29 September 2011 – Better Place ¬ the electric car charge company founded by Israeli-American Shai Agassi is moving fast in its rollout of charge spots in Australia. It promises to deliver a full network in Canberra by next year and to substantially expand its current stable of 70 outlets in major Australian locations so that it will be the biggest in the world.
The company’s head of corporate affairs and automotive Alison Terry shared the company’s views on the electric vehicle, or EV, market during a panel session at the Property Council of Australia’s Cities Summit on 12 September at the Australian Technology Park in Sydney.
According to Terry, the market is developing at a pace hard to envisage just a few years ago, and car manufacturers are racing to keep up.
“There are a couple of EVs available today, there will be five or six next year and then all the car makers and emerging car markets will have an EV,” Ms Terry said.
Critically, China has signalled that electric cars will be a high priority in its strategic development, she told The Fifth Estate in an interview this week.
“What happens in China will ultimately drive what happens around the world.”
According to Terry, who comes from 19 years with General Motors Holden, the huge distances that some Australians need to drive each week make Australia the perfect place to road test the technology at scale.
Certainly Canberra is perfect for a major commitment, not just because it was a city designed for cars, but because of local commitment to reducing emissions, Terry says.
“People in Canberra do drive long distances. It’s almost semi rural. And Canberra is ready for EVs; they are quite serious about emissions reductions as a community. You see it from the ACT Government, the partners we work through and the community.”
Good news for environmentalists is that Better Place promises that all its electricity will be renewable. For the Canberra network it has signed a $60 million contract with energy supplier ActewAGL 10 years.
Good news for customers is that the cost of running an electric car will be less than petrol and the gap is likely to widen as petrol become more expensive and renewable energy prices drop.
So how much will it cost on average to run an electric car?
Terry says it will be cheaper than petrol. If a customer is currently paying about $80 a week in petrol, a Better Place subscription will be less, Terry says.
Another big factor is that the cost of batteries for EVs, currently at between $10,000 and $15,000, are falling rapidly.
According to Terry Better Place will also pickup the tab for installation, whether in a pubic or private location. This might averge $2000 depending on locational issues. The customer subscribes to the service and pays a monthly fee.
For the Canberra network agreements have been reached with 12 partners. These include Crowne Plaza, Hindmarsh group, Canberra Airport and Rock Development Group.
Terry says the property industry in particular is enthusiastic.
“Interest is coming from commercial car parks, government, workplaces, and increasingly developers are making their projects EV (electric vehicle) ready – the reason is it’s much easier and much cheaper to lay the electrical conduit at the start rather than installing it afterwards,” Terry says.
Key points on Better Place
Customers sign up for a kilometre-based subscription model tailored for different driving needs, with fees paid monthly.
US and Israel
Australia is the third roll-out market after Israel and Denmark. Israel will have 40 switch stations and hundreds of charge spots in place by the end of 2011 and Denmark is also currently deploying infrastructure as well.
The company has a US presence, however, Australia is the proving ground that the model works over large distances, the spokeswoman said.
As a global company we are backed by over $700 million nventure capital, gained through two capital raising rounds completed during the GFC (gobal financial crisis).
“I think this makes us the most successful start-up in recent years and our investors globally include HSBC, Lazard, Morgan Stanley, Israel Corp and VantagePoint Venture Partners. We have partnership agreements with GE, Renault-Nissan, and a long list of other organisations who support the global switch to electric cars.”
Over the longer term “Better Place will offer an integrated solution that will enable electric car drivers the ability to drive wherever they want, whenever they want; and completely addresses the traditional hurdle of ‘range anxiety’, via an innovative battery switch model,” a spokeswoman for the company said.
“Drivers with fixed-battery cars, such as the Mitsubishi i-MieV or Nissan Leaf buy a membership that includes a personal charge spot installed at their home or workplace, access to our public network of charge spots, all their energy requirements and our 24/7 customer care and roadside services.”
Car batteries are pretty heavy – around 250 kilograms – so it needs to be a fully automated process that is completely convenient for the driver.
Drivers access a battery switch station – these will be located in prominent places across the Better Place network.
They enter a small facility that looks a little like a carwash, which is fully automated – the driver stays in the car the whole time.
The facility is accessed by a Better Place membership card that recognises the driver and their car, and readies the right battery in preparation.
The car is guided forward to a battery bay and a panel in the floor opens up, the spent battery is removed and a new battery is inserted. The latches are done up and the driver is on their way, all in around 4 minutes.
Price for a Mitsubishi i-MieV with a fixed-battery is $48 000.
Nissan is expected to release pricing for the Leaf closer to launch in April 2012, and Renault has said the battery-switchable Fluence ZE will be competitively priced with its petrol equivalent.
“Some media reports have put this price at around the mid-thirties.”
According to the spokeswoman the battery is by far the single most expensive component of the vehicle and can cost between $10,000 to $15,000.
“So a fixed-battery car has a high upfront capital cost because it includes the battery.
“However, with a Renault Fluence ZE and a Better Place subscription, the customer never buys the battery and this significantly reduces the upfront cost of the car.
“It also delivers the advantage that the customer never needs to worry about the battery life, performance or warranty, because Better Place owns and manages all the batteries.
“Customers access the pool of batteries through their monthly membership, and can switch the battery in their car as many times as they like.”
Australia currently spends $35 billion on petrol and this is expected to rise to $50 billion by 2020.
The 12 Canberra Charge Network Foundation Members are: the ACT Government, the ACT Electric Vehicle Council, ActewAGL, Canberra Airport, Capital Hotel Group, CIC Australia, Crowne Plaza, Hindmarsh, Lend Lease, the National Convention Centre, Rock Development Group, and TransACT.
Public access charge spots will be installed at prominent locations operated by these members.
The ACT Chief Minister, Katy Gallagher said in June: “Making the transition from petrol to electric driving in this region is one of the most positive ways Canberra citizens can reduce their carbon emissions, decrease pollution and preserve our quality of life.”
The company said the rollout was designed to be in time for the arrival of the Renault Fluence Z.E. cars due to arrive for the first Canberra customers from the middle of 2012.
Comments from stakeholders:
Malcolm Leslie, regional general manager ACT and Southern NSW, CIC Australia:
“We’ll extend the charge network to our flagship project, the new township of Googong, and we’ll make provision for meter boxes and wiring for electric car charge spots in every home that will be built there through our Design Guidelines to avoid the cost of retrofitting and to future proof the community.
“The installation of charge spots for private purchasers who sign up with Better Place will be subsidised, and public charge spots throughout the township will be available for every electric car driver to use.
“We will also install a charge spot in our city headquarters so that our office car can make way for an electric vehicle.”
Darren Dougan, CEO Hindmarsh:
“As a national leader in property and construction headquartered in Canberra, Hindmarsh is at the forefront of creating sustainable environments. We are excited to be working with Better Place to roll-out electric car infrastructure in Canberra and we look forward to incorporating this exciting technology into our prominent Canberra developments.”
Murray Coleman, managing director of Lend Lease’s project management & construction business in Australia:
“We are delighted to be partnering with Better Place and the other Foundation members to deliver infrastructure that will result in a cleaner and healthier environment.”
Maria Efkarpidis, Rock Development Group:
“Rock Development Group is passionate about environmental sustainability and supports the use of clean energy vehicles. That’s why we approached Better Places about switching to electric and becoming a foundation ,ember.
“We have five charge spots in operation, three with public access and two private residential ones, and we are proud to be a leader for sustainable driving in Canberra. Charge spots will also be an integral part of loop, our $130 million redevelopment of the Belconnen Fresh Food Markets, as we work towards making EVs more accessible to all Canberrans.”