better for the planet
how much longer will the oil reserves really last? the opinions are divided. either way, it is not out of place to start thinking about attractive, more environmentally-friendly alternatives … which is what the operators of electric car project better place thought, too. what began with a network of battery charge stations in israel is now also set to be implemented in countries like denmark, australia, japan or canada – and not only to feed small city cars.

that battery charging for e-cars should be an uncomplicated process is only one of the many criteria and demands that better place founder shai agassi and his team had to consider during the creation of their electric project. for the development of a nation-wide network of electric charging stations in israel, the company’s approximately 50 engineers and specialists needed to first of all establish an extensive charging station infrastructure. furthermore, the duration of the charging process needed to be kept as short as possible. to achieve complete coverage, there will be approximately 500,000 “electric refuelling stations” in all of israel. the charging process can happen everywhere: in parking garages, underground parking lots, but also in one’s own garage, in front of one’s house or at work. the charging stations provide high-voltage power and are fed by water, wind or solar energy. the battery charging process should not take longer than 20 minutes, however, the batteries (as of now) only last for a distance of 200 kilometres. so people don’t suddenly get stopped by empty batteries in the middle of nowhere, better place has also developed a communication network, similar to a satellite navigation system. via the car’s instrument panel, it tells the user how much further he or she can still go with his battery, and where the nearest charging station is located.

better place’s second infrastructure network is dedicated to battery change. approximately 100 battery change stations are planned, mostly at gas stations, rest stops or shopping malls. there, electric car drivers will have the opportunity to exchange empty batteries for charged ones. the motto here is the same: it should be simple and fast. similar to a car wash, the vehicle is pulled through the changing station and the battery is exchanged using a small, hydraulic crane. the process should not take longer than three minutes.

the electric cars to match the charging station system are produced by the renault-nissan group. both better place and renault-nissan point out in unison that they are not only aiming at a small city car, but an “affordable” medium-sized e-car, fit for the mass market. this electric car, powered by environmentally-friendly lithium-ion batteries, will be available as of 2011 and offer space for 4 passengers. the operators have come up with an interesting fee system for the changeover to an electric car: similar to mobile phone contracts, e-drivers should sign a four-year agreement, where they pay a monthly electricity fee, but receive the electric vehicle for their use.

collaborations in countries such as denmark, australia, usa, canada and japan show that the charging station concept also receives great attention internationally. in japan for example, there will be a joint venture with the largest taxi company of the capital city of tokyo. the government of the danish city of copenhagen has agreed to a quick implementation of a comprehensive infrastructure for electric charging stations. similar plans are being developed with the canadian province of ontario, parts of california and the island state of hawaii.

it remains to be seen whether the future of automobiles really is in the power plug. either way, the basic idea of generating energy from “clean sources” in the future is more than appealing …

helmut wolf