Shai Agassi, founder and CEO of Better Place, has a vision — a vision for a world free of oil dependency. Mr. Agassi, who is well on his way to making this vision a reality, has what he believes is the solution for making electric vehicles efficient and affordable. He theorizes that the only way to take electric vehicles into mainstream society is to eliminate the inconvenience factor, in this case, the battery. Enter Better Place, which is already underway in Israel and Denmark. The Better Place plan is to build an infrastructure of battery charging and switch stations. What if, instead of having to plug in your car for a lengthy amount of time, you could pull into a battery exchange station and have a fully charged battery placed in your vehicle in the tenth of the time that it takes to fill up at the gas station, and without even getting out of the car?
In much the same way that a cell phone company provides minutes, Better Place would sell miles to their customers. A Better Place consumer would purchase a monthly mileage package that would include charging and use of the battery switching stations. Shai Agassi tells us that this system would bring the cost of an electric vehicle down from the hard to grasp $30,000 mark to the more reasonable $15,000 price point, thus reaching a larger market and moving us closer to an oil-free lifestyle.
By partnering with Renault-Nissan, Better Place has already put the system to the test with the successful Tokyo Electric Taxi Project. Over 3,000 passengers have used the electric taxis traveling over 40,000 kilometers. Project data states that the taxi drivers went through the battery switching stations 2,122 times with the average switch time lasting 59.1 seconds. Later this year, Better Place will be delivering 115,000 Renault Fluence Z.E. electric sedans to customers in Israel and Denmark with plans to build over 100,000 EV charging stations and 100 (to start) battery exchange stations for each country.
Better Place is also working with leading battery manufacturers to provide the most reliable and up-to-date Lithium-ion batteries to place in their EVs. Shai Agassi points out that battery technology has made leaps and bounds over the past few years with considerably more storage capacity and twice the power capability, which improves the range and performance of EVs. Better Place is committed to environmentally safe practices by using recyclable batteries and renewable energy sources to power their charging stations. It will still be some time before residents in North America can pull into their local Better Place service station, but some will get the opportunity soon. Over the next 3 years, the Electric Taxi Project will unfold in the San Francisco Bay area with 4 battery exchange stations to support the electric taxi fleet. Hawaii is also on the list to begin building a foundation of Better Place charge stations starting in early 2011.