Houston, we have an electric car charging solution

Summary:So, it's pretty clear that there will be all sorts of stalling when it comes to government-funded and public programs that support the deployment and installation of electric vehicle charging stations. So private initiatives are shifting their own initiatives into a higher gear, and Houston will apparently be the first beneficiary.

So, it's pretty clear that there will be all sorts of stalling when it comes to government-funded and public programs that support the deployment and installation of electric vehicle charging stations. So private initiatives are shifting their own initiatives into a higher gear, and Houston will apparently be the first beneficiary.

NRG Energy plans to put more than $10 million into a publicly available charging station infrastructure that is being branded eVgo. The company actually is installing these things at homes, what's called a Level 2 charger that charges overnight, and in the sorts of places you might expect to top off your tank, if you will. Those places include major freeways, shopping malls and business districts, and workplace parking lots. You'll be able to fast-charge your vehicle in those public locations: up to 30 miles of additional range in less than 10 minutes. The first infrastructure will be going up in Harris Country starting in 2011; approximately 50 stations should be open for business by the middle of the year.

Want to use one of these charging stations? You'll pay a monthly fee between $49 and $89 per month, for a three-year commitment. Kind of like you would for your mobile plan. The upside is that you won't have to pay the upfront costs of installing your home charging station.

Because it matters, here's a list of the companies that are kicking in to help with the NRG deployment in Houston:

  • Nissan North America (maker of the Nissan LEAF)
  • Aptera, which makes the electric aerodynamic model 2e
  • Gulf States Toyota
  • Hertz
  • smart USA, the U.S. distributor of smart fortwo
  • Best Buy, Walgreens, H-E-B and Spec's Wine, Spirits, & Finer Foods, which have all agreed to be charging stations hosts
  • AeroVironment and GE, which are contributing the charging infrastructure technology
  • Direct Energy, Green Mountain Energy, Reliant Energy and TXU Energy, which are providing retail electricity

NRG Energy describes the Houston initiatives as the first substantial privately funded charging networks in the United States. But I think that we'll see a lot more activity next year, if my recent conversation with two of the folks behind another electric vehicle charging startup, Coulomb Technologies, is any indication.

"We have decided we're going to use capitalism to build out the infrastructure," says Richard Lowenthal, CEO of Coulomb and (I think it's worth noting), the former mayor of Cupertino, Calif. That's important, I think, because there are so many challenges in front of state and local governments that electric vehicles are likely to be shoved farther down the priority list.

One of Coulomb's not-so-secret weapons is its billing infrastructure, and the fact that it offers a way to support drivers using the charging stations, keeping this problem out of the hands of the businesses where charging stations happen to be sited. Approximately 39 percent of the stations that Coulomb has installed are part of a business-to-business arrangement, places like Starwood or Hyatt hotels or corporate parking lots (such as Dell), according to Lowenthal.

One challenge that will be faced by any company getting into the electric vehicle charging game is this one, according to Lowenthal: In the United States, there are roughly 250 million cars, but only 50 million garages. So, where do you put these things?

I think 2011 will be the year we start finding out, with both the LEAF and the Volt finally on the road.

Topics: Dell, Government

About

Heather Clancy is an award-winning business journalist specializing in transformative technology and innovation. Her articles have appeared in Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, The International Herald Tribune and The New York Times. In a past corporate life, Heather was editor of Computer Reseller News. She started her journalism lif... Full Bio

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