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Friday, 28 March 2008 18:44

Denmark signs deal to implement Israel's electric car project

The electric vehicle (EV) project by Shai Agassi, now underway in Israel, will see electric cars on sale from next year, matched by an infrastructure of charging stations that will replace flat batteries with charged ones. Now Denmark has signed up to the plan, aiming to charge the batteries with wind power, with at least 30 more countries wanting to get on the electric bandwagon.

Shai Agassi, an Israeli technology entrepreneur that was an SAP board member from 2001 to 2007, had a dream: to deliver electric cars to the world, sold in a similar way to mobile phones and voice minutes today.

A fascinating article in the International Herald Tribune gives details on Shai Agassi and the project in Israel, which only got the go-ahead in January 2008, while Agassi’s own blog, ‘The Long Tailpipe’, gives further valuable background, including how Agassi got the support of Israel's President and Prime Minister, with the project funded by US $200m of venture capital, not by Israeli Government funds.

Using Israel as a test bed, thousands of car charging spots will be installed, as well as hundreds of battery changing stations, to help Israel massively reduce its dependence on oil, help to clean up the atmosphere, and prove to the world that electric cars and accompanying infrastructure aren’t just an impossible dream, but are fully possible with today’s technology.

The cars will be powered by lithium-ion batteries capable of delivering a 200km range of a single charge, and with the electric cars and the lithium-ion batteries manufactured by Renault-Nissan, the first cars are due to go on sale next year, with a range of models in full production due to go on sale by 2010.

More than 30 countries are already interested in replicating the project, with Denmark the first to sign a deal with Shai Agassi’s companies. These are his US company based in California called ‘Project Better Place’, alongside the Israeli holding company also is called ‘Israel Corporation’.

Denmark already produces 20% of its power through wind generation, with only 13% of that power regularly used by the Danes. The other 7% gets sold to Norway and Germany, sometimes at very cheap prices, with Agassi saying that an electric car infrastructure is the perfect place for that spare energy to go.

Much wind energy is produced at night, when temperatures are cooler. Likewise, most cars are stored in their garages at night – meaning the spare wind energy can be used to recharge an electric car fleet.

The Danish Oil and Natural Gas company, known as ‘DONG Energy’, is partnering with Project Better Place to create a new venture called Better Place Denmark, with the desire to make the EV dream a Danish reality.

Please read onto page 2 for more information about Dong Energy’s plans and for details of an interview with Shai Agassi, with details on how the mobile phone subscription-based sales model will work on page 3.

A press release issued on March 27, 2008 at Project Better Place outlines the plans to get the Danes into EV cars over the next few years.

DONG Energy and Project Better Place announced that they signed a letter of intent aimed at reducing CO2 emissions from the Danish car fleet, by giving “Danish consumers access to buying environmentally friendly electric vehicles (EVs) at attractive prices.”

An article at The Register has a very recent interview with Shai Agassi that claims the first EV cars will be sold next year, with full production set for 2010.

According to The Register, the Denmark infrastructure will “consist of approximately 500,000 charging spots and 150 battery swap stations, allowing vehicles to be charged overnight, and the swap stations to be used as a gas station equivalent for longer journeys.”

The Register quotes Agassi as saying that electric cars should be as convenient as today’s petrol driven cars, meaning a battery change at a swap station should take no longer than 20 seconds, allowing consumers an even faster experience than filling a fuel tanks with petrol, diesel or gas today.

That said, the Project Better Place press release says the cars will be introduced “within the next few years”, offering “environmentally friendly, battery driven EVs to the streets of Denmark” with “at least the same road-holding qualities as fuel-based cars, EVs produce zero emission of CO2 and other exhaust gases.”

Anders Eldrup, CEO of DONG Energy said: "With this project, we hope to contribute substantially to reducing CO2 emissions from Danish cars. At the same time, we will achieve a new way of storing the unstable electricity output from wind turbines, as EVs are typically charged during the night, when the exploitation of power generation is low. This provides optimum exploitation of our resources for the benefit of the environment.”

Shai Agassi said: “Together with DONG Energy, Project Better Place will ensure an environmentally clean and sustainable approach to energy and transportation. Existing technology, combined with our unique business model and scaleable infrastructure will provide a financially viable solution to significantly decrease CO2 emissions."

Please read onto page 3 for more details on Renault-Nissan’s involvement, details on the mobile phone subscription-based sales model for selling the electric cars and details of the exact timeframes planned for the EV car’s release.

The press release notes that: “Through the Project Better Place and Renault-Nissan Alliance partnership announced last January, Renault will provide Better Place Denmark with the electric vehicles, thus achieving the objective of zero emissions while at the same time offering driving performances similar to a gasoline engine.”

On the topic of the lithium-ion batteries: “Nissan, through its joint venture with NEC of Japan, has created an advanced lithium-ion battery pack that meets the requirements of the electric vehicle and will be mass-produced.”

According to the Project Better Place FAQ, the subscription-based model works in a similar manner to the way cellular phone companies, with Project Better Place set to offer consumers “several subscription-based ownership models.”

The FAQ explains: “Through these subscription models, vehicle owners will be linked into a nationwide network of charge spots and exchange stations. When a consumer parks his or her car, the network synchronizes the car with the smart electric grid to recharge the battery. When a driver travels long-distance, he or she can swap batteries at an exchange station to get a fully charged battery, similar to how we now stop to fill our gas tanks today.”

On the topic of multiple car models, the FAQ notes: “To match multiple customer segments, Project Better Place will offer several car models and subscription pricing packages that will reduce total cost of ownership and subsidize the car as part of this package.”

In answer to a question on “where and when will Project Better Place implement this electric vehicle infrastructure”, Project Better Place says that it “plans to begin the test phase of the new infrastructure using high-consumption professional consumers, such as taxis or delivery vehicles, rolling out the deployment country by country, metropolitan by metropolitan.”

The FAQ concludes the answer, saying: “We expect the first wave within the pilot countries to begin in early 2008, broadening to a few 1000 cars by 2009 with the expectation that we will be able to put approximately 10,000 cars on the system per month in 2010 for a total of approximately 100,000 cars on the system in each pilot site by the end of 2010.”

As the push to go 'green' with EVs and renewable energy gathers pace, Project Better Place is clearly proving that it's getting ever easier to be green, to make money from it and to deliver technology to consumers that equals - and betters - what we already have today based on fossil fuel technology. Hooray!

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

Alex Zaharov-Reutt is iTWire's Technology Editor is one of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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