Amidst the excitement surrounding the Copenhagen climate talks, Danish transportation minister Lars Barfoed told the New York Times that his country wants "to be a test and laboratory country for electric cars, hybrid cars and other new technology." Denmark is currently offering a slew of incentives to encourage motorists to go green with their cars, including $40,000 tax breaks, free parking in downtown Copenhagen, and, to stimulate the market and lead change, plans for local and national governments to purchase green cars for official use.

In this nation of windmills known best for its bike-friendliness, these efforts have been only mildly successful — until recently. Theorizing that one major barrier to purchasing electric cars is the required battery recharging station, Denmark power utility Dong Energy paired with Silicon Valley-based Better Place to "wire the country with charging poles as well as service stations that can change out batteries in minutes." While Better Place is fitting Israel with similar charging stations, Denmark is going a slightly different direction and aims to fuel the charging stations from wind turbines that already supply nearly 20 percent of the nation's power, according to the Times.

The plan is for the electric cars to charge at night, when residents demand less energy. Author Nelson D. Schwartz writes that, "charging [at night] would soak up the utility's extra power and sharply shrink the carbon footprint of the electric vehicles." Better Place founder and CEO Shai Agassi (the transportation industry's Green Prince) says the project is the perfect match for his company, though progress toward the 2011 target has been slow. Currently, 55 charging spots dot the Danish landscape but none of the company's cars are on the roads.

One possible reason more consumers aren't purchasing the electric cars (there are currently fewer than 500 registered in Denmark) is the battery life, which only allows motorists to drive about 100 miles before needing a recharge — a process that takes five hours. Better Place plans to introduce robot-powered "switching" stations where clients will be able to change out their batteries during longer trips in less time than it would take to fill a traditional gas tank. Klaus Bondam, Copenhagen's mayor of technical and environmental administration, worries that the wide range of batteries required for cars from different manufacturers might make the switching stations impractical. He told Schwartz, "It won't work unless [the batteries are] standard on every electric vehicle produced."

Agassi feels his company will provide a catalyst for change, however, and is confident Denmark will have thousands of electric cars on the road within two years. Next week's conference will include a road test of the electric cars manufactured by Renault Nissan, currently the only automaker on board with Better Place.

Denmark plugs in to electric cars
Bike-centric Danes team with California company to install wind-fueled charging stations for vehicles.