Tuesday, November 30, 2010

NRG, STP and eVgo

evgo-public Want to see how complicated business can be? Consider:

Nuclear Innovation North America LLC or NINA, the nuclear development company jointly owned by NRG Energy, Inc. and Toshiba, has awarded the engineering, procurement and construction contract for South Texas Project Units 3 & 4 to a restructured EPC consortium formed by Toshiba America Nuclear Energy Corporation, a US based Toshiba subsidiary, and The Shaw Group. Both the new nuclear units of the South Texas Project will use ABWR technology.

The actual contract is a natural, as NRG owns 44 percent of the South Texas Project, so Toshiba and NRG have awarded a contract for an NRG part owned project to a Toshiba part owned subsidiary. Here’s how the Shaw Group fits in:

Engineering service provider Shaw Group, Inc. announced Monday that it will expand its global strategic partnership with Japanese electronics maker Toshiba Corp.

And one of the provisions:

Under the global strategic partnership, Shaw will invest $250 million for an ABWR [advanced boiling water reactor] alliance with Toshiba. This includes providing a $100 million credit facility to NINA to assist in financing the South Texas Project.

This complex of companies (and their subsidiaries)  have the common goal of getting two reactors built in Texas and this news shows, in part, how that will be accomplished. Toshiba builds the reactors, Shaw Group offers engineering, procurement and construction services and NRG provides the site. It may seem convoluted, but the result is more electricity.


A visit to NRG’s web site provided an answer to a question that has niggled the mind a bit: if electric cars take off commercially, is it more likely that recharging the car will happen at home or on the road at the equivalent of a gas station?  Answer, at least as NRG sees it: both.

eVgo is a dedicated ecosystem of home electric vehicle charging docks and network charging stations united by affordable, set-rate charging plans from energy industry leader NRG.

Right now, it looks like NRG is setting up its eVgo stations around Houston. eV stands for electric vehicle (I assume the cap V is marketing; maybe it stands for the “voltage” to power the car) and go stands for go.

As the bit above shows, NRG is trying a monthly plan with different tiers based on whether one wants to use the charging stations or not – but the top rate is $89 per month. This includes all the electricity the car needs, presumably as long as one stays around Houston.

So far, electric cars have been marketed as around town vehicles, but eVgo suggest one model for expanding the potential coverage area for recharging cars, even if it is currently limited to Houston and environs.


eVgo is clearly a commercial venture. Another approach to charging stations is municipal in nature:

The city introduced two electric-car charging stations Tuesday, the first of many sprouting up across Raleigh as electric and hybrid cars become more common. Officials showcased the recharging stations in front of City Hall on Hargett Street. A third station is scheduled to be installed near the convention center next week.

Right now, Raleigh’s effort could be considered, well, careful:

The recharging stations, with 9-foot cords, will provide free electricity, though drivers will need to pay the parking meter.

The parking spaces in front of City Hall are not reserved for drivers with electric cars, so anyone will be able to use them for now.

In other words, Raleigh doesn’t want to annoy anyone too much.

I keep calling these stations – so does the story - but both eVgo and Raleigh are providing fairly modest charging poles that can be put any number of places – eVgo even has a web page soliciting businesses and apartment complexes to host one or more.

The idea of a station may take hold – it’s a well-understood paradigm - but since cars have to sit awhile to be recharged, the parking spot idea might work better.

And where’s the nuclear pick-up? Well, as electric cars gain in  popularity, they will require more electricity – and some of that electricity ought to be as clean as the cars. Where isn’t there a nuclear pick-up?

Fill, er, charge her up! An eVgo charging station in Houston.


SteveK9 said...

You might take note that today was the launch of the Chevrolet Volt, which will be the leading edge of the electrification of the automobile.

Jeff Schmidt said...

I've thought about electric vehicles a bit. I agree that if they are going to take off, we should recharge emissions free cars with emissions free energy (whether that comes from nuclear, solar, wind, hydro, whatever).

As for these charging 'stations', I too have thought for several years that the paradigm which really makes the most sense (in many cases) is the parking-meter analogy - you have a charging meter which is physically about the same size as a parking meter, pull up along side it, park, put a couple bucks in to pay for electricity, then plug it in and go about your business.

There's one other idea I remember reading about, which, if you can get the technical difficulties resolved, at least seems to make sense - battery swapping:

Instead of owning an expensive battery in your car, it would be more like the 'propane tank' model currently employed most places - most people who own a propane grill or other propane equipment, don't own the tank - they are constantly taking the tank back to places which have full tanks, they drop off the empty, and pickup the full, and pay a few bucks for the gas inside the tank.

I remember reading about a company, I think it was started by an Israeli, but not sure; maybe the test market was in Israel, well, anyhow point is this company was pairing up a car which was designed to easily swap the battery out, with battery swapping 'centers' or 'stations', where you pull up the car, and I guess maybe a crane or lift of some sort takes the old battery out of the vehicle, and puts the new battery in.

Of course, the technical difficulties with such an arrangement are that you have to make the battery swapping be easy, safe, and work correctly as close to 100% of the time as possible. Any crushed cars or crushed people will lead to expensive lawsuits and the public fleeing from that business model (I mean, who wants to risk getting their car or family crushed, right?).

Philip said...

"go stands for go."

I LOLed. :)