Electric Cars – Stop ‘n’ Swap

It should be clear that the appropriate analogy to the filling station isn’t the recharging station, it’s the battery-swapping station, along the lines of a propane refill.  Now, an Israeli is trying to make this work in Israel and in Denmark:

Better Place proposes building a network of curbside charging stations where owners can top off their vehicle batteries. Agassi’s idea generated $300 million in venture capital and sparked international interest: Cities in Israel and Denmark hope to have the first robotic change stations running in 2011, and the company aspires to expand operations to Australia, Canada, Hawaii and California in 2012. In late September, Better Place signed a deal with Renault-Nissan to put 100,000 electric vehicles on the road in Israel and Denmark by 2016.

I’ve always believed that the only way we’re going to get Americans into electric cars is to extend their range.  Especially out west, where I live, it’s virtually impossible to imagine driving  your car for 100 miles, and then stopping for a few hours to recharge.  That might work for in-city commutes, but too many of us routinely make business or pleasure trips of well over 100 miles, and some even have commutes that long.

If this idea can work in high-density, short-trip areas like Israel and Europe, it ought to be able to substitute in Utah, Nevada, and Arizona.  It’ll be interesting to see what kind of business model he comes up with.  I’d suspect that franchising would be the fastest way to expand, with the quality control issue here being the quality of the battery, and making sure that the station owners weren’t under-charging the batteries.

As with any technology, this isn’t going to happen overnight.  You’d still want batteries that could make it 300 miles or so, a typical tank of gas.  The barriers to entry – read: capital investment – for swapping stations and cars alike remain high.  And, of course, barring nuclear plants, massive numbers of electric cars are going to mean hot summers and cold winters for a lot of people.

But this is clearly the operational model that can work.

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