Sunday, October 11, 2009

Shai Agassi & Better Place: Making Electric Cars Practical

Back in March, Metro Green introduced readers to Shai Agassi and his Better Place; an ambitious concept for electric cars and for developing the support network and infrastructure needed to make them practical alternatives to petroleum-based internal combustion engines.

An innovative master stroke, Agassi proposes overcoming the range limitations of "traditional" battery-powered cars first by redesigning and standardizing the automobile's power plant (e.g. battery packs) then constructing an international - even a global - network of support stations (like the gas/service stations of old) that would be called charging stations but their method would offer a little-or-no-wait process wherein rather than recharge the customer's battery while he/she waits up to 2 to 3 hours, the Better Place service facilities would simply slide out the discharged battery and replace it with one that is fully-recharged. According to Agassi's proforma, if car manufacturers cooperate and actually standardize both the batteries and their housings, the exchange process should take no longer than filling a tank with gas.

Six months later, Mr. Agassi continues to pursue his vision and investors continue to support his projects. Today's Parade Magazine had a small feature about Agassi, Better Place and the future of this particular vision for the transformation from gas to electric:
Making Electric Cars Practical
Shai Agassi is the founder and CEO of Better Place, a company with plans to bring affordable electric cars to the U.S. by 2012.

Q & A by Brooke Lea Foster/Parade Magazine

What does Better Place do?
We’re an energy network for electric cars. We don’t make the cars—we’re working with Renault to do that—but we’ll build a network of stations and charging spots so that people can use them. Think of us as the equivalent of AT&T for electric cars.

Why don’t more people drive electric cars?
It’s a question of the chicken and the egg. Until now, nobody produced these cars, so there was no energy network in place. But if you don’t set up a network, nobody buys the cars. It’s the same with cellphones—no one would buy the phones if there were no networks to support them.

How close are you to setting up a system in the U.S.?
We’re already running pilot programs in Northern California and Hawaii. We plan to build more than 10,000 charging spots in public areas in California and have them operating by 2012.

If Americans switch to electric cars, will we have enough energy to power them?
To drive 30 miles each day—the American average—you need 300 watts. That’s about the equivalent of having your computer or plasma TV turned on all day. A study by the U.S. Department of Energy showed you could power 200 million electric cars without a single change to the grid.

What’s happening in other countries?
Better Place is building charging stations in Denmark, Israel, and Australia. By the end of 2011, the networks will be open for consumers. China is moving very rapidly, investing billions in infrastructure. Once they get going, it will be extremely hard for the U.S. to catch up.


  1. T. Pollock:

    Innumeracy seems to be a terrible problem in this country, making it possible for people to be easily misled on any issue where numbers are involved. An example appeared in the October 11, 2009 issue of Parade that you mentioned featuring comments by Shai Agassi.

    The gross misrepresentation of the efficiency of electric cars in the column on devising a network to power them has me wondering if the editors of Parade are up to the job of printing correct technical articles. To say that an electric “car” can go 30 miles on 300 watts makes me wonder who misinterpreted who.

    The average fit adult male can sustain about 300 watts, and this is enough to move him and a bicycle about 10 to 25 miles per hour depending upon the terrain and the wind. A typical lead footed driver in the typical 3500 pound car will be sorely disappointed if they only have 300 watts available to move them around.

    An article in the October 2009 issue of Automotive Engineering states that the battery output for the new Nissan Leaf electric car, which is a bit larger than a Nissan Versa, is 90 kilowatts. This is 300 times the number of watts mentioned in the Parade article.

    What is more, watts are a measure of power, not energy. Energy use is implied by saying that the car can go 30 miles. In this case, kilowatt hours (kW h) are the appropriate units. If the Nissan Leaf were running at just one-quarter of its output, 15 kilowatts, for an hour, moving along at 30 miles per hour, it would use 15 kilowatt hours of energy. This is 50 times the implied 300 watt hours stated in the Parade article. At one hour each day for a month, that would be 450 kilowatt hours per month. You can use that figure times your electric rate to see how much that would cost you per month. Just as with any car, steady driving will use less energy, fast acceleration and high speed driving will use more energy. Large heavy vehicles will use more energy that small lightweight vehicles.

    I hope that Parade will print a prominent correction!

    Paul Miller

  2. the concept and the idea is much low price but then quality cars..

  3. nice post. keep it up..looking forward for ur upcoming posts. keep posting...