The U.S. electric car industry is getting a jolt: NRG Energy, Inc.  is bringing the nation’s first privately funded electric vehicle charging network to Houston. The New Jersey-based company announced this morning the launch of eVgo, its electric car charging infrastructure and at-home chargers. Though other companies have plans for charging networks in D.C., Phoenix, and other cities, NRG’s is the first that’s entirely privately funded, according to the company.
The charging network is an effort to break what NRG CEO David Crane calls the "chicken and egg cycle around electric vehicles." To let drivers stop worrying which will come first, the electric car or the electric car infrastructure, NRG is taking the first step and investing $10 million into Houston's public system. The city will have 50 fast-charging stations by summer 2011; the first ones will pop up in February.
The chargers, made by energy- and defense-company Aerovironment , will also be available in home garages for monthly fees and a three-year contract. The cheapest payment plan gives drivers access to Level 2 chargers, which give a car about 25 miles of electricity in an hour. The faster urban chargers take about 30 minutes to fully charge a vehicle, and will be set up along highways and in parking lots of NRG’s retail partners--Walgreens, Best Buy, and two Texas chains, H-E-B and Spec’s Wine, Spirits, and Finer Foods.
"We think electric vehicles are the next great disruptive technology," Crane told Fast Company. To make that come true, NRG wants to make charging electric cars as convenient as getting them. And the timing couldn't be better: The Nissan Leaf --the first mainstream, all-electric car in the U.S.--hits roads in January 2011, and the Chevy Volt arrives in less than two weeks. NRG's infrastructure will be linked to the electric car market through a partnership with Nissan, electric-car company Aptera, and distributors smart USA and Gulf States Toyota.
Demand for the Leaf and Volt is already high--Nissan’s limit of 20,000 people have already preordered  the Leaf--and 50 chargers may not seem like enough for Houston, the fourth-largest city in the country. But, Crane assures us, it is: "These chargers are not a substitute for service stations in the conventional model. You don’t need as many of them." Rather than relying on gas stations for all fuel, electric-car owners will do most of their 'fueling' overnight.
After rolling out the Houston network, NRG wants to expand to all of Texas, says spokesman David Knox. Because NRG's system is privately funded, he says, it's a "sustainable infrastructure" and better suited for expansion than its government-aided counterparts. Only time will tell, of course, if gas stations will soon give way to electric chargers and, as Crane puts it, we'll see "a dramatic change in the way our society works."