Houston makes bid to be electric car capital of the U.S.

Houston, the Energy Capital of the World, is making moves to become the electric car capital of the nation.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor on

Houston, the Energy Capital of the World, is making moves to become the electric car capital of the nation.

How's that for turning over a new leaf?

Known for the countless oil and gas companies that call the city home, Houston wants to compete with San Francisco for the title, and is entering into partnerships with automakers and power utility companies to materialize its vision.

If you've ever visited Houston, the fourth-biggest city in the U.S, you'll know that the city's residents love their cars -- and the city's spread-out planning has accommodated for this affinity.

But at a recent event to promote Nissan's all-electric Leaf, newly-elected mayor Annise Parker said Houston needs an electric car that feels like a gas guzzler to win the city's residents.

"To have an electric vehicle that appeals to a car culture will make the real difference for market penetration," Parker said, as reported by Reuters' Chris Baltimore.

But convincing drivers that electric cars won't leave them in the middle of nowhere without a charge is a different story. (The Leaf claims 100 miles per charge.)

To do so, Nissan has signed a deal (.pdf) with the city and power provider Reliant (a division of NRG Energy) to build a handful of public charging stations in the area.

Nissan has signed similar agreements with San Diego, Seattle, Orlando, Tennessee and Oregon.

The significance of convincing Houstoners to go electric is almost as big as Texas itself: 5.4 million people call the metropolitan area home.

The move also makes smart business sense for local utilities. Electric demand in the U.S. has slumped 5 percent in the last two years, and interest in more efficient electricity usage is growing.

Electric cars are a way for utilities to use spare electricity generated by power plants in off-peak hours, smoothing out the cyclical usage spikes for energy demand during a 24-hour period.

Since utilities purchase capacity to accommodate for maximum demand, it's in their interest to put all that capacity to work throughout the year.

The only other snag? Cost. A 2009 study by the University of California Berkeley estimated the total cost of building charging stations at $320 billion -- leaving plenty of room for state governments to use tax breaks to encourage revamping America's automobile infrastructure.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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