I notice that Shai Agassi of Project Better Place was interviewed on NPR again this morning. Holy cow, that guy has wonderful PR; it’s hard to turn around without running into him presenting his idea (ubiquitous electric vehicle battery swapping stations).
But does it seem practical for a landmass the size of the US? Agassi’s talking point is the “ABCs” of EVs: Automobiles, Batteries, and Charging, in which he reminds us that all the money we’ve invested in the first two will not win the day if we fail to deal properly with the third. Of course this is true – and battery swapping is a wonderful solution for certain parts of the world, e.g., countries like Israel (its first customer). Israel is extremely dense, and surrounded by oil-rich enemies.
I’m no fan of big oil myself, but I just can’t see the battery swapping stations all over a landmass like the continental US — 3.5 million square miles, 600 times the size of Israel. Far more credible, in my opinion, is the following scenario:
a) The introduction of EVs will happen gradually, starting with early adopters whose life styles are a good fit for electric transportation: multi-car families with an available place to charge at night, and one car primarily used to commute within a local region.
b) While this is playing itself out over a period of years, OEM production volume will be ramping, quality issues will be resolving, battery technology will improve and costs will fall. Simultaneously, we’ll see the construction of charging stations at the workplace, movie theaters, etc.
c) The replacement of all internal combustion engine-based cars and trucks (230 million in the US) will require several decades, and will happen with fast-charging (“Level 3,” high-power charging) – probably delivered using the infrastructure of filling stations.
d) In the meanwhile, Better Place will be incorporated into geographies in which it makes sense.
Having said all this, I sure wish I could afford 1/100th the PR horsepower of Agassi — a true business visionary who hasn’t overlooked what it takes to get his story told.