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by Louisa May


Plugging car“We buy batteries and clean electricity, and we sell miles,” Shai Agassi told the crowd assembled at San Francisco City Hall on November 21, 2008.

His audience included green groups, officials from State and Federal environmental agencies, and representatives from GM and Toyota.

Mr. Agassi heads Better Place, a Palo Alto, California company working globally to develop the electric car recharging infrastructure -the key to making electric cars an everyday reality.

It was a big day for Better Place and three Bay Area cities, San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose. Mayors of these cities announced a billion dollar partnership with Better Place to build a regional network of electric car charging stations.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom sees opportunity, stating that, “This is the start of a regional effort to become the capital of electric vehicles in the United States.” And he and the other mayors must be happy that Better Place is not asking the cities for any start-up money.

The mayors’ part of this partnership is to expedite permitting for the installation of these car charging stations, standardize regulations to promote the electric car infrastructure, and offer incentives to employers to install charging stations at the workplace. The mayors also agreed to pool purchases of municipal electric car fleets.

The schedule is set: network planning and permitting will begin in 2009, infrastructure development starts in 2010, and by 2012, up to 250,000 charging stations and 200 battery swapping stations should be ready for electric car drivers ready to hit the road.

Better Place has raised $200 million dollars in venture capital since the company’s founding in 2007, and their marketing people do make the idea of switching to sustainable transportation sound easy.The batteries of these electric cars need three things in place to make the leap from pump to plug.

Here’s what an electric car infrastructure looks like:

1.) Charging Spots- Charging spots resemble parking meters and keep the batteries topped off with power. This way the car will always have 100 miles of driving capacity. These spots will be located strategically near offices, restaurants, and residential areas. They are fully automated. You don’t even have to get out of the car.

2.) Battery Switching Stations- for trips longer than 100 miles, battery switching stations will be available roadside. You pull in, put the car in neutral gear, sit back, the depleted battery is replaced with a fresh one, and it takes less time than filling up at the gas station. These stations are fully automated, too, like an automatic car wash.

3.) Software that automates the experience.

Who’s paying for all this electricity?

Better Place owns the batteries and operates the recharge grid. Better Place’s strategy is to separate the battery from the car and view transportation as a sustainable service. In the same way telecoms distribute cellphones, customers subscribe for service. Customers can subscribe to a certain number of miles per month and get the car at a discounted rate.

Manufacturers needed! Here’s a rescue plan for Detroit. Better Place is currently working with Renault- Nissan to supply zero emission electric cars. They hope to see a broad range of electric vehicles become available including plug-in hybrids from General Motors, Toyota, Tesla Motors and others.

Tesla is set to build a new factory in San Jose.

Global Ventures Lab at University of California, Berkeley, released a report predicting that in two decades, adoption of electric cars by 39% of American drivers will lead to an annual $175 billion in gasoline savings. And according to the lab’s research, the battery industry will experience a $120 million dollar gain with only a moderate burden on the power system.

Up next: Part Two- What About the Power System?

Check out our Green Pages for information on money saving tips that help the environment. Once there, click on the Green Forum for more articles by feature writer Louisa May.

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