The Better Place company expects 2011 to be a breakthrough year for electric cars in Israel but there are questions on whether the electric grid is up to the task.
By Liz Steinberg

Israel is one of the global pioneers in building national infrastructure for electric cars, as the home base of electric car innovator Better Place. Israel’s program is in a pilot stage, with 1,000 charging stations around the country.

Currently, the country has only a small number of electric cars, but Better Place expects 2011 to be the technology’s breakthrough year.

These vehicles of the future are heralded as key to improving our air quality and reducing the pollution produced by vehicles inside populated areas. But Marc Coroler, Schneider Electric’s senior vice president for central and eastern Europe, warns that Israel’s electricity grid isn’t ready to support cars on top of everything else.

An electric car uses as much electricity as a household, so if everyone has electric cars, the country’s electricity consumption will be doubled. “The network is not prepared for that,” said Coroler, whose region includes Israel. Clearly, a shift to electric cars will necessitate much more electricity − and also could necessitate a more advanced electricity grid.

Major investment is needed in order for the grid to meet the demands posed by electric cars, explained Coroler, whose company develops technology to assist this process.

The Israel Electric Corporation is aware of this. As it expects electric cars to achieve a significant market share in the near future, it is preparing its grid to meet future demands, a representative of the utility said.

In 2008, the IEC prepared a report at the Infrastructure Ministry’s behest, detailing possible scenarios for the energy needs of electric cars, an industry source said.

The report forecasted 20,000 electric cars by 2011, 200,000 electric cars by 2015, and 2 million electric cars by 2020.

The IEC reportedly found that the current infrastructure and production capacity could handle the first two forecasts. However, if the owners of 2 million electric cars were allowed to charge their vehicles at will, the country would need to increase its electricity production capacity by about 20% and upgrade infrastructure, at a total cost of $4.6 billion, said the industry source.

Under another scenario − managed charging − the current production capacity could handle the load, and the cost would be $471 million, the IEC report predicted.

Managed charging means that a central control system decides when and how much electricity each car receives, based on when the driver expects to use the car next, how far the car will need to travel, and the availability of electricity.

However, this too has been controversial: In November, TheMarker reported on a plan by the National Infrastructure Ministry to obligate drivers to use managed charging points, as opposed to home outlets. Since Better Place is currently the only company building such stations, this could theoretically give it a monopoly.