Daily life 3 min
The car of tomorrow needs a mindset revolution
At 38, Shai Agassi already has a brilliant past: he has been the guest star at numerous international think tanks. His latest hobby is to make a better, less polluted world, relieved of its addiction to fossil fuels.
The car of tomorrow needs a mindset revolution
The car of tomorrow needs a mindset revolution

Columbus’s egg for energy

If making a better, less polluted world, relieved of its addiction to fossil fuels means having to get rid of oil-consuming, CO2-spewing cars, then let it be! No half measures.

He plans to take the internal combustion engine from all the cars in the world: the future, according to Shai Agassi, lies in electric cars.

What’s new in electric cars ?

Nothing new here: electric cars have been the future for a century.

The problem is not the car itself, it is the fuel.

Car batteries are heavy, expensive, short lived and take too long to recharge. So far, the solution has been to refill the tank with gasoline, which was a quick operation giving a long range (500 km).

The electric alternative has had it the wrong way around: a long period of charging giving only a short range (the same charging period would only give a range of 15 km).

Agassi had the Columbus’s egg approach: the entire automotive ecosystem was to be replaced by his “Electric Recharge Grid Operator”, or ERGO.

Instead of gas stations on every corner, the ERGO would cover the territory with a network of charging spots where they either charge the battery or exchange it for a fully charged one in less time than what is needed today to refill a tank. And for less money as well.

The drivers would only rent the batteries, which would be owned by ERGO.

Where would be ERGO's profit then?  It would come from selling electricity—the same goes for the electronics where turnovers are mainly based on software and consumables.

The world: a better place

Agassi’s new model does not need technological breakthroughs or new inventions, just a change of mindset. That’s why he launched the Better Place project, the world's first global electric-car grid operator. 

To find a country ready to test the system was fundamental at that stage: Agassi’s objective being to build a network, the bigger the initial base, the stronger the network would be. His ideal choice of country was a small island for obvious reasons: few cars, smaller grid, small distances, easy feedbacks.

The choice was simple. He chose his homeland, Israel, a virtual island, where the farthest a driver can safely go in a straight shot is about 380 km.

Electric car, but the real thing

As far as a car manufacturer was concerned, Renault won the jackpot. Its Better Place car is not a light, slow, tiny old people’s favorite. It is called Fluenze ZE and it looks like a Megane. It promises to be able to go from 0 to 60 in 7.5 seconds. Better Place expects to have close to 100,000 of these by the end of 2011.

A few weeks ago, Daimler’s CEO Dieter Zetsche was interviewed in a German newspaper. This is no news. But the scoop was his statement that by 2010, there would be an electric Mercedes and an electric Smart car joining Renault’s Fluenze ZE on the market.

Agassi too has made promises: 50 Renault prototypes will be on Israeli roads this winter — and 1,000 stations will be enabled to recharge them.

But one country is not enough and besides, when you are Shai Agassi, you want something more challenging than your own country to validate your system’s value.
Denmark was a perfect counterpart to the Israeli experience: its climate is cold, meaning battery-unfriendly, but it actually has access to lots of renewable electricity for charging and it is notoriously environmentally concerned. 

DONG Energy, a Danish company, is a perfect symbol of the national environmental care:  the fully integrated energy (“from seabed to doorstep”) company is “synonymous with reliable supply of energy and conscientious utilization of our natural resources”, as its website states under the “about us” headline.

Within such a framework, Better Place appeared as a solution for a major problem of theirs: the economies of wind power which contributes to 18% of their energy. Wind power has a very positive image in terms of its greenness, but its turnovers are not reliable, since wind blows (or doesn’t blow, for that matter) on its very own will and speed.

Banking on wind energy is as expensive as it proves unreliable, so instead of buying even more expensive batteries to store the energy when it has been provided in excess by the windmills, the company, so far, gave away the excess energy to its German and Swedish neighbors – for free! 

Better Place arrived at the right place and at the right time: its green cars could garner the excess wind power energy.

What about the planet ?

According to Shai Agassi his plan once implemented at full speed will reduce the world's CO2 emissions by 20 percent.

Daniel Roth, a senior writer of www.wired.com reports him saying a year ago, in August 2008: "If we also buy clean generation, we reduce the price of clean electrons so that at the end of 10 years, clean electrons are cheaper than coal-based electrons, and nobody builds another coal plant at that point.
That's another 40 percent of CO2 emissions; that's the treaty Tony Blair is now working to get for the world by 2050.
I'm telling you, we can get there a decade after we finish the car side. We can get there in 2030—60 percent reduction in our CO2 emissions."

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