While the federal government nudges an electric-vehicle (EV) infrastructure forward through charging companies Ecotality and Coulomb, a power provider is striking out on its own to prepare Houston — and, down the road, several more Texas cities — for the arrival of the electron guzzlers.
NRG Energy’s budding eVgo network, unveiled last month, might represent only one big power company’s small bet that EVs will take off. More hopefully, however, it could be seen as a sign that consumer concerns about EVs will be assuaged sooner than expected, allowing for a speedier development of the market.
As NRG boasts, eVgo is the first EV-charging network to arise without government money behind it: Ecotality’s EV Project is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy to the tune of $115 million, and Coulomb fetched $37 million to boost its ChargePoint America. That distinction alone makes eVgo interesting. But the network (pronounced ee-vee-goh) is also worth watching because NRG is moving so aggressively on the project, with a turnkey charging solution, focused messaging and an array of partnerships that could give the program legs.
While Ecotality’s Jonathan Read has been talking for months about a subscription-based service, eVgo came out of the gate outlining three tidy tiers of service, from a three-year contract at $49 per month that includes installation of a Level 2 charger (but doesn’t include electricity costs, and doesn’t give users free access to public stations), up to an $89/month plan that covers installation and electricity costs, and gives users free, unlimited access to network stations.
Penciling out the value of these plans is difficult, but at the $49/month level, three years’ of monthly fees add up to well under the $2,200 price tag Nissan has put on the purchase and installation of the same smart AeroVironment home charger for Leaf buyers (for those who don’t get a charger free through the EV Project, that is).
Spokesman David Knox said NRG doesn’t expect a flood of customers in the months ahead — CEO David Crane told the New York Times he foresees perhaps 1,000 signups in the first year. But eVgo is a long-term project, Knox said, and a big part of the company’s task is to inspire confidence that electric vehicles will be viable. “If we can give people convenient, easy-to-understand options, then that’s a step in the right direction,” he said.