Aug 042011
 
Station Blaak

Image by Gerard Stolk vers l’Assomption via Flickr

THERE may be fewer than 500 electric cars on Danish roads, but signs of progress in building an infrastructure to support a larger population of E.V.’s. are already evident.

The first electric car battery swapping station in Europe opened here last month, the initial site in a network of 24/7 fully automated drive-through stations. There, the lithium-ion battery packs, which weigh about 600 pounds, will be removed from specially designed cars and replaced with a fully charged pack. The swap takes five minutes.

Is this plan — a solution that could make E.V’s practical for long trips — some sort of utopian E.V. fantasy? I thought so until I experienced the process myself.

I was in the second car to do a battery swap after the ribbon was cut on June 28. Passengers in the first car included Lykke Friis, Denmark’s minister of climate and energy, and Johnny Hansen, chief executive of Better Place Denmark, the local branch of the Silicon Valley company. It is building the swap stations and related businesses in Australia, China, Denmark, Israel (where the world’s first swap station is) and eventually, the United States.

Better Place has 19 more battery swap stations in the works for Denmark. “By the first of April, we will cover the whole country,” Mr. Hansen said, referring to 2012, with stations no more than 40 miles apart.

At this point, only Renault is making cars designed for quick battery swaps. The company stretched the gasoline-powered version of its Fluence, a Corolla-like sedan, by five inches to accommodate the suitcase-size 24-kilowatt-hour battery pack. The resulting Fluence Z.E., for zero emissions, goes into full production later this year, available in either swappable or fixed-battery versions.

My 20-minute drive in the Fluence Z.E. from the Better Place offices in Copenhagen to the swap station in the suburb of Gladsaxe, was pleasingly uneventful. The swap station adjoins a filling station, where a gallon of gasoline was priced at the equivalent of $9.15 and diesel was $8.40.

The battery swap was also uneventful. Swipe a membership card at the entrance and the garage door to the battery-change track, similar to a carwash tunnel, opens. Pull forward and the robot takes over — the driver simply shifts into neutral and lets go.

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