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Texas a Lone Star in EV Charging Infrastructure

John Gartner — January 25, 2012

In the 19th century, Texas became well known for its longhorns and the Alamo. The 20th century saw the oil boom, the Cowboys, and an infamous Dallas afternoon in November, 1963. In the 21st century, the state is becoming defined by its surprisingly progressive stand on energy through its wind farms and embracing of electric vehicles.

NRG Energy and its EV Services division have been leading the drive to bring clean power and transportation to Texas. The company now controls 450 megawatts of wind power in the state, and has executed the most aggressive rollout of EV infrastructure in the country.

These two developments are closely linked, according to Arun Banskota, the president of NRG EV Services, with whom I spoke at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. NRG is investing $25 million in public EV charging equipment in Houston and the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Banskota said. That’s a hefty investment in a speculative market, especially for a publicly-traded company. Despite the area’s reputation as an oil town rich in land yachts, NRG is installing 50 “Freedom Stations” in Houston and 75 in DFW. Each of the charging stations has at least one DC fast charger and one Level 2 charging station, and they cost more than $100,000 per location.

The strategy appears to be working. According to Banskota, 80 percent of Nissan Leaf owners in the two regions have signed up for the EVGO program, a subscription service that enables charging at home or around town. NRG customers can specify only clean energy when they sign up.

Banskota said the company’s wind farms produce an abundance of power at night, when demand is low, which can result in spilling the excess power or negative pricing. Enter the EVs, which can charge at night and enable NRG to generate more revenue from its wind farms. Tying wind to EV charging in Texas mirrors similar endeavors in The Netherlands and Denmark, but is unique in the United States.

Texas is one of four states (along with Hawaii, California and Virginia) that currently do not regulate EV charging services, and NRG is likely to offer a similar service in one of the other states during 2012. NRG is looking to integrate EV charging into home energy management applications so that all of a home’s energy can be managed through a single application. The company also plans to introduce vehicle to grid (V2G) technology in several states. The company acquired V2G technology from the University of Delaware, but does not expect there to be much demand for using vehicles to provide power to the grid for three to five years.

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