Australian drivers could soon be swapping the batteries in their electric cars in the same way they swap gas bottles for their barbecues. California-based firm Better Place today held the first public demonstration of new technology that can swap over an electric car battery in less time than it takes to fill a car with petrol.
And the company plans to have a recharging network available in Australia within three years. The system operates via a conveyor belt shuttle system positioned in a pit beneath the car. Robots remove the depleted battery, the shuttle moves along to position a new battery under the car and another robot installs it. Better Place says the process takes less than a minute.
The companys Australian chief executive Evan Thornley said the company planned to roll out the technology in Israel in 2011, followed soon after by Denmark and then Australia in 2012. Mr Thornley said the technology would put to rest consumer fears about lack of range for electric vehicles.
Part of the reason we came to Australia as early as we did was to prove that electric vehicles are no longer the province of green consumers driving small distances. This is going to be available to all motorists regardless of how far they drive, he said.
He said drivers would only use the battery switching stations occasionally, as most would re-charge their cars daily via plug-in recharging outlets in homes, offices or shopping centres. The average car is idle for about 22 hours a day, so there is plenty of opportunity for it to be charged, he said.
The current crop of plug-in electric prototypes have a range of between 60km and 160km, but Thornley expects that to have improved by the time the Better Place infrastructure is in place in 2012. So far, three car makers, Holden, Mitsubishi and Nissan, have announced they are planning to introduce plug-in electric vehicles to the local market, while Toyota is also believed to be considering a local plug-in option.
Better Place plans to use only renewable energy for its recharging network and claims to have interest from a number of providers. It plans to set up a charging plan similar to mobile phones, where electric car owners can subscribe to a usage plan of their choice.
While mobile phone providers charge for minutes , Better Place would charge for kilometres. Thornley predicts the cost per kilometre for electricity will be lower than petrol. The initial network is planned to roll out in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
In a press announcement in Yokohama, Japan, the companys founder Shai Agassi said Better Place had the same business model as the large oil companies, but sold clean kilometres rather than dirty ones. For nearly a century, the automotive industry has been inextricably tied to oil.
Today, were demonstrating a new path forward where the future of transportation and energy is driven by our desire for a clean planet and a robust economic recovery fueled by investments in clean technology, and one in which the well-being of the automotive industry is intrinsically coupled with the well-being of the environment, he said.