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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.

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

  1. Chris Emery

    Surely gas-hybrids only make Charging points redundant if running on gasoline (or diesel, ethanol, anhydrous ammonia or any other internal-combustion fuel) is cheaper than running electrically?

    I see no possibility that this will ever be the case. it would be worth plugging a plug-in gas-electro hybrid into a PBP charging point unless their electricity surcharges are ludicrous, as the cost of a kilowatt/hour of electricity is a tiny fraction of the cost of an equivalent energy-density of any internal-combustion fuel you can name…

  2. Better Place’s (”BP”) idea is the most foolish business plan ever. It is premised on the assumption that battery technology will not evolve and improve. Battery technology is technology. With time, technology gets better and costs less. Look at processors, LCD TVs, etc. Investment into battery technology has been growing exponentially since the advent of laptops, cellphones, PDAs. Batteries can already get us 100 miles. How much improvement do we need before BP’s “recharging/swapping stations” become redundant? BP plans to have it’s infrastructure set up in Australia by 2012. As per normal delays, that means it will actually be set up by 2014-16. There are no plans for the USA. So, at the earliest, infrastructure would be set up here by 2018. That is a decade away. Where do you think battery technology will be in a decade? It in all likelihood, it will be in a place that makes BP’s charging stations redundant before they even get truly started. This is not to mention that plug-in electric-gas hybrids would make all that BP infrastructure redundant. All BP is trying to do is get into the market early to create a electricity network monopoly. When consumers realize that their batteries are good enough so that the network is redundant, BP’s monopoly will disintegrate.

  3. Chris Emery

    As long as PBP’s charging stations aren’t locked to only work with PBP cars, this is a brilliant idea. For example, in the EU, the tiny / slow / old-fashioned G-Whiz electric microcar is already quite common, in the US some golf-cart-like neighbourhood electric vehicles are alredy seen… in a few years time plug-in-hybrid Toyota Prius and Chevrolet Volt cars will be everywhere too as both types will be sold globally

    if mr.Agassi’s charging points can connect to a PHEV via an adapter they will be much more popular than if they are limited to his own modular BEV car design, as people travelling long-distance in a PHEV will be able to use them to reduce their liquid-fuel bills (I assume the electric charge will be marginally cheaper per mile/charge than an equivalent energy-volume of motor fuel)

  4. Dear Mr. Agassi,
    Please take your concept to another country. Your home country, Israel, would be a good place. Prove that the concept works before you come here. We don’t want to be your guinea pig.

  5. Mary Payne

    Having been in the luxury automotive industry for some time, I believe that it will be difficult for the U.S. masses to adapt to the battery swapping stations. Most drivers don’t even want to change their lead batteries when necessary, after years of driving! Let alone, (how many miles)?

  6. Revolutionary energy conversion technology promises to eliminate the need for battery recharge or exchange.

    These new systems tap energy sources never before commercialized.

    They are likely to be in production by this time next year.

    To learn more, see the website.

  7. Lad,

    I’ve heard that all before. Yeah, the cost and weight of the IC engine. Hmm, and the extra batteries DON’T have extra cost and weight as well? Hmm, and these swapping stations, do ya think there is any cost with them?

    But the worst problem with PBP is that it is the de facto socialization of personal transportation. Some gov’t committee (or worse yet, a company picked by the gov’t) is going to be deciding what kind of battery packs to use, what company can produce the charging stations, and what sort of cars can interface with this huge, massively expensive infrastructure.

    And why? Because of the mistaken notion that you can sell electric cars like cell phones.

    Look at it this way, either batteries will become competitive to allow full-electric vehicles (with acceptable range) or they will not. If so, then auto companies will build such cars to satisfy the consumer. Lots of different models, different battery pack form factors, different battery chemistries, etc.

    These will all then COMPETE and thus make the system even better over time. How can a system based on a 100 Billion dollar infrastructure (Agassi’s words) be competitive? How can the system ever be changed or upgraded without lobbying to some gov’t panel that would inevitably become corrupt, incompetent, or both?

    The system would be laughable if it weren’t being taken so seriously by civic leaders who are being poorly advised.

  8. @Jim:
    The PHEV is a transition technology to pure BEVs.
    The PHEV carries additional weight and is complicated by the ICE and its required fuel tank, radiator, oil sump, generator, etc which adds to the cost of the car. The advantage of the BEV is the battery unit can be sized to the requirements of the driver’s speed and necessary mileage.
    “Better Place” offers a solution to those who decide to take a long range trip by swapping out the battery unit within 5 minutes.
    Current plans call for cars with about 130 miles range without swapping. Ideally, in the future battery units will be available with higher energy density that will allow a 300 mile range with fast charge stations that will charge the battery in 5 minutes.

    “Better Place” is based on a modeled after the cell phone industry where the car is in some cases free and the owner signs up for a monthly battery charging fee.

  9. Not cost-effective compared to PHEVs (even biofueled PHEVs) especially in a country like the U.S.

    PHEVs have no complex infrastructure needed (maybe some charging stations at work, in addition to the one at home).

    PHEVs don’t need swapping stations. (No range problems).

    PHEVs don’t force standardization on a technology not yet fully developed. (Battery chemistry, battery pack form factor, etc.)

    PHEVs can evolve over time to carry the correct proportion of fuel vs. batteries. This will depend on technology improvements and the economics of oil and biofuels.

  10. Where is Shai assuming he’s going to get the minerals for the batteries?

    The U.S. doesn’t have much Lithium. That doesn’t sound much like a plan for energy security either.