A $1 billion plan for car-charging network

BetterPlace founder Shai Agassi plans $1 billion network for electric charging network in California.

I'll be at Wired Magazine's celebration tonight at San Francisco's Academy of Sciences. The event features a conversation between Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson and Shai Agassi. Agassi, a former exec at SAP, is the founder of BetterPlace.

And – good timing! – BetterPlace just announced plans for a billion-dollar network that would provide widespread availability of charging for electric cars. BP is already building networks in Israel and Denmark and has firm plans for Australia.

By 2010, BP charging will be available in the Bay Area as the company starts construction of recharging stations, The Wall Street Journal reports. The company said it would now move into the U.S. market, with construction of battery-recharging stations in the Bay Area starting in 2010.

Mr. Agassi, who predicts mass-market production of electric cars in the U.S. by 2012, said operations in the San Francisco area would serve as a precursor for deployment of electric-car networks across the U.S. The $1 billion cost of the initial network would be raised by an operating company Better Place plans to start in the Bay Area, he said.

To get started, though, BetterPlace needs some $200 million, primarily from equity from pension funds. Given the credit crunch, it will be hard to raise much money from debt.

Another piece of the puzzle is swappable batteries, where drivers can exchange a depleted battery for a fully recharged one. Eventually, BP will have 250,000 parking-meter-sized charging stations and 100 or so battery swap centers.

Now – with Detroit's pleas for $25 billion falling on deaf ears and Rep. Henry Waxman taking over the Energy Committee – might be a time when federal dollars flow to companies like BetterPlace and electric sports-car maker Tesla, which seems to have seriously underestimated the capital needed to make a go of the car business.