It doesn’t take too long for visitors of Mueller, a 700-acre master-planned community in Austin, to realize that the neighborhood is peculiar.
The planned community, built on the site of the former Mueller airport, boasts almost too-perfect rows of homes with cheery pastel exteriors and quaint front porches. And then there are the neighborhood’s green flourishes—solar panels that adorn every other rooftop and the eco-friendly hybrid cars that roll almost silently through the development’s tidy streets.
Mueller isn’t just a subdivision—it’s a life-size green energy research test site. The New Urbanist, a mixed-use development, is home to a five-year “smart-grid demonstration project” led by Pecan Street, Inc., a nonprofit research and development organization focusing on green energy, and Austin Energy.
In late July, General Motors announced that it is partnering with Pecan Street, making 100 Chevy Volts available to Mueller residents to buy or lease. Since February, Pecan Street has been providing financial incentives for residents to join, matching the $7,500 federal tax credit extended to owners of electric vehicles with their own $7,500 rebate. Those who opt to lease will receive a $3,000 rebate.
Mueller’s 600 residents are currently using about sixty electric vehicles, according to Colin Rowan, Pecan Street’s director of communications, and 52 of those vehicles are Volts.
Now, the recent influx of electric cars in Mueller has allowed Pecan Street to test the impact that high concentrations of electric cars might have on the area’s smart energy grid.
“We’re interested in how the grid performs when you have a lot of electric vehicles pulling power in one area, and how people use them and charge them,” Rowan said. “That sounds kind of basic, but it actually puts some interesting stress on the grid. We’re very interested in finding out how that can be optimized so that it is actually a benefit to the grid and not a liability.”
Pecan Street’s project in Mueller is supported by a $10.4 million federal grant and $14 million from project partners. The smart-grid demonstration project will also introduce energy-efficient appliances and smart energy meters to homes, fund the construction of LEED-certified buildings, and test new energy storage technologies.
Grant and Ashley Fisher are urban