Austin is going all in on charging stations
Austin Energy adds infrastructure as electric cars multiply.
Austin Energy is doubling down on investment in electric infrastructure to help the city clean up its carbon footprint, and the latest reports show it might pay off in Travis County, which has seen an exponential jump in the number of electric vehicles on its roads in the pas ts even years. According to data provided by
the electric company, Travis and Williamson counties in 2011 had 195 registered electric vehicles, compared with 5,313 this year.
Travis County now ranks No.
1 in the number of electric vehicles in the state, surpassing Dallas and Harris counties, data show.
Karl Popham, manager of emerging technology at Austin Energy, said the Austin area represents 22 percent of the statewide market for electric vehicles.
“It’s a growth market,” Popham said. “Everything is trending the way we hope, and frankly, now at the way we expect. We want to stay ahead of that. And we don’t want to put up any barri
ers to restrict growth.”
Mos tdriversplug their electric vehicles into home out lets a nd charge them overnight, which can take several hours, Popham said. For those who want to speed up the process, the electric utility offers 50 percent rebates to drivers who install more expensive equipment.
Ito ffers similar incentives to
apartments, retailers and employ-
ers looking to install charging stations in their parking lots. The number of these stations has skyrocketed in Austin in the past few years, from 113 in 2012 to 693 in 2018.
Austin Energy and the city are investing substantially in state-of-the-art DC Fast charging stations, which get the job done in about 20 minutes, Popham said.
Right now, Austin has one DC Fast station downtown on Electric Drive, formerly West Second Street.
However, the Austin City Council in August approved $1.5 million to build 10 more in the next year. Another $1.6 million from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality will pay for 24 in another three years, with a matching investment by Austin Energy.
Popham said at least two of the stations are planned at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and several others along Interstate 35 for people driving from Houston and San Antonio.
Details on where the others will be are still being worked out, he said.
Is the investment in electric necessary? Austin Energy says yes.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, also known as ERCOT, has said it expects 1.6 million electric vehicles will be on Texas roads by 2031, making up about 20 percent of all passenger vehicles.
That could mean as many as 320,000 in the Austin area alone.
With that many vehicles, Austin Energy said installing the infrastructure will pay off. It will not only help the city meet its clean energy goals, but it could generate revenue for the electric utility to the tune of about $128 million each year.
When drivers plug into the grid, it diverts money that would have gone to gas pumps back to the utility’s own coffers, which is “a big potential asset for the community,” Popham said. That money can be reinvested locally.
Austin Energy also has been working with Capital Metro to roll out 40 electric buses, which would make up 10 percent of its fleet. A few being tested can be seen on the road today.
The electric utility also offers rebates to pedicab drivers and cyclists who want to buy electric models, which promise a boost of speed when they take on Austin’s steep hills.
“They are just fun,” Popham said. “You will have a good time.”
Michael Field recharges his 2015 Chevrolet Spark on Friday outside Whole Foods Market. Field uses an app called ChargePoint to find available charging stations, and that search has gotten easier. Austin has nearly 700 such stations, up from only 113 in 2012.
The Austin area accounts for 22 percent of the statewide market for electric cars, Austin Energy says, and by 2031, the state expects there will be 1.6 million electric vehicles on Texas roads.