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At the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at UC Santa Barbara, graduate student Heather Hochrein was tasked with writing a thesis with a business-forward sustainability solution. Drawing on previous experience that included directing energy efficiency programs, she explained, “My focus was still on applying sustainable technology to mitigate climate change, but now from a business perspective.”

Understanding that they lacked the engineering genius to reverse CO2 emissions, Heather and her thesis team tackled the problem with a bottom-up approach by encouraging consumers simply to do less harm. They planned to do this by increasing electric vehicle adoption. They learned that the electric vehicle market was expanding even more rapidly than they had projected. “We realized most people were installing chargers in their homes and not using them most of the time, while commuters faced the challenge of unreliable public charging,” Heather said. There are over 1 million EVs on the road in the US and according to Alternative Fuels Data Center, there are just under 21,000 public charging stations. The model for EVmatch was born: a peer-to-peer EV charging network that increases access to reliable electric vehicle charging options in a similar way to Airbnb and Uber. EVmatch stepped in to increase accessibility and shine light on a hopeful future for EV drivers by utilizing existing resources and reducing range anxiety.

With approval and funding from the Bren School, the team launched a pilot program in Santa Barbara, California. Starting with personal networks, they began matching EV drivers with residential charging stations located near their workplace. The response was electric. Since successful proof-of-concept in 2016, EVmatch has registered 1,000 users and 200 charging stations via their mobile app just in California.

A bonus success Heather did not foresee was the high demand for the company’s proprietary pricing calculator. It is hard to set a static price for energy as every situation is unique, dependent on the car battery, energy source, utility providers, the list goes on. EVmatch’s pricing calculator removes the guesswork for both individual and corporate hosts. Its ability to calculate an appropriate rate for hosts, determined by a number of critical indicators as mentioned above, make it a sought-after commodity in the changing world.

The EVmatch team doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon. In January 2019, they released a new program for commercial hosting. “By leveraging our industry partners, we’re lowering the barrier to entry for small businesses by offering low-cost smart charging hardware coupled with EVmatch’s management software. For around just $600, small companies can get into the EV charging business.” Businesses can offer charging as a free amenity to their patrons or charge them a discounted rate. “In off hours, they can monetize by offering the charger to the public,” Heather said.

Navigating new markets requires creativity and bravery. “I think it’s fun to have hard problems to solve. We are in a new market — uncharted,” Heather said. Thanks to Miss Hochrein’s inquisitive leadership, EVmatch has made its mark in the electric vehicle movement and hopes to continue accelerating it in exciting new ways.