Saturday, November 1, 2008

Making Australia A Better Place

Project Better Place founder Shai Agassi was in town last week announcing that Australia will become the third country to implement the group's vision of electric vehicles powered by renewable energy, following Denmark and Israel.

Better Place and Macquarie Capital Group will raise $1 billion to build a network of 250,000 charging stations and battery exchange stations in key locations along the east coast by 2012. The network will be powered by wind turbines owned by AGL Energy.

Agassi has been promoting the plan as a way to reduce our dependence on oil (the starting premise for the project was "how do you run an entire country without oil") while creating jobs and boosting the local economy (see this interview on the Today Show for his explanation). Operating in Australia will also help the group prove it can work in large countries as well as the much smaller geographical areas covered in the first 2 rollouts. Agassi also noted that the Federal Government's $500 million Green Car Innovation Fund played a part in encouraging them to set up in Australia.

Green Car Congress describes the Better Place network as consisting of three primary components:
  • Charge points. These are to charge batteries with power, providing 160 kilometres of driving range, according to the company. Better Place is planning a 2.5:1 ratio of charge spots to cars.

  • Battery switching stations. For trips longer than 100 miles (161 km), Better Place plans to build roadside battery switching stations. Stations are to be completely automated, and the driver’s subscription takes care of everything. The driver pulls in, and the depleted battery is replaced with a fresh one, without anyone having to leave the vehicle. The process takes less time than it does to fill a tank of liquid fuel, according to the plan.

  • Software to automates the charging and exchange process.

Better Place has a partnership with the Renault-Nissan Alliance to provide electric cars. The prototype electric eMegane sedan features a 160+ kilometre range.

Better Place says it is committed to open network access and using industry standard, with the goal being to allow customers to have a choice of make and model of car.

Automotive Energy Supply Corporation (AESC, a joint venture between Nissan Motor, NEC Corporation, and NEC TOKIN Corporation) and A123Systems have been identified as lithium-ion battery providers to the system.

Better Place plans to own and operate the batteries and power generation (via AGL Energy, in Australia's case), and to sell kilometres travelled to drivers on a subscription basis, in similar fashion to the mobile phone industry.

Better Place in Australia plans to start by setting up charging stations in the Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney, and then connect them with "electric highways," with stations set up every 25 miles.

Overall I'm quite excited by this project - though obviously executing the plan, in terms of setting up all the infrastructure and getting a significant volume of electric cars on the market at a competitive price, will be challenging. If the 3 countries piloting the idea can demonstrate it can work successfully, it will provide a blueprint for personal transport in a post-oil world.