Clean Revolution case study: Better Place

Author:
Clare Saxon Ghauri
Reading time: 10 minutes
26 September 2012

This is part of The Climate Group's Clean Revolution case study series. Read an interview with Shai Agassi, the founder and CEO of Better Place.

Better Place began with the goal of freeing cars from oil, which would simultaneously address the global challenges of rising energy costs, energy security and climate change. Building on the mobile phone subscription model, the company aims to electrify personal transportation with a comprehensive solution for consumers, and is rolling out a network of electric vehicles, charging stations and battery switching stations in Israel, Australia and Denmark.

You can buy a Toyota Camry for about $20,000, and drive it up to 600 miles before refueling at a nearby gas station. Alternatively, you can buy the all-electric Nissan Leaf for about $35,000 (including its $11,000 battery), and drive it up to 100 miles before it needs recharging… well, you’re not sure where.

In short, the current transport system is made for gasoline vehicles. But while most electric vehicle (EV) players are waiting for the vehicle to adapt to the current system (by making batteries cheaper and with longer range), one company is adapting the system to the vehicle – making EVs work for consumers today.

That company is Better Place.

To make EVs more affordable and convenient, Better Place takes out the most expensive part: the battery. Better Place then includes the battery as part of a fixed-price subscription offered to the consumer. Drivers get a personal charge spot at home and/or work, access to a network of charging and switching stations (replacing a depleted battery in less than five minutes) and 24-hour consumer support and roadside assistance for a fee equal to what a consumer would typically spend in a month for gasoline (see subscription plan).

In return for taking ownership of the battery and building an extensive battery charging and switching infrastructure, Better Place makes its profit based on the difference between the high cost per mile for gasoline and the low cost per mile for electricity (see cost per mile graph), and the battery.

In a sense, Better Place is doing for vehicles what telecommunications firms do for mobile phones – develop the network, discount the hardware and charge for minutes – in this case, miles.

WE APPLIED TWO SCHOOLS OF DISCIPLINE: IMAGINEERING AND ENGINEERING. WE IMAGINED THE FUTURE AND WE ENGINEERED THE WORK.
–Shai Agassi, Founder and CEO, Better Place

Better Place is rolling out its EV-charging network in markets around the world. Here’s what they’re up to in selected countries and regions.

FULL DEPLOYMENTS

1 Israel Deploying switching stations charge spots nationwide and testing the network for commercial launch beginning at the end of the year. 2 Denmark First switching station dedicated in Gladsaxe in June 2011 as part of nationwide deployment to be complete by April 2012. 3 Australia Power purchase agreement signed to power the network with 100% clean energy. Nationwide deployment to begin in Canberra before the end of 2011.

PILOTS

4 Europe Three European Commission-backed projects, including an R&D program for carmakers to engineer switchable batteries for their EVs. 5 Hawaii State’s first smart charging network in Oahu currently underway. 6 Ontario Charging pilot with municipal utilities in Toronto currently underway. 7 Japan Electric taxi pilot with switching station completed in 2010. 8 San Francisco Bay AreaSwitchable battery electric taxi pilot to begin in 2012.

PARTNERSHIPS

9 China Partnership with China Southern Power Grid to advance switchable battery EVs and open an EV visitor center in Guangzhou by the end of 2011.

FINANCIAL BENEFIT

The economic cost of oil dependence is significant. Since 1970, total economic losses in the US (from lost GDP, dislocation losses and wealth transfers) exceeded $5 trillion. In addition, net imports of oil account for 40% and 150% of the US and EU trade deficits respectively.

NATIONAL SECURITY

National militaries are forced to protect oil supply-lines and infrastructure around the world. The annual cost to the US military of securing global oil supplies was estimated to be between $52 and $143 billion.

VALUES

Transportation accounts for 23% of global carbon emissions. In most cases, depending on the energy mix used for electricity generation, electric vehicles emit fewer greenhouse gases than the average conventional vehicle. Going forward, as more renewable energy is brought online, the emissions profile of electric vehicles will only improve.

Business models contain inherent pros and cons. Below are some of the particular challenges facing the Better Place model.

AUTO PARTNERS

While the Better Place battery switch system is designed to work with batteries of various shapes and sizes, so far, only Renault has committed to volume manufacturing of EVs with battery swap technology. In order to achieve its desired scale and give drivers more vehicle choices, Better Place will need more manufacturers to produce EVs with switchable batteries, and product cycles in the auto industry are long.

LOCAL PERMITS

Permits for charging and switching stations require local approval. Better Place has had early success in its pilot countries (e.g. agreements with over 27 municipalities in Israel and 45 in Denmark), but permits in less-committed countries could prove difficult.

THE NUMBERS

Israel is an ideal early adopter of the Better Place model as it has strong Government support (gasoline vehicles are taxed at 72%, while electric vehicles are taxed at 10%) and a geographically concentrated transport system. ($=US dollars)

100,000

Minimum number of EVs which Renault and Better Place have committed for Israel and Denmark by 2016

400

Companies committed to begin converting their fleets to Fluence Z.E. when available

10-20%

Annual total cost of ownership savings compared to a gasoline vehicle

80,000

Number of vehicles represented by these 400 corporate fleets

40

Battery switching stations planned

57%

Percentage of Israeli citizens considering an EV for their next purchase

$175 MILLION

Total infrastructure investment in Israel

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