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Better Place to Build First U.S. Electric Vehicle Network in Bay Area

Updated Bay Area leaders are attempting to use a combination of public and private investment to turn the region into the Electric Vehicle Capital of the U.S., and Silicon Valley’s Better Place will play a key role in building out a $1 billion electric vehicle charging infrastructure. This will be Better Place’s first foray into the U.S. market. A group of politicians, including California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the mayors of San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland, along with Better Place execs founder and CEO Shai Agassi and VantagePoint Venture Partners advisor and partner Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., made the announcement today at San Francisco’s city hall. (California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had planned to attend the announcement, but he was pulled away for budget meetings.)

This is a massive win for Better Place. The startup says that it will start building a California electric vehicle charging network, starting with the Bay Area, and will use a similar investment model to Israel, Denmark and Australia. The Bay Area network will total $1 billion in investment when fully deployed, and the company says a “mass market availability of electric cars” will be ready by 2012. That figure makes Agassi’s previous $1.5 billion estimate for a network for all of California sound rather low. Better Place says network planning and permitting will start as soon as January 2009, and infrastructure deployment could begin in 2010.

The mayors announced policy initiatives (more on these later today) that would help deliver this monumental task of getting more electric vehicles on Bay Area roads, charging stations in cities and battery-swap stations along the highways. The mayors say that they will start in December to work with city organizations and private sector partners on different ways to help deliver electric transportation powered by renewable energy.

It’s unclear what other regions in California will get a Better Place network. But Governor Schwarzenegger said in the release that the state is “taking the lead in the move to electric transportation powered by renewable energy,” and he added “I’m confident that Californians, who love their cars, will love zero emission vehicles even more, so long as they’re fast, fun and affordable.” Well, the “affordable” part will likely play the largest factor in that decision, given these difficult economic times.

Speaking of counting pennies, the recession played a key role in the language of the group’s announcement. The group paints the picture that the public-private partnership will stimulate an economic recovery and “will serve as an economic and environmental stimulus blueprint for the entire country, particularly the nation’s lagging automotive sector.” Potentially, but it will largely depend on whether or not Bay Area car owners will buy into this or not.

Interestingly absent from the press release is the Nissan-Renault alliance, which is supplying cars for Better Place’s other networks. Perhaps that was just an oversight (we’ll update with more on this), but Nissan-Renault made its own electric vehicle charging announcement about Oregon yesterday.

On the red carpet set up outside City Hall this afternoon, Nissan’s concept electric SUV (decked out with the Better Place logo) featured prominently, flanked by plug-ins from the San Francisco municipal fleet. Inside the press conference, Detroit automakers shared some of the spotlight, where several speakers noted the “very interesting” backdrop against which today’s announcement took place. While Kennedy criticized companies now asking for cash to continue business as usual — and the lawmakers inclined to give it to them — Agassi called for cooperation, saying, “We need to stop the conversation of whether this is Detroit vs. Silicon Valley.”

Even with the backing of Bay Area mayors, Agassi’s vision still needs approval to come to fruition. If permitters share State Assemblyman Mark Leno’s view, that process should be a relatively smooth one. “No tailpipe, no engine, no emissions, no noise — Mr. Mayor,” he said, turning to Newsom. “Your initiative is a no-brainer.”

30 Responses to “Better Place to Build First U.S. Electric Vehicle Network in Bay Area”

  1. Jeff Baker

    Solar Panels and Paint on Plug-In EVs to Boost V2G Two Way Charging

    The “state of the art” electric vehicle charging system will include V2G: Vehicle to Grid capability. A two-way system that will enable you to feed excess power from your vehicle into the local grid for energy credits, in addition to charging your vehicle when needed.

    One of the first mainstream production vehicles with a Solar Roof Panel will be the next generation Toyota Prius due out next Spring. Plug-in hybrids and EVs equipped with solar roof panels will soon follow. Nissan, VW and numerous other carmakers will offer solar panels on their vehicles also. The early mainstream electric vehicles will initially be like Henry Ford’s Model A, compared to what they will become, with the right combination of break-through components that are in the works.

    One solar roof panel will only provide a small percentage of the power that todays electric vehicles require. At 20% efficiency (Suniva, Day4 Energy), a solar roof panel could generate up to 270 watts. The panel will be optional and cost under $900. Keep in mind, the cost of solar panels will come down, and the efficiency will go up. Already, there are cheaper and more efficient solar panels being announced. The SunFlake panel, invented by Martin Aagesen who is a PhD from the Nano-Science Center and the Niels Bohr Institute at University of Copenhagen, gets 30% efficiency and will be cheaper than current panels. Innovalight claims they have a solar panel that is 44% efficient at one tenth the cost. NanoSolar and others also look promising. At the rate that solar technology is advancing, solar roof panels on vehicles will soon be over 500 watts.

    The next technology, coming within 3 to 5 years, is SOLAR PAINT, that will generate solarvoltaic power from the entire body of the vehicle. When the body is covered with solar paint, that has the potential to provide three times the surface area of a first generation solar roof panel. This will triple the generating power of your vehicle to 1,500 watts, more or less, depending on the angle of the sun, weather conditions, and the amount of light reflecting onto the body. Window tinting will also be replaced by translucent solarvoltaic film.

    Recently, Toyota described its 1/X Concept vehicle, a plug-in hybrid about the size of a Prius, but ONE THIRD the weight, only 926 lbs. With a vehicle that is one third the weight, the mileage DOUBLES from the same wattage. Quantum Sphere announced a breakthrough in their lithium ion batteries that produces FOUR TIMES the capacity from the same size cell. Ultra-capacitors may also be combined with batteries, or one day overpower them. Another breakthrough is an electric motor that uses HALF the amount of energy to perform the same amount of work. With this new electric motor, the mileage DOUBLES again. Search: Thor Power: Revolutionary Electric Motor Design Cuts Energy Use in Half (there are others).

    And with that 1,500 watts of solar power, we will Not be powering the vehicle motor. We will be powering a generator to Pulse Charge a cluster of individual batteries in rapid succession, many times per second. Search John Bedini and Energenx battery charger. This is a motor-generator with a pulse width modulator charging multiple batteries simultaneously. Scientist Tom Bearden explains that when a battery is pulse charged, there is an “electro-chemical lag” between pulses, and it continues to charge for a split second, even after the current is briefly switched off. Then, with the power still off, a second line of current flows out of the battery briefly, if there is a load on it. The next pulse charge is carefully timed to first allow these second and third responses. Thus, with solar electricity being precisely distributed, it may also be possible to plug-in and feed power into the grid or to operate the vehicle, while the batteries are also being charged.

    A large percentage of the coming electric and plug in hybrid vehicles will be charged at night, when the rates are low, then driven to work and parked all day. If you live in a sunny location, the big pay-off will be V2G (vehicle to grid. This concept was originally conceived to transfer into the grid a portion of cheap off peak power, from your batteries, into expensive daytime peak load power. You would charge up at night when the rates are low, drive to work, park your car at a V2G receptacle, plug in and tell your car how much power to sell to the grid at the higher daytime price. Then when you got off work, you would have enough juice left to get home. This was before V2G engineers realized that future EVs and Plug-in Hybrids would also be equipped with solarvoltaic glass and solar roof panels, or covered with solar paint.

    With lighter vehicles coming, with high capacity batteries and ultracapacitors, with advanced motors and battery chargers, with vehicle bodies covered with solarvoltaic collectors, a whole new world will open up. Your vehicle will generate 1,500 watts of power, maybe more, either for charging your batteries to move you down the road, or to feed power into the grid at peak load rates while your vehicle is parked. How would you like to get credits on your electric bill, while your solar equipped plug-in vehicle is parked in the sun?

    All of this will eventually become mass produced standard features financed into your vehicle, and it will pay for itself. As a last resort, if your juice is running low, plug into the V2G system and charge your batteries from the grid. The power will go both ways. Feed electric power into the grid for credits, or draw power out as debits on your electric bill, or on a plastic card that you could use anywhere.

    Solar panels, solar glass, and solar paint on vehicles will soon contribute power to your vehicle and to the local grid using V2G. Vehicles capable of feeding the local grid, charging, or generating power on the fly. The vehicles of the future will be portable power plants, and their owners will manage energy from the sun.

  2. Why does San Francisco get the electric outlets but not other cities? If they want the electric outlets then they should pay it with city taxes. Don’t use state or federal government money. That’s not fair to other citizens.