Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A look at Project Better Place

Today I would like to have a look at Project Better Place. The company was publicly launched as Project Better Place, by Shai Agassi on October 29, 2007 but now they seem to go by Better Place instead. The concept for this company is unique and may very well become the industry standard. Better Place is working to build an electric car network using technolgies available today. Their goal is sustainable transportation, global energy independence and freedom from oil. Very admirable goals, in my opinion.

How it works:

Basically, Better Place is building an electric car infrastructure. This entails the electric car, the batteries, the charging stations and locations for battery swapping. Better Place is currently deploying its plan in Israel but hopes to come to California in the future.

The electric car will come from the Renault-Nissan Alliance which is 100% electronic and will be powered by a battery developed by suppliers such as Automotive Energy Supply Corp. (AESC), a joint partnership of Renault-Nissan and Japanese manufacturer NEC and others, like A123. A first prototype of an EV debuted in Tel Aviv in January 2008.

The batteries will be Lithium Ion type and can reliably deliver driving distances of over 100 miles on a single charge and replenish themselves at approximately one minute per minute of drive time. Better Place is hoping that as these batteries become mass produced that the economies of scale will drive their cost down and make it much more attractive to consumers.

The most unique part of the plan is their Battery Exchange program. From their website:

Battery Exchange Stations

"In addition to widely deployed charge spots, the Better Place network will provide fully-automated battery exchange stations. These swap stations are designed to extend the driver's journey beyond the 100 mile range of a fully-charged battery. Because most of today's driving is within 40 miles of the home, a visit to one of these facilities will be infrequent when compared to the number of times we currently have to pull into a gas station.

These Better Place battery exchange stations are even more efficient and convenient than conventional gas stations. Each is roughly the size of your average living room. Like the charging spots, they are fully automated. A driver pulls in, puts the car in the neutral gear, and sits back. The battery exchange station does all the work. The depleted battery is removed, and a fully-charged replacement is installed. In under three minutes, the car is back on the road. It's just like an automatic car wash, a quick, effortless, drive-through experience.

The battery exchange stations will be able to accommodate any Better Place-compliant vehicle. All manufactured batteries will be stocked so that any electric vehicle with a swappable battery, regardless of make or model, can pull in and be serviced."

Finally, the most critical piece of the puzzle in my estimation are the Charge Spots. These are the regular interface points between the electric car and the power grid. If a society is to adopt the electric automobile, then these charge spots need to become fairly ubiquitous. Some of the locations for the charge spots are parking garages, retail spaces, street curbs, as well as within the homes of driver's everywhere.

I sincerely hope Better Place succeeds so that the world will know this technology is feasible and ready for prime time.

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