Latest update: February 26th, 2012
But why the need to prohibit by law, other electric cars in the Israeli market, and why is nobody screaming about the lack of generating capacity to service this new fleet of electric cars?
At this point it’s useful to know that Better Place’s founder, Shai Aggasi, built a successful software company in Israel. This was bought by SAP which led him to be number two at the German software giant and in line to be the youngest-ever CEO of a Fortune 100 company. He mysteriously left his position at SAP 5 years ago after a discussion at Davos, only to pop up a few months later with a hair-brained idea to cut Israel’s (and later the world’s) dependence on oil for transportation. Better Place is not a car company, it’s an infrastructure-builder and an operator of a network – more like a mobile phone network operator than a builder and seller of cars.
Better Place is doing something unique with their network. Every single charge point connected to a battery is monitored and controlled centrally. The rate of charge can be individually tailored. Better Place receives a minute by minute update from the Israeli electric grid on how much capacity there is to spare in the system. Better Place has a proprietary system to prioritize power delivery. A car with a 90% battery, charging at a place of work that won’t be needed for 6 hours (when it’s driver might only need 40% to get home) can have it’s charging current reduced or cut. A car that has 5% battery and is a 60 mile drive from the nearest battery switch can keep charging.
With this astonishing capability Better Place becomes a huge net benefit instead of a drain. All electric grids must run with surplus power all the time. As the number of cars in a Better Place network increases it becomes a massively distributed storage system for excess capacity the likes of which has never been seen. Once you understand this, prohibiting uncontrolled charging of electric cars in Israel makes more sense.
Of course there needs to be careful scrutiny of Better Place – they will be in the position of a monopoly-provider because there is no one else is even contemplating a competing system to completely bypass oil for transportation. It’s akin to the earliest roll out of mobile phone networks before anyone had fully understood how successful investment in network infrastructure would be. It certainly looks, on the face of it, grossly uncompetitive that Israel has effectively prohibited the use and import of Nissan’s Leaf all-electric car, or “range extended” electric cars like the plug in Prius or Chevy Volt (sold as the Opel/Vauxhall Ampera in Europe & UK). But we are at an early stage in infrastructure development where pioneers need to see some reward for risk-taking, without regulation killing an idea before it has a chance.
The next country scheduled for a roll-out after Israel is Denmark. Why Denmark? Denmark has invested heavily in wind power but, as with many forms of renewable energy, this unreliable power source has not allowed Denmark to reduce its fixed generating capacity as much as they had expected. Once they understood the Better Place network capability, they pursued Better Place.
A network of smartly-controlled electric vehicles can become a very useful energy storage system into which Denmark can load the peaks from their wind generation leaving more reliable fossil systems to carry the main fluctuating load. It’s never been economically viable to build hugely expensive banks of static lithium batteries just for this job, but when you split them up, put them in cars and sell subscriptions, suddenly you have a win-wind economic model.