Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Electric Fuel Stations - Project Better Place

I recently suggested that electric battery/refueling swap stations would be a great help to advancing the adoption of electric vehicles. Launched on Monday is Project Better Place, and the presentation by Shai Agassi making "The Case for the Electric Car." The presentation and Q&A are long taken together (over 30 minutes), but its worth watching the first 10 to 15 minutes to see the slides and concept.

I like the description "exceptional trip" Mr. Agassi uses to describe trips that go longer than the 100 mile range of the hypothetical example electric vehicle. With either quick recharge batteries, or a good network of battery swap stations, the solely electric powered vehicle could compete, but its still going to take a mindset change to be adopted by more than people like me. I typically don't drive more than 100 miles twice a year and wouldn't mind the inconvenience of stopping every 100 miles instead of every 300 miles to get more fuel if otherwise my operating costs and environmental impact were reduced.

Project Better Place has received $200 million in investment commitments to begin the work of building their charging and swap network, it is not clear where they are going to focus their efforts, though I would guess not in the continental US, but rather into "transportation islands" where the maximum distance to or from anywhere is under 100 miles. Some examples from on of the slides are Hawaii, Denmark, and Israel. Since one of their investors is an Israeli firm, I expect that we'll see this realized there.

Some of the hurdles I see:

  1. Standardization and adoption of the standards for battery technology and modules to be quickly interchangeable.
  2. Consumer buy-in that a vehicle that can only go 100-miles before needing a recharge or battery change is effective for their needs.
  3. Getting manufacturers for a plug-in electric vehicle with a limited travel range.
  4. Chicken and Egg problem of building a recharging network and rolling out vehicles.

Note: I had to take some steps to make Firefox on the Mac play the presentation (I needed to update/reset RealPlayer 10 to get the plug-in for the audio to work), and manual navigation of slides didn't work for me.