Electric Vehicles, News

Pilot programs to expand electric vehicle charging in Vermont

Electric vehicles, are widely seen as one of the most promising ways to move away from fossil fuels, decrease greenhouse gas emissions, and move Vermont closer to its clean energy goals. Reliable access to charging stations, however, remains a barrier for potential EV buyers.

“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.”

Two new pilot programs with California based start-up EVmatch are promising to help fill in those gaps. Drawn to Vermont by DeltaClimeVT (formerly Accel-VT), a climate economy business accelerator, EVmatch was awarded pilot projects with Green Mountain Power and The Burlington Electric Department in 2019, both of which aim 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.”

The EVmatch platform offers two solutions of relevance 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.

“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 workday. 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.”

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.

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.

“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.

An EVmatch electric vehicle charging station that was recently installed outside of the 12-22 North Co-working space in Burlington’s Old North End. Photo by Erica Houskeeper.

“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.”