Jack meets with Better Place in Israel and talks shop about how their rechargeable battery solution can fix the grid.
One of the biggest problems with switching an electric grid over to clean energy is storage. Most clean energy solutions are unreliable over short periods of time – when clouds come out, solar panels don’t produce. If the wind changes direction, or stops, wind turbines don’t produce. However, if the energy could be stored efficiently, then energy companies could produce excess during peak production times and otherwise reserve it for a rainy day… literally.
“The lack of good storage options has plagued utility operators for generations,” according to a recent Nature article: “Obligated to provide a steady supply of electricity to meet constantly varying demand, they have conventionally resorted to the costly and inefficient method of adjusting the output of a coal-fired plant, say, or by turning on a gas-powered ‘peaker’ plant during periods of high demand.”
Storage is a must for any promises of electric vehicles to work. Better Place, the electric car company says their solution provides clean transport and a solution for the grid.
Greening The Grid
In a recent visit to Better Place, as part of the PresenTense Summer Global Institute, I had the fortune of meeting with Mike Granoff, head of oil independence policies at Better Place. He explained that he is often asked if their solution for our dependency on fossil fuels, of bringing electric cars to the masses, is truly a “green” solution.
If the electric grid is still dependent on fossil fuels, an electric car is not really solving anything. Granoff explained that their network is not only a solution for our dependency on gas guzzling cars, but to the storage problem of the entire grid as well.
One of the most expensive parts of an electric car is the battery. In order to keep the price of their electric car competitive with their gasoline-fueled counterparts, Better Place will not be selling car batteries, rather, the car owner will pay subscription fees based upon their mileage. Similar to cell phones, where you pay for the minutes you talk, with Better Place you’ll pay for the miles you drive.
When your car is parked it can be plugged into one of the charging stations that are connected into the grid. This way you can always stay charged. But if you run out of energy while on the go, your car will direct you to the nearest battery switching station where in only a few minutes you can leave with a full battery.
What this means for the energy grid is that once Better Place launches, there will be an entire network of energy storage units working with the energy grid. This will actually make a completely green network feasible. And since the batteries are not owned by individuals, there are no legal issues with manipulating this grid to fit the needs of the entire grid, as a smart grid would ideally work.
Not The Only Player On The Field
Better Place is not the only solution that will provide this benefit. Tesla, the current poster-boy of the electric car market went public last week, selling 13.3 million shares for $226.1 million USD and earning a valuation above $2.2 billion.
They explain that: “Most uses of electricity are needed pretty much in real time – lights, air conditioning, computers, etc. The electricity has to be generated at the exact moment it is used. But plug-in vehicles are a fundamentally different kind of electrical load.Plug-in vehicles draw energy from the power grid and store it for later use while driving.
“Plug-in vehicles are typically plugged in for significant periods of time – usually all night – and it doesn’t really matter when the energy is transferred to the vehicle, as long as a certain amount of energy is transferred by a specific time, typically in the morning. This leaves a lot of flexibility as to the timing and exact nature of how plug-in vehicles are recharged. As plug-in vehicles grow to become a very significant fraction of the overall load on the electrical system, this flexibility can be utilized with beneficial results for the vehicle owner and for all electricity customers.”
What’s different with the Better Place model vis a vis Tesla, the Leaf or any other electric car model out there is the ability to travel farther than 4 hours a day. Tesla proudly announces how “the Roadster offers complete driving independence. Plug in before bed and wake up with a full 245 miles of driving range.”
Do the calculations: at 65 mph you can only drive 3h and 45min until you have to recharge. Not conducive for a road trip that might include bouts of spontaneity.
Below is a video of how the battery switching station would work in the Better Place car. Under one one and a half minutes–quicker than it takes to fill a gas tank–you can have a full battery, ready to go:
But is the replaceable battery model the ideal?
Thomas Weber, Mercedes’ director of group research and car development told The Marker that such battery replacement stations could pose safety hazards. Honestly I don’t believe that concern. How many of us switch out our cell phone batteries? The system, which Better Place is petitioning to be industrial standards, is no different.
However, Weber raises a different concern: “The industry has not even resolved matters as basic as the optimum location for an electric car’s battery or the battery type.”
This problem can seriously stint the growth and efficiency of the technology. It does solve the huge problem that many electric cars have of how to deal with longer journeys. Which may be a worthy price to pay for standardizing where the battery should go.
How Ready Are We To Adopt This Model?
With Denmark’s gas prices more than double the gas prices in the US (a colossal $7.21 vs $2.77 per gallon) it’s no wonder that Denmark has already signed with Better Place. However, even though Better Place projects a 3 cent mile, 9 cents less than the average car, with so many politicians invested in oil the cost of gas would need to double before enough pressure could be leveraged for the US to adopt an electric model.
In addition, with the car industry being such a huge player in the US market, there will be a lot of hostility from car makers. The battery is one-third of the price of an electric car. That means car manufacturers only get to sell two-thirds of a car significantly reducing their ability to control the price of the car.
Read more on Better Place:
Israel’s Grid Will Never Handle Renewable Energy Goals
Gulf Nations Look to Tesla’s Electric Roadster to Speed Around Middle East
Better Place Electric Car Gets Investment Fuel of $350 Million Led by HBSC
Image credit: BrachieS