24 Nov 2010

NRG’s bid for an electric vehicle charging ecosystem – in Houston

Written by Jim Pierobon

Green visionaries and policy makers can have a chicken-or-the-egg-type debate for 30 more years about how best to develop a practical electric vehicle (EV) industry and infrastructure (vehicles or the charging stations?) Or company can stick its neck out and launch a privately-funded EV ecosystem.

Well that’s precisely what NRG is doing, in Houston of all places. Under the newly-minted “eVgo” brand, NRG says it is investing $10 million to provide EV owners throughout the greater Houston area with three different consumer fueling packages and install and maintain at least 50 public “fast charging” stations along major freeways.   It’s the first step in a roll-out strategy aimed at states with deregulated electric power markets.

Perhaps the two biggest potential and measurable benefits: reducing tailpipe emissions in cities drounding in smog on hot summer weekdays; and, as gasoline prices continue rising, the opportunity to better controlling one’s transporation costs won’t hurt either. Oh, did I mention there is NO federal funding supporting eVgo?

How long it will take for NRG to actually begin making money remains to be seen.  NRG CEO David Crane makes a credible case for grasping how this business model can draw participants and begin making money. Already, Best Buy, the Walgreens drug store chain, H-E-B food stores and Spec’s Wine stores have committed to hosting fast-charging stations in the Houston area.

Which metro area is next in the rollout of the eVgo network? Image from NRG.

NRG says it will offer standard 240-volt “Level 2” docks suitable for full charges within 6-8 hours and fast 480-volt “Level 3” chargers that can fully charge a car in half an hour. Level 1 docks are earmarked for at-home use requiring vehicles to be plugged in about 12 hours for a full charge.

Owning Reliant Energy and Green Mountain Energy — both retail electtricity providers based in Texas — provides eVgo with an efficient launching pad so the infrastructure and marketing networks are coming together. How many motorists buy EVs will serve as an invaluable guidepost for how this business can scale up. 

General Motors Co. and Nissan Motor Co. are introducing the “Volt” and “Leaf” electric cars, respectively, this year. Other auto makers reportedly will follow next year, including Ford Motor Co.

The eVgo charging stations will be positioned at locations within twenty-five miles of the city center, easing “range anxiety” over getting stranded if an all-electric vehicle runs out of juice.

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