Shai Agassi is primed to install half a million plug-in hybrid charging stations in Israel as part of his Project Better Place venture, but what will a fleet of grid-sucking
PHEVs plug-in electrics do to the arid state’s water supply?
The thinking goes that if cars suddenly stopped burning oil and started pulling power off the grid, the grid would need to produce more power. The problem is that generating utility-scale power is usually a water-intensive venture. One recent study on the water costs of an American PHEV fleet estimates that while a gasoline-powered car requires about 18.9 gallons of water to go 30 miles, a PHEV would need 318 gallons of water to go the same distance. The reason is that large coal-fired and nuclear power plants — both major power sources for Israel and the U.S., alike — use a massive quantity of water.
Water, specifically fresh water, is not something the land of milk and honey has in abundance. However, Project Better Place is hardly presenting Israel with a new set of problems. The Israeli Ministry of National Infrastructures estimates that Israel’s demand for electricity will double by 2020. One way to provide power to sunny and dry Israel in a way that sips water is solar power, something Israeli startups like Pythagoras and Solel, and numerous Israeli VCs, are pursuing.
However, utility-scale solar power wouldn’t completely solve Israel’s chronic water shortage, especially since the country is in “the most acute water crisis in the past decade.” Israel has been investing heavily in water tech for years; at last year’s Israel’s Water Technologies & Environmental Control Conference, the conference chairman said he foresaw Israel solidifying its position “as the ‘Silicon Valley’ of the global water and environmental technologies market.” Reuters reports that Israel is aggressively pursuing this goal by aiming to double water tech exports to $2 billion by 2010, around the same time Agassi hopes to have 100,000 PHEVs on the roads.
So, could Agassi’s Project Better Place beget all sorts of water and solar cleantech startups? The industries are already well underway but Agassi’s “largest seed round of any venture in history” has elevated Israel as a global hot spot for cleantech.