Bold Plans for Electric Cars – Lunch w/ TED

Lunch with TED — By on May 20, 2009 at 10:07 am

“Shai Agassi wants to put you behind the wheel of an electric car — but he doesn’t want you to sacrifice convenience (or cash) to do it.  Forget about the hybrid auto — Agassi says it’s electric cars or bust if we want to impact emissions. His company, Better Place, has a radical plan to take entire countries oil-free by 2020.” – TED.com

It certainly is a “bold plan” and it is very clever, but I wonder what is do be done with all the batteries once they are worn out?  Also, isn’t the process of batter production very harmful to the environment?  Assuming that global warming was not an issue, what do you think of driving battery powered cars?  I think it’s a good start, but I’m not convinced that it is a realistic solution.  For example, I am doubtful that batteries have the power to do the hard work of powering large trucks w/ trailers. ‘


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  • ucfengr

    The problem with electric cars is they only meet 40-50% of the typical driver’s driving needs. They work fine for commuting to work or school (assuming you live close to both) and if you need to go to the store to “pick up a few things”, but they really aren’t good for packing up the family for a trip to Grandma’s, hauling the kids, and their friends and gear, to soccer practice, or making the weekly or bi-weekly “big shopping run”. There in lies the problem, most people can’t afford to buy a car that meets 50% of their needs, and then buy another to meet the other 50%, they need one car that meets 90+% of their driving requirements and an electric car won’t.

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com Dustin R. Steeve

    Ucfengr,

    Yeah, I think Agassi agrees with you. Assuming that batter life is improved soon, his solution of transforming fueling stations into battery replacement stations seems to address your problem, in part. What did you think of his idea there?

  • ucfengr

    Dustin,

    Absent the development of some sort of rapid recharge battery, battery replacement stations would be the most likely way to handle refueling electric cars, but implementing that sounds much easier than it would actually be. Some initial thoughts on the challenges:

    1. what would be the cost of transforming a gasoline fueling station into a battery replacement station? A current gas station has a gasoline capacity of around 25,000 gallons of gas, at 2.50 a gallon, that comes to around $63k in inventory. With that, using 20 gallons as the average volume per sale, the gas station can service 1250 cars. That would imply that a battery replacement station would need something approaching 1000 batteries in inventory to cover need. Using a conservative estimate of $5k per battery pack that means the refueling station would need to maintain roughly $5 million in inventory. That’s a huge capital investment for a small business and I think I am being conservative in my estimates. Depending on charging time, he may need more than 1000 batteries.

    2. What type of special charging equipment would be needed to maintain 1000 car batteries? What changes would be needed to the power grid to support it? Off the top of my head, I don’t know, but I suspect the cost would be substantial.

    3. Assuming a battery pack weighs several hundred pounds (Prius battery pack weighs 100 lb, but only supplies supplemental power), what equipment are you going to need to replace the batteries, even assuming the cars a designed for easy battery replacement? Obviously, you won’t be able to do it by hand, so each refueling becomes, at least the equivalent of an oil change (i.e. 30 minutes vs. 5 minutes).

    4. How would you store the batteries? I can’t imagine a mechanism for storing them underground like gasoline, so you would need to store them above ground. This makes security a real problem because it is a lot more tempting to steal a multi-thousand dollar battery pack than it is to steal $50 worth of gas.

  • Alex

    His plan hinges on a lot of infrastructure. What happens if we have trouble getting the wind farms etc. that we need? Environmentalists are already blocking them is certain areas. Is his cost per mile based on today’s economics? That number could easily change if everyone starts driving these cars and the demands on the power grid increase. On the other hand, if that happens the price of fuel should go down with the demand. More power to him if he can get this going and get competition in the markets.

    I’m fine with going to electric cars if they are convenient and he can get the necessary investment to fund it on his own. I’d even be cool with it if the government cut taxes on businesses that invested in the technology. That being said I don’t want a government mandate to make the switch.

    One last thing, I find his closing argument dishonest. At the moment, I don’t buy his argument that the end of slavery triggered the industrial revolution on its own. And gas burning cars are not morally equivalent to slavery.

  • John

    A lot of the folks I know think Shai Agassi is way overhyped. As one of the commenters above noted, his model relies on a near absurd level of capital investment — which requires an absolute certainty that your technology will become THE ubiquitous technology that people use in the medium to long term. I’m not so convinced. I still think some sort of hybrid vehicle will be the interim until we can come up with some sort of truly portable battery, etc.

  • ucfengr

    At the moment, I don’t buy his argument that the end of slavery triggered the industrial revolution on its own.

    I think a stronger case can be made for the opposite, that the industrial revolution ended slavery, not the other way around. Industrialization drove capital into equipment and away from slaves. Imagine being a company owner, assuming similar cost, does it make more sense to buy a piece of equipment that allows 2 men to do the work of 50 or to buy 50 men to do the work? Machines don’t get sick, and more importantly, they don’t run off if conditions are bad or if their wife is sold “down the river”. Industrialization made doing the right thing (ending slavery) economically advantageous.

  • smmtheory

    Ain’t it great the way nobody is looking far enough forward to anticipate how all these electric cars will be detrimental to the environment? Much as nobody anticipated when autos with internal combustion engines first started being manufactured, so it is with electric cars.

    Sigh.