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Transportation Power

Australia Developing Massive Electric Vehicle Grid 260

Posted by timothy
from the must-avert-mad-max-at-all-costs dept.
blairerickson writes "A US firm Thursday 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 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. 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." I hope they're talking to the car companies about the necessary standardization it would take to make this work, too.
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Australia Developing Massive Electric Vehicle Grid

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  • by thogard (43403) on Friday October 24, 2008 @02:22AM (#25494385) Homepage

    Is this the same grid who's owners are claiming there will be rolling blackouts again this summer because they don't have enough capacity?

    • by QuantumG (50515) *

      I'll give you a hint: it's the other "n" word.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sgt_doofey (862142)
      Not to mention the fact that nearly all electricity in Australia is generated by coal burning power stations. Not gonna be a clean mode of transport if you factor in where the electricity is generated from.
      • by erikina (1112587) <eri.kina@gmail.com> on Friday October 24, 2008 @02:32AM (#25494455) Homepage
        Which is a crying shame considering how much uranium and easy disposal options we have. Fear trumps reason again. Cue: 30 year outdated arguments..
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          They don't make a profit in their lifetime?
          • by Dun Malg (230075) on Friday October 24, 2008 @09:13AM (#25496681) Homepage

            They don't make a profit in their lifetime?

            That's not inherent to nuclear, but to the one-off nature of all the early nuclear plants. Standardized designs, pre-approved by the appropriate regulatory agencies, can be cheap and reliable. Look at France. Their reactors are so cheap and reliable they're a net exporter of electricity, and they make quite a bit of cash from it. The trouble with all the reactors built in the 60's we have now is that each one was scratch built at a time when no one really knew the best way to build one. They're all basically experimental.

          • by Vexar (664860) on Friday October 24, 2008 @10:55AM (#25497829) Homepage Journal
            Nuclear power plants have an ROI timeline, unburdened by government perks, of about 18 months. Furthermore, the power they generate can be slightly cheaper than coal, per kilowatt-hour, depending on how cheap the coal is in the area. Newer reactor designs (Gen IV) have higher operational efficiencies, which mean cheaper power than ever. Meanwhile, newer coal plants require greater environmental tooling, and so they are consequently less efficient and more expensive. Go Australia! Show America how to do things, like you did with the SCRAM engine!
        • by TapeCutter (624760) on Friday October 24, 2008 @04:58AM (#25495241) Journal
          "Which is a crying shame considering how much uranium and easy disposal options we have. Fear trumps reason again. Cue: 30 year outdated arguments.."

          The point is mute because as others have pointed out TFA claims that AGL will use renewables, however I have to object to your implied conclusion that Australia should build reactors.

          Australia has both huge uranium reserves AND huge renewable potential (enough to power most of SE Asia), why not sell the uranium and disposal services to other nations that don't have such an embarrasing wealth and under-utilisation of renewables? Personally I think the shame I cry over the most is how we consitently sell taxpayer funded IP for pennies, as in the case of The Sun King [sbs.com.au]. IMHO we should be selling uranium and keeping ideas, not the other way around.

          The meat from the link:
          "The new technology Dr Shi helped develop has now been put into commercial production at this factory near Leipzig, in Germany. But it is protected by patent - he might have helped develop it but the Sun King can't use it. Indeed the failure by Pacific Solar to commercialise the technology so disheartened Dr Shi at the time that he considered giving away research altogether and starting a restaurant or a supermarket in Sydney...[snip: but he went back home to China]...Six years later Dr Shi and his wife have transformed $6 million in seed capital into a $6 billion company. Oh, not only did we sell his invention, we even built the factory [pv-tech.org] for the Germans who are now pumping about a gigawatt of EXCESS back into the grid from rooftop PV - quite an achivement considering "sunshine" is not the first thing that comes to one's mind when they think about German weather.

          And while we are at it, why do we ship ore to China to smelt with coal, why not refine the metal where it is dug up using solar thermal and "value add" to our product? Even the small quantity we smelt is done with horrendous inefficiency and still makes a profit, eg: Aluminium in the south using a purpose built coal plant but the ore is dug up under the sweltering sun in the north. To get the ore from north to south there's all this infrastructure of railraods, ports and ships. If we can automate the world's largest diamond mine to operate with a dozen staff why can't we build intergrated mine/refine/power stations that take maybe 100 people to run? Plonk it on the ore deposit and away you go.

          If I had my tinfoil hat on I might think that a lot of the insanity in the economy is nothing more than a "full employment" scheme for western society.

          Politics: The Greens have two problems, first their nuclear dogma directly contradicts their platform of "science based policy". Second their leader is as boring as dogshit. I'm an old fart who was an adult during the Franklin thing and I admire Brown for what he did back then, I also admire him for standing up for the rule of law in the Hicks case even though Howard neutered him by branding him a "Hick's supporter". I really DO want to hear what he has to say but his voice and his predictable dogma are like auditory valium, two sentances and I'm asleep. The last time I remember him doing anything effective was the time he got the Greens locked out of parliment while the Chineese were visting, and when I say effective I mean he was effective in convincing the nation that he's a wack-job. (Not that different to how McCain has "lost his way", once that happens your credibility is dead to the casual observer and the one-eyed dogmatists are drawn to you like flies are drawn to a turd.)
          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            The point is mute

            Moot. [wiktionary.org]

      • by ciroknight (601098) on Friday October 24, 2008 @02:39AM (#25494495)
        Yeah, but as has been said a billion times by now, the electrical grid is cheaper and cleaner than a half billion cars driving around burning hydrocarbons. Power plants make it a point to be as efficient as possible, whereas cars make almost the inverse point with IC engines.

        Looking forward, the grid is a lot easier to update to cleaner technologies as they come available. It is extremely tough to get anyone to put a new engine in their car because it might improve their gas mileage.
        • by plasmacutter (901737) on Friday October 24, 2008 @03:43AM (#25494829)

          Because of the time required to charge vehicles, we'd need a cord station at pretty much every parking space everywhere for widespread use of pure electrics to be tenable.
          (even if we implemented amazing recharge rates through capacitors, we wouldn't be able to utilize them because, without a completely separate, ultra-capacity utility network, the grid would overload)

          How expensive is this per capita vs a carbon trapping device from the government for everyone and a massive fuel subsidy program?

          In the long term they're financially better off rolling out a complete rebuild of the power grid to support "burst charging" of ultra-capacitors so cars can be charged in a couple minutes at "stations", the same way we do now with gas.

          • by ciroknight (601098) on Friday October 24, 2008 @04:20AM (#25495061)
            Because of the time required to charge vehicles, we'd need a cord station at pretty much every parking space everywhere for widespread use of pure electrics to be tenable.

            Surprise, that's exactly why they're starting the buildout now. You build it once, and you're done, you don't keep building it again and again, as you do with cars.

            I'm not saying that we have to immediately switch over to everyone on electric either. I'm not even saying that petrol should go the way of the dinosaur (in this case, literally). But for most drivers, electric is more than enough for every day life. And even "slow" charging batteries are just fine, because most of us spend most of our days inside, whilst our cars sit outside doing nothing but collecting heat.
            • by theaveng (1243528)

              >>>Surprise, that's exactly why they're starting the buildout now. You build the electric grid once, and you're done, you don't keep building it again and again, as you do with cars.
              >>>

              Your sentence make no sense. Once you've installed the "gasoline grid" (pipes/charging stations) you don't need to rebuild it again-and-again. It's done.

            • Ok, but using some kind of flow battery would make a lot of sense here. This way, the eletricity producer is the one that charges the bateries (the slow step), and the charging station simply exchanges its contents (what is fast).

              It only makes less sense to do that with carbon. Ok, we'd reuse the current infra-structure, but there are all kinds of inefficiencies in getting it from the air, turning it into hidrocarbonets and using it at the final destination. I guess some metal-oxyde would be great here.

        • But how do you define efficient? Pure thermodynamic efficiency? Sure power plants win out - but what does that mean and exactly how useful is it? Power plants do not keep in line with demand - they cannot, as demand waxes and wanes the power grid supply more or less flat lines. How is that efficient?

          I drive an old car, but I bet that I use less fuel than the vast majority of people and I am unashamed of driving my old car because the numbers don't lie. Now not to be combative but I say screw you and the hor

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Zironic (1112127)

            While a lot of what you say makes sense, driving an old car very little etc. However the second part of your post is bollocks.

            1) The grid can be turned off and scaled to meet demand
            2) Efficiency is measured in how much energy is lost, current petrol engines lose about 70% of the stored energy.
            3) As per point 2, Oil has nothing whatsoever to do with efficient storage, the reason we use oil is because it's there, someone else(nature) stored it for us so we don't care that it's inefficient as fuck
            4) We will ru

          • by Muad'Dave (255648)

            I say screw you and the horse you rode in on to anyone who tells me my car is worse for the environment than theirs. For the record I drive a 1970s 'pickup truck' (we call it a ute) with a 5 litre V8 engine, carburettor ...

            There's the rub. A 1970's vintage vehicle, at least in the US, was likely to not have a catalytic converter (they were mandated in the US in 1976). If your ute doesn't have one, it puts out much higher levels of CO, unburnt hydrocarbons, and lots of Nitrogen oxides (NOx).

            Since it has a

        • by theaveng (1243528)

          >>>the electrical grid is cheaper and cleaner than a half billion cars driving around burning hydrocarbons.

          This is not true. ACEEE.org ranked the EV1 as no cleaner than a Prius or Civic Hybrid. That same ranking showed that the 66mpg Honda Insight was 10% cleaner than either of those EVs.

          With electricity you have a 50% loss during the coal-to-current conversion. Then another 10% loss in transmission. 10% loss in the motor and almost 40% loss in the chemical battery. The end result is that the

          • by Whiteox (919863)

            Maybe true for US, but not so true for Australia.
            We have 300 years of natural gas at current use with gas (that's liquefied petroleum gas or LPG) fired power stations being built which are much more efficient than coal. AGL use renewables (waste) and will incorporate alternative technologies as they become available.

            • by theaveng (1243528)

              Natural gas is definitely cleaner, but still not perfect. The natural-gas powered Civic ranked equal to the gasoline-powered Insight Hybrid. That's an improvement over the gasoline Civic or the coal-powered EV1 (tied), but still not better than an Insight.

      • by kaos07 (1113443) on Friday October 24, 2008 @02:51AM (#25494541)

        Sigh, from the article:

        "AGL will power the system with renewable energy."

        • Sounds like a brilliant idea.

          The timing depends, of course, on the severity of the current global economic meltdown. But very soon Kevin 007 is going to be handing out hundreds of millions of dollars as part of the Emissions Trading Scheme to companies who substantially reduce their carbon footprint.

          AGL currently have a very high carbon footprint given they supply natural gas and electricity. This way they'll probably get a government grant for innovative technologies to tackle climate change, i.e. electric

          • by Whiteox (919863)

            Where's the renewable energy going to come from?
            I'm with AGL - They burn sugar cane detrius and other organic materials when they can.

          • by rat7307 (218353)

            Where's the renewable energy going to come from?

            Tassie is 95% Hydro & Wind (possibly a bit higher), and connected to the National Grid by Basslink. (Good in Theory, but we don't have a lot of water right now......)

    • by erikina (1112587) <eri.kina@gmail.com> on Friday October 24, 2008 @02:34AM (#25494463) Homepage
      Indeed. The summer air condition puts too much strain on the system. It's not uncommon for the hottest days to be without power (at least where I live in Brisbane)
      • by Firrenzi (229219) on Friday October 24, 2008 @03:35AM (#25494773)

        In Brisbane:

        This is why ripple controllers are being installed on air conditioners by Energex to alleviate the transformer load. It will be interesting to see what effect turning off an airconditioner for 15 minutes will make on the network.

          Things have changed since 2004 from a management perspective. It used to be cost cut as much as possible. Now tranny upgrades are occurring as a preventative maintenance meausre. If a maximum demand indicator gets close to the limit, it gets upgraded, not left to the last minute when it falls over. Of course spending (or not spending) on the network can be a political thing aswell. Having said that the network is still under significant load during summer. Hopefully the firies won't be hosing down pole transformers to keep them cool this summer. At least it's not the Joe Bjelke-Peterson days that it used to be.

    • According to Scientific American, [sciam.com] the plan is to power the cars with "wind turbines and other renewable sources (when possible)". Take it as you will.

      • by Konster (252488)

        I *do not* want a car powered by a wind turbine. Overhead power lines, OTHER wind powered cars, lack of go motion whilst in still air are but a few problems.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      As somebody who works in the industry, there's plenty of capacity. The reason for the rolling blackouts last summer was because our redundant lines (in Victoria) were taken out by bushfire. There was no way to prevent it.

      Posted anonymous because I don't recall my login (not at home PC).

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by seamus5 (987609)
      No, Australia does not have issues at all with electricity supply. You are probably getting confused with South Africa and as such I don't think your comment warrants being modded insightful.
      • by hool5400 (257022)

        Talked to anyone from the Northern suburbs of Darwin lately? Wondered where all of Australia's large rental generators have gone?

    • They have developed helmets you put on and when you pray hard enough electricity comes out.

  • Shai Agassi (Score:5, Informative)

    by PCM2 (4486) on Friday October 24, 2008 @02:37AM (#25494485) Homepage

    This is the electric-car effort spearheaded by Shai Agassi, formerly of SAP. He was profiled in Wired [wired.com] a couple of issues back.

    The gist of it is that the cars are all-electric (not hybrid), the energy companies sell the power, and the cars are basically free (or close to it). To get around the runtime problems of current electric cars, he envisions filling stations where you pull up in your electric car and instead of waiting for your battery to fully charge, the company swaps out your drained batter with a brand-new, prefilled one, and off you go. This is possible because they own the batteries anyway.

    In short, the idea is to move away from the Gillette razor model for cars, toward the cell phone model.

    • by PCM2 (4486) on Friday October 24, 2008 @03:11AM (#25494641) Homepage

      Actually, now that I think about it, Gillette is the wrong model. The current car model is the PC model: Pay a bunch of money up front for the computer, pay for software and support on an ongoing basis, eventually send the computer to the junkyard. Agassi's model is the cell phone model: Pay next to nothing up front, pay the service provider regular installments, replace or upgrade the hardware as needed for a nominal fee, but the hardware is all tied to the service provider. What you're paying for is not a car, but transportation.

      It's an intriguing concept, but it's hard to see it taking off in the U.S., where the automobile probably ranks ahead of diamond jewelry as a universally-recognized status symbol. Even Prius owners are making a statement about their lifestyle.

      But what do I know? I ride the bus.

    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      To get around the runtime problems of current electric cars, he envisions filling stations where you pull up in your electric car and instead of waiting for your battery to fully charge, the company swaps out your drained batter with a brand-new, prefilled one, and off you go. This is possible because they own the batteries anyway.

      I find the idea of owning a car and not owning the battery (or gas/deisel engine) that powers it... distasteful.

      If you flash the ECU in your car for more performance, do you void [contract] you have with the owner of the battery?

    • by Xtense (1075847) <xtense.o2@pl> on Friday October 24, 2008 @03:48AM (#25494849) Homepage

      I think I'm going to need an easier, car-based analogy to fully understand this.

    • Re:Shai Agassi (Score:5, Informative)

      by mcrbids (148650) on Friday October 24, 2008 @04:55AM (#25495221) Journal

      The gist of it is that the cars are all-electric (not hybrid), the energy companies sell the power, and the cars are basically free (or close to it). To get around the runtime problems of current electric cars, he envisions filling stations where you pull up in your electric car and instead of waiting for your battery to fully charge, the company swaps out your drained batter with a brand-new, prefilled one, and off you go. This is possible because they own the batteries anyway.

      This is perhaps the "elevator pitch" but in reality there is much, much more to it than just this.

      1) Other comments have posted about rolling power outages - these electric cars will help *prevent* rolling power outages! The truth is that the power grid is massively overbuilt. There is about 25% of the grid built to handle perhaps 12 hours of usage per year - the dreaded mid-summer air conditioning spike. These cars "talk" to the grid. They charge when power is plentiful (eg: at night) and can even backfeed into the grid if there's a shortage. The result is that they make better, more consistent, and more even use of the grid 24x7, while also providing embedded resiliency.

      2) The cars are rented. You pay for usage. Yeah, much like the cell phone model. But because of this, you don't have to worry about batteries, you don't have to worry about mechanic bills, and the cost for usage (per mile) is less than your existing car, anyway. Since nearly all cars are either financed or leased nowadays, anyway, the effect on the consumer is negligible. Day-to-day, you wouldn't notice the difference!

      3) The reason why electric cars bomb is the dreaded long trip. Even with 250 or so miles per charge, roughly equivalent to most cars' "full tank" range, the electric cars to date are utter fail for trips that are farther. You have to find a place to charge. You have to wait 4-8 hours. Etc. But with these electric cars, you can swap batteries in less time than it would take to fill the tank on your existing car. The problem of replacing batteries just.... goes away.

      I'm not just sold on this plan. I'm sold and sold and sold. I wish California would jump on board - I'd finally have a good reason to replace my aging (but perfectly operational) 10 year old 200,000 mile Saturn SL2!

  • the child in me... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RuBLed (995686) on Friday October 24, 2008 @02:53AM (#25494559)
    envisioned that as a massive electric bump car grid.
  • by eebra82 (907996) on Friday October 24, 2008 @03:01AM (#25494597) Homepage
    One of the main reasons this might work in Australia is because it is an island. Cars don't get on and off this country, so buying a car and worrying about going to "non-compatible" countries won't be a problem.

    This is why their initiative may have a bigger effect than, say, a European country surrounded by differently positioned countries.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Techman83 (949264)
      Thing is, it's a rather large island and you are forgetting tasmania. I also wonder if there will be a charging station at the Nullaboor Roadhouse or maybe Meekathara or "insert random pissant town 1000+ kilometres from anywhere even remotely civilised".
      • by Benaiah (851593)

        They could always roll it out like mobile phone technology. Stuff the people in the country.
        Roll it out for the cities first, then rural centres. That covers 98% of the population. The rest can stick to deisel because there is no point driving say 350ks then having to stop for 30mins to recharge. Although this would probably help stop most fatigue related accidents on country roads. :)
        Maybe a good thing. If you want to cross the Nullaboor (which most people outside Australia wont understand, Its that giant

        • by Techman83 (949264)

          Stuff the people in the country. Roll it out for the cities first, then rural centres. That covers 98% of the population.

          Yes it becomes quite apparent when you drive for 1000ks with no mobile coverage, Unless you get "Next G", which is more like 3.5G and not compatible with any other network in the world.

          The rest can stick to deisel because there is no point driving say 350ks then having to stop for 30mins to recharge.

          Pocket hurts from stupid parity pricing of diesel. It should be cheaper than unleaded! Highest I saw it was $2.15 a litre (which is nearly AU$10 a gallon), where as the petrol was $1.80 something.

    • Out of interest, how much of your driving is in a foreign country? There's nothing stopping you renting a car to take on holiday. It wouldn't work for people who, for example, worked in Germany but lived in France (if France adopted the system but Germany didn't). Or maybe it would, depending on the range of the cars. If the range is enough to pop across the border and back then you just charge it at home, and if you're lucky your employer will install charging points.
    • by sasha328 (203458)

      You have no idea how big and sparsely populated this country is do you?
      Think the population of New York spread across the continental US. In some places, you can drive for an hour or more before getting from one populated town (a few hundred) to another town (a few hundred).

      • by CmdrGravy (645153)

        Tell me about it ! I was in Australia once and we hired a car to drive from Sydney to Brisbane, on the map it only looked about as far as from Birmingham to Edinburgh ( a good 4 or 5 hours ) so we planned on arriving the next morning. Turns out it's bloody miles away, it took us almost a week in the end !

        The really annoying thing though was that there were no warning signs it would take that long anywhere, not on the map or on the signposts ( which weren't even in miles but in some other weird measurement )

  • Why not a lot of really long extension cords?
  • With what money? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jacques Chester (151652) on Friday October 24, 2008 @03:14AM (#25494669)

    It says the funds will be raised by Macquarie, which is an investment bank. Who, exactly, in the current economic climate, going to give them that kind of money?

  • by mrbill1234 (715607) on Friday October 24, 2008 @03:20AM (#25494705)

    That is fantastic - but where are the electric cars?

    • by Aladrin (926209)

      You expected Ferraris before the roads were paved? No! The infrastructure has to start supporting such things before they can exist.

      Oh, I'm sure there are -some- people that only drive 20 miles a day and don't have to worry about getting electricity while they are out. But the rest of the people have to know they can get back home before they'll invest in a car like that.

  • by Grue (3391) on Friday October 24, 2008 @03:48AM (#25494853) Homepage

    I hope they're talking to the car companies about the necessary standardization it would take to make this work, too.

    For all the press Better Place has been getting lately, I haven't seen an in-depth analysis of their business model, specifically as it relates to standardization of the infrastructure, including plugs and sockets.

    I have a feeling their charging plugs, sockets and protocols are proprietary. Anyone who attempts to produce a compatible charger/socket is going to find themselves on the end of a very aggressive lawsuit. Unless of course they've licensed the technology from Better Place.

    Our current gasoline-based system is deeply flawed, but at least it's open. We're replacing it with a marginally better system, but we're giving up that openness for a closed system owned by a single company.

    And then there's the conflict of interest issue. What incentive does a company have to reduce power consumption on a car when it's getting a cut of every charge?

    Shai Agassi is a smart and charismatic man, but who can really say they're happy with the cell phone business model? Most consumers aren't, but the cellular networks are making quite a profit.

    • by RAMMS+EIN (578166)

      ``Shai Agassi is a smart and charismatic man, but who can really say they're happy with the cell phone business model? Most consumers aren't, but the cellular networks are making quite a profit.''

      I'm not complaining. I get to make and receive phone calls and text messages and access the Internet pretty much everywhere I go, for less money than my ADSL line costs.

    • by bazorg (911295)

      I haven't seen an in-depth analysis of their business model, specifically as it relates to standardization of the infrastructure, including plugs and sockets.

      1) promise electric car network

      2) ?

      3) profit

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by notknown86 (1190215)
      Hey, I'm sure that Macquarie (the "millionaires factory") has only noble intentions... for that matter, the author of this article (money.cnn.com/2007/09/17/news/international/macquarie_infrastructure_funds.fortune/index.htm) don't get much right, either...
      If you don't note the sarcasm... google.
    • Of course their systems will be proprietary. At the very least there will be strong authentication to ensure you're paying the correct operator for your miles.

      The idea - as outlined in the Wired article - is that you buy miles from Better Place. They pay for the electricity - from environmentally friendly companies. They own the battery - and therefore you can replace the depleted battery in your car with a fully loaded battery at any time.

      For that to work as a business model, you will need some level of pr

  • by the_other_chewey (1119125) on Friday October 24, 2008 @04:21AM (#25495065)

    ...plans to build a massive one-billion-dollar charging network

    Sounds pretty useless. How many australians can be charged one billion dollars?

  • Will the cars lose there radio and other settings when you swap the battery?

  • Pure EV's have one huge weakness and that is range, 200 miles per charge is perfect for 95% of the time when you are commuting to work or even driving round town as even a long commute of say 70 miles each way leaves you with a spare 60 when you get home (charge up over night and your ready to go). However it is the 5% that would stop me, this weekend I intend to drive from Burlington, VT to Lewis, NY that is 160 miles each way now you can see the problem that I can get there but getting back would be probl

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