Better Place to Bring Electric Car Network Down Under

Better Place to Bring Electric Car Network Down Under

California-based Better Place is partnering with AGL Energy and financial advisory firm Macquarie Capital Group to bring its concept of an electric vehicle recharge grid powered by renewables to Australia.

The Palo Alto start-up headed by former SAP executive Shai Agassi, its partners in the venture to create a support infrastructure and "electric highways" for zero-emission vehicles, and the Australian government announced the agreements in Melbourne last week.

Australia is the third and largest country thus far to work with Better Place in such a project. Israel and Denmark announced similar agreements in January and March, respectively. The company's goal is to deploy the electric vehicle support networks around the world and sell access to the grid similar to the way mobile phone companies sell service contracts.

Speaking at the Victorian Government Investment Centre on October 23, Agassi said his firm's decision to launch electric vehicle networks in Israel and Denmark often prompts questions about scalability.

Bringing the idea to Australia, the world's sixth largest country and seventh largest "car nation," would demonstrate that "you can actually take sustainable transportation to any size," the founder and CEO of Better Place said.

Agassi said the project would establish Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne as network hubs and link them with electric highways, which would be created by building battery switch stations along the routes between the cities to enable drivers to swap out depleted batteries. The deployment could be considered a proof point for other countries, namely the United States and the United Kingdom, he said.

Likening the east coast of Australia to the West Coast of the United States, Agassi said, "If it can be done between Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, you can see the same thing happening between LA, the San Francisco Bay Area, all the way up to the Seattle region."

In the Australian partnerships, Macquarie is to help Better Place raise one billion Australian dollars (roughly USD $670 million) and AGL is to provide the renewable energy that would power the network grid for electric vehicles. The AUD $1 billion would be invested in network infrastructure, which representatives for all the partners said is essential to shift the country to vehicles powered by clean energy.

"The ability to drive a car is not limited by the battery or the range of the car, it's limited by the range of deployment of the infrastructure," Agassi said during the news conference in Melbourne on Thursday.

Better Places and its various partners plan to begin tests in Australia in 2009, go live with mass market launches in Israel and Denmark in 2011, followed by Australia, Agassi said on Australia's "Today" television program on Friday.

The California firm, which is partnering with the Renault-Nissan Alliance in the Israel and Denmark deployments, expects that electric vehicles will be available for the Australian mass market by 2012.