WIRED’s big article in its August issue was about a major effort to make the electric car’s future more robust. Shai Agassi has launched Project Better Place, a company that is working with governments, car companies and energy companies to birth a system that will support millions of electric vehicles. Not hybrids: fully electric vehicles. How does he propose to do this? By treating car batteries of the future more like the gasoline of today. In addition to being able to charge a car battery at home, Agassi’s plan is to have battery charging stations as part of a country’s infrastructure. Okay you say, there’s nothing new about that. And you’re correct. So how about this – the plan includes battery replacement centers. Instead of waiting to charge a battery, you could drive up and have it automatically replaced. Additionally, Agassi wants recharging stations where people work and shop. How would the electricity be paid for? More flexibly than gasoline: it would work more like cell phone plans, actually. Unlimited electricity, pay as you go, and the like.
Agassi has come up with a fairly robust business plan to date. He has agreements to develop infrastructure worked out with Israel, Denmark, Australia, and most recently, California’s Bay Area. He also has agreements worked out with Nissan and Renault to produce the electric vehicles. Isn’t that interesting: GM, Ford and Chrysler don’t seem to be interested in electric vehicles on a mass scale. But they sure want sub-market loans from the government, don’t they?
Agassi has developed some financing from the following: VantagePoint Venture Partners, Israel Corporation, Israel Cleantech Ventures, Morgan Stanley, Acorns to Oaks II, Esarbee Investments Canada, GC Investments LLC, Musea Ventures, Ofer Group, Vyikra Partners, Wolfensohn & Co. and Maniv Energy Capital. Project Better Place has raised over $200 million so far, with the potential for another $1 billion or more in the relatively near future.
2009 will be a big year for the company. Better Place will begin rolling out infrastructure and vehicles in small numbers next year with a more full scale deployment planned for 2011. That’s not bad for a company that was just started last year. Governments will have to play a big role in paving the way for large scale deployment – tax credits of some kind will have to be issued in order to get electric vehicles in the market in large numbers. This is something that needs to happen more frequently in a general sense: R&D dollars are good. It’s the deployment phase that holds viable, competitive technologies from the market. If governments can assist that last stage, electric vehicles (and other technologies) would do just fine.
Better Place’s website has an element of activism on the front page – a petition to bring Better Place to your community. Now, there are a lot of ambitious things a company like Better Place could do. But it strikes me that trying to work with grassroots support from around the world while the company is still in a formative stage is a good thing. It indicates to me that Agassi, and the people he’s surrounded himself with, have a good level of understanding of what net-connected citizens can accomplish when enough of them share a common goal. To illustrate that point a little more, I also noticed that Better Place is involved with social networking – they have a facebook group and a twitter feed. That’s a pretty good start on leveraging successful networking tools to achieve their goals.
One of their goals is something I want to point out: Agassi’s end goal isn’t to have the only company succesfully marketing electric vehicles to different regions. It’s to end our addiction to burning fossil fuels and treat the planet better. He prefers renewable energy sources for the electricity vehicles will consume. That means no more new coal plants or natural gas plants like 20th century businessman T. Boone Pickens is pushing. That means even more jobs and businesses will be necessary: green jobs around the world. His plan is audacious. Note that it likely isn’t perfect, but it is something. I think it could serve as a useful plan as we more seriously discuss renewable energy infrastructure and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.
There are obviously naysayers to the plan. I’ve located a number of them and will leverage their arguments for future post material. I would like the plan to be seen by more eyes and criticized by more people. As long as it’s constructive, America and the planet will end up in a better place sooner than a lot of people think.