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California start-up Better Place and Danish utility Dong Energy said Tuesday they have lined up financing to bring an electric car charging network to Denmark by 2011.

The two organizations have secured almost $103 million in equity and convertible debt that will go toward constructing stations where drivers can swap in fresh batteries for electric cars.

 

(Credit: Better Place)

Better Place’s business plan focuses on building a network of automated battery-swapping stations along driving corridors. Places to rapidly charge or get fresh batteries will address the range limitations of existing car batteries, according to Better Place.

Although Better Place has announced customers with the governments of Israel, Hawaii, Portugal, and San Francisco for its network of charging stations, Denmark appears to be the first to secure financing to build the charging infrastructure.

Once a network is set up, state-controlled Dong Energy said its excess wind power capacity can be used for charging electric cars. Denmark now gets 20 percent of its electricity from wind turbines, but a portion of that electricity is exported because it can’t be stored economically.

“Our goal in investing in Better Place Denmark is to help reduce CO2 emissions and increase the consumption of sustainable energy by capturing and leveraging wind power more efficiently,” Dong Energy CEO Anders Eldrup said in a statement.

The structure of the deal underlines the pieces auto industry executives say need to be in place before electric cars can be used by large numbers of consumers.

Utilities need to be involved to understand and manage the shift in power-grid load that electric cars bring. Government incentives need to be in place to overcome the higher cost of battery-powered vehicles. In Denmark, the government does not levy a sales tax on electric cars to promote their use.

The start-up also announced that it has hired former Microsoft Europe executive Jens Moberg as CEO of Better Place Denmark.

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Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty says he’s committed to making the province a model for the introduction of electric cars in Canada, and he’s enlisted the help of a California startup that has already convinced Israel, Denmark and Australia to take the same ambitious journey.

The government announced this morning a partnership with Better Place, a high-tech company based in Palo Alto, Calif., that wants to build a network of battery recharge and “swap” stations around the GTA to support the introduction of electric vehicles, or what many in the industry are calling “Car 2.0.”

Better Place’s vision is to set up regional Electric Recharge Grid Operators that would sell energy to electric-car drivers as part of a monthly subscription — like a cellphone service plan that sells electricity instead of minutes.

The Toronto Star was first to report in September that Sandra Pupatello, then minister of economic development and trade, had held meetings with Better Place to discuss ways of turning the Toronto region into an electric transportation hub.

Today’s announcement, while no investments have been made, is the first step in what McGuinty described as a symbolic commitment to the concept.

“We’re just beginning this,” he said during a press conference, adding that the government’s partnership with Better Place sends an important signal to the market.

“One of the most important things we can do is demonstrate we are truly an electric-car friendly jurisdiction.”

Better Place said it will set up its Canadian head office in Ontario and, as part of the partnership, will establish an electric vehicle demonstration and education centre in Toronto.

Over the new few months it will develop a charging-network plan, which will include an estimated timeline for building a network and the likely cost.

At the same time, the government will do its own comprehensive study, to be released in May, that will look at ways to accelerate the manufacture and deployment of electric vehicles in Ontario.

“Our commitment is to complete a study to better understand the kinds of policies we need to drive this forward,” said McGuinty.

Better Place also announced that it has partnered with Toronto-based green electricity retailer Bullfrog Power, though the extent of their relationship as the initiative moves forward wasn’t clear.

Shai Agassi, founder and chief executive of Better Place, said there will need to be a lot of “preparation work” and consumer education but the goal is to create the policies, public demand and incentives that will entice existing automakers in Ontario to feed the market.

“The opportunity for automakers to see demand in a location, where they can effectively just retool the factory and not start from scratch is extremely appealing for them right now,” said Agassi, 38, a former software executive.

He emphasized the importance of getting the public to see, learn about and test drive electric cars as a way of building support for a future transportation infrastructure aimed at weaning society off gasoline.

Young people are a key target, he added.

“What you’ll see are a thousand high school students coming in and driving an electric car,” said Agassi, assuring that “their first car is not going to go on gasoline.”

Better Place says the Greater Toronto Area is an appealing market because of its population density of roughly five million people. Documents presented by the company last summer showed that it would likely require an investment of more than $150 million to set up a local grid operator and the infrastructure to support 100,000 electric-car subscribers within 80 to 160 kilometres of downtown Toronto.

French automaker Renault S.A., in alliance with Nissan, has agreed to manufacture electric cars for Better Place for projects in Israel and Denmark.

Agassi said any electric car could “roam” onto Better Place’s charging network but more cooperation with manufacturers would be required to make sure manufacturers made electric cars with “swappable” batteries.

 

MOTI MILROD/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Better Place founder Shai Agassi demonstrate a charge spot for an electric vehicle near Tel Aviv, in Israel, Dec. 8, 2008.

Japan’s Ministry of the Environment announced a program on Tuesday to test electric vehicles and a network of charging stations, some supplied by auto start-up Better Place.

The electric vehicle feasibility study will give local governments access to 50 electric cars for several months. Cars included are Mitsubishi Motors’ iMiev, the Plug-in Stella from Subaru, the Honda Clarity fuel-cell vehicle, and the Erezo electric motorbike under development.

Better Place will install battery exchange stations in the trial. The deal in Japan is similar to those made recently with several countries, the city of San Francisco, and the state of Hawaii that have signed on with Better Place, which has developed a system to accelerate electric car use through battery leasing and automated swapping.

The trial is part of Japan’s national goal of having electric cars make up half of all new vehicle sales by 2020. The program will also include a facility for rapid car battery charging.

Automakers say they need an infrastructure, such as charging stations in public places, for their electric car programs to take hold.

The first electric versions of familiar sedans from the likes of Nissan and others will start becoming available in 2010, but they will largely be used for testing. Broader availability of these cars will be in 2011 and 2012.

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photo: Better Place

Silicon Valley startup Better Place on Tuesday announced a deal with Hawaii’s governor and the state’s biggest utility to build an electric car charging network throughout the islands.

The agreement comes less than two weeks after Better Place CEO Shai Agassi and the mayors of Northern California’s three largest cities unveiled a plan to build an electric car infrastructure for the San Francisco Bay Area. Better Place also has signed similar deals with governments in Australia, Denmark and Israel.

Agassi said the network of charging posts and battery swapping stations will be ready by 2012. That’s roughly the target date for Better Place’s other projects, which means the year-old startup will be simultaneously building electric car networks in four countries while raising billions of dollars in project finance.

Renault-Nissan will supply electric cars for the network. Better Place will own the car batteries and charge drivers for the miles (or kilometers) driven. By removing the battery from the purchase price of electric cars – the most expensive component – Better Place hopes to sell vehicles at prices competitive with their fossil-fueled counterparts.

Appearing with Agassi at a press conference at the capitol in Honolulu, Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle said the Better Place partnership offers the state the opportunity to slash the $7 billion it spends annually on imported oil and provide a market for renewable energy. Hawaiians pay some of the highest gasoline prices in the U.S. and the state has set a goal of obtaining 70% of its energy from solar, wind and other renewable sources by 2030.

“It’s not a simple goal – we’re looking to end our dependence on oil,” said Agassi, who shed his customary dark suit for a gray polo shirt and wore a lei. “Any form of renewable energy – wind, solar, geothermal – is here in Hawaii.”

“This will be the blueprint where six or seven million visitors will come and experience first-hand what it’s like to drive an electric car,” added Agassi, 40, a former top executive at business software giant SAP. “You couldn’t ask for a better advertisement.”

Utility Hawaiian Electric (HE), which supplies 95% of the state’s power, will generate renewable electricity equal to what the Better Place network consumes and work with the company on developing the charging infrastructure.

“The price of oil is irrelevant to us – we have to reach a clean and secure energy future,” Lingle said.

Better Place’s latest deal came on the same day that General Motors (GM) and Ford, which have asked for a multi billion-dollar bailout from Congress, (F) announced plans ramp up production of hybrid and electric cars.

“It’s a win-win-win – the only loser in the equation is oil and that’s ok,” said Hawaiian Electric executive vice president Robbie Alm. “Green cars will provide the market for renewable energy.”