Australia plans electric vehicle network

October 26, 2008

A US firm has unveiled plans to build a massive one-billion-dollar charging network to power electric cars in Australia as it seeks cleaner and cheaper options to petrol. Better Place, which has built plug-in stations for electric vehicles in Israel and Denmark, has joined forces with Australian power company AGL and finance group Macquarie Capital to create an Australian network. Under the agreement, Macquarie will raise one billion dollars to build electric-vehicle networks in the country's largest cities -- Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane -- while AGL will power the system with renewable energy. "We are investing in Australia's economy and adding jobs while helping the country take a generational leap forward toward oil independence," said Better Place chief executive and founder Shai Agassi in Melbourne. Under the plan, the three cities will each have a network of between 200,000 and 250,000 charge stations by 2012 where drivers can plug in and power up their electric cars. The points would probably be at homes and businesses, car parks and shopping centres, he said. In addition, 150 switch stations will be built in each city and on major freeways, where electric batteries can be automatically replaced in drive-in stations similar to a car wash. Under the scheme, which is likely to strike a green chord in Australia where the price of petrol is also notoriously high, drivers will pay to recharge their cars through various power supply agreements similar to mobile phone contracts. Drivers can pick a plan and rate that best reflects their car use. Agassi stressed that the deal was crucial as people would only buy electric vehicles if they could recharge them easily. He said Australian federal and state governments must now work out how they could encourage drivers to turn to electric cars, by offering sweeteners such as tax incentives or free power for the first purchasers. "It's more a question for the government for how quickly they want the tipping point (towards electric cars) to happen," he said. "Every government decides what they want to do. We believe that Australia, looking at all the alternatives, will pick the right mix for Australia." John Brumby, premier of the southern state of Victoria of which Melbourne is the capital, said his government backed the plan. "We support any initiative that will have positive outcomes in reducing emissions in the transport sector and welcomes this innovative approach to help make broad adoption of EVs (electric vehicles) in Australia possible," he said.

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