NRG EVgo on the move: Its DC fast charging network passed major milestones (Full Interview)

Q&A with Arun Banskota and Brendan Jones.

In the past year, the NRG EVgo network has quietly passed some major milestones in the EV charging industry. The company now has more public DC fast charging sites than anyone else – even more than Tesla’s vast Supercharger network. EVgo also has the highest number of CHAdeMO and CCS fast chargers installed on its network, serving every EV made by the major automakers and any Tesla Model S with a CHAdeMO adapter. In fact, as of May 2015, it has over four times more fast chargers than any other public network.

The company can also lay claim to the most powerful network of CHAdeMO and CCS chargers. While others are rolling out DC chargers in the 20 kW range, EVgo has no stations below 44 kW. NRG EVgo’s network of Freedom Stations has been providing drivers with range confidence since 2011. It now operates in 19 markets, with full operations in another 7 markets coming by the end of the year. In total, it’s currently operating more than 350 DC fast chargers in the US: more than 100 in the LA market; 50 in the Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston areas; 28 in Chicagoland and 10 coming online in Denver. Dozens more sites in half a dozen metro areas are in the permitting and construction process.

NRG EVgo Fast Charging Network1

The EVgo network has doubled in size in just the last 8 months. Still, despite its growth and size, it’s entirely possible that you haven’t even heard of it. Charged recently chatted with the two company execs most responsible for the development and installation of EV infrastructure: Arun Banskota , the President of NRG EVgo, and Brendan Jones, who recently joined the team after 21 years in the auto industry, most recently running the EV arm of Nissan North America.

NRG EVgo Fast Charging Network11

Charged: EVgo has become one of the largest and fastest-growing DC fast charging networks in America. However, it seems that Tesla’s charging network receives most of the mainstream media attention. How do you think the two networks stack up?

Arun Banskota: Tesla has more chargers, because they have as many as 10 chargers per location, but EVgo has more locations. You also need to keep in mind that the Tesla network exists to serve just one car brand, Tesla, while EVgo serves all car brands, including any Model S driver who wants to use the Level 2 stations or the CHAdeMO fast chargers, with an adapter made by Tesla.

NRG EVgo Fast Charging Network10

The purpose of the EVgo network is to provide all EV drivers, no matter the make of their vehicle, with confidence in their ability to travel. It is not just about that ability city to city. It is arguably even more important to provide that confidence in the greater metro area of a city. Houston, for example has a contiguous footprint that is 8,778 square miles. It is bigger than the state of New Jersey. The Freedom Station sites in Houston allow EV drivers, no matter their vehicles’ range, to roam that entire region with ease. It gives them the ability to quickly recharge in a location where they can actually get something done.

The NRG EVgo networks are growing so quickly that a driver last month drove his Nissan LEAF, starting in south San Diego, California, to the San Francisco Bay Area in one day. He drove 600 miles all in the same day, thanks to the EVgo network. That is why they are called Freedom Stations.

Charged: You will be in 26 markets by the end of 2015. How do you choose which areas to expand to?

AB: We started in Texas because NRG serves over 2 million retail electricity customers in Texas and has thousands of employees there. It was a good place to demonstrate the complete business model. Today, Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth are both significant metropolitan areas with growing bases of EV sales. They are our most mature networks, but our fastest growing are in California, where 4% of auto sales are EVs, and Atlanta – thanks to Georgia’s history of significant tax incentives for EV purchases [Editor’s note: In April, Georgia eliminated the state’s $5,000 tax credit for EV purchases, and imposed a $200 yearly user fee]. In Atlanta, with help from our partner site owners like Simon Properties and AAA Car Care Centers, we have been able to get 28 locations online in just the last six months – opening another 9,000 square miles to EV owners.

We continue to target emerging markets where EV sales are growing and creating the need for infrastructure to give confidence to the consumer. One thing is for certain: the network will never be complete, because we will always continue to build Freedom Station sites to meet the needs of the rapidly expanding EV driver base.

Charged: We are starting to see major utilities attempt to enter the EV charging space. Often these plans include funding network infrastructure with rate hikes charged to all consumers. What do you think of these sorts of projects?

AB: Our business is building range confidence for EV drivers. Doing that requires infrastructure, which we are investing in all over the nation. I don’t think that utilities should be excluded from involvement, but they should not be using rate-based dollars to invest in rapidly changing technologies for a relatively small number of EV owners. When you build an infrastructure on rate-based dollars, you can discourage private investment in infrastructure and make everyone, even people who may not be able to afford to buy a car, pay for this infrastructure.

NRG EVgo Fast Charging Network2

With the rate of change in this industry, these charging station assets will not have the typical useful life of power plants, power lines, and transformers. They are on much more of a consumer technology cycle. It is also important to build the right network that will truly make EV driving viable. Most utility plans, so far, have what sounds like large numbers of chargers, but they are almost all Level 2 charging, which is great for home and work charging, but does consumers little good when it comes to quickly and easily charging on the go.

Our network is future-looking, with the ability to house not just DC fast charging, but next-generation charging that is double or more the capacity of current technology. It’s not science fiction, but systems that are right around the corner. There is also the issue of compatibility, because there are more than 3,000 utilities in the US, which makes it impossible to have a standard of delivery. If each of those utilities develops their own mini-network, it becomes much like the early stages of cellular telephone networks. This puts the customer in a situation of being left with no service outside of his or her own small network. The solution to that ultimately was the first roaming plans and now national networks, which operate seamlessly. That is the network that EVgo already provides.

NRG-EVgo-Fast-Charging-Network3

Charged: Brendan, after more than 20 years with Nissan, you moved to a leading role at NRG EVgo. What led you there?

Brendan Jones: Last year at Nissan we sold more than 30,000 LEAFs in the US, which was a fantastic accomplishment. I feel that the next level for EVs is building the premier national DC fast charging network. This is an accomplishment that is aimed at serving not just one OEM, but all EVs into the future. As the number and type of vehicles available in the EV marketplace continues to grow and expand, barriers to EV adoption shrink, and consumers’ biggest questions about range and aesthetics are fewer and fewer. Then, eventually all concerns regarding range are resolved. That makes a fast, reliable network the most important piece of the puzzle.

NRG EVgo Fast Charging Network6

Charged: In the past year, there have been some other projects announced for public DC charging in the 20 kW range. What are your thoughts on the power levels of current and future fast chargers?

BJ: The future moves fast, and for EV charging that future is based on speed of delivery. EVgo is already the industry leader in DC fast charging, with most Freedom Station sites capable of providing up to 40 miles of range in just 15 minutes. But the very near future suggests that anything below 50 kW is not going to be considered fast charging.

EVgo’s vision of fast charging includes laying the groundwork for future chargers to deliver 100 kW. Our stations are designed to adapt to standards as they improve and shift with the rapidly evolving technology of both the charging infrastructure and the needs of the vehicles being charged.

NRG EVgo Fast Charging Network7

Overall, EVgo’s business model is to support all EV brands and, at least initially, we believe that the vast majority of EV owners purchase their vehicles for intra-city driving. That is why EVgo began with comprehensive metropolitan coverage of EV infrastructure, and we are now serving 26 cities. As automakers are planning larger capacity batteries and longer range, 200 miles and above, EVgo is now focusing on providing a comprehensive inter-city charging infrastructure as well, allowing EV drivers to drive nationally with more range confidence.

Charged: California has been a huge focus for Nissan and for EV infrastructure in general. How is the build out of that area coming along?

BJ: There is no doubt that a number of the individual markets in California, and the state as a whole, are the most aggressive buildouts in what is already the nation’s largest EV market. Currently, there is no other network in the Golden State that can compare to NRG’s scope in terms of charging any DC fast-chargeable vehicle.

NRG EVgo Fast Charging Network5

California has more than 200 NRG EVgo fast chargers. The network supports both the CHAdeMO standard that’s used by the largest number of EVs on the road, and the CCS standard that supports some of the newest EVs. These chargers are found at Freedom Stations, stand-alone locations at high-use areas and publicly-accessible sites at car dealerships. Individually and combined, they comprise the largest fast charger network in any state in the nation, stretching from San Diego through Los Angeles to San Francisco and Sacramento.

Drivers are proving the increasing value and need for available fast charging, highlighted by a 135 percent increase in station use in the last three months of 2014 over the previous three months.

Charged: What is your strategy for choosing site locations?

AB: In order for a network to be successful, it needs to serve the customer where and when they need it. We have found that what drivers want is ease of access and something to do while they charge.

NRG EVgo Fast Charging Network8

EVgo has signed partnership agreements with 59 retail hosts all over the country, including Simon Properties, Macerich, Kimco, Whole Foods and Walgreens. These agreements continue to grow, putting our stations in prime parking locations. Our partnership with Simon now totals more than 60 locations nationwide at high-end and well-located Premium Outlet Malls and other locations. The first of those sites opened in 2013 with the Freedom Station at Fashion Valley in San Diego. These are prime destinations in and of themselves. You need look no further than Copley Place in Boston, Leesburg Corner and Hagerstown Premium Outlets in the Greater Washington DC area, or the Town Center at Cobb, Mall of Georgia, and Lenox Square of Phipps Plaza in the Atlanta area.

NRG EVgo Fast Charging Network4

We have a number of important factors we consider in charger placement, everything from safety to ease of access to hours of availability. The placement of a Freedom Station is generally within feet, not miles, of a major thoroughfare or freeway, giving drivers not just a place to plug in, but also a true destination. Our future includes linking these metro areas together to allow for confident driving for EV owners of all ranges.

 

This article originally appeared in Charged Issue 19 – May/June 2015.

  • Dave_SRQ

    Bravo. This will certainly make city car EVs (like the Leaf), more usable around town. But 44 kW charging is quite slow (to be considered “fast charge”). You really need 100kW+ to adequately serve a long range EV of 150+ miles, range. I didn’t see any mention of the cost model in the article. Some people have mentioned that the cost is equivalent to $5 or $6 per gallon gasoline. With the cost being a fixed price, per 30 minutes of use.

    Correction: Tesla’s can only use this charging network if the owner purchases an expensive adapter $450 (which most Tesla owners will not do), given that Tesla superchargers are free, plentiful, and much faster, and don’t require an adapter.

    • http://blog.scottlawrencelawson.com Scott Lawrence Lawson

      I think the main point of the article and the mission of NRG is to make a megacity charger network, which is quite different than Tesla’s goal of cross country driving. I applaud NRG as the network in SoCal has enabled me to travel 250+ miles in a day in my BMW i3 80 mi per charge EV.

      • Dave_SRQ

        Scott – Can you tell us the cost for a 30 minute session, and the amount of range you would obtain in that time?

        • http://blog.scottlawrencelawson.com Scott Lawrence Lawson

          Currently with my BMW i3, under the “ChargeNow” program (a partnership between NRG, BMW, and ChargePoint) it is free until June 2016 (which was 18 months for me). But I understand that if you have to pay it is $9.99 per 30 minute session. For my empty car that would get me about 70 miles or $0.13 per mile. My 2012 ICE sedan gets about 30 MPG and here in SoCal gas averages at $4 per gal (today it is $ 4.26) which is $0.13 per mile. So, yes the full price is similar to gas cost here in SoCal. But frankly, I charge at home mostly and paying $9.99 for a fill up sometimes still makes my EV cheaper than my ICE.

          • Dave_SRQ

            Scott – Thanks for the info. I’ve driven the BMW i3, the Leaf, the Volt, the Tesla Roadster, and the Model S. Bought the Model S in 2012 (initial pricing). The S prices went up in 2013 and 2014, but have gone down in 2015. Today, a well equipped MS 70 is $70K-$7.5K= $62.5K (including supercharging). About $20K more than the BMW i3. I needed a “do it all” vehicle (storage, passengers, road trips, etc.). Glad you’re enjoying your EV.

          • steven75

            Model S *starts* at $70k with zero options. i3 starts at $43k and gets the same rebates.

            $27k differences and almost $30k with supercharging.

          • Dave_SRQ

            Supercharging is included in the S70 at $70K. The car is well equipped, and almost twice the size as the BMW i3. You can basically say that today it requires an extra $27K to get a BEV that will support occasional road trips.

    • NRG EVgo

      There are many Tesla owners that are using
      the adapter as EVgo customers because they want the inner city charging
      options we offer. With EVgo charging a LEAF can get 80 percent charge
      in under 30 minutes. 44kw is EVgo’s low end DC Fast Charger with many
      being 50kw. Compare that to the latest “DC Fast”
      charger marketed by another infrastructure company which is 24kw. From
      the cost side the EVgo “On the Go!” plan offers DC charging
      for $.10 a minute with a $14.95 monthly subscription. There is also a
      non-subscription option at higher per minute rates.

      • Dave_SRQ

        I applaud you for building this infrastructure. However, it takes guts to invest in a paid business model that will ultimately compete head to head with Tesla’s free business model (of superchargers and destination chargers). It’s not likely to be an issue until late 2017 when the Tesla Model 3 is available for the middle class. At that time, drivers will choose car + infrastructure. I wouldn’t want to be trying to sell a service that a direct competitor is offering for free (ie. included in the price of the car).

        • Peter

          I used these guys once, it was 9.99 for 30 min, and I got a total of 48 miles of range in my Tesla, you can’t sit here and tell me this company is anywhere close to reasonable. They claim they have high speed Chargers but from my experience here in the Denver Metro area it was nothing close to high speed and when you start running the numbers it cost more than gas. Also they have a monthly subscription on top of your purcharge use. And if you have the monthly subscription it’s 14.95 a month and its for 4.95 every time you plug in your car and for high speed I believe it was $0.10 a minute or $0.20 a minute. Essentially it’s highway robbery. I understand they need to pay for their infrastructure but when you start running the numbers and it cost more than gas no one’s going to use you outside of the one off emergency situations

          • Samatva

            I agree with you, Peter – $4.95 + $$ per minute is TOO HIGH!!! I *ONLY* use NRG EVgo because I managed to get a “no charge to charge” card, but after May, when the free period ends, I’ll stop using them. NO WAY WILL I PAY THIS MUCH – I’d rather go back to my back-up gas van or call roadside service once I run the battery down!!

          • dave

            You dont have to pay the 14.95 per month and 4.95 for each fill. It is only the 10 cents a minute with the 14.95 plan. My Spark is up to 100% for less than $2.00 most days.

      • Joel Sapp

        I’d use this service especially if I got stuck between superchargers.

    • ned_plimpton

      This is pure speculation, but I suspect that 50 kW limit for all DC fast charging (other than Tesla) is because of the automakers. In other words, no one produces an EV that’s been designed and tested to accept anything higher than 50 kW, so that’s why the DC fast charger manufactures haven’t made anything higher.

      High sustained currents are brutal on batteries, electronics, connectors… all down the line. Tesla has focused really hard on creating a system that can handle it, having a gigantic battery (now upwards of 95kWh) really helps spread the load.

      Again I don’t know for sure, but I think charging a Leaf or Kia Soul or i3 at 100kW would be very problematic, and I bet they never intended or tested currents that high when designing the car.

      Maybe the NRG representative here could confirm or clear up my suspicion…

      • Electric Bill

        One main reason Teslas can charge as fast as they can is their temp control system. Fast charging can cook a cell, but a robust cooling system can make the difference between a battery pack losing half its energy density in four or five years, and having it lose only a few percent after ten.

        Temps are key– at least with the battery packs we have today. Packs based on nanotitanate, ceramic nanopore or other exotic chemistries may one day allow us to drive in desert safaris or arctic expeditions without worry, and without battery pack impairment.

  • Michael Walsh

    Create the TEXAS TRIANGLE EV HIGHWAY! –50kW Chademo & CCS Fast Chargers between HOUSTON=>DALLAS=>FT WORTH=>COLLEGE STATION=>WACO=>AUSTIN=>SAN ANTONIO=>HOUSTON! Yeee HawwwkW!!

  • Mike I

    This story says that there are no stations less than 44kW. However, I have seen a report of a NRG station that uses a BTC charger that only outputs 50A DC. That puts the maximum power output to a 500V battery (which doesn’t exist) at 25kW. Evidence with NRG serial number here: http://www.myvwegolf.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=353&start=6
    I don’t know the actual Southern California site location though. This is only known because it would not charge an e-Golf on the SAE Combo cable. I hope NRG has deployed the updated firmware from BTC because they just brought two more of these units online in Sunnyvale, CA. Those have a 100A DC maximum output though. I will test them with my e-Golf when I get back from vacation.

    • Samatva

      I know of another NRG that is much below 44kW – I *think* it’s around 25kW – http://www.plugshare.com/?location=62465 look at the comments esp in Sep 2015 and summer of 2015. I know it seems about half the charge speed compared to other fast chargers.

  • Michael B

    It might have been out of place in this piece, but I believe that NRG or its now parent* was mandated to install several hundred quick chargers in California as part of a settlement for how they screwed California during the 2001(?) electricity crisis, in which they gouged CA rate payers for million$ and brought down the grid in many places. And so then they decided to make a business play out of it and try to profit. Had Jerry Brown (CA Attorney General at time of settlement) been a bit more wiser or skillful, he would have mandated 5 years of free or no-profit charging to go along with those 100s of chargers. C’est la vie. I doubt I will support these guys once my No-charge-to-charge period ends, either. “Highway Robbery” is an appropriate term, indeed!

    * Names change to protect/hide their true identity (of being fraudulent scamsters)!