Electric Auto Association
East (SF) Bay EAA Chapter

Batteries - Quick Recharge vs. Exchange

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Location: Alameda

Attendance: 32


Once again we had a wonderful meeting at Green Motors in Berkeley (Thanks Marc).




Saturday June 30th. Quin Garcia of Better World is freshly home from a successful battery swapping demonstration in Yokohama as he explains that battery switching will be part of Better World’s service as the company seeks to eliminate all objections to EVs.

Garcia emphasizes that it won’t be the only method of getting people refueled, but that it can be part of a service package which will cost EV drivers less than gasoline to travel. Garcia , a recent graduate holds a Masters in a self-designed program of management and automotive engineering from Stanford . He is termed “ Shai Agassi ’s car guy” by wired magazine and though still young is balanced and sharp as he responds to questions. In Yokohama Garcia’s team exchanged a large battery pack of 250 kilos in just a minute and a half. The car is driven into a temporary display (a tent actually) and onto a ramp with steel tracks that take it over an open pit. Here an automated lift removes the old, presumably depleted battery pack and replaces it with a fresh, fully charged one. The site also has “quick” and “trickle charge” stations to demonstrate Better World’s offerings.


Better Place will not be manufacturing much of anything. Rather, explains Garcia , they will act like a cell phone company selling minutes on phones made by someone else. In this case they will be selling miles (or kilometers if you prefer) for cars that will be manufactured by licensed users of their system. The system will include a charging station that will be installed by a “cable guy” at your home. There will be take along adaptors to help you charge if you get stuck, or if you are (stuck) at “Gramma’s”  but you will still be paying by the mile, so Gramma may wind up donating electrons (might cost as much as a dollar if you stay too long) to Better Place’s bottom line. There will also be the help of a new system called AutOS which combines high tech tracking systems to help alert of the need to recharge, where it can be done, map out how to get there, and even let you know how many people are already in queue at the station.


At this point one starts to wonder if the future of electric cars won’t be over-run by Better Place with a proprietary system that would allow them to become permanent middlemen holding the motoring public over a monopolized barrel. Many of those fears, however,  are removed as Garcia explains Better World is doing everything they can to fight off proprietary designs and establish standards. He also relates the story of how Shai Agassi left a very lucrative position with software giant SAP where he was in line to become CEO but chose to strike off on his own. At some crucial moment Agassi was asked, “what are you going to do to make the world a better place?” “Agassi”, says Garcia , “wants one thing, and one thing only, rapid elimination of oil and,” he ads,” coal too”.


The chief fear for the company is that automakers will continue to insist upon proprietary designs that will make it impossible for power suppliers such as Better Place to stock enough battery modules to handle traffic. This is also a chief caveat of nay-sayers who have proclaimed battery exchange impossible. Better Place doesn’t really seem to care that there is opposition to swapping, they are also pressing for quick charge (actually they define “quick” as 30 min and include the term “fast” to refer to the 10 minute charge commonly associated with quick) as well. The company acknowledges that quick and fast charging can place real strains on the grid and point to the advantages extra battery packs for swapping offer the grid structure. Garcia sees economic advantages in allowing power suppliers to tap their packs. Typically they want power only for brief moments Garcia says interruptions of our function will be minimal.


There won’t be offerings of different chemistries beyond what can be had with Lithium in Better Place ’s service. Certainly, improvements threaten to make packs outdated, but the group is confident that Lithium will offer the best miles per dollar for the company. The first Better Place services will show up in Denmark and Israel . Both countries have shorter distances to cover, and Demark has extra power from their wind generators that they have been giving away to other countries. Garcia doesn’t go into it, but Israel ’s lack of popularity with oil suppliers goes without saying.


Garcia shows pride as he declares that before the demonstration there were only disbelievers, but afterward the automakers gathered at Yokohama expressed statements of “of course this works, why wouldn’t it?” Why indeed.


Back to History Index