As a city shaped and designed by the personal vehicle, now it is Houston’s turn to welcome, promote, and shape its urban infrastructure to a new kind of vehicle – the electric vehicle (EV). As plans are underway to expand public transportation networks and creating these networks requires much time, financing, planning, and a construction period (of which some businesses have difficulty during), the eVgo stations are 1) simple to install, 2) compliment Houston’s existing infrastructure and businesses, and 3) offer an opportunity for more Houstonians to drive electric vehicles to help reduce dependence on oil and cut emissions.
EVs, Electric Vehicles, the Character
Two benefits of electric vehicles are reducing auto pollution and allowing larger cities like Houston to meet clean air standards. Although an EV may be charged with energy from partially dirty sources, EVs are still cleaner than the average vehicle. For instance, if all of the energy is produced from coal to charge an EV, carbon dioxide emissions are still 25 percent lower than an ordinary gasoline vehicle. Jan Kreider, Founder of the University of Colorado’s Joint Center for Energy Management, studied the electric and hybrid electric vehicles lifetime of energy use – including production, transportation, disposal, and energy use. In the study, electric and hybrid vehicles created less pollution than traditional internal combustion engines in the areas of carbon dioxide, sulfur oxide, nitrogen oxide, and mercury levels. (Paragraph summary from Houston Chronicle Article, Electric Cars Run on Coal, Partly, (http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/business/energy/7301694.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+houstonchronicle%2Fenergy+%28HoustonChronicle.com+–+Energy%29),
NRG Energy’s eVgo Stations, the New Set Design
Throughout town, new eVgo stations will shape the city to promote more electric vehicles. NRG Energy plans to create 150 eVgo stations in a radius extending 25 miles from downtown Houston. Charging stations will be located at local stores like Walgreens, Specs, HEB, and Best Buy and near offices, but NRG Energy anticipates 80-90% of electric vehicles will charge at home. One can choose from three different monthly eVgo plans for charging, including a home plan with installation of a charging station at home, a mobile plan with a home charger and free charging at public chargers, and a complete plan with a home station, free public station charging, and free home charging. They plan to install 50 DC stations where a full charge takes about 30 minutes, and 100 Level 2 chargers that will take 3-4 hours for a full charge. Units will be installed beginning in February and are expected to be completed by summer of 2011. Similar plans are also underway for other Texas cities, such as Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio. (Paragraph summary from City to Lead Electric Car Charge in Houston Chronicle, November 18, 2010, Vol. 110. No. 36 and NRG Energy’s eVgo page, https://www.evgonetwork.com/. )
Houston, a Prime Stage for Electric Cars
Houston’s urban, infrastructure, and cultural characteristics present a condition for NRG Energy to create the largest electric vehicle charging station network in the U.S. A Houston Chronicle Editorial Charge! Why Houston – Houston! – is Great for Electric Cars (http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/editorial/7308925.html) is highlighted and commented on/categorized below:
- Social: As a city known for sprawl and rise of the suburbs, approximately 90% of Houston commuters use a personal vehicle. Houston’s many drivers create a huge opportunity for marketing electric cars.
- Regional/Technological: Houston’s hot climate allows an electric car to hold the charges longer, as hot days are preferable to cold days for an electric car’s battery.
- Economic/Political: Economically, Texas’s electricity market is deregulated and Houston has privatized power generation, so this allows an economic/political climate where NRG Energy can invest (NRG plans to invest $10 million in Houston for electric car charging stations) without waiting for government approval and sees Houston as a profitable city for electric cars.
- Infrastructure: Having a garage is common in Houston, and this is ideal for setting up an individual charging station.
- Technological: During the night, electricity demand is low, however, wind turbines and nuclear plants keep producing electricity, so electric car consumers can charge their cars at night using wind turbine and nuclear energy.
- Technological: If an electric car drives 10,000 miles/year, it uses 2.500 kilowatt hours.
The City of Houston is also promoting electric cars by 1) issuing a permit in 24 hours for homeowners to install and electric car charging station in their house and 2) planning on allowing electric vehicles on HOV lanes and giving them a reduced toll fare. The City of Houston also plans on adding more hybrid vehicles and adding 100 Nissan Leafs to its line-up of city owned cars for employees. (Summarized from City to help put electric cars on road to success from the Houston Chronicle, http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/business/energy/7301637.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+houstonchronicle%2Fenergy+%28HoustonChronicle.com+–+Energy%29 )
Houston has no doubt taken measures to help at the national scale with President Obama’s 2015 initiative to have 1 million electric cars on the road and seeks to set the stage to give its own citizens confidence and serve as a role model for the rest of the U.S. to inspire electric cars on the road. (Summarized from Houston Charged Up to Lead the Nation in Electric Car Power, http://culturemap.com/newsdetail/11-19-10-houston-charged-up-to-lead-the-nation-in-electric-car-power/)
Ripple effects of the electric vehicle initiatives could be felt by the building community. Will more buildings seek to place preferred parking for alternative vehicles? Will parking requirements eventually be reworked for electric vehicles? Although LEED-ND mainly focuses on sustainable sites through walking, biking, and public transit measures, could the electric vehicle infrastructure potentially be an innovation and design credit for LEED-ND?
Nonetheless, it is exciting to see evolving technology- the EV- being embraced by individuals, households, neighborhoods/communities, and the city to help transform transportation in Houston. Whether you are an individual, business developer, government official, or part of a firm or organization, everyone plays an important role in fostering awareness, discussion, research, and action about transportation in Houston and the role of EVs.