Electric Vehicles to Connect Texas Cities

It was over thirty years ago that a sketch on a napkin led to the creation of new airline — the “national airline of Texas.”  Southwest Airlines was conceived as a means of speeding up business travel among the major Texas cities. Dallas, Houston and San Antonio are separated by three to five hours of drive time. Today, SWA offers 25 flights each day, each way, between Dallas and Houston.

Before and since the famous napkin drawing, the proponents of high-speed rail have envisioned a more energy-efficient means of travel in Texas. They have probably sketched similar maps in an effort to promote ideas for cleaner alternatives to air travel.  If Texas is known for its limited intra-city light rail, it may be even better know for its lack of an inter-city rail system. Jet fuel, not electricity, moves the business traveler within Texas.

This may change. There is now a move toward electric vehicles to help improve air quality in Texas. Most city commuting involves less than 40 miles per day, well within the range of existing battery technology. Recharging EVs is cheap. The intra-state electric grid has become more competitive during the past fifteen years as a result of electric industry restructuring. Electricity prices may continue to remain low, reflecting the benefits of a competitive bulk power market, the value of new natural gas finds, and the value of Texas wind power.

But what about getting from city to city?  Recent announcements for electric vehicle charging stations in major cities may make it practical for electric vehicles to travel among the cities shown above on the “Southwest napkin.” We may soon use electricity between Dallas and Houston and back again.

The electric industry structure may have something to do with innovation and risk taking. The electrification of Texas fifty years ago had a lot to do with the economic and population growth of Texas. Air conditioned buildings are a necessity in the hot and muggy months of June, July, August and September. Now, the maturation of the electric industry may lead to the electrification of the transportation sector as well, or at least portions of it.

As the Texas electricity market matures, its value to society may extend to new end-use applications that we did not anticipate even a decade ago. The process of reform began in the 1970s with the creation of a state regulatory agency, and continued in the 1980s with the growth of cogenerated power. In the 1990s we opened the transmission network to merchant power plants, and in the 2000s we showed the nation how to add renewable resource capacity. Will the 2010s be the decade of the electric vehicle in Texas?

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