How Freedom Stations liberate drivers from range anxiety

When the first Cracker Barrel store opened in 1969 on I-40 in Lebanon, Tenn., it dished up the same southern-style fare that entices road-trippers into 600 locations across 42 states today. Chicken fried steak and homemade cornbread are still served, although gasoline came off the country store’s menu in the mid-70s when the oil embargo hit.

Today, more than 32 Cracker Barrel locations are back in the business of offering fuel, but this time from a new source of domestic energy: eVgo electric vehicle chargers.

Thanks to a partnership with NRG EV Services, the operator of the eVgo network, Cracker Barrel, along with Texas retailers Whole Foods, Walgreens and HEB, are now providing customers with “Freedom Station sites,” a solution to curbing range anxiety in EV drivers. By offering Level 2 and DC fast chargers capable of delivering up to 30 miles in 10 minutes, Freedom Station sites are giving highway travelers a chance to recharge their batteries — and do a little shopping.

NRG Energy, a Fortune 500 company that owns and operates one of the nation's largest and most diverse power generation portfolios, plans to install 70 Freedom Station sites in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area and 50 in the Houston area, with 26 already in place across both cities. In this Q&A, president of NRG Energy Services Arun Banskota lends some insights into eVgo Freedom Stations and strategies his company is employing to abolish barriers to EV adoption:

Anna Clark: How would you describe where eVgo fits within NRG Energy?

Arun Banskota: NRG Energy created NRG EV Services, which operates the eVgo network, to provide affordable, comprehensive charging plans and charging networks that enable range confidence for electric vehicle drivers throughout the metropolitan areas where eVgo operates.

Clark: Why has the company gone in this direction?

Banskota: Everything NRG has done has been in the first-mover competitive space. This means we’re very close to the consumers and hopefully learning much faster than our competitors.

Clark: What successes can eVgo share with other emerging cleantech companies?

Banskota: When you look at the EV space, it looks like everything is aligned. The environmental piece is aligned, national security is aligned, and so is cost.

A 2011 Bloomberg study using Kiplinger’s Green Car Calculator, in fact, shows that the Nissan Leaf is already the most affordable mode of transportation when looking at the five-year cost of ownership with gasoline at $3 a gallon. But one of the big challenges we have is changing people’s mindset. It’s different from what we’ve been doing for the last 100 years. Changing that paradigm to a point where you move the filling station to your home and pay less for charging an EV requires changing behavior from the way it’s always been done.

Clark: What is NRG EV Services doing to shift people’s thinking, from “filling up” to “charging up”?

Banskota: We spent 161 days last year changing public’s mindset, going to public-facing events like the Houston rodeo and the State Fair of Texas. We usually set up an eVgo tent and network map, and then we familiarize people with how an EV works. How do you charge? How long does it take? Answering these types of questions in one-on-one conversations has been critical.

Image of green plug by Branche via Shutterstock.

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