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Electric Car Charge Stations: $1B in the Bay Area
Alex Steffen, 24 Nov 08

We've written a lot about electric cars and the utility of the "smart garage" concept.

Of course, one of the challenges with electric cars is their still-limited range, and the need to find places to recharge when on the road. That's the part of the system Shai Agassi's Better Place goes after, by making the cars themselves easily accessible, building a network of recharging stations and then making money off the power sold.

Now San Francisco Bay Area governments are working with Better Place to build a network of recharging stations around the region:

A $1 billion network of electric car recharging stations will dot San Francisco Bay area highways under a plan unveiled Thursday that aims to greatly expand the number of electric vehicles on the road.

Palo Alto-based Better Place along with San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums and San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed announced the deal to install charging stations in homes, businesses, parking lots and government buildings by 2012.

The company said it will also build mechanized battery swapping centers where robots will remove and replace the batteries in cars that are compatible with the system. These stations will allow electric car drivers to travel longer distances without recharging.

The initiative would make the Bay Area the first region in the U.S. to create an electric car network.

Now, I haven't seen enough of the specifics to judge whether or not this is a good plan in all its particulars, but the concept (especially if it is in fact interoperable with competitive electric car infrastructures) rocks, and it's precisely this kind of an investment in the infrastructure that's needed to really get innovation and uptake rolling.

And I have to say, when I read one billion for this project, I thought about the roughly one trillion or so we're expected to dump into economic stabilization and recovery programs, all told, and wondered if even half of that went into new bright green infrastructure, what we might accomplish.

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Very exciting to hear. I'll admit, I'm skeptical about the Project Better Place plan. A network of battery swapping robots sounds good, but I don't think the required battery and vehicular form-factor standardization is going to happen. On the other hand, being able to just plug in seems incredibly feasible. I'll try to keep tabs on this one - thanks!

Posted by: Dan Gill on 24 Nov 08

israel has already started contracting for car charging stations, 10's of thousands of them. Seems they have a National Electric Car policy.
Also, If you are using an auto that charges in 10 minutes like the Phoenix Pickup or SUV (first heard it here at, what's the point of swapping batteries. 10 minutes isn't that long (let's face it, part of this saving ourselves from our own exhaust business is changing our rush-about behaviors .)

Posted by: George Donart on 24 Nov 08

Project Better Place will be a very interesting experiment to track, to see how viable and workable this would be. What is certain however is that we do need charging points to be in place for the rising number of electric vehicles on the road.

Posted by: ZAP Alias on 25 Nov 08

If the batteries are standardized appropriately, you can have a "Zero" minute swap-out. It is possible to design the battery to be swapped with the car in motion.

It certainly requires development, but it doesn't require a breakthrough. It is just ordinary good mechanical engineering.

Battery improvements (charge time, capacity, weight and cycle life), would need breakthroughs -- and, they are breakthroughs in an arena where some of the brightest minds on the planet have struggled for a couple hundred years. Not likely.

I'd like to see an EV race that allowed unlimited pit "stops" (drive-throughs, actually) for swapping batteries. Think they couldn't develop a "hot swap" system by about the third season?

Posted by: Ron on 25 Nov 08

I've been critical about Better Place since the get go, because I also believe that pouring billions into new infrastructure can be better spent on creating greener public transport:

See some commentary on what I wrote on the Huffington Post:

But would Americans with spread out suburban islands be able to handle it? I grew up in a suburb and would have died socially without a car.

The cash for Better Place in San Fran is going to come from investors, and not the public anyway. So it might be a good opportunity for foreigners to help revive American economy. My sister was working at a car plant, and has now lost her job. No one can be expected to go green when they can't pay their mortgage. Just some thoughts...

I interviewed Mike Granoff from Better Place last week.
Here's what he had to say:

- Karin

Posted by: Karin on 29 Nov 08

wonderful idea...........

Posted by: coimbatore on 30 Nov 08


I just saw the CEO present their product through 2 events in China, and it was really really interesting.

His sales pitch is that they sell kilometers, and he has a very large appetite. Taking Israel and Australia off gasoline completely being one of his commitments.

if interested in his presentation, send me an email and I will send the pack that I have from the conference.


Posted by: cleaner greener china on 1 Dec 08

What's happening about the rare earth's disappearing?

I've been watching Better Place for a while now, and Love the new business model of them owning the battery, the fact that it is a V2G car that can help with "grid smoothing" etc... but are we going to have the batteries to run all this when rare earths are getting rarer?

Posted by: Eclipse Now on 3 Sep 09

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