WHAT LOOKS TO BE
the first batch of big-name,
all-electric cars—the Nissan
Leaf, Chevy Volt and BMW
ActiveE—is set to actually
hit the road.
Of course, now owners
just have to figure out
where they’ll be plugging in
their cool new wheels.
“Irrespective of where
the technology on the cars
ends up being, there are still
huge infrastructure issues
to address,” says Calum
MacRae, automotive analyst
London, England. “It’s a
new product requiring new
But many of the leading
infrastructure innovators say
the scarcity of electric vehicles on the streets has
kept mass installation projects in limbo.
“Infrastructure providers are waiting on the
cars—the idea is not to have thousands of chargers out there before there are vehicles,” says
Kristen Helsel, director of electronic vehicle
solutions at AeroVironment Inc., Monrovia,
“The biggest roadblock that we all face is there
has never been a mass worldwide deployment of
lithium-ion batteries in vehicles,” she says.
And now that a mass deployment is fast
approaching, the race is on to develop the supporting infrastructure to charge all those batteries.
Along with AeroVironment, rival Silicon
Valley start-up Better Place has launched projects
in the United States, Canada, Denmark, Israel,
Japan and Australia.
In Denmark, the company is working with
local giant DONG (Dansk Olie og Naturgas)
Energy to plan for the deployment of charging
and battery-swap stations. Better Place is starting
small, with 55 public charging stations installed in
Copenhagen by the end of 2009 and then a slow
expansion as more electric vehicles roll out.
look at the
“We are trying to deploy a fair amount of infrastructure before the electric vehicles are here,” says
Sara Helweg-Larsen, director of communications at
Better Place Denmark in Copenhagen. “We will
eventually have enough infrastructure here in
Denmark to make sure you can drive from one end
of the country to another in an electric vehicle.”
At this point, not all the players even agree on
exactly what the infrastructure vision looks like.
In the case of Better Place, vehicle owners pay
a subscription fee and can then plug their vehicles
into a public station or a private one at home for
the four to six hours it takes for a full charge. The
problem is that every charger puts additional
strain on a nation’s power grid. In Denmark,
that’s where DONG Energy comes in, powering
the forthcoming fleet with wind energy.
“Electric vehicles represent the kind of demand
element that could be turned on and off as wind
production is fluctuating,” says Torben V. Holm, a
DONG Energy consultant in Copenhagen.
Intelligence from the Better Place control center allows charging to take place primarily when it
makes most sense from a cost perspective. That’s
typically at night when other types of demand are
low and the proportion of wind power as a whole
“With intelligent charging, we will make sure
that the load and balance of the power grid is
maintained and utilization of renewable energy
resources is higher,” Ms. Helweg-Larsen explains.
The formula can be customized to an area’s
green energy of choice. In Israel, for example, it’s
solar and wind energy that are helping power an
estimated 1,000 of Better Place’s charging stations, the first step in installing 150,000 throughout the country by 2011.
“Without renewable energy, these initiatives
would fail,” Ms. Helweg-Larsen says.
LIFE IN THE FAST LANE
One of the biggest stalling points for the adoption of electric vehicles is their inability to drive
long distances. Even on a full charge they typically
can only travel 160 kilometers (100 miles).