NRG's eVgo Fast-Charge Network Seeks to 'Revolutionize' EV Travel
Last week, a California appeals judge dismissed a lawsuit seeking to block a settlement that would see at least 200 fast-charging stations installed throughout the state in the next five years. The settlement resulted from a California Public Utilities Commission claim against the power company NRG—which had acquired a company that defrauded Californians out of hundreds of millions of dollars in their electrical rates. Earlier this year, governor Jerry Brown announced a deal with NRG under which the company would provide a lot of public charging, including about 200 480-volt charging stations clustered mostly in the state's largest urban areas.
The reason NRG was in a position to make such a bargain is that it owns eVgo, an electric vehicle charging infrastructure service that sells all-inclusive charge access packages to plug-in drivers for a flat monthly fee. So far, eVgo has only launched in Texas, where it has completed installation of 32 fast chargers spread between Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth, but it has plans to soon expand into California and the Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia area.
The Big Build-Out
NRG's enthusiasm for the electric vehicle charge market is evidenced by the hundreds of millions of dollars it has committed to invest in building eVgo's "Freedom Station" fast-charge network, which it says is "the nation's first privately-funded electric vehicle ecosystem." The company's chief executive, David Crane, owns several electric vehicles himself, and advocates for renewable energy investment.
In Texas, NRG says it saw an opportunity to build out its public charging network early in the game. "This is a fledgling market," said David Knox, communications director for NRG EV Services, in an interview with PluginCars.com. "Investing in it is a perfect opportunity to position yourself as a provider of choice."
While Knox points out that California's electric vehicle market is at a significantly more advanced stage, being the first major player in the fast-charging game still has its advantages. By staking out prime fast-charging locations before other providers have had a chance to build up their networks and offering attractively priced packaged charging deals to early EV drivers, eVgo should be well-positioned to compete in California as well.
Under the conditions of the California deal, access to the new eVgo fast-charging network would initially be available to all through a pay-per-charge fee structure capped at $10 to $15 per hour depending upon time of day (eVgo hasn't yet decided upon the exact rates.) Of course, for drivers interested in using these fast-charge stations on a regular basis—say, four or more times per month—signing up for eVgo's monthly subscription service will make financial sense. In Texas, the company's public charging subscription fee is $39 per month, though access to its Freedom Stations there is by subscription only.
All-inclusive home charging packages are also available. For $89 per month, eVgo offers unlimited home and public charging. The kicker is that subscribers to this package don't have to buy or install their own home chargers—eVgo effectively rents you the equipment it uses to sell you energy for your car, similar to how your cable provider rents you your cable box. The cost of the equipment is included in the $89 monthly fee, provided that subscribers commit to a 3-year contract.
Lot of Opportunities to Add 50 Miles in 15 Minutes
NRG sees comprehensive fast-charging networks as a key measure for facilitating early EV adoption. "Getting to the speeds that you're talking about with these DC chargers is what is necessary to really make people feel that [public charging] is a viable option, says Knox. "You're not going to get that trying to charge a 100-mile vehicle on a Level 2... We feel that this is going to revolutionize the ability of EVs to be seen as a transportation option for the masses."
According to eVgo, its Freedom Stations can add as much as 50 miles of range to a vehicle in just 15 minutes, compared to the 12-25 miles of charge per hour offered by Level 2 chargers. Though the process for selecting sites hasn't yet been finalized, Knox says the chargers will be positioned so that drivers can travel between California's major hub cities using the eVgo network to recharge along the way.
The last remaining regulatory barrier for the project is gaining approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Once FERC signs off, eVgo will begin the process of selecting sites and building out the network, culminating in at least 200 Freedom Stations at the end of five years.
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