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The Better Place future

April 20, 2009

Shai Agassi isn’t the first entrepreneur to dream of promoting electric cars as a way to end mankind’s addiction to fossil fuels. But he initially stumbled into the same problem as other designers — range anxiety. While most people don’t drive more than the range of their batteries every day, electric car owners never escape a nagging fear that they will run out of energy before finding a charging station on a long trip.

Agassi’s epiphany is the idea that a car’s batteries should not be a permanent fixture like a gas tank — instead they should be swappable. That makes his business plan fundamentally different:

Going country by country, his start-up firm has begun to construct what it hopes will ultimately be a worldwide network of millions of small-scale “charging spots,” parking-meter-like posts scattered around downtown areas and along highways. But crucially, he is also building roadside robotized battery-swap stations that provide fresh, fully charged batteries without having to wait hours for a charge. It’s a dual system: on most days, his customers would charge their cars by plugging into a charge spot at home or at work; a long drive would entail pit stops every 100 miles or so for a battery swap. Agassi plans to make his money by buying electricity in bulk from solar arrays and wind farms and then reselling it to his customers.

He talked about his goal of making entire countries oil free by 2020 at TED:

Israel, Denmark, and Hawaii have already committed to working with Agassi and his company — Better Place — to deploy the infrastructure needed to support wide scale electric car ownership. Just as crucially, Renault has pledged to build cars with swappable batteries that meet Agassi’s specifications.

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