General Electric announced today that it will cooperate with Better Place on charging stations and infrastructure.
Under the transaction, the two will work to establish standards and interoperability, but the key parts of the deal are in financing and fleets. Drivers on the Better Place plan won't own the batteries in their cars. Instead, Better Place owns them, and that ownership puts a massive burden on Better Place to maintain, buy and generally take care of battery packs.
Building the charging infrastructure for a major metropolitan area or "cell" runs about $150 million, Better Place told us recently. The company has raised $700 million and is now raising project financing money.
Still, like consumers and businesses everywhere, it wants credit for the office equipment. Each swapping station will have 20 or so batteries waiting to be swapped. Battery prices are going down -- Better Place says it is currently contracting to buy batteries at a low $400 a kilowatt hour for delivery in early 2012 -- but that still means each battery will cost close to $10,000.
GE will set up a pilot program to finance up to 10,000 batteries in Israel and Denmark. (Better Place launches in Israel next year.)
Meanwhile, the two will attempt to get fleet customers to try electrification pilots. Better Place, in all likelihood, will sell most of its cars to fleet owners. Why? Consumers are sketchy about buying cars and leasing the battery. This sort of arrangement makes financial sense for fleet owners, however. In Israel, employers give employees cars as a fringe benefits. One of the reasons Better Place will start in Israel is because of this fleet arrangement. Many car makers are also skeptical about building cars around the same, or very similar, batteries. It restricts design choices and differentiation. With fleet cars, that's less of an issue. Drivers get what their employers tell them to drive.
Chalk up the deal as another part of GE's expansion. Last month it teamed up with the Department of Energy on energy-efficient appliances and it continues to invest VC funds into startups.
--Fallbrook Technologies, which has developed a kooky variable transmission package called the NuVinci, will target the automotive market. Earlier, it was more focused on two-wheeled vehicles. The NuVinci replaces traditional gears and clutches with spheres that rotate around a "sun" for infinite gear ratios.
--Toronto Hydro, the somewhat forward-looking utility from Ontario, is kicking off a pilot with Ice Energy to see if thermal mass cooling and storage can reduce peak power. Ice Energy is also working with utilities in southern California.
--Finally, Aster Data raised $30 million in a C round. Aster has created a data analytics server that cuts the cost and time associated with data storage. Indirectly, systems like this can have an impact on data center power consumption.