• Sep 24, 2011
Recently, Ecomagination, General Electric's cleantech and sustainable infrastructure website, interviewed Shai Agassi, the founder and chief executive officer of battery swap specialist Better Place. Questions centered on how Better Place will forever change the notion that electric vehicles are range-limited machines.

During the past week, the folks over at Ecomagination have been gathering questions from fans and electric vehicle enthusiasts to ask Agassi next week, and Ecomagination is reaching out to AutoblogGreen readers for input, as well.

So, if you've got a question for Shai, or are interested in viewing Agassi's YouTube response to questions asked of him and his firm, then head over to Ecomagination's site. Shai's response video will air on GE's cleantech site September 26 (Monday).


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  • 28 Comments
      Spec
      • 3 Years Ago
      Here is the real question: Why should I buy a $30K car that will lock me into buying miles from you? How do I know that you won't jack up the price thus making my initial investment a disaster? What happens if you go bankrupt . . . does my car become worthless? That is my biggest problem with Better Place . . . it requires a lot of trust in them. And even in the best case . . . they don't go bankrupt and charge a somewhat reasonable price for miles, the technology may improve fast thus making it much cheaper for me to just buy an EV and charge it myself at home. I like the battery-swap concept because that is the only economical way to give pure EVs long-range capability. But I just loathe the concept of getting locked into a single supplier.
      Marco Polo
      • 3 Years Ago
      Hey Ho, here we go again! Shai Aggassi's entire Better Place concept, is based on a1956 (Suez Oil Crisis). Popular Science article. The Better Place organisation is notable for enthusiasm, blind faith, and an almost cult like zeal. Although Better Place has raised billions of dollars, the only place it has any degree of infrastructure is Israel. This is due to Israel's power supply monopoly. So what's happened to all those billions of dollars raised by Better Place? Well some has been spent desperately trying to set up charging post networks. (the 'battery swapping' concept was never viable). To prove the company is actually doing something! The rest has been spent on hype and spin. These activities seem to be the main product of Better Place. The claims by Better Place Australia, headed by former left-wing Politician, Even Thornley, are simply absurd. I had the experience of debating Better Place logistic's and legal impediment's with Mr Thornley and PR hack, before a conference of the Australian Association of Automotive Engineers. Not a happy experience for Better Place, who were unable to provide any creditable answers for probing questions, and departed to the derision of 300 engineers. Mr Thornley's statement that the Australian government would change the Trade Practise Act, Public Utilities Act, etc and over rule the States (presumably without regard to Constitution) to allow Better Place an EV monopoly, came as quite a shock to his colleges in the Federal government! Thornely is equally vague about other issues of costings and logistic's answer all questions with a vague," The software will be developed to solve these problems". I don't think Even Thornley and most of the Better Place employees are dishonest, just delusional. But anyone reading the Better Place business model, can't fail to see it's basic mortal flaws. Why so many, otherwise sensible and experienced business people have fallen for the hype, is beyond me! I have asked some of these very senior investors of what due diligence they undertook, and the replies left me amazed! Shai Aggassi, must be a hell of a salesman!
        Noz
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Marco Polo
        No doubt with US tax dollars funding Israel and being funneled to companies like BP.....what a sham. Thanks AIPAC ..
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Marco Polo
        Can you link to the Popular science article you referenced? I would love to see that article. By the way, on the Better Place blog, there is a guest post by Kirsch that references battery swapping in the 1920's http://blog.betterplace.com/2009/10/viewing-the-future-from-the-past-battery-electric-vehicles-and-better-place/
        Dan Frederiksen
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Marco Polo
        all those billions of dollars? is that from the Rush Limbaugh school of accounting? you could fertilize fields with your comments
          Noz
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Dan Frederiksen
          Don't talk about yourself like that Polo.
          Marco Polo
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Dan Frederiksen
          Hark, a troll opens it's maw to spew nonsense. The Better Place world wide business model calls for funding of $ 8 billion. So far better Place has raised world-wide, 1.3 -8 billion dollars and still wants more! Now, I'll concede that a lot of his funds are in the form of conditional loan guarantees, which he has used to acquire and reassure investor funding. Better Place financial are difficult to assess due to a complex Web of debt laden structures, but billions nevertheless.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Hello Mr Agassi What type of solar panels do you use, to power your cars; and what and what types of materials are required . Also what advances in solar panels do you predict occurring. Moreover how does the cost of these panels compare with other types of zero carbon emissions sources like wind and tidal power. Lastly Is the poor state of the Americans electric grid a barrier toward implementing the technology that must be overcome. What are the easiest policy changes, required to make electric cars a realty in the United States. Since the technology is cheaper, and cleaner it makes any debate over global warming or scarcity of oil a moot point. I don't feel as you do on these two points. I hope the technology arrives soon to the states, if not i fear america will be left behind, and become increasingly irrelevant. Thank you for your efforts.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Hey Marco Polo, you must have tried to get a job at Better Place and didn't get in...otherwise I cannot understand the amount of animosity you have against people who are trying to do something meaningful that will make a difference in the world and in your country. Evan Thornley, as anyone who met him knows, is not a "socialist left wing guy"...he is a true capitalist who took a company public and sold it later...then had gone into public service, and gave up a ministerial position up to form Better Place Australia... so, please, have a bit of respect for the guy... You clutter this discussion with all kind of irrelevant stories about absurd things...you want a good comparison to Agassi's efforts - Edison and Westinghouse come to mind...and no, they didn't put a power plant in every house that wanted a light, they built some massive infrastructure...that is still working today...so this team deserves respect too... Now, to your claims... Better Place always had a model that used both charging (at home and work mostly) and swapping (on freeways mostly)...that's the only way to make an electric car feel more convenient than a gasoline car...since you stop less times to swap batteries than you you stop to fill up gasoline...given you always start your journey with 100 miles of charged battery... that way an electric car doesn't have a tail pipe or a long tether home...and costs less than a gasoline car.... no easy feat If there was a real "zippy charge" as you call it, that could charge a 200 mile battery in 3 minutes, we would have used that charger and that battery...but the physics constraints of such a feat elude scientists today...and most likely in the next few decades...why? because such a battery will have 50kwh of energy and will need 1.5MW of power to charge in 3 minutes...that's the feeder to the empire state building...and i do not recommend holding it to your car when 2 kids are in the back....btw, if you find such a battery, it makes their need for storage in the swap stations a lot smaller in size... as to standardized batteries, there is a great answer somewhere here...they don't ask for same size battery...they stock batteries of multiple types in our stations, and swap yours for a similar type..as the guy said, with 4-6 types you don't need a standard type...if they ended up with more types of cars than 6 you should concede them their victory... the model works...and btw, there can always be multiple stations, much like you have multiple gas stations... honestly, when someone offers a car that has no limitations, drives any distance with convenience, is fast, and is cheap...should be a no brainer to sell that anywhere...you want to be an investor in that company....
        Marco Polo
        • 3 Years Ago
        @ freeopinion Evidently, you did secure a job at Better Place! Incidental, I have owned/built/ purchased/driven a number of EV's for the best part of 13 years. I have substantial investment in EV development for nearly twenty years. Even Thornley made a great deal of money from the dot.com boom, as did Shai Aggassi. However, let's get something clear, Mr Thornley joined, and represented the Labour party, (State of Victoria, not Australia) The Australian Labour Party is the political wing of the Trade Union movement. This doesn't make him a bad guy, but it's nice to be accurate! Perhaps if Bettter Place had more Engineers and less software designers, they would have a little more experience in logistics. Arguing with Better Place people is like trying to reason with all Evangelists.
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Marco Polo
          @marcoPolo... arguing with me actually requires you to answer the points I have made...and you did not address any of them... Last I checked, BPLC employs 150+ engineers, and about 700+ engineering subcontractors...it is stated in many interviews by Agassi...Just the EVE consortium in Australia which they are part of has engineers with 250+ years of automotive experience...not software...most of them GM guys. Now, for a guy who supports EVs for 13 years, why are you so AGAINST someone who raises a ton of money for the same cause, and uses it to actually build stuff? and yes, Evan was part of Labor, but he also was an entrepreneur... which makes him evil, how????
      • 3 Years Ago
      Agassi says that "demand for the cars for Israel's Better Place network are sold out for at least a year, practically for two years." How can Better Place fail when they are sold out practically for 2 years, 85,000 cars? And after Israel and Denmark it's Australia and then China. "460 companies and organizations in Israel have already agreed to switch their fleet to be 100% electric within the next four years. We are talking about 85,000 cars, or about half the number of cars Israelis buy in an average year. At this rate, electric cars will have the highest sales within two or three years." Seems to me that Israelis trust him. "Israelis can take a car that is priced less than a Toyota Corolla, is better than a Toyota Camry, has unlimited capability, and is faster than an Audi A6. Most Israelis want such a car." http://www.globes.co.il/serveen/globes/docview.asp?did=1000684196&fid=1725 Less than a Toyota Corolla, That's the key.. ..that awesome, beautiful Renault Fluence ZE. Sweet!! The LEAF's 100 mile battery pack costs Nissan $18,000.. for just 100 miles!! As much as technology improves.. it will be a miracle if by 2020 the same 100 mile range battery pack will cost less than $10,000 making an EV at 2020 priced around $23,000.. again too much. http://www.bcg.com/media/PressReleaseDetails.aspx?id=tcm:12-37343 Until the price of an EV falls below that of Toyota Corolla EV's will capture less than 2% of the worldwide marker.. peanuts.. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Better_Place#Better_Place_business_model Better Place is NOW.. cheaper cars and a monthly bill of around what you pay for gasoline every month. ff
        • 3 Years Ago
        'But the State of Israel, which has never missed an opportunity to create a monopoly or an oligarchy in infrastructures often under the aegis of government regulation does not intend to miss this opportunity too to make some quick cash. The Israeli trick is called "managed charging", and it's simple: instead of letting the electric vehicle owner charge it at any available point such as the power outlet at his home - and pay normal electricity rates just the same as if he were plugging in a domestic cell phone charger, he will have to go via middlemen and pay agency fees, which will be substantially higher than normal grid tariffs. These middlemen include commercial sub-suppliers, such as Better Place, which will buy cheap packages of kilowatts from Israel Electricity Corporation (IEC) and on-sell them at prices that they will determine, and of course IEC itself. IEC, incidentally, has never concealed its intentions: in its 2009 annual report, it states explicitly that it plans to pass on the infrastructure and charging costs to the electric vehicle owner's electricity bill. This owner will not be able to charge his vehicle at normal grid prices if he wants to. The grid, the vehicle, and the computers at the charging stations will not allow him to do so. ' http://www.globes.co.il/serveen/globes/docview.asp?did=1000601917&fid=4380
        Marco Polo
        • 3 Years Ago
        @ffinder Israel and Denmark it's Australia and then China? China is a fantasy, Australia is absurd, and Better Place's involvement seems to be limited to the installation of some incorrectly coloured charging posts. That just leaves Israel! Enthusiasm and passion can be great, but they can also mislead you! eg: [quote]As much as technology improves.. it will be a miracle if by 2020 the same 100 mile range battery pack will cost less than $10,000 making an EV at 2020 priced around $23,000.. again too much.[/quote] This is very good example of Better Place logic, (a) On what basis can you assume a 2020 battery will have a range of only 100 miles? (b) Nevermind, 2020, if Nissan could sell the Leaf at 423,000 in 2011, they would need to build 10 more factories the demand would be so great! (c) Automobile are not sold on price alone. If this were true, there would only be one automobile model produced. Since this is evidently not true, why do you assume that EV buyers will want only one model, from a monopoly? Like everything Better Place publicity spins, it all sounds great, until it's examined carefully.
        Spec
        • 3 Years Ago
        How did you get Shai's d$#k out of your mouth long enough for you to type all that? Let's see BP deliver before we break out the champagne. Right now it is all theory and promises.
          Marco Polo
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Spec
          @ Spec "Shai's d$#k out of your mouth " Ah, now that's an angle I hadn't thought of! Since Better Place will inevitably end in scandal, would you mind if I suggested your insight to various Murdoch UK tabloids?
        EVSUPERHERO
        • 3 Years Ago
        ffinder, my pack cost 18k dollars in 2008, it is a 33kwh pack. I seriously doubt Nissan is paying as much as you say for there's, IMO. Chinese lithium batteries cost approx 7k dollars for a 24 kwh pack such as the Leaf's.
        skierpage
        • 3 Years Ago
        Better Place is not happening in China, that's all misinterpreted statements and excessive spin.
          skierpage
          • 3 Years Ago
          @skierpage
          BP PR flacks and fanboys just make s**t up on the Wikipedia BP page: "Local car manufacturers Guangzhou Automobile Industry Group, will produce electric cars with switchable batteries. State Grid said they would build over 2,300 switching sites by 2015." Both statements are untrue. * "The Guangzhou city government will encourage local car manufacturers, such as Guangzhou Automobile Industry Group, to produce electric cars with switchable batteries." * "State Grid plans to build 2,351 electric-charging and battery-swap stations with 220,000 charging poles". But they did NOT say how may would be battery-swap stations; instead the director of the State Grid smart grid research center commented "The construction of a large-scale charging station costs 20 to 30 million yuan ($3.05-4.57 million) and a small-scale one costs less than 10 million yuan, but it costs more than 100 million yuan to build a battery-swap station." I don't think BP is a scam, but they're a start-up hyping every vague flicker of interest and downplaying reality.
      Dan Frederiksen
      • 3 Years Ago
      I'd ask if he realizes the fundamental problem of forcing one standard battery on the car design and the problem of cost of storing enough batteries at all sites to handle a surge of cars such that a few hundreds cars don't get stuck for days while they charge in the swap station. but this type of Q&A is not for actual questions. it's one way PR in the name of questions. I have pointed out the fundamental problems with the better place model to them before but they don't want to hear it. should they want to listen to reason they should expand their model to include blitz charge cars without swap such that they don't become obsolete so dramatically when battery swap fades away. and it will. battery swap can work in a transition but can't be the final solution
        Chris M
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Dan Frederiksen
        Even I can point out solutions to all your complaints, and I'm not an automotive engineer like you pretend to be. The solution to the "standard battery" problem is to use a modular battery design, so each vehicle can use the number of batteries that meet it's power and range requirements - 1 or 2 or 3 modules for a small vehicle, 4 or 6 or even more modules for larger vehicles. Some vehicles might use different numbers of battery modules depending on the range requirements at the time. Do you seriously think it will take "days" to recharge batteries? Not likely. The "surge requirement" can be calculated by the highest expected number of clients for the time it takes to recharge returned packs. If it takes 2 hours for the swap station to recharge the batteries, then they only need enough batteries on hand to supply the peak expected demand for a 2 hour period. If it takes 2 minutes for each battery swap, for 2 hours that's just 60 customers maximum per swap bay. Number of battery modules needed would be 60 x (average number of modules used) x (number of bays). After 2 hours, the first batteries swapped out will have fully recharged and be ready to go again, and they can keep going indefinitely at that pace. Fast charging is nice and useful for certain situations, and since Better Place is offering charging outlets, they may well offer fast charging outlets, too. But even the fastest possible charging takes longer than swapping does, and a practical fast charger takes much longer.
          Marco Polo
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Chris M
          @ChrisM It's seldom I find disagreement with what you post, however when it comes to Better Place I think you have missed the point. Firstly look at what Better Place is offering. Battery Swapping stations! (I realise that lately they are offering charging posts, but so what? So are a hundred other companies) From a strictly engineering point of view, I would agree that a fairly automated, battery swapping mechanism can be built. But is it economically viable, or commercially feasible? Your scenario requires designing a battery system and building all EV's around a standard battery format. Well, that's exactly how an engineer should think! However, this is not how the rest of the world thinks! Such a move would end competition between battery manufacturers to produce rival technologies. It would also end competition between EV makers. The high cost and overhead/maintenance of a swapping station means that it must, like a gas station, attract a high volume of turnover. Outside of Israel, how many Renaults fitted for swapping must be sold to make such a concept feasible? What happens when, not if, but when, battery/energy storage doubles or trebles the range of EV's, and swapping stations are no longer viable. Shai Agassi, reminds me of Frank Bottril. Frank Bottril was a man who should have been Monty Python character. Frank Bottril created a famous piece of early Australian engineering. In 1912 Bottril commisioned the Austral-Otis Engineering works in Melbourne to build the world largest tractor. The design called for an all terrain vehicle to tow 60 tons of wool bales from remote sheep properties in NSW, to the Murray river for shipment to the rail head at Port Echuca. The project took 3 years to build. When finished, accompanied by speeches and fanfare, the great behemoth trundled off on it's 600 mile journey with 'Dreadnaught Wheels" (Pedrails patented in 1906) laying its own tracks, as it moved along at 4 mph! Manned by a brave crew of 15 men, the tractor (nammed "Big Lizzie") and it's two trailers (after a two year journey), arrived at the Murray river, only to discover that no bridge existed that would carry the weight of such a vehicle across to NSW! In addition to this disappointment, no one had bothered to inform these intrepid pioneers, that the Melbourne-Mildura- NSW railway line had been laid during their heroic journey, making river traffic and the giant Tractor obsolete! But, the engineering was astonishing, and the commitment to this utterly pointless exercise, very admirable! Today, the Giant Tractor stands proudly in a park located in the small town of Red Cliffs Vic. Truly, a wonder to behold! A monument to great Edwardian engineering, and monumental bad commercial foresight! Shai Aggassi, should come, look, and learn! (or click, ) en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Big_Lizzie_Red_Cliffs_Victoria.jpg
          Dan Frederiksen
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Chris M
          well in fairness it might be an academic problem and at such a time when many cars would be better place you could also imagine that battery tech and car design has developed so much that the range is no longer so short that the cars are forced to swap at one point because they don't have the energy to go to the next. but say a convention is ending in a smallish city, 3000 cars depart in 2 hours and 500 of those need battery swap at the only local station. it's not so much the battery swap time which can be made fast (although at 3.5minutes that's a problem in itself with 500 cars in 2 hours, that's 29 hours just for the swaps). but think of the recharge time. if for the sake of argument we say they can only charge one battery at a time in the station and they fill it up in 30 minutes, that's 10.4 days! let's say they have 10 batteries in the station and each can charge at the same time, that brings it down to 3 minutes per battery that's still 24 hours to service those 500 cars. imagine a line of 500 cars to one swap station and people being there for 24 hours until the line is serviced.. even if we say they have 20 packs in a station and each can charge a the same time in only 10 minutes which is 30 seconds on average AND the swap was speeded up so much that it could swap batteries that fast, that would still be 4 hours to service 500 cars. having more than one type of battery further complicates that issue. having modules complicates the robot and the car and still is a bit constraint on the car design. in the car designs I have considered the battery blocks stands on the fiber glass sandwich floor. to design it such that a robot can exchange modules from below is a substantial complication of the design. if fast charge was impossible, sure we could live with battery. but when a 6 minute top off is possible with today's battery tech like A123 and a charge parking spot is much cheaper than a battery swap station then the concept is at a disadvantage.. if you imagine a lot of parking spots at stores are fitted with even moderately fast charge ports, say 45 minute recharge, you'd basically always be full no matter how quick you are. for instance the proposed 22kW european 3 phase EV plug can do basically that and that's just a plug, no charging electronics so you can imagine how cheaply that can be made. it's not easy for complicated and restrictive to compete with cheap and convenient and unconstrained design.. I'm just sayin'
          Chris M
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Chris M
          Reviewing the Ecomagination article, it mentions 3.5 minute battery swaps and a 45 minute recharge, that's just 13 customers in 45 minutes. Updating my figures, that means a single swap bay station would only need 13 customers x 4 modules (average) = 52 battery modules. Easily done. Come to think of it, if they only need to satisfy a peak of 13 customer, they could easily have room to store more than one variety of battery, and they wouldn't need to resort to a modular battery design.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Shai: Do you think you can get away with scamming Israeli's out of so much money with sweetheart deals, or do you just like prison food?
      shinichi
      • 3 Years Ago
      Why would I bound myself to anyones infrastucture and price policy? The greatest benefit of the electric car is that i'm finaly free of any dedicated infrastucture, or supplier. I can buy electricity from anyone I want. I even can generate my own electricity with solar panels, or a wind turbine. Better batteries, and the growing quickcharging network will kill Better Place. Already they can only survive with goverment backed monopoly. And this whole system doesnt solve the main problem: batteries still needs to be charged. BP just tries to make the proces invisible to the costumer, in exchange to their free choice of energy supplier. Thanks, but no thanks.
        Noz
        • 3 Years Ago
        @shinichi
        Well stated. People here are too dumb in general to understand that swapping oil companies for battery companies is going to be any different. Eventually the battery firms are going to get so big and so destructive in the waste, mining, and whatever else is eventually going to happen in order to make batteries faster and cheaper that it'll end up being the same thing. I'm not saying EVs should not be used...the blind faith put into the behavior of the firms involved is extremely stupid at best. BP.....oh I mean Better Place...not British Petroleum....is a sham...and this guy is trying to monopolize the battery sector for EV's...pure and simple....he can shove it.
      Sasparilla Fizz
      • 3 Years Ago
      Its an interesting idea (swap batteries), but the cost of those batteries in the end gets covered by you, whether you buy the pack yourself with your car or you buy that battery through Better Place (they have to cover the cost of the battery) lease and costs and they tack on a profit in that cost - and the batteries are going to get seriously run harder if you're giving them up to BP at the end of the day. Under the guise of giving you "quick charging" (swap a battery pack), you've got another profit making entity that is taking the money away from you for the life of your vehicle. I just don't see it in the end, unless they can get governments to sign away the option for the user.
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