If a supervillain wanted to roll out a plan to turn the planet's car infrastructure on its head, he could hardly do better than the deal that Israeli company Better Place just announced with the China Southern Power Grid Co.
Better Place is a company that wants to replace filling stations with battery swapping stations. (The batteries are swapped by robots.) If it works, the concept eliminates the range anxiety, long charging times, and battery ownership headaches that come with driving an electric car. The first pilot station is in Israel, and its CEO has estimated that he can cover the entire (admittedly small) country with just nine stations.
Now try to imagine 2,300 battery swapping stations spread across China, which is CSP's stated goal. It's a deal on a scale previously incomprehensible for a tiny start-up like Better Place. Of course, it's contingent on trials of Better Place technology in China working out. The idea is that China will start manufacturing its own Better Place-compatible cars.
If the costs can be brought down (currently, a Better Place-compatible Renault is north of $30,000), affordable Chinese-made cars plus commodity batteries could be hard to beat in the transition off of oil as a source of energy and, more importantly, a convenient way to store it.