LearnBoost welcomes Acorns To Oaks
Better Place is a venture-backed company based in Palo Alto, California that aims to reduce global dependency on petroleum through the creation of a market-based transportation infrastructure that supports electric vehicles.
According to Shai Agassi, the company's founder and CEO, his vision was inspired by a question asked by Klaus Schwab at the 2005 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland: "How do you make the world a better place by 2020?"
Better Place is building its first electric vehicle network in Israel, and among its partners has selected Denmark and Hawaii as the other two test markets due to their small size. The electricity needed may be generated by renewable energy from solar arrays and wind farms, but in fact would use the grid's electricity, which is based mostly on fossil fuels. Denmark and Israel have enacted policies, which create a tax differential between zero-emission vehicles and traditional cars, to accelerate the transition to electric cars. Better Place plans to deploy the infrastructure on a country-by-country basis with initial deployments beginning in 2010 and commercial sales beginning in 2012.
The company has said it is in talks with more than 25 additional regions around the world. Australia, Ontario, Oregon, and California also have announced deployment of Better Place electric car networks. The Company opened its first functional charging station in Israel the first week of December 2008 at Cinema City in Pi-Glilot, and additional stations in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Kfar Sava, Holon, and Jerusalem are being planned and installed. Better Place's primary R&D facility is located in Tel Aviv, Israel.
The company was publicly launched, as Project Better Place, by Shai Agassi on October 29, 2007. As of April 2009 it has already raised $400 million and several countries and states have offered tax breaks.
In January 2008, Better Place announced a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Renault-Nissan to build the world's first Electric Recharge Grid Operator (ERGO) model for Israel. Under the agreement, Better Place will build the electric recharge grid, and Renault-Nissan will provide the electric vehicles. In 2009, Better Place expects to deploy hundreds of charging stations as the company moves toward wide-scale deployment in 2011. Renault has committed to spend $600 million over three years to develop a car with swappable batteries, in time to the 2011 deployment. Renault will offer electric models of existing vehicles, like the Mégane sedan, but at competitive prices to similar gasoline models.
As the steam car, the internal combustion engine automobile, and the electric car emerged as the main competing technologies in the late 1890s until the 1920s, the concept of exchangeable battery service was first proposed as early as 1896 in order to overcome the limited operating range of electric cars and trucks.
The concept was first put into practice by Hartford Electric Light Company through the GeVeCo battery service and initially available for electric trucks. The vehicle owner purchased the vehicle from General Electric Company (GVC) without a battery and the electricity was purchase from Hartford Electric through an exchangeable battery. The owner paid a variable per-mile charge and a monthly service fee to cover maintenance and storage of the truck. Both vehicles and batteries were modified to facilitate a fast battery exchange. The service was provided between 1910 to 1924 and during that periord covered more than 6 million miles. Beginning in 1917 a similar successful service was operated in Chicago for owners of Milburn Light Electric cars who also could buy the vehicle without the batteries.
Better Place anticipates implementing a business model wherein customers enter into contracts to purchase driving distance similar to the mobile telephone industry where customers contract for minutes of airtime. The initial cost of an electric vehicle may also be subsidized by the ongoing per-distance revenue contract just as mobile handset purchases are subsidized by per-minute mobile service contracts. Better Place plans initially to charge US$0.08/mile in 2010, then US$0.04/mile by 2015 and US$0.02/mile by 2020. The electric cars will be built and sold separately from their Better Place battery pack "fuel" akin to the way that petrol cars are sold separately from their fuel. Customers will not be allowed to purchase battery packs; instead, they must lease them from Better Place. The per-distance fees cover battery pack leasing, charging and swap infrastructure, purchasing sustainable electricity, profits, and the cost of investor capital.
Better Place has requested that governments mandate the use of international standards and open access to recharge acrosscharging networks to facilitate competing networks. Standardization efforts such as SAE J1772, however, have not yet yielded global consensus as of August 2009[update]. Better Place has displayed Charge Spot charging stations that use a connector with the same pin layout as SAE J1772-2009 but housed in a non-standard, triangular plug. They have also displayed a wall mounted charging station using Mennekes/VDE-AR-E 2623-2-2 IEC 62196 receptacle . Battery pack exchanges outside of Better Place's network will not be allowed and pack standardization efforts have not yet been initiated. Better Place has pre-sold enough contracts to make their first deployed network in Israel profitable at launch.
The first prototype cars is the Renault Laguna with a battery instead of a fuel tank and an electric motor instead of an internal combustion engine. The battery is a Lithium iron phosphate ion device. The range of the car running on just one battery is from about 160 kilometres (100 mi) to 190 kilometres (120 mi). By replacing the battery at a service station, the range between longer charging stops is limited only by the geographical distribution of the battery-swapping infrastructure.
The Renault Fluence Z.E. was announced at the Frankfurt Motor Show on September 15, 2009 as the first electric car to be available on the Better Place network using a switchable battery. In April 2010 Renault announced that sales of the Fluence Z.E. are scheduled for 2011 in Israel, Denmark and the rest of Europe.
The floor-mounted battery packs in these electric cars are designed to be changed out in only a few minutes, allowing for battery-swap services like those proposed by Better Place and Tesla Motors. Better Place expects battery packs to cost between US 4¢ and 5¢ per mile over their life, provide the cars with a 160 km (100 mi) range per charge, perform for 2000 recharge cycles, and last for 8 years.
Better Place has demonstrated a battery-switch station (also called battery-swap station) allowing drivers to exchange their car's depleted battery pack for a fully recharged one in under a minute. With enough battery switching stations, drivers will have less concern about running out of charge and will spend much less time charging on long distance trips. While each exchange station will cost $500,000, Better Place CEO Shai Agassi has said that cost is half the price of a typical gas station.
On May 12, 2009, Better Place premiered their battery switching station to the public in Yokohama where BP had been invited by the Japanese Ministry of the Environment. The battery switching station demonstrated was set up similarly to a gas station automatic car wash. The vehicle drove up on a ramp and was aligned on the swapping pad. The battery shuttle then engaged and rose up toward the bottom of the vehicle. It made contact with the battery, released it, lowered it, and moved the depleted battery pack away from the car. The charged battery pack was then inserted. The discharged battery was returned to the charging bay. The battery switch was complete in less than two minutes and the vehicle drove away. The battery swap is designed to require less time than filling a tank of gas. In order to keep electric vehicles in demand, Better Place has started initiatives to keep the vehicles competitive with the other cars on the market. By building infrastructure that makes owning an electric car more practical, they hope to increase demand. This is a central concern many automakers have expressed and addressing that concern will help spur the mass production of electric vehicles.
The first prototype battery switch station demonstrated in Yokohama, Japan on May 14, 2009 was designed by Yoav Heichal, chief engineer for Better Place research and development group.
The company has signed an agreement with Dor Alon Energy to install battery replacement points, which will run alongside the gas stations' normal business. A pilot will be launched within the next few weeks. Dor Alon CEO Israel Yaniv said, "Dor Alon is the first energy company that will enable owners of electric car owners of the future to obtain electric refueling services at its gas stations. We consider this agreement with Better Place to be a strategic partnership that will create real value and innovation for the company's activity."
On April 2010, a 90 day switchable-battery electric taxi demonstration project was launched in Tokyo, using three Nissan gasoline-powered crossover utility vehicles, converted into electric taxis with switchable batteries provided by A123 Systems. The battery switch station deployed in Tokyo is more advanced than the Yokohama switch system demonstrated in 2009.
The company has raised funding from various sources including, VantagePoint Venture Partners, Israel Corporation (33% ownership), Israel Cleantech Ventures, Morgan Stanley, Acorns to Oaks II, Esarbee Investments Canada, GC Investments LLC, Musea Ventures, Ofer Group, Vyikra Partners, Wolfensohn & Co. and Maniv Energy Capital.
Better Place announced agreements with AGL Energy and financial advisor Macquarie Capital Group to raise $1 billion (Australian) and begin deploying an electric vehicle (EV) network powered by renewable energy. According to Better Place, their model for sustainable mobility will help Australia move toward oil independence. With the world’s seventh highest per capita rate of car ownership, the country has nearly 15 million cars on the road after adding over a million new cars last year.
In January 2010, as Israel Corporation completed its investment of $100 million in the company, a consortium of investors signed a deal to invest a further US$350 million in Better Place, citing their confidence that "Better Place has the technical and commercial solutions to allow for the mass adoption of electric cars in the near term." The consortium is led by HSBC, which invested $125 million, and includes Morgan Stanley Investment Management and Lazard Asset Management. The deal represents one of the largest financial investments of its kind by HSBC, which will gain a seat on the Better Place board of directors and approximately 10% of the company's shares.
Doubts have however been raised as to the effectivness of a centralised model in providing charging infrastructure with some anticipating that the model will not be widely adopted.
In May 2008, the company presented a prototype of its electric car at a press conference in Tel Aviv. Shai Agassi estimated that the company's partner, the Renault-Nissan alliance, would likely invest $500 million to $1 billion in developing the swappable-battery electric cars.
Better Place will work with Australian finance group Macquarie, which pledged to fund the construction of plug-in stations, and Australian utility AGL Energy, which has committed to powering those stations with renewable electricity.
In March 2008, Deutsche Bank analysts issued a glowing report stating that the company's approach could be a "paradigm shift" that causes "massive disruption" to the auto industry, and which has "the potential to eliminate the gasoline engine altogether." Three months later, the same institution issued a second report, finding “electric vehicles destined for much more growth than is widely perceived”. The same report states that “[i]mprovements in battery technology will allow for increased power, increased electrical propulsion, and bigger gains in fuel economy.”
On June 26, 2008, Shai Agassi testified before the United States House of Representatives Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, chaired by Representative Ed Markey of Massachusetts. The hearing, titled “$4 Gasoline and Fuel Economy: Auto Industry at a Crossroads,” dealt with the future role of the auto industry and the federal government in fighting gas prices and the fuel economy standards proposed in response to the enactment of the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007.
In Australia a roll out of the network will begin in the major eastern coast cities before being rolled out nationally. It is estimated that 500 charge stations would give comparable coverage to the existing 13,000 petrol stations presently in operation. The total cost of this roll out would be between $1 to $1.25 Billion AUD. Currently Australia spends $20 to $30 Billion AUD on fuel. The roll out of the Australian network is estimated to be 6 months to a year after the roll out of the network in Denmark. The switch to electric transport is estimated to increase the current grid load by 7%.
Better Place signed a memorandum of understanding with Chery Automobile, China's biggest independent carmaker, to develop prototypes for electric vehicles to be used in regional state-sponsored pilot projects.
Better Place has partnered with Denmark's leading energy company; Dong Energy, in a €103 million Euro (770 million Danish Kroner) investment to introduce electric cars and infrastructure to Denmark. The country currently generates 20 percent of its electric power from wind energy, but much of it is exported because there is currently no way for utilities to store the excess power. With the Better Place model, Dong hopes to leverage the existing electric grid and electric vehicle batteries to harness and store the abundance of wind-generated power and distribute appropriately for transportation consumption 
Many companies, in addition to Better Place, are installing charging station networks. In France, Électricité de France (EDF) and Toyota are installing recharging points for PHEVs on roads, streets and parking lots. EDF is also partnering with Elektromotive, Ltd. to install 250 new charging points over six months from October 2007 in London and elsewhere in the UK. Coulomb Technologies has deployed their ChargePoint charging station network throughout the USA. In March, 2009, Tesla Motors announced a partnership to deploy battery swap stations to service their Model S platform cars. The EV Charger Maps project managed by EV Charger News is a volunteer effort that manages a list of charging stations around the country with practical information targeted to electric vehicle owners. Recharging points also can be installed for specific uses, as in taxi stands.