Austin Energy to increase frequency, efficiency of electric car charging stations

Kevin Dural

A surge in electric car usage among Austinites has spurred investment in charging stations and could accelerate the presence of electric transportation on UT-campus. 

Travis and Williamson counties have more than 20 times the amount of electric vehicles they had in 2011, according to Austin Energy. As a result, in addition to increasing the number of charging stations around Austin, the company plans to introduce a new type of station that can fill up a tank in minutes instead of hours.

Karl Popham, UT graduate and manager of emerging technology at Austin Energy, said that in addition to providing more efficient stations for the student population that already owns electric vehicles, this initiative also seeks to encourage students on the fence of using an electric car.

Ottavio Peruzzi, electrical engineering sophomore and former owner of a Chevrolet Volt, said that the installation of more charging stations would be a remarkable infrastructural improvement. This, Peruzzi added, would benefit a substantial niche within the UT population.

“This plan has the potential to solve a major issue affecting Longhorns that own electric cars,” Peruzzi said. “When I owned a Volt, I remember there being limited fast-charging options near me … to charge my car.”

Peruzzi said that improved infrastructure for electric cars may motivate some students to make the switch.

“I haven’t seen too many electric cars, at least in West Campus,” Peruzzi said. “This will change if the charging stations increase in quality and quantity.”

According to UT-Austin’s Parking and Transportation Services, there is one area around the main campus where students can charge their electric cars: the fourth level of the San Antonio Garage. 

Popham said the initiative has a long-term goal of assisting ride sharing services, which are heavily utilized by the UT student population, in becoming fully-electric in a zero-emission city by 2050.

“The long-term goal is to electrify taxis and ride-sharing services,” Popham said. “Putting this infrastructure and knowledge in place supports and empowers these companies for the future while providing lower-cost alternatives for students and drivers now.”

In regards to the benefit for the drivers themselves, Popham said that the cost of maintaining an electric car is much less than alternatives. From a city-wide perspective, however, he added that this strategy tackles one of the two largest sources of emissions in Austin today: electricity usage by buildings and businesses, and transportation.

The history and nature of Austin, which UT-Austin is big part of, enables curious and science-based solutions that provide novel ways of doing and fixing things, Popham said. Key to this culture, Popham added, is UT student’s ideas and level of intelligence in their approach to climate change, transport and energy.