Atlantic Cities

How Switchable Batteries Help Electric Cars Gain Ground

Shai Agassi, founder of the electric vehicle technology company Better Place, does not hold back when it comes to sharing his opinions about today’s electric car. He was once quoted as saying, “Convenient is not something you drive for an hour and charge for eight.”  

With the ambitious goal of forever eliminating gas-guzzling vehicles, Better Place operates on the concept that electric car batteries could be swapped out in far less time than it takes to fill up at a traditional gas station. The advantages of such a system include a sharp reduction in carbon emissions, longer charges for electric vehicles, and significant cost savings for electric vehicle owners. 
 
“We have the only fully integrated charge network platform in the world that’s live and operating and serving satisfied customers,” said Better Place CEO Evan Thornley. “Our focus is to grow and satisfy a global customer base.” 
 
To highlight the environmental benefits associated with the idea, the company partnered with Nihon Kotsu, Tokyo’s largest taxi company, for a test run. Tokyo taxis are one of the city’s biggest polluters, generating nearly 20 percent of the city’s vehicular CO2 emissions. Converting the fleet to electric power could make Tokyo significantly more sustainable by eliminating the pollution factor associated with the combustion engine. 
 
As part of the three-month pilot program, Better Place installed the world’s first electric car battery swap station in a busy Tokyo district. Four taxis were retrofitted to operate with swappable batteries. The battery swap station looks and functions much like a drive-through car wash, except that the battery-swapping process is significantly faster. According to company literature, it takes a little less than a minute to swap a car’s batteries.
 
For a taxi driver in a dense metropolis such as Tokyo, the ability to receive a fully-charged battery in 59 seconds represents total freedom from having to charge a spent electric vehicle battery overnight. More fares can be collected, and the stress of running out of juice mid-shift is no longer an issue. 
 
The Tokyo pilot led to pilot programs in other countries. Today, Better Place has installed 17 battery switching stations in Israel, and 12 in Denmark. In September, a switching station was opened in the Netherlands. Although battery-switching technology has not yet landed in the United States, in March Better Place activated a substantial electric car-charging network in Hawaii.
 
On the consumer end, a battery pack can add more than $10,000 to the purchase price of a typical electric car. Under the switching model, the batteries are owned by the switching station and the consumer pays only for charging and usage. The average consumer would switch batteries fewer than 50 times a year.  
 
In light of rising fuel costs, electric vehicles in general offer consumers an economic advantage. If someone were to drive 15,000 miles a year for four years in a minivan, total fuel costs would run just under $13,000. In an electric car of the same style, the cost would be about $1,000. Along with saving money, electric vehicle owners can feel good about driving a car that does not pollute the environment, no matter how they manage to charge the battery.
 
Around the world, a dizzying 700 million-plus cars release 2.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. In total, fossil-fuel-based automobiles produce 25 percent of global CO2 emissions. For the health of the planet, the decision to adopt clean, sustainable technology should be as easy as changing a battery.
 
 

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