You won’t see David Crane waiting to fill up at a gas station between his Lawrenceville home and his office in Princeton. That’s because Crane, the CEO of NRG Energy, Inc. (NYSE:NRG), has charged up at home or in the parking lot outside the firm’s corporate headquarters in Carnegie Center. The Crane family cars—a 2010 Nissan Leaf and a Tesla Roadster—run on pure electricity: Plug, charge, go.
The affable energy leader and his company are betting on the future of electric cars. Actually, NRG is invested in several efforts to develop and deliver energy that doesn't rely on the costly (in economic and political terms) standbys like oil. The company’s most unique project, however, is called eVgo, a public network of charging stations being tried in Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth—right in the heart of crude oil.
While eVgo is not meant to function like a network of gas stations, the system is intended to ease what Crane calls “range anxiety”—the concern that even in a car that can travel 100 miles on one charge, drivers may find themselves too far from the home charging station. These community stations include high-power DC-fast chargers, which will allow drivers to charge up 10-12 times as fast as they would at home. Electric vehicle owners will have several charging plans to choose from, including one that includes not only their home chargers but access to the eVgo charging stations. The goal is to establish locations so that the driver of an electric car is never more than five miles from a charger. Other goals are to introduce eVgo into densely populated urban centers, expand to linked metropolitan corridors and then move into rural areas the way cell towers have spread,” says Crane.
Crane’s attachment to eVgo and to electric cars is based not on a fanciful view of the future, but on his clear-eyed assessment of what Americans want, need and worry about. While Crane appreciates the utopian view of a far-reaching mass transit system, he doesn’t believe it’s likely to be fully achieved. For one thing, such a system would have to rely heavily on government subsidies. Crane also points to the importance of personal mobility and our car-focused culture.The way to get people to buy into the necessity of alternative energy sources, he suggests, is to start with their cars. Many people don’t think about where electricity comes from, Crane asserts, but they do notice when they’re hit in the pocket at the pump. For those reasons, NRG is looking forward to servicing a need created by an increased demand in electric vehicles.
While eVgo is a special project, the company is also focused on other sectors and on other sources of energy, including solar power. Last September, NRG Energy committed $1 million through the Clinton Global Initiative to fund the project, The Sun Lights the Way: Brightening Boucan Carre, providing clean, safe and inexpensive electric power for Haitians devastated by the 2010 earthquake–enough to support important cornerstones of the Haitian economy and society: fish farming, irrigation pumps, street lights and schools. NRG is working on this project with Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF).
NRG’s solar subsidiary company has a variety of stateside projects underway. The company recently unveiled a comprehensive solar installation at FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins. The system, the largest of its kind at an NFL stadium, can provide up to 20 percent of the stadium's power on game days and up to 100 percent on non-game days, depending on weather conditions, as well as shaded parking for an 841-car garage. NRG is developing or constructing more than 2,000 MW of solar projects, both large and small across the southwestern United States (Electricity providers talk in MW, or megawatts delivered; 1 megawatt can serve 800 homes) and hopes to become the largest builder of solar projects in North America. NRG is also partnered with the Department of Energy on a project to improve thermal efficiency by outfitting warehouse rooftops with solar panels. Locally, the company will be providing high-efficiency energy services to the new University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro.
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