Brian Nitz | May 20th, 2012 |

Shai Agassi hopes Israel is ready to embrace the efficiency and economics of electric cars. His company Better Place rolled out four electric car charging stations in northern Israel. He plans to quickly grow this network so that every place in Israel with be within range of one of their network stations. This is intended to eliminate, the “range anxiety” which frightens some consumers out of considering electric cars. Better Place contracted with French automaker Renault to produce a customized version of their Fluence electric car.

The Fluence will sell for about $32,000– similar to the price of gasoline powered equivalents in Israel. Better Place has already sold 1800 of these vehicles to leasing companies in Israel and hundreds more to individuals. This is a significant, especially compared to the anemic sales of the Nissan LEAF and Chevy Volt in the US.

Better Place’s subscription plan includes a home charging station as well as free access to charging stations in their network. The Fluence Z.E. has Quickdrop battery replacement technology which eliminates one of the inconveniences of previous electric cars, recharging took a long time. A ten gallon gasoline tank contains the energy equivalent of more than 300 kilowatt-hours of electricity.

The battery swap

To put this in to perspective, it would take 200,000 AA sized rechargeable batteries or 3000 typical laptop batteries to equal a gasoline tank’s energy capacity. Quickly pushing that much electricity into a battery isn’t practical without thick wires, dangerous voltages and the possibility of overheating– so swapping batteries is a much better option. This also allows Better Place to use green energy at their charging stations and avoid creating the problems caused by electric cars whose energy ultimately comes from coal or other dirty fuels.

Robotic fueling stations in the Better Place network will swap out a depleted battery in a few minutes. The process is as convenient as an automated car wash. Drivers needn’t even leave their cars.

Electric cars haven’t yet lived up to their promise of replacing the internal combustion engine but they already have significant economic advantages. Currently they live in the economics versus convenience gap between public transportation and gasoline automobiles, but they seem poised to take market share from both.