Better Place a good deal for Danish drivers?

A subscription plan for first European battery-swap center for e-cars offers convenience, but at a steep price.

Candace Lombardi
In a software-driven world, it's easy to forget about the nuts and bolts. Whether it's cars, robots, personal gadgetry or industrial machines, Candace Lombardi examines the moving parts that keep our world rotating. A journalist who divides her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, Lombardi has written about technology for the sites of The New York Times, CNET, USA Today, MSN, ZDNet, Silicon.com, and GameSpot. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.
Candace Lombardi
3 min read
A Better Place taxi station in Tokyo. Better Place

Better Place, which offers battery service for electric vehicles, opened today its first European retail station in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Better Place stations offer battery swaps for electric vehicles as an alternative to waiting to recharge the batteries. Commercial stations are already running in Israel and Japan. Until now, though, Better Place had only been testing pilot stations in the U.S. and Europe.

Most of the stations offer fast-charging plug-in spots for EVs, as well as battery swaps for subscribing members. The battery swap is a convenience for drivers because it takes only a minute to make the switch, according to Better Place. The swapped batteries are then recharged and used in other cars.

It takes 15 to 30 minutes to recharge an EV battery pack to 80 percent capacity from a rapid-charging station depending on the vehicle, which is why some chargers are partnering with retail stores.

The Denmark opening marks the first commercial Better Place center in Europe. It opened in partnership with Renault and the release of its Fluence Z.E., the EV version of the Fluence. The battery pack in the Fluence Z.E. gets about 185 kilometers (115 miles) per charge, according to Renault.

When people purchase or lease the Fluence Z.E., they'll have the option of signing up for one of five Better Place subscription packages. The most expensive package is for an "all you can drive" service of unlimited battery swapping for 2,995 Denmark kroner per month ($560). On the modest end of the scale, they'll also offer packages between 1,495 kroner ($299) and 1,895 kroner ($354) per month that covers up to 20,000 kilometers (12,427 miles) per year. All subscriptions will also require a one-time 9,995 kroner ($1,869) installation fee for a home-charging station, according to Better Place.

Is that a good deal?

Taking Better Place's most modest plan and assuming it covers about 20,000 kilometers, it would cost 17,904 kroner ($3,346) a year to power your EV not including the one-time installation fee for a home charger.

Even given the hefty price for gas in Europe, the subscription service seems pricey.

Contrast it with what it might cost to fuel a gas-powered car in Denmark. The best-selling model in Denmark for January 2011 was the Chevy Spark, according to the Danish Car Importers Association.

The Chevy Spark with 1.2-liter engine has combined fuel efficiency of about 20 kilometers per liter (47 mpg), according to the Chevrolet Denmark spec sheet. The average price per liter (including VAT) in Denmark is currently 12.23 kroner ($2.29) per liter for Unleaded95 gasoline, according to the European Union's Energy Portal.

Bottom line: It costs roughly 12,230 kroner ($2,286) to power the Chevy Spark for 20,000 kilometers in Denmark, in contrast to 17,904 kroner ($3,346) using the Better Place battery-swap service for the Renault Fluence Z.E.

While pricing is bound to come down as the service scales up, Danish drivers looking to save money may rather wait the 15 to 30 minutes to recharge their EV, or decide to opt for a highly-efficient gas-powered car. Stil, there is certainly a difference as the Renault Fluence Z.E. is a midsize car while the Chevy Spark is a subcompact.