Published on April 18th, 2011 | by Adam Hurwitz4
Car 2.0 Overview
April 18th, 2011 by Adam Hurwitz
Even though automotive executives initially deemed Better Place’s all-electric solution as “nothing more than a thought experiment,” Shai Agassi started by redesigning the all-electric vehicle or EV to prove them wrong and make it as good as any gasoline car today. This was done by developing a convenient system (because it is unacceptable to drive your car for an hour and charge for eight) that’s more affordable (not a forty thousand dollar sedan that would be impossible to finance today). This system uses technology that is feasible with current technology and economics. It is readily available to be scaled to mass in order for 99% of the population to drive it.
The former SAP executive and inventor of Better Place, Shai Agassi, bases his infrastructure on a feasible top-down design rather than catering to a niche market, as Elon Musk does with the Tesla roadster sportscar. As Agassi puts it in his Long Beach California TED Speech, there is “no time for a science fair, no time for a magic battery.” The way this new system works is through developing a network composed of two integral parts: 1) charging stations wherever one parks (people tend to drive for two hours, park for twenty two hours) and 2) battery swapping stations to provide range extension (current electric range is 120 miles, which may be good for most, but is not acceptable for all). The automated battery swapping stations allow the user to drive over a platform that replaces the old battery for a new one in 1 minute and 6 seconds. Better Place backs up its claim of “doing swapping less times than you stop at a gas station” by paying you if the number of swaps exceeds 50 per year.
I was so intrigued by this revolutionary model that I decided it essential to extend my college group trip in Israel on the last Friday I was there in order to find Better Place and head back by the start of my semester on Monday. Despite Better Place’s national consumer launch across Israel very soon, it took two cabbies with the exact address and me having to call Better Place directly to guide us in order to find their headquarters. Not only is the all-electric solution obviously built on sustainable practices, but the headquarters are located out of a retrofitted water tank!
The very friendly representative on my tour explained that, economically, this new model works by separating the ownership of the car and the battery. Currently, when one buys a regular combustion engine, you do not purchase a mini oil well to go along with your car, so why should one’s future consumption be factored into the cost of the battery all at once? With Better Place, you pay for the car and then pay for the battery like you would for a cell phone. As you consume energy from the smart grid and swap out the battery, you pay for the energy. Per mile, under Moore’s law of the doubling of power effect in electronics’ capacity every two years, Agassi predicts the cost to be $.02/mile in 2020 (see video above). But looking at some current EVs on the market, like the Tesla Roadster, which gets around 180 WH/mile at about $.15 kWh, the cost already equals out to $.027/mile at a gas cost of $3/gallon. This means affordability for all could be much sooner than anticipated!
Due to the process of oil extraction, transportation, refining, and distribution of the gas, “from well to wheels, an electricity-powered system has far fewer energy losses along the way than a gasoline-fueled system,” Thomas Friedman writes in Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution– and How It Can Renew America. Also, another piece of information from Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded that gives me a lot of confidence in the electric revolution is a statement from a Pacific Northwest Laboratory Study that “73% of our cars, trucks, and SUVs could be replaced with plug-in hybrids without any need to build new generating plants or transmission lines, because they would be charged at night with plentiful off-peak nighttime power.”
Agassi’s “Car 2.0” shows entrepreneurs, inventors, and free thinkers in all fields that what merely starts out as an “utopian fantasy,” as another car executive labeled Better Place, can develop into the fifth-largest start-up in history operating on five continents. Better Place will not only replace the transportation model introduced by Henry Ford, but will radically change the way one looks at international oil-based foreign policy/“petropolitics” and energy consumption as a whole. It would not be surprising to see Better Place catapulted into many facets of energy as a household name such as Richard Branson’s Virgin did for entertainment and lifestyle.
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