVmatch electric vehicle charging station installed outside of the 12-22 North Co-working space in Burlington’s Old North End. Photos by Erica Houskeeper. 

“Federal tax incentives, rebates, and new model availability are making EVs an increasingly affordable option,” said Springer. “In tandem with those financial incentives, we are looking to double the number of public charging stations around Burlington this year.” Burlington Electric Department currently has 15 charging stations and 27 ports in the Burlington area at locations such as Hannafords, Champlain College, public parking garages, and the University of Vermont. The pilot with EVmatch is slated to bring 16 new charging stations in 2020 with a focus on multi-family residences.

“The transportation sector is the biggest single contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, so that is the nut we are trying to crack,” said Hochrein. “The current infrastructure for EVs relies on drivers installing a home charger, which is not an option for people living in apartments or without off street parking. Those individuals have to rely on workplace or public chargers, which are not reservable. If we can remove that barrier, we’ll start to see more EVs on the road.”

Hochrein also notes that expanding charging networks to multi-family dwellings increases diversity and equity among EV drivers. “EVs should not be limited to single family homes who can afford a private charging station.”

Solutions to Local, Global Challenges

Burlington Electric Department and Green Mountain Power are among the key players in Vermont’s energy sector that are investing in innovation and looking for ways to move quickly toward Vermont’s clean energy goals. For that reason, both are founding partners in DeltaClimeVT, an accelerator program that attracts climate economy start-ups from around the country.

Above: A Model 3 owner who also serves as an EVMatch host (Source: EVmatch)

“DeltaClimeVT brings some of the most exciting entrepreneurial thinkers in the energy sector to Vermont and asks them to think specifically about how their solutions could work towards the state’s clean energy goals given our geography and demographics,” said Turk. “We are discovering companies we never would have found otherwise, and we are blown away by the solutions they are offering.”

For entrepreneurs like Hochrein, DeltaClimeVT provides access to high level expertise in the energy sector that may not be available in larger states like California. “Working with utilities is an important component of testing and growing our platform,” said Hochrein, “and through DeltaClimeVT we were able to discuss, troubleshoot and test real-world situations that are applicable not only to Vermont, but to rural, middle income states around the country.”

The two pilot programs should bring twenty new charging stations to Vermont by the close of 2020.