I have been driving Renault EV using the Better Place system for nearly ten months and some 18,000 miles (“Not really so much better,” June 14). Works like a charm!
This is a masterpiece of systems thinking: unlike other EVs, whose battery capacity must be such that the worst case scenarios are covered, the BPLC approach has the battery swapping stations to take care of the rare events, thereby cutting the required battery capacity by a factor of three or so. This means hundreds of pounds in weight, and some $20,000.
The adoption process faced two main hurdles (plus the fact that the financial deal was no worse than gasoline but not dramatically better either): 1) the natural tendency of most people to sit on the sidelines and let others experiment with the system, and 2) the uncertainty regarding the long-term availability of the charging infrastructure. With a total of some 7,000,000 miles driven and hundreds of satisfied customers with diverse driving profiles and needs, the first hurdle has been removed. It is the second one that is threatening to kill the project.
The importance of this project to Israel cannot be overstated. EVs and all the related technologies, ranging from batteries through software and algorithms to robots and swapping stations, are slated to become a huge market. As was the case in the transition from piston engines to jet engines in airplanes, such changes give rise to opportunities for new players. Having an operational “EV world” on a country-wide scale gives an enormous advantage to the Israeli companies, including the extremely high value of information being gathered and insights being gained through experience.
Therefore, the government should step in. It must guarantee customers that the charging and swapping infrastructure will exist, at least so to allow a car to reach all locations in Israel. This will break the chicken-and-egg cycle of lack of confidence leading to limited adoption, which in turn leads to a slow revenue stream, in turn leading to inability to fund the operation of the infrastructure.
Tax breaks, providing a role model by purchasing several hundred cars for the government fleet, will further accelerate the process, but the guarantee is a must.
This is not unprecedented: when the first toll road, Route 6, was constructed by a private company, the government guaranteed a minimal revenue stream for the first few years, in case it would take Israeli drivers time to realize that time is money and agree to pay for using a road. This enabled the company to raise funding. It turned out that after 14 months the revenue stream sufficed and the government actually started receiving dividends rather than paying. So, as usual, some leadership is called for.
This case is a relatively simple one, in that the system is operational and road-proven. Also, it is quite likely that, with such a guarantee, along with the fact that customers are extremely satisfied and the recent declaration by Tesla Motors to the SEC that, for large market penetration, one would need the ability to rapidly swap batteries and would have to have a broad deployment of swapping stations, investors are likely to step forward and go for it, so no government funding would be required at this time. There is thus no need for our cabinet members to be great visionaries; they only need to open their eyes and see what is right in front of them!