April 18, 2011
Houston Energizes Deployment of Plug-In Vehicles
Houston, Texas, is energizing the deployment of plug-in vehicles and electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) infrastructure.
Houston's Plug-In Vehicle Evolution
Fast-growing Houston, the fourth-largest U.S. city, is an energy and transportation giant. It is home to the nation's largest petrochemical and refining complex and the second largest port. It has a "car culture," with on-road travel exceeding 140 million vehicle miles per day.
Spurred by concerns about air quality and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, Houston is now preparing to become a giant in the deployment of advanced transportation solutions, including plug-in vehicles. The city already has the nation's third-largest municipal fleet of hybrid electric vehicles; about half its 1,600 nonspecialty light-duty vehicles are hybrids. Houston also has taken measures such as consolidating its motor pool, which decreased its fleet size by one third and reduced fuel use by 35,000 gallons per year.
In 2008, the city issued the Green Houston Emissions Reduction Plan, which highlights three sources of GHG and other pollutant emissions: buildings and structures, mobile sources, and waste. Vehicle electrification became a key focus of mobile-source emissions-reduction strategies. The city led the creation of the Houston Electric Vehicle Initiative to support the deployment of plug-in vehicles. Partners in this effort include the Clinton Climate Initiative, the Houston Advanced Research Center, EVSE supplier ECOtality, Rocky Mountain Institute, NRG Energy and its companies Reliant Energy (retail electricity) and eVgo (charging station services), the public utility CenterPoint Energy, plug-in vehicle manufacturer Nissan, Texas A&M University, and the University of Texas at Austin. Houston also has received grants for plug-in vehicle activities from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Climate Showcase Communities Program and from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) via the Texas State Energy Conservation Office.
Major parts of Houston's plug-in vehicle efforts have been participation in the EV Project and development of streamlined EVSE permitting and installation processes. These activities are described below. Houston also participates in Project Get Ready, an initiative to help U.S. cities prepare for plug-in vehicles. Houston has demonstrated leadership in this effort by being the first to share EVSE installation costs publicly. For more information about Houston's plug-in vehicle efforts, visit the Green Houston and Power of the Plug-In websites.
The EV Project
With support from DOE through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, ECOtality is deploying nearly 15,000 charging stations in select locations nationwide through the EV Project to serve the first owners of Nissan LEAF electric vehicles and Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. The goal is to analyze this first wave of plug-in vehicles and infrastructure and facilitate the transition to large-scale, nationwide deployment.
As part of the EV Project in Houston, the City of Houston is working with ECOtality and various stakeholders to develop a detailed blueprint for deploying an effective network of EVSE infrastructure throughout the city. This includes development of recommended EVSE deployment guidelines for Houston to familiarize stakeholders with the unique requirements of plug-in vehicles and EVSE. With DOE funding, ECOtality is also providing free residential EVSE to Houston's Chevy Volt buyers as part of the EV Project.
Houston's EVSE Permitting and Installation Process
Houston applied its existing online express permitting process to EVSE installations (see flow chart at the right). With this process, online permits from Houston's Code Enforcement Group are issued automatically and instantaneously for standard EVSE, and an inspection can be performed on the same day as installation. Thus, the entire assessment, permitting, installation, and inspection process for a simple EVSE project can be completed in one day.
Plug-in vehicles will begin arriving in Houston in March 2011, and the city fleet plans to acquire 100 of them in addition to converting 40 hybrid electric vehicles to plug-in operation. The city is also supporting installation of 40 municipal and 25 public charging stations. These will be complemented by 100 public Level 2 charging stations and 50 fast-charging stations installed by NRG EV Services. NRG EV Services also will offer EVSE incentives to Chevy Volt and Nissan LEAF purchasers. As mentioned above, ECOtality is providing free residential EVSE to Houston's Chevy Volt buyers as part of the EV Project.
An integrated plug-in vehicle planning process was completed at the end of 2010 along with full implementation of the rapid permitting and inspection process. High-occupancy-vehicle lane access for plug-in vehicles is also planned. Various public-private partnerships are helping make the city plug-in ready and educating potential plug-in vehicle customers. An ongoing EVSE clustering project will help determine if transformers in neighborhoods with many plug-in vehicles have adequate capacity.
Texas provides incentives for plug-in vehicles and EVSE. See Texas Incentives and Laws on the Alternative Fuels and Advanced Vehicles Data Center.