Better Place, Denmark’s DSB Strike Deal for Eco-Techno-Utopian Transit

betterplace-dsb-logosElectric car infrastructure startup Better Place and Danish rail operator DSB have a vision to link electric vehicles, car sharing networks, trains and mobile devices into one high-tech, eco-utopian transportation system in Denmark. The duo has just announced an agreement to install charging stations for electric vehicles at “a number of major Danish train stations,” and provide an electric car sharing service at Denmark’s main commuter stations so train passengers can pick up a plug-in for the next leg of their trip.

According to the release from state-owned DSB, customers will be able to book train tickets and reserve seats and vehicles via the web, and eventually via handheld devices. How the project will be financed, whether commuters will buy into it and whether the two companies can make the economics work at large scale remain to be seen (we’ve asked Better Place for details).

But the project could serve as a laboratory for integrating Car 2.0 technologies (in which vehicles are connected to the power grid as well as communication networks) into a much greener transportation system for the digital age — because it’s about mobility, with mass transit, shared cars (and hopefully biking or walking), rather than personal vehicles.

DSB and Better Place plan to set up a pilot project next year with electric car sharing and charge spots (available for private vehicles as well as shared cars) at the Høje-Taastrup and Skanderborg train stations, and will evaluate the possibility of expanding the network to “several of the largest commuter stations” in 2012.

Other companies and governments have dipped their toes into electric car sharing: ExxonMobil (s XOM) invested about $500,000 earlier this year in a car-sharing program in Baltimore, Maryland that includes a small fleet of electric four-seaters from Electrovaya. And last year Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë announced plans to roll out a subscription-based service called Autolib with 4,000 vehicles available for pickup and deliver at 700 spots around the city by the end of 2009.

The DSB-Better Place project fits into a larger push by the Danish government to upgrade the country’s electric transmission grid, build out infrastructure for electric vehicles and spur widespread adoption of the technology. Better Place came into the Danish EV picture nearly two years ago, announcing plans in early 2008 to work with state-controlled DONG Energy to provide charging and swap stations for cars from the Renault-Nissan Alliance. This year DONG and Better Place closed a €103 million ($135.8 million) financing deal for the project and said they will have a demonstration center set up in time to show off the technology at the UN climate talks coming up in December.

Will the U.S. keep pace with Denmark on this kind of public infrastructure? Likely not, said Nancy Gioia, Director of Ford (s F) Global Electrification, and Mark Duvall, Director of the Electric Power Research Institute’s Electric Transportation team yesterday at an event in San Francisco.

According to Duvall, countries with “monolithic utility industries,” as opposed to the U.S. system of some 3,000 utilities and 50 utility commissions, can make decisions and roll out public charging stations more quickly. “The U.S. has the most complex utility structure in the world,” said Gioia, and as a result, “Other parts of the world are very much driving this change.”