Electric car charging startup Better Place demonstrated its unique and controversial battery swapping concept Tuesday, with a video showing a station in Yokohama, Japan pulling and replacing a car battery in about two minutes.
Whether most automakers will cooperate by mass-producing electric cars compatible with the Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup's battery swapping plans remains an open question.
Better Place's first on-the-ground installations aren't battery-swapping stations, but more typical charging stations where cars can plug in and recharge over the course of hours.
Better Place had installed about 400 such stations in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem by of the end of 2008, spokeswoman Julie Mullins said Wednesday. By 2011, it hopes to have about 150,000 such stations throughout the country, as well as about 100 battery swapping stations, she said. Those battery swapping stations will cost about $500,000 apiece, Better Place founder Shai Agassi said last month.
Better Place certainly has raised a lot of money to back up its plans – about $200 million as of December 2007, and another €103 million ($135.5 million) raised with Danish utility Dong Energy in January to help the two build a charging and battery-swapping network in Denmark (see Better Place Grabs €103 million, Names New Danish CEO).
The company also has plans for charging and swapping networks in Australia, Canada's Ontario province, Hawaii and California's Bay Area (see Better Place and Ontario Launch Project).
As for how Better Place will pay for its other proposed projects – its Bay Area plans will come at a cost of about $1 billion, it estimates – the company is working with Macquarie Capital to raise capital for its Ontario, Canada and Australia projects (see Green Light post).
The Yokohama demonstration switched the battery out of a Nissan electric SUV modified for the purpose. The Renault-Nissan Alliance – the partnership of the French and Japanese automakers that is at the center of the companies' electric vehicle plans – has said it will work to develop cars that can have batteries switched out via Better Place's swapping stations, Mullins said.
Those vehicles are intended to be unleashed in Israel and Denmark first, and "it may expand" to the other markets Better Place is targeting, Mullins said.
But other automakers have expressed skepticism about whether battery swapping is practical (see Electric-Car Firms Push Alternative to Project Better Place's Idea).
Most recently, Toyota and Ford representatives laid out some potential snags – weather-proofing batteries and managing performance and warranty issues between battery makers and automakers among them – at the Fortune Brainstorm Green conference last month, Business Insider reported.
Separate from its Better Place projects, the Renault Nissan Alliance also has partnerships with 26 governments and other entities to prep roadways for its electric cars, although details on how fast and at what price that may happen have for the most part been left up in the air.
Those partners include Singapore, China, Ireland, Israel, Denmark, Portugal, Monaco, Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan, the states of Oregon and Tennessee and the cities of Seattle, San Diego, Raleigh, N.C., Tucson and Phoenix in Arizona, and most recently Washington, D.C. (see Singapore Joins Renault-Nissan EV Partnership).
Campbell, Calif.-based startup Coulomb Technology has installed a few of its own charging stations in San Francisco and San Jose, part of a plan to bring about 40 charging stations to California this year (see Green Light post and Coulomb Bags $3.75M for Electric-Car Charging).
And then there are a host of projects investigating ways to integrate lots of car charging stations with the power grid, given that millions of electric cars could put a big strain on utilities (see Laying the Grid Groundwork for Plug-In Hybrids and A V2G Test: Pool Electric Cars for Grid Needs).