A couple of days ago, Hawaii’s government and the Hawaiian Electric Company endorsed pursuing electric vehicles and the technologies and infrastructure that would make it happen. Amongst important features named were that the batteries be swappable, and that their recharging be Intelligent. Behind this concept is Shai Agassi, previously a Silicon Valley computer code exec who seems to know how to get things done.
The intrastructure plan is to team up tens of thousands of recharging stations via the Internet, creating a network that will make plug-in electric cars a real-world solution. Hawaii is not alone in saluting the plan. Agassi has gathered an ever-growing list of approvals, from national governments to regional planning groups and, of course, a major automobile manufacturer who hopes to step in and provide the cars. Other endorsing nations include Australia, Denmark, and Israel. Renault-Nissan is on board to develop a plug-in vehicle with a range of more than 100 miles, and to begin offering them before January 1, 2011. They are preparing to perform testing in 2009, and begin widespread commercial sales of the cars in 2012.
So far, Agassi’s contacts have saluted to the tune of 1.2 billion dollars in private international financing. It would seem he has his eye on the long-term profits as well. “I believe the new asset class is batteries,” he said. “When you have a driver in a car using a battery, nobody is going to cut their subscription and stop driving.” While that may not be the altruistic message we’d hoped for, it shows that he has the business savvy to make this project financially enticing to investors who might otherwise shy away from such an endeavor. He calculates that even if gas prices continue to drop, the electric cars and his recharging network will continue to be competitive in island economies, and become affordable for the mainland as well, as the project takes off.
Agassi is entirely correct about electric cars being ideal for island environments. People don’t often drive more than 100 miles, costs of fuel and vehicles are high, and people don’t drive very fast even when they can. Meanwhile, Hawaiian Electric Company is wisely seeing this as an opportunity to develop renewable energy sources that they could then connect to the electric grid to provide the necessary power for Agassi’s company, Better Place, and their recharging network.
Agassi seems to be everywhere with this vision. Earlier this year, mayors within the Bay Area cities, including San Francisco, gave their nod to Better Place’s concept of creating an electric recharging network with half a million recharging stations as soon as 2012. Better Place expects that charging network to cost about a billion dollars.
Daniel Kammen, PhD, of UC Berkeley’s Energy & Resources Group, projects that there will be the usual difficulties inherent in any new transportation system, but that it has “a lot of promising features,” that could make it attractive to fleet owners and ecologically-minded customers.
Of course, the program works best when teamed up with renewable sources of energy, such as solar farms and wind turbines. We appreciate Mr. Agassi’s efforts in getting Hawaii and the rest of the world going Green!