Ontario, Canada — which is already on track to shut down coal by 2014 — has become the nation’s first province to adopt Better Place’s electric car recharging grid. It joins Israel, Denmark, Australia, the San Francisco Bay area and Hawaii in making a deal with the Palo Alto start-up.
Details remain thin. But according to press releases (here and here), Better Place will partner with Bullfrog Power, the Canadian retailer of renewable energy, to power the charging infrastructure with clean sources.
In connection with the deal, Ontario will conduct a study to examine ways to speed up adoption of electric cars in Canada’s most populous province. The report is due out in May. In the meantime, Better Place will set up a Toronto office, build an EV demonstration and education center and develop a charging network plan and timeline.
The cost? The Toronto Star reports an estimated project price tag of $150 million to support 100,000 electric-cars within 100 miles of downtown Toronto. No investments have yet been made.
The Better Place plan would work like this. The company would install and operate the infrastructure — charging spots, battery-swap stations and software. Consumers would buy or lease Better Place-compliant electric cars and sign up for service. A monthly fee would give drivers access to power spots and battery stations, and cover the miles clocked on their batteries. Think cell phone plan — with miles not minutes — and a subscription cost of, say, 75 bucks a month for all you can drive.
It’s been called a "real-world alternative to the Detroit’s business model." The only thing is that it has garnered no apparent interest from Detroit.
Last year, Better Place announced that French automaker Renault-Nissan would supply the electric vehicles for its projects in Israel and Denmark. GM is said to have snubbed Better Place CEO Shai Agassi. Its denier-in-chief Bob Lutz told the Toronto Star last fall (reprinted in full on Clean Break):
When you think of the expense of the battery pack, times the number of battery packs he’s got to have at each station, times the number of stations he’s got to have to make this whole thing feasible, I don’t see how the business equation could possibly work.
The truth is, no one knows if the Better Place model will work — including Renault-Nissan. The French automaker has made moves without the start-up, signing deals to bring its electric vehicles to Portugal, the State of Tennessee, the Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan and France. Meanwhile, Chinese automaker BYD is bringing its own plug-in hybrid and a competing infrastructure to Israel in 2010 to go head-to-head with Better Place. Several other electric car firms have been pushing alternatives to Better Place’s system of battery replacement stations, preferring fast-charging stations instead.
Point is, foreign automakers and whole nations are starting to lay the grid groundwork for electric cars. (Better Place says it’s "in active negotiations with approximately 25 countries, many of the major automakers and local partners in each target market.") Competition is stiff. And notably, Ontario — one of North America’s largest car producing regions — has chosen Better Place for its plans.
Makes you wonder, who and what will Detroit choose — and when?