Henrietta Cook December 12, 2011
Better Place plans recharging sites around the country.
As electric cars trickle on to Australian roads, companies that operate recharge facilities are gearing up for big business.
Electric car infrastructure company Better Place is valued at $2.25 billion and plans to create the world's largest electric car network in Australia.
''By the end of 2013 we are looking at hundreds of battery-switch stations across Australia and tens of thousands of locations where people can recharge,'' Better Place Australia head of strategy Ben Keneally said.
The company's ambitious scheme begins with plug-in points and battery swapping stations to operate in Canberra next year.
The next stage is the eastern seaboard, with similar infrastructure in the pipeline for Melbourne.
''We are in discussion with many property owners about where we will place the battery-swapping stations. It will start with a few dozen in Melbourne but will expand over time. We have to have enough so that they are in the locations people want to go as the cars become more commonplace,'' Mr Keneally said.
''Range anxiety'' - a fear of electric cars running out of charge on a journey, is a key barrier to mass adoption of electric cars, he said.
''For most people, plugging in at night is all you need to do; that will give you 100 to 200 kilometres of range. For those occasions when you are driving further, you need a way of quickly recharging and continuing.''
Battery-swapping stations provide the ideal solution. Motorists swipe a membership card, pass through boom gates and park on an automatic track similar to a car wash. A metal arm reaches beneath the car, removes the 280 kilogram battery and replaces it with a recharged one. The process takes about four minutes.
The company recently secured $200 million in funding from investors and partners including General Electric and global banking group UBS. In the next few months it will launch a commercial electric car network in Israel and Denmark.
Mr Keneally said Australia was an ideal location for an electric car network because petrol was expensive.
''Petrol is the single most hated purchase in people's lives. Because we live in suburbs, are very car dependent and drive larger cars than people in Europe, our average petrol bills are quite high.''
He said access to off-street parking also made Australia suitable for an electric car network.
Better Place has been in talks with local, state and federal governments about regulatory issues involved in rolling out the network. ''There are a lot of laws and regulations we never anticipated,'' Mr Keneally said.
The company, which will use 100 per cent green energy, also must negotiate with councils that own kerbsides.