Lately the Better Place electric vehicle network has been expanding at an incredible rate, with Hawaii recently signing on for an electric vehicle grid and Israel recently unveiling the first completed plug-in charging spot. We recently touched upon the company when we covered California‘s plans to become the electric vehicle capital of the US, but we wanted to go into more detail about Better Place and how their innovative electric vehicle network would work.
Better Place was founded in 2007 by Shai Agassi, a former executive from SAP, who had a vision to create, well, a better place – a transportation network fueled only by electricity and run in a similar manner to the mobile phone industry. His basic premise was to build and sell electric cars for cheap, make their batteries interchangeable, and sell charges, just like you sell minutes for cell phones. He first sold the idea to Israel, a country surrounded by oil producing countries that is working hard to become greener and more energy independent. Israel is small – the farthest you can drive within their borders is 250 miles – which contains the network and makes them ideal to be a pilot country. They will also offer considerable subsidies and tax breaks for the cars. Since Israel joined up the Better place network has expanded to include Australia, California, Hawaii, Denmark, and Ireland.
They have also began a partnership with Renault-Nissan to design and manufacture an electric vehicle for deployment in Israel and future electric vehicle grids. The car had to be very reasonably priced and would include an operating system being designed by Better Place called AutoOS. This operating system would calculate mileage, determine battery charge, find charging or battery exchange locations, and calculate routes. AutoOS would optimize many aspects of the vehicle’s operation, and make vehicle operation and maintenance super easy for the driver. In the future, any electric car or battery that meets the specifications of Better Place will become part of the network. They have no intentions of forming exclusive allegiances, but want the market to determine cost and supply.
The Better Place network is simple in theory, although it will definitely take a lot of work to become operational. First, there is the electric car and lithium-ion battery. Off the shelf battery technology today already allows driving distances of 100 miles per charge, and most of us don’t drive that much in a day. The car can be charged at home in your garage through the electric grid, which you pay for through your normal electric utility. While driving, the car uses AutoOS to continually analyze the energy necessary to reach your destination. If there is not enough energy to reach the destination, the car will point you to the closest charging station or battery swap location.
The battery swap stations are fully automated allowing the driver to pull up into a swapping stall or parking spot, hit a button and a machine will swap out the battery for a fully charged one. As the battery is not technically owned by the car owner, think of the battery like cell phone minutes – when you run out, you buy more. Depending on how much you drive, you can sign up for monthly plans or pay as you go. The car can also be parked at a charging spot, and left to power up while shopping or at work. The charging spots are the same size as a parking meter, and the on-board AutoOS will link up with charging spot without the driver having to worry about a thing. AutoOS will even take into account the price of electricity at the time and charges accordingly. Charging spots and battery exchange places will be located throughout a Better Place grid to provide ample places for drivers to repower and reach their destination.
The Better Place network will also employ on vehicle to grid technology, which uses the electric grid to charge the car batteries. Charging will be cheaper at night when there is less demand for energy or when there is a surplus of power supplied by renewable energy. The countries that are currently working in corporation with Better Place have already made big commitments to renewable energy power. Hawaii alone hopes to provide 70% of it’s power from renewable technologies such as solar, wind, geothermal, and micro hydro.
Additionally, advances and upgrades will be necessary for transmission lines, distribution, and real-time monitoring of supply and demand. There is still a significant amount of work to be done in order to create a working network of electric vehicles, but if you look at what Better Place has already accomplished in the last year, it won’t be long now before it is a reality.