Small Santa Barbara Tech Company Gets Big Electric Charging Contract

Liberty Access Technologies Beats Out National Competitors

Credit: Courtesy

A small but scrappy Santa Barbara tech company recently beat out a field of Goliath-sized competitors on a pilot project to charge electric school buses. PG&E awarded Liberty Access Technologies a contract to install its firmware in eight new bus chargers in Contra Costa County as part of the utility’s FleetReady program, which funds renewable energy infrastructure for customers with heavy-duty vehicles.

Founded in 2009, Liberty Access Technologies is headed by serial entrepreneur Chris Outwater. Originally a 3-D imaging engineer for Disney, Outwater created DNA security and imagery treasury companies before deciding to jump into the green tech industry. He recognized the need for a system to control grid management, billing, and all the other practical aspects of electric vehicle charging, and, alongside CTO Michael Keane and head engineer Ethan Zakai (both also Santa Barbara residents), developed an AC fast-charging product perfect for buses and trucks that plug in overnight. 

Liberty’s internet-based system ― called HYDRA ― puts less strain on the grid and is less expensive than a typical DC system. It can be accessed from any computer or smartphone and can figure out the best time of day or night to start charging, even pushing electricity back into the grid during peak use periods or during power outages. That latter feature is especially attractive to energy providers who like to avoid firing up their gas-powered peaker plants when the grid gets strained.

Liberty’s firmware is also a major piece of the puzzle to reduce greenhouse emissions from big vehicles. “We need to get these diesel buses off the road as soon as we can,” said Outwater, “and we need to get kids away from the diesel particles they’re breathing in.” Replacing all of America’s gas buses with electric buses could reduce emissions by as much as 5.3 million tons a year, according to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. Each electric bus could also save districts nearly $2,000 a year in fuel and $4,400 a year in reduced maintenance costs.

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