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Hawaii: Sunshine, surf—And soon, electric cars

The alt-energy company Better Place, which has taken its vision of electric cars to Israel, Australia, Denmark and major California cities, is now coming to Hawaii.

The Aloha State and its utility provider yesterday endorsed a plan to build a network of battery-swap and recharging stations in Hawaii that would make the use of electric cars feasible, the New York Times reports.  Projects of that kind are already in motion overseas and near Palo Alto, Calif., where Better Place is headquartered. It plans to start testing the program next year in Israel, where founder and CEO Shai Agassi is from, and to create a $1 billion recharging network in San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland by 2012.

“We always knew Hawaii would be the perfect model,” Agassi told the Times. “The typical driving plan is low and leisurely, and people are smiling.”

Better Place plans to build between 50,000 to 100,000 charging stations across the state by early 2012, and run them using renewable power it buys from Hawaiian Electric Co., according to the Associated Press. The plan will help the state cut its fossil fuel use by 70 percent by 2030, Gov. Linda Lingle told the AP.

Hawaii is an attractive test site for Better Place because of its size. Trips on the island are rarely longer then the 100 miles (161 km) electric cars will be designed to make before they need more juice, the Times notes. Renault-Nissan, whose eMegane vehicle would go that distance, is working with Better Place to deploy its e-car prototypes in Israel this winter, Wired Magazine said in an August profile of Agassi. The company is in talks with other automakers about whether e-cars they're developing could be recharged at its stations.

Several car manufacturers, including Tesla and Chevrolet, are developing electric cars, but none have become widely available. Still, global-warming carbon emissions have given the idea urgency, and Agassi has managed to raise $200 million from investors to implement his plan.

The recession doesn’t have Agassi worried that the Hawaii project won't pan out, because investors want new assets with long-term revenue streams. In this case, that asset would be the network of battery stations available only to drivers with a subscription, he told the Times.

“I believe the new asset class is batteries,” Agassi said. “When you have a driver in a car using a battery, nobody is going to cut their subscription and stop driving.”

Image by iStockphoto/Alexey Dudoladov

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