Texas Gets Unique EV Charging Network

NRG’s barrage of press releases announcing eVgo hammered away at the ease-of-use issue. Typical was Crane’s statement that NRG wants to ensure that “EV owners feel 100 percent comfortable driving their plug-in car anywhere in the greater Houston area, secure in the knowledge that a fast charger is never more than a few miles away.”

To make that happen, NRG is leveraging as many partnerships as possible. This isn’t a novel strategy; Ecotality and to a lesser extent Coulomb have put out a steady stream of releases detailing retailer hook-ups. But in announcing eVgo, NRG was ready with a flood of partner deals.

eVgo, Walgreen's electric-vehicle charging station

image via eVgo

Walgreens, for instance, said it was in for 18 DC charging stations, capable of delivering a substantial charge in around 10 minutes and a full charge in under a half-hour. Hertz, too, was backing the network, committing to installing charging stations at rental locations and integrating eVgo into its NeverLost GPS system for the Nissan and Coda EVs it plans to begin renting in 2011. Hertz spokeswoman Paula Rivera also said the company is working on a program whereby EV owners could have their vehicle charged at Hertz while renting a gas-burning car for longer trips at a special rate.

Others on board are also said to be Best Buy (which also has a deal with Ecotality), the big Texas supermarket chain H-E-B, and Spec’s, a specialty liquor and food purveyor.

And, importantly in Texas, where consumers can choose their electricity provider, most of the big electricity companies, like leader TXU Energy, have agreed to play with eVgo. This will allow most consumers to sign up for the unlimited charging option without having to switch providers.

All of this is serving to make what is actually a pretty small investment by Fortune 500-company standards — around $10 million, NRG said — look like a pretty big deal. And that’s the idea.

NRG recognizes that in the long-run most EV charging will be done at home—and, in fact, that would be its preference, since its electricity is abundant and cheaper overnight. But it understands that right now, it needs to “maximize outward visibility of the network, because if people can see it they’ll feel comfortable with it,” Knox said.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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