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Beyond Rhetoric: GE and NRG Energy Bet Heavily on Electric Cars

LAS VEGAS – Companies are starting to back up their rhetoric about electric cash with hard investments and significant cash. Two of the most committed are New Jersey-based utility NRG Energy and General Electric. NRG has put $10 million into a groundbreaking EV charging plan in Houston, and GE is buying 25,000 EVs for fleet and customer use and — it revealed to me — also building a 480-volt fast charger to go with the 240-volt WattStation it’s already deployed for home and public use.

NRG has a large display here at the Consumer Electronics Show of a smart energy house that includes a Nissan Leaf electric car charging from an NRG-branded 240-volt AC home charger built for the company by major player AeroVironment. The charger is no static display — according to Rich Larsen, director of business development for NRG Energy, in a program called eVgo the company is putting 200 of the public versions of the charger in strategic locations around Houston, plus another 50 DC 480-volt fast chargers (these typically cost $50,000 each) that can charge a car most of the way in 20 to 30 minutes.

NRG has commitments from Best Buy (10 locations), Walgreen’s and local liquor chain Spec’s to install charging stations in their parking lots. Chevron and Shell are potential partners in the talking stage, so there could be fast charging at gas stations, too.

First “privately funded” electric-car infrastructure

Larsen emphasizes that, although federal subsidies are available to install public charging, the company isn’t going there. “This is the first privately funded EV infrastructure,” he said. Consumers in Houston will be offered a lucrative deal: $89 a month in a three-year plan that covers all charging at home (the electricity costs are taken off the bill) and in public, including fast charging.

Customers will also get a 240-volt charger installed at no cost to them. NRG is taking names now, and will launch the program soon. It expands to Dallas/Fort Worth in March, followed by Austin/San Antonio. “This is a fantastic deal, and it’s environmentally sound,” Larsen said. “Our customers care about reducing our dependence on foreign oil.”

Larsen pointed out that charging partners benefit, too — the stations (two per location) will be close to the road and the power poles, giving good visibility and sending a green message.

At the smart energy house, actors playing the resident family described the Houston program and played up the ease of charging their Nissan Leaf. “It’s as easy as plugging in a cell phone,” one family member said. “And every time we charge, the cost goes down.”

GE’s commitment: cars and charging stations
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