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Will Anyone Buy Electric Cars? Ask The Danes.

This is certainly one way to entice people into plug-in vehicles:

Perhaps the main reason to think electric cars might have a shot in Denmark is their remarkable tax advantage.

The country imposes a punitive tax of about 200 percent on new cars, so a vehicle that would cost $20,000 in the United States costs $60,000 here. For a quarter-century, electric cars have been exempt from that tax. But the models on the market were so limited in their capabilities that only 497 of them are registered in the entire country.

That's from a great New York Times piece on how Better Place is pairing with Danish utility Dong Energy to set up an electric-car infrastructure. Better Place, recall, is experimenting with a system in which it will own the batteries, while consumers own the cars, pay for a per-mile plan from Better Place, and are allowed to quickly swap out depleted batteries at fueling stations if they need to extend their range beyond 100 miles and don't want to wait five hours to recharge their batteries the old-fashioned way. (See this video of how the battery-swapping stations work.)

As a side note, you'd think this would mean Better Place would have to stock a lot of extra—and expensive!—batteries. But when I asked the company about this, they estimated that they'd only need about 1 to 1.5 percent more batteries on hand. Driving patterns, it turns out, are remarkably predictable. Most of the time, people won't even have to swap out batteries—roughly 80 percent of Americans commute less than 40 miles a day, well within battery range, and they can charge up overnight. But most people still want to feel like they can hop in their car and drive as far as they want should the need arise, and Better Place hopes the swapping stations will help overcome that psychological resistance to short-range electric cars.

Anyway, the interesting thing about doing this in Denmark is that the country has a lot of wind turbines, and the unused energy—since sometimes the wind's blowing when people don't need the power—could be stored in the various car batteries, via Dong's new smart grid. (Right now, Denmark effectively "stores" its excess wind power by dishing it off to Sweden and Norway, which send back hydropower when the wind dies down.) That said, it's still not clear whether the Danish project will succeed—only one car company, Nissan, is currently partnering with Better Place, and the swapping stations remain pricey. A lot's riding on that $40,000 tax incentive…

(Flickr photo credit: btrplc)