"World's First" Privately Funded Electric Car Charging Ecosystem Set for Houston

By · November 29, 2010

eVgo Network by NRG Energy

As the debate usually goes, nobody will buy electric cars unless there is sufficient charging infrastructure to support them and nobody is willing to install charging infrastructure without seeing the electric cars that need it. Personally I think the "chicken or egg" question is overblown, and one that we don't need to answer right away because we don't need it for EVs to gain a foothold (see myth number four), but nonetheless it's getting a lot of attention these days.

To this point the only real push for massive amounts of EV charging equipment spread over large areas (known as an EV ecosystem) has been through the joint public-private EV Project partnership. Funded with $125 million in federal government grant money as well as $125 million in private investment, the EV Project seeks to install more than 15,000 charging stations in six states (WA, OR, CA, AZ, TX, and TN) over the next year. No so coincidentally, these states tend to be the same places that plug-in car companies (Nissan, Chevrolet, Mitsubishi, CODA, Think) will roll out their initial crop of EVs.

And while those of us that support electric cars see this as a good thing, major questions still remain about how (or even if) these charging ecosystems can be privatized. Will people pay for the electricity at these stations much like they do for fuel at a gas pump? Most states make reselling electricity illegal, and the cost per transaction will be pennies, so the current thinking is that if you buy something (service, hotel room, retail good, food, etc.) at an establishment that hosts a charging station you can use the charging station as part of that transaction. Still, the very fact that the EV Project seems to be falling behind schedule indicates that these arrangements are harder than people expected to hammer out.

But down in Houston, Texas, local utility NRG Energy is taking the idea of an EV Ecosystem into its own hands and with an investment of $10 million of its own money, as well as partnerships with infrastructure providers and commercial operations, plans to build what they're calling the "world's first" privately funded EV ecosystem. Called the eVgo Network, NRG has plans to expand the network across Texas over the course of 2011 and imagines it expanding nationwide in the future. You can watch an introductory video below.

NRG Energy is building the eVgo network in Houston, TX, with plans to expand nationwide.

NRG plans to control the process from beginning to end by sending out consultants to prospective EV buyers and letting them know how much it will cost to install a charging station at home. NRG will then provide the installation using AeroVironment equipment. After installation the company has three options for monthly usage of the network based on fixed costs, meaning that the plans would only be money savers for those that drove quite a bit (see the above video for an overview).

We'll see if these fixed cost type plans actually take off, but for now that seems to be how private industry envisions charging infrastructure working. What's amazing to me is that an entire city the size of Houston can be decked out in an EV Ecosystem for $10 million. That's about two gas stations... and two gas stations is enough for what, a town of 3,000 people?

New to EVs? Start here

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