This week Shai Agassi’s Better Place is realizing a long held dream of moving to a better place to realize electric vehicle battery swapping in lieu of fast charging for the electric car: Guangzhou, China. While Agassi’s electric vehicle battery swapping stations have already launched in far smaller nations: Agassi’s native Israel, and Denmark and Hawaii, it could well be that this launch in China will turn out to be the one that really gives lift-off to the Better Place battery swapping model for the electric car industry.
That would be because when China’s government puts serious thought into policy that makes real incentives for renewables, they happen. If Better Place needs matching car infrastructure to enable battery swaps, that is what it will get. China Southern Grid and the city of Guangzhou are helping make it happen.
“China Southern Grid is an important partner in a huge market that is moving quickly toward the mass-market development of electric cars and is embracing battery switch as the primary means of range extension,” said Better Place CEO and founder Shai Agassi.
Guangzhou’s Executive Vice Mayor Wu Yimin signed an agreement with Agassi that calls for the municipality to assist Better Place and China Southern Power Grid (CSG) in their efforts to bring electric vehicles to the city, by encouraging local manufacturers to produce electric cars with switchable batteries and by promoting electric car fleets and taxis in both the private and public sectors.
As Jeff St John at GigaOm puts it: “the project in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou includes promises by city officials to “encourage” local car manufacturers, such as the state-owned Guangzhou Automobile Industry Group (GAIG), to produce cars with batteries that can be swapped out, using Better Place’s undercarriage battery removal and replacement process”. And this is key:
“Given the close ties between state and private enterprise in China, I wouldn’t be surprised if the encouragement comes more like an executive order”.
Indeed. When China decided to make the grid renewable energy friendly, it connected its grid from end to end in two weeks. When the Chinese government decided to crack down on polluting factories, the ones that didn’t comply were simply shut down. And when it decided that renewable energy should get right of way, it passed a law that utilities had to take any renewable energy put on the grid.
That is because Chinese officials really get climate change and peak oil. “We get a huge push by the government for national security reasons, both due to oil dependency and emissions problems in the cities,” Dan Cohen, vice president of strategic initiatives at Better Place, told The Jerusalem Post. “The government is very aggressive.”
China is acutely aware of its precarious position with regards to fossil energy. The rapidly growing nation now uses almost half the entire global production of cement, iron, ore, coal, steel, aluminum and copper. These are the building blocks of civilizations.
Yet it does all this while using only 10% of the oil. As a result of this imbalance, an alternative to fossil fuels is truly an economic and security must-have for China. Electrifying transportation could provide just that solution.