Shai Agassi: Note to Next President, Better Place for U.S. Would Cost $100B

“So here’s the proposition for President No. 44,” began Shai Agassi, the founder and CEO of electric vehicle infrastructure startup Better Place, in a speech Thursday night at an American Jewish Committee event in San Francisco. For $100 billion, Better Place could create an electric vehicle infrastructure that would place charging spots and battery swapping stations across the nation during the president’s first term, Agassi proposed. That cost is the equivalent of two months worth of oil imports — and would allow the U.S. to get off foreign oil in term two, Agassi insisted.

The alternative? “You’re at the mercy of the price of an oil barrel,” he said. If it somehow spikes $100-plus during the first term, you don’t get a second term, Agassi said.

Agassi, the former second-in-command at SAP, isn’t speaking hypothetically about cost estimates. He’s already crunched the numbers in both Israel and Denmark after convincing those governments to sign on. The total cost for Israel is $200 million. To get the ubiquitous coverage there, Agassi said he needs to charge up one out of every six or seven parking spots — 500,000 in total — as well as build 100-125 battery switching stations.

In California, the infrastructure set-up would cost $1.5 billion, or about two weeks of oil imports, and would include cells the size of Israel in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, San Diego and Sacramento. There’s are about five arteries that connect these sites, Agassi explained; the company would place battery switching station every 25 miles. For 100 miles, the system would need four switch stations, which would cost $2 million; for 400 miles, the network would need 16 stations, which would cost $8 million.

Then there’s the cars that will be charging up at these spots. Agassi said the opportunity to provide cars for Better Place’s network is a “great opportunity to kickstart the American car industry.” Agassi is audacious, to be sure, but then again, he’s already convinced Renault Nissan to invest a $1 billion into producing nine electric vehicle models, which will include a small city car, a light commercial truck, a sedan, a minivan, an SUV and a sports car. These will be available between 2010 and 2014, Agassi said.

And before Better Place really tries to convince the next president to sign on, Agassi said it’s already inked a deal with another — as yet unnamed — “large” country, where it will able to prove that the infrastructure will work at that scale. Agassi said he’ll announce the country sometime next week, so stay tuned.