Texas Energy Provider Gives Free Power at Night to Electric Car Owners

By · July 31, 2013

TXU Free Nights EV

TXU's Free Nights plan allows some plug-in owners to drive almost entirely for free.

A Dallas-based energy provider, TXU Energy, is giving away power to electric car drivers. In its Free Nights promotion program, quietly started last year, EV owners receive all their electricity absolutely free, if plugged in between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am. That’s right, folks: free fuel for an electric car.

Under the program, TXU Energy gives consumers the option to sign up for a cost structure similar to many early cell phone plans: households pay more for daytime power than they would under some other plans offered by TXU and its competitors, but charging after 10 pm means free electrons.

Wind energy is the key. The state of Texas has more than twice the wind energy generation capacity of any other state. But at night, a time when consumers in Texas consume just 25 percent of their total electrical demand for the day, wind production is at its peak. So what to do with all of that excess production? For TXU Energy, a seller that claims to serve more customers in more Texas cities than any other retailer, the answer is to give it away.

No Cost Per Mile

The Texas energy market differs from many other markets because it's set up to allow consumers to choose from a variety of retailers that act as middlemen—between the utilities that generate the state’s electricity and the businesses and households that use it.

There is much debate over whether or not these kinds of policies save consumers money. Nonetheless, they certainly lead to plans tailored specifically for certain consumption patterns. TXU’s Free Nights program is one such plan, and though it wasn’t necessarily created with electric car drivers in mind, it offers this potential boon: zero cost to power an electric car.

According to most estimates, 80 percent or more of EV charging happens at home, and the vast majority of that charging takes place at night. Many utilities in states like California, Oregon and Hawaii offer special time-of-use rates catering specifically to plug-in owners, but TXU is the only provider currently offering free power.

While this wouldn’t necessarily be the cheapest option for the average Texan, for plug-in owners, the plan represents the ideal scenario in a cost-of-fuel analysis: free. (It’s a satisfaction otherwise experienced only by EV drivers with home renewable energy generation.)

Wind-Powered Cars

“I don’t know that I’m saving overall on my monthly bill since I switched over, but I just couldn’t resist the idea of driving my LEAF for free,” said Jason Meador, an Arlington-based EV owner who uses his car to commute to his job at Trend Offset Printing in Carrollton, Tex. Meador told Plugincars.com that he switched over last year after purchasing his Nissan LEAF in 2011, allured by the prospect of being able to say that he drives his car for free. “I think the savings in charge costs comes to about $40 to 60 per month,” Meador said. Those savings are made more impressive when tacked onto the hundreds of dollars in gasoline costs that plug-in owners dodge each month.

Juan Elizondo, a TXU spokesperson, told PluginCars.com that Free Nights is just one of many options that TXU gives customers based on their needs, including plans offering as much as 100-percent wind-generated electricity. TXU said that potential customers are walked through the process of calculating which plan is best for them by phone operators based on past energy use. The company gets hundreds of calls per day from people asking about Free Nights.

Elizondo said he regularly uses plug-in vehicles from TXU’s corporate fleet to travel to events in the area, and that TXU is looking for more ways to participate in the plug-in market. The energy retailer donated a total of 11 plug-ins, and installed 10 free charging stations at public facilities in the city of Dallas, and is working to install further infrastructure in Fort Worth.

While TXU wasn’t able to say how much wind energy actually goes into the Free Nights program—it varies depending upon each customer’s location—any area with a surplus of cheap nighttime energy makes for an attractive market for EV drivers. With wind levels often hitting their peak during overnight hours in Texas, the case for more plug-ins (and more wind generation) is strong in the state—and anywhere else in the country where the wind blows.

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