Electric vehicles are a perfect fit for the sharing economy. Teslas and other EVs are some of the most popular vehicles on peer-to-peer car rental platform Turo. Many of the new car-sharing platforms that are popping up feature EVs. In the near future, EV owners could be earning money by letting utilities use their vehicle batteries as a tool to stabilize the grid, or conceivably by renting out their cars on the Tesla Network.
Peer-to-peer charging services are another way that EV owners can work together to accelerate the spread of electromobility, while possibly earning a little money in the process. The most established player on the emerging charger-sharing scene is California-based startup EVmatch.
I recently spoke with EVmatch founder and CEO Heather Hochrein, a long-time clean technology advocate and energy efficiency expert who started the company in 2016, based on ideas she developed for a master’s thesis project at UC Santa Barbara.
“I and my research team were focused on reducing the barriers to electric vehicle adoption and making electric vehicles more accessible to multifamily dwellers and renters,” Hochrein told me.
The platform has grown quickly, and now boasts a network of over 400 peer-to-peer charging sites in over a dozen states.
Hochrein expects to find many customers among apartment dwellers and others who have difficulty charging at home: “individuals who park on the street, for example, or who cannot convince their landlord to install EV charging infrastructure.” She notes that, in major cities, these private-charger-less souls can represent 30 to 40 percent of the population. (The figures are even higher in Europe and China – in London, 78% of residents have no private parking.) “That population will grow significantly as EVs become more affordable and we have longer-range electric vehicles,” says Hochrein, “so that’s one core target.”
Charging your EV
So, how does it work? Let’s say I’m an EV driver and I’m looking for a place to charge. “You download the app (available in the Apple App Store and Google Play),” Hochrein explains. “It’s free to download the app and create an account. You list the specific EV you want to charge, and then you find a charger on the map that aligns with your destination. Typically, people are using our service to book in advance. So you make a reservation and you select a specific time that you want to charge – that’s a benefit to folks who have range anxiety. You receive the specific address after booking, then you go to the location and activate the charging station via the mobile app. You have a button on the phone to turn on the charging station. That’s for the connected devices – there are also some residential peer-to-peer locations where you get the access information and you simply go and plug in at the location.”
Users are expected to leave their cars while charging – not hang around in the driveway – and are not allowed to enter hosts’ garages or homes.
According to EVmatch’s web site, the average cost of a charge is from $1-2.50 per hour, depending on the time of day, your charging speed, and the markup the host chooses to add. The price for each transaction is always clearly displayed before you submit a charging request.
Charging your customers
Let’s say I’m a home or business owner, and I’ve got a charging station I want to share. How does that work? Hochrein explains: “You create a listing on EVmatch through the mobile app or on EVmatch.com, and you input some basic details about your charging equipment – the make and model, the voltage and amperage – then you set a price and you set availability, and we create a listing on the map with those specific parameters.” Hosts can choose to make their listings “instant books,” in which case there are specific hours that the charger is available, and those reservations are immediately accepted by the system; or hosts can choose to approve each reservation in advance. “Hosts have the option of charging an access fee in addition to the cost of electricity. For a few states – California and Colorado – we built in a very specific pricing calculator to help folks understand how much they pay for electricity. So that helps them set the price more accurately.”
Hosting profits vary widely based on locations, electricity rates, and designated prices. Hochrein told me that hosts earn an average of $60 per month in profit, and some are bringing in $200 per month. Commercial hosts are averaging $120 per month, and can earn up to $500.
EVmatch’s peer-to-peer charging network is getting the headlines, but the company offers much more than just a system for sharing chargers. “We also see EVmatch as a low-cost solution for small businesses and lodging destinations that want to offer EV charging to their guests or their customers,” says Hochrein. EVmatch offers payment processing and a reservation feature, which is “particularly valuable for lodging destinations, where people want to book in advance.”
EVmatch provides payment processing and booking, but offers lower-cost hardware than a traditional network such as ChargePoint. “We’re sort of in between a non-network charging station that has no payment processing and a highly-featured public charging station,” Hochrein explains. “What we’re doing is leveraging low-cost Wi-Fi-enabled charging hardware and our software application in order to provide [a full suite of] booking, payments and access control services at a low cost.”
EVmatch can offer business owners a turnkey package that includes hardware and installation. “EVmatch doesn’t directly do the installations, but we work with a number of installers, and we have three different charging vendors that we recommend that are compatible with our software [Enel X, ClipperCreek and AeroVironment], which means that we can do the access control,” says Hochrein. “So we can turn the charging equipment on and off when there’s a booked reservation. And we’re leveraging the Enel X [formerly eMotorWerks] JuiceNet platform, so all of the compatible chargers we have on our network can utilize that platform.”
EVmatch is not considered a reseller of electricity, so it isn’t regulated as a utility. All charging is paid for on a time basis (by the minute), so there are no worries about falling foul of the rules in the few states that restrict charging for electricity by the kilowatt-hour.
Charging a Tesla
EVmatch’s system includes details about every charger and every vehicle, so Tesla drivers can seek out Tesla chargers, or verify that the appropriate adapter will be available. “If you have a Tesla charger, you would create a Tesla listing,” Hochrein explains. “The port type is indicated on the listing and [if you are driving a Tesla], you could filter to see only the Tesla ports or, for example, a NEMA 1450 outlet, which you can plug your Level 2 Tesla connector into.”
“Tesla drivers can pretty much use anything, because they typically have an adapter for the J plugs, but you can filter for port type on the platform,” Hochrein continues. “Some people don’t have all the adapters, so you can filter [the listings] to see exactly what kind of plugs are available. Site hosts can also indicate if they have adapters available. For example, some of them will keep their Tesla wall connectors plugged in at all times for their guests.”
Roll your own network
EVmatch is in the process of rolling out an interesting new feature that it calls a “subnetwork.” This allows a customer to create a small EVmatch network within their property. “An apartment complex or hotel can provide exclusive access to their charging stations for their subnetwork, and then at certain hours they can also make it available to the public,” Hochrein explains. “It’s an added access control feature that we’ve had a lot of demand for from groups that want to have exclusive access or exclusive tracking for a subgroup of users, but are also interested in making their equipment available to the public at certain times.”
The subnetwork feature has several promising applications. If an apartment complex installs chargers, they can use the feature to make them reservable. “We’ll be deploying charging stations in multiunit properties, and our software [allows] tenants to share efficiently among themselves and pay for their charging. The property manager can decide if they want to make the chargers available to the public at any time.”
A business that offers workplace charging could use the subnetwork feature to make its chargers available to the public outside working hours. “They could say, for example, Monday through Friday, nine to five, it’s only available to our employees or our customers. Then on the weekends it’s available to the general public, and they can set different prices for different user groups.”
Other applications: A membership organization could set a lower price for members and a higher price for members of the general public, or a business could offer free or reduced-price charging as a customer loyalty program.
EVmatch is currently running funded pilots of its subnetwork feature with two utilities in Vermont – Burlington Electric and Green Mountain Power.
This article appeared in Charged Issue 46 – November/December 2019 – Subscribe now.