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Electric vehicle owners in Phoenix can rent out their charging stations on new Buzze app

There have been many efforts to encourage Americans to buy electric vehicles. But, the Wall Street Journal reports that sales have plateaued over the past six months or so after strong growth.

Analysts cite a number of factors for consumer’s hesitancy to buy an EV — price is often a big one. But so too can be the infrastructure needed to charge an EV, and how available chargers are.

A local start-up, called Buzze, is looking to help in that area.

Consider it a version of Airbnb, but instead of being able to rent a place to stay, owners of EV chargers can essentially rent them out to EV drivers who are looking for a place to plug in. It’s a mobile app, and since its launch earlier this month, it has more than 100 hosts across the Valley.

To talk about how effective this kind of peer-to-peer platform can be is Matt Dean, an assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at University of California Irvine, where his work looks at sustainable transportation.

Interview highlights

MATT DEAN: It's great. I mean, just as you said, we already have these peer to peer networks. Uber and Lyft do it for getting a, getting a ride to the airport, getting a ride to the restaurant. Airbnb does it for hotels,, finding a place to stay. We have so much supply of residential chargers, but at the same time, we also have a lot of people who want to buy an EV but just don't have access to home charging and they think that public charging is unreliable, it's too costly. And then you have a mix of people who are driving down the road, taking those long-distance trips and maybe they just want to be able to use somebody's charger along their stay at a motel or hotel that doesn't have one. So, it's a great way to match supply and demand and it's great that this market is, is filling this need

MARK BRODIE: Given how long it can take to, to charge an electric vehicle, like we're talking potentially a few hours here depending on the type of car, the type of charger. Like logistically, how, how do you see it working in terms of, you know, somebody who has a charger, maybe trying to get a bunch of people in or like it seems like maybe scheduling could potentially be a challenge, I guess.

DEAN: So at least for the host, you know, you buy a charger because you want to be able to plug in at home when you need it. And so host will probably limit the number of days in the week. And certainly the hours that they think a person would come to the house. If you have your charger in your garage, certainly you wouldn't, you know, give up access to your garage at night. You may limit it during the day. But for the duration aspect, I think that people would say if you have a trickle charge level one, which takes more than 24 hours to get from 0 to 100 then maybe you would do that during the weekend or, you know, times that you're away from the home. If you have a faster outlet, level two, which can take 6 to 8 hours, you may do that overnight and only accept neighbors that would request. Typically people don't have the super fast chargers at their house. And so we're really talking about those 6 to 8 hour time frame charging episodes.

BRODIE: You kind of alluded to this, but I'm curious about people maybe who rent homes, either renting a house or in an apartment complex that, you know, maybe either don't have chargers or only have a few chargers or people who maybe work somewhere where there's, you know, one or two chargers in the, you know, the parking situation where they work. Is this the kind of thing that could maybe encourage those kinds of people who would like to have an EV but are nervous about charging it to get an EV, thinking, 'OK, there are potentially lots of new places where I could plug it in.'"

DEAN: Definitely. What you alluded to is this charging anxiety. We, we often say range anxiety. How far can I drive without needing to charge while charging anxiety is the next big thing. Where are the chargers that are accessible? There are a lot of public chargers in, in, in major cities, but often times those are broken down. There's a long wait or the payment system doesn't work, it doesn't connect to the internet. So, having these private, private but public chargers are a real way to reduce that gap for those renters for people who, who think that public charging is just unreliable or too costly for them.

BRODIE: There's obviously been a lot of attention, a lot of effort and a lot of money put into trying to get more chargers both on on highways and freeways, but also, you know, in communities. How do you see a platform like this playing into that or fitting into that? You know, as we, in theory at least, get more public charging stations.

DEAN: Yeah, it, it goes back to how do we want to use our taxpayer money to transition to EVs, do we want to subsidize the purchase of EVs or subsidize public charging stations or a little bit of both. I think this is a great way for people who already have home chargers to be able to provide that access, and it's a solution that doesn't require taxpayer money.

BRODIE: I just wonder if, you know, if there are more charging stations, like, you know, like we have filling stations, gas stations now, if there are, you know, if shopping centers and workplaces start and apartment complexes start to put in more chargers, I just wonder if, you know, going to somebody else's driveway and parking your car in their driveway or their garage for, you know, several to more than several hours. Like, does that, is that still a, an efficient, is that still a, a convenient option for folks?

DEAN: Sure. I think there are those public chargers that are at grocery stores at the library, at the parks. But how long would you actually spend there? You know, half an hour to a couple of hours? If you're talking about the same charging speed compared to someone's home, you're just gonna have many of these short public charging sessions. If you're able to drive down the block to somebody's home, park your vehicle, charge it, go walk home, you could be doing activities at home and then go back and get your vehicle the next day or you can do this during the day even.

BRODIE: Do you have a sense or, or a gut feeling of like how much money somebody might be able to make. Like if you are somebody who has a charger and you're willing to let other people use it, like, do you have a sense of how much money somebody might be able to make on this? You know, based on, of course, the, the amount that they're willing to rent it out.

DEAN: You know, those platforms advertise a couple of $100 per year. At least in the short term, I just don't think that there's enough demand or, or knowledge of these peer to peer charging apps. There are some that just say you can multiply the cost of electricity by some factor or percentage to get a little bit of profit. So if you're, if you're getting charged, you know, 10 cents per kilowatt hour, you could charge them 20 cents, a two times a factor. But I, I think maybe a couple bucks a week if that, it's not really to generate revenue, it's more just to provide access and maybe recover some of the cost of buying and installing this, this charging equipment yourself.

BRODIE:  Are there other platforms like this out there? Other peer to peer, you know, 'hey, I have a charger, you can come use it' kind of, kind of platforms.

DEAN: Yes. So Buzze is one in the Phoenix area, and it's expanding nationwide. EV Match is another one, and it does allow for these residential customers and I think they have other services for businesses and fleets in the UK. There is one called Co Charger. It does a similar thing. So it is growing.

BRODIE: Would you expect there to be more coming online over time?

DEAN: I definitely think so. And it could be a, a different a, a different feature in each state or each region. There could be certain ones that match ride hailing fleets in New York City or LA, these, these big, you know, peer-to-peer ride hailing markets may need a charge at a level two or a, a fast charging station. So it really depends upon the needs of that community and the certain vehicle fleets that are out there. So perhaps those peer-to-peer apps might help in those areas with high EV sales and high EV charging demand.

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Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.