Today in Cleantech

Better Place, the startup that’s championing battery switching rather than fast charging as the solution to electric vehicle range anxiety, has just gotten the green light to try out a pan-European test of its unorthodox approach to electric mobility. The European Commission is giving €4.95-million (US$7.1-million) grant to a consortium led by the Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup to work on a project that will include battery-switching stations in Amsterdam and Copenhagen, as well as plans for more switching stations in between the two cities. Better Place is already working on Denmark as a test market, and expects its first battery-swapping station there to open this summer. That’s in advance of sales of the Renault Fluence Z.E., the first car built specifically with battery swapping with Better Place’s technology in mind, which are set to start in the fourth quarter of this year. Of course, plenty of automakers and industry observers have questioned Better Place’s battery-swapping model, saying it will be far too expensive (Better Place plans to own the batteries) and difficult to get multiple car manufacturers to build around the removable battery concept. Maybe that’s why Better Place has always started its projects with old-fashioned plug-in car chargers, and continues to plan to make those available in projects it’s working on in China, Australia, Europe and the United States.

Ustream Eyes Asia With Major Funding Round

Ustream has nabbed a major strategic investment by Japan’s Softbank that could be worth $75 million over the next 18 months. With the new funding, Ustream will look to expand in Japan, China, Korea, and India, opening offices and hiring employees to tap dramatic mobile phone usage in those countries.

Japanese mobile phone and Internet operator Softbank made an initial investment of $20 million in Ustream, with the option to acquire additional shares by July 2011 that could bring its total investment in the live and mobile streaming startup to $75 million. With its initial investment, Softbank currently owns 13.7 percent of Ustream, valuing the company at around $150 million. If Softbank chooses to exercise its warrants, the additional $55 million investment would make it the company’s top shareholder.

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Better Place’s Danish Dreams, Plus a Test Drive of Its First Electric Car

While I’ve been skeptical of electric vehicle infrastructure Better Place’s grand ambitions to sell EV service like cell phones and cover small countries with its network, there’s one region that is actually a good fit with Better Place’s EV dreams: Denmark. I sat down with some of Better Place’s team on the ground in Denmark at a hotel outside of the Copenhagen climate negotiations on Wednesday and took a test drive in the first car for the Renault Better Place partnership, the Fluence (the sedan-looking car in the photo to the left and below), which is supposed to come out in 2011.

Here’s Better Place’s basic strategy in Denmark: partner with the state-owned utility Dong Energy, who is also an investor in Better Place, offer Danish residents EVs that are cheaper than internal combustion cars (internal combustion engine cars in Denmark are over 100 percent taxed and very expensive) and appeal to the small size of the country and progressive residents. The pieces and partnerships all seem to fit, however, the hurdles ahead will be raising enough financing to build out the infrastructure and seeing how many Danish consumers sign up for the Better Place plan.
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PHOTOS: Renault’s New Electric Cars, Meet Twizy, Zoe, & Fluence

Meet the Renault EVs, a family of electric concept cars unveiled by the French automaker today at the Frankfurt Motor Show. The four models, which include the Twizy city car, Zoe, Fluence sedan and the latest iteration of the Kangoo “people carrier,” combined with Nissan’s upcoming LEAF sedan, amount to the starting lineup in the Renault-Nissan Alliance’s quest for domination of the global electric vehicle market.
Renault has designed the Fluence five-seater (the least cutesy of the four models shown in Frankfurt today and pictured after the jump) to be compatible with electric vehicle infrastructure startup Better Place’s “Quickdrop” battery swap system. Today the two companies announced plans to roll out at least 100,000 of the cars in Denmark and Israel by 2016, with buyers having the option to subscribe to Better Place’s services when sales begin in the first half of 2011.
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