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USA: Market Street plugs in

Rick Reina, of The Woodlands, plugs in the electric charging cord to recharge his Chevrolet Volt at the car charging station in the Market Street parking garage. The Blink charging station serves all vehicles with the J1772 connector, commonly used on all electric cars. Photo: David Hopper / freelance

Area residents and visitors can now power up their electric vehicles while watching a movie, grabbing dinner or hitting the shops at Market Street in The Woodlands.

Earlier this year, the first charging stations in The Woodlands were installed on the first floor of the shopping center’s parking garage.

The “Blink” stations serve all vehicles equipped with the standard J1772 connector, including the Chevy Volt, Nissan LEAF, Smart ED, Ford Focus and Mitsubishi I.

Market Street marketing director Jenny Taylor said she often sees cars charging in the new spaces and also receives calls asking if charging stations are available.

“It really does add to the uniqueness of Market Street,” she said. “And it responds to our ever-changing customer needs. As customers aspire to new things, we want to support them.”

Taylor said the Blink stations allow the shopping center to cater more to those who drive electric cars. “We see them as a customer service amenity that we provide,” she said.

She explained that the installation at Market Street is part of the EV Project, a nationwide effort to build infrastructure for electric vehicles.

“They’ve been installing them across the country,” Taylor said.

The EV Project

In 2009, ECOtality was awarded a $115 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to launch the EV Project. The program supports the installation of 15,000 commercial and residential charging stations in 16 cities and major metropolitan areas in six states and the District of Columbia.

More than 200 Blink electric vehicle charging stations will be installed in the Houston area as part of the project.

Dave Aasheim, area manager for ECOtality, said the company studied the city of Houston and decided that placing stations along the major corridors made sense.

He explained that placing the infrastructure in Houston encourages manufacturers to sell electric vehicles in the area.

“You have some champions in the Houston area who want to get the city noticed by manufacturers,” he said. “Because of these efforts, manufactures will sell their cars here. We have the public infrastructure.”

Aasheim said the company participated in the first wave of electric charging stations that premiered in California in the 1990s.

“But it’s a new day and a new age,” he said.

Aasheim likens the charging stations to cell phones. “In the 1990s, you just plugged them in and they worked,” he said. “Today it’s a whole different ball game. People expect smart technology.”

To respond to customer expectations, ECOtality made its Blink stations interactive. They connect to smart phone applications, offering maps to available stations and showing which are available.

The Blink station sends a text to a customer to notify when the car is fully charged or an alert if the vehicle has become accidentally disconnected.


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