California's 36 million people have 21m cars between them, accounting for 40% of the state's greenhouse gas emissions. So replacing 1m of those petrol cars with electric cars will make a big difference.

Under joint plans published overnight by the state government, local transport and energy companies these electric cars will hit the streets of California's major cities within the next decade.

Yesterday, the mayors of San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose announced investment of around $1bn to make electric cars a commercial reality in the Bay Area by 2012.

"The bay area mayors are looking to become the electric vehicle capital of America," said Jason Wolf, California business development manager for Better Place, the electric transportation company that will build the infrastructure in the state. Globally, cars generate about 20% of the world's output of carbon dioxide. Cutting that figure would have a big effect on reducing emissions that contribute to global warming. Electric cars can also use energy to charge batteries at night when demand on the national grid is low.

Chuck Reed, the mayor of San Jose, said: "While the private sector can build the vehicles, the public sector has an enormously important role to make sure that we have the infrastructure to make sure that somebody who buys the vehicle is able to drive it, to recharge it." Under California's plans, Better Place will build a network of kerbside charging points around the various cities and also the equivalent of filling stations, where electric car owners will be able to replace their flat batteries for fully charged ones. With a full charge on one of Better Place's batteries, a typical saloon car will be able to travel 100 miles, which is ideal for commuting around metropolitan areas. Most users of the system would pay a monthly subscription for unlimited access to the company's services but visitors with electric cars could also access the charging points for a one-off fee.

"That's a very important element to remember — you can plug in any car," said Wolf. "In California, everyone who's bought Teslas, everyone who has bought plug-in hybrids or electric cars that are not in tight relationship with us, will be able to plug into our network."

California, the world's eighth largest economy, already has some of the most progressive climate change legislation — authorities have already put in place a low-carbon fuel standard for cars and legislation that aims to reduce the state's levels of greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2020. Further forward, authorities want to reduce greenhouse gas levels by 80% compared to the 1990 level by 2050.

Dan Kammen, director of the transportation sustainability research centre at the University of California, Berkeley, said: "This kind of public-private partnership is exactly what we need to create new jobs building a clean energy infrastructure, and contribute to economic and environmental recovery locally and globally." He added: "This initiative will help to put the Bay Area in the forefront of developing the science, engineering, and public policy innovations that simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lead us to the next economic boom — the clean energy century."

The California electric car plan will also encourage people to take advantage of an incentive announced by the federal government, which plans to give tax credits of up to $7,500 for up to 250,000 electric cars bought until 2014. Wolf said that the first cars in the California scheme would be deployed in 2010, with a mass launch in around 2012. The first years would see around 50,000-100,000 cars introduced to the network, with 100,000 more cars introduced every year when the Better Place network is fully functional. Better Place already has plans to build its its infrastructure in Israel, Denmark and Australia and said it was in discussions with other governments around the world. The UK government is also thought to be interested in the Californian company's business model.

Kammen said: "The international community is watching. Europe and the climate conference in Poland and a year from now in Copenhagen are all looking for innovative options."


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