A Better Place than Google Earth.

Looking for a poster child for the western world and whole earth future, if there's any to have ? Look no further, we have a friggin' winner right there.

Shai Agassi, founder of Better Place, is well on his way to put internal combustion engines and coal power plants where they belong: in museums.
All that within the next two decades, mind you.

Best part of it is, it could actually work.
With a single eureka and a deployment plan that shows uncanny smarts for context analysis, the same man / company could be both the inventor, the initiator and the main agent of the most significant milestone to date on the way to green power and CO2 emission reduction.

The idea is simple: gas-powered cars are responsible for about 25% of the human-related CO2 emissions, but electric cars are plagued by their limited autonomy and the recharge time of today's batteries , not to mention their unfavorable cost of ownership.

Agassi's solution is to remove the battery from the end-user's side of the equation, and not for trolley wheels.
In the Better Place model, the killer app is gas stations equivalents that can swap the main electric battery of a car in the same time (or less) it takes to fill a tank of gas today, with less hassle for the user. Better even, by taking advantage of a car's downtime on the parking lot to recharge the batteries, these pit stops would be only occasional, and in any case less frequent than with a gasoline car.

Swapping the actual battery instead of recharging it is genuinely brilliant, largely because it's practical, provided the infrastructure allows the process to be fully automated, a plan that doesn't have to worry about backward compatibility or established providers slowing down the penetration of Better Place-compatible battery swap stations, because there is no competition yet.

Electric car owners don't have to front the cost of the batteries anymore, and re-pay it over time through the e-miles they're billed on battery swap (much like today's cell phones are sold below cost by telcos and repaid by the customer through her phone bills/minutes recharges).
Not only does this solution reduce the cost of acquisition and total cost of ownership for the customer while solving the autonomy issues, but it also enables all electric cars to seamlessly upgrade to the latest in batteries technology as those become available in power stations, further reducing the per-mile cost and environmental footprint of cars over time.

The required infrastructure may seem like a huge barrier to entry, until you realize building charge spots at home, on the workplace parking lot isn't such a big deal, since they're basically smart power outlets.
As for the much more innovative Battery Switch Stations, it definitely takes more heavy duty work, what with the cars on conveyor belts and the automated underside extraction/replacement of batteries in under 5', but I'd guess in these times of economic collapse, the extra jobs are welcome, and the real estate for that can be found at affordable prices, where simply converting existing gas stations is not an option.

Double-plus smart.
You would expect such a perfect plan to be instantly torpedo'ed by BigOil™ with all the weight they can put to milk the last of the gasoline profit until the world ends, right ?
That's where Agassi's business acumen really shines: after solving the practical issues on the wares front, he figured how to reach critical mass to force his way in by going for the most eager early adopter for anything that gets them out of OPEC and Iranian grip: Israel.
Then he moved on to the euro tree-huggers with their 100+ % taxes on gasoline and gas-powered cars, and to the third-worldish/developping countries that aren't too happy about spending their limited monies on Saudi oil when they could use homegrown electricity instead.
Australia, Canada, Japan are hopping on the bandwagon already, with many others to follow …well, pretty much any place gasoline is expensive and not locally produced in sufficient quantities to feed domestic needs can see the incentive in the model.
The US of A lag behind still, as usual when it comes to not entirely burning down the planet, yet the combo of Obama's green bent with a totally wrecked economy should steer Uncle Sam toward the clean electrons light sometime before people start shooting each other for jerrycans, Mad Max style.

Full spiel @ TED '09.

Although there obviously are some bumps to iron out before the Better Place EV go global as intended, such as the big issue of actually feeding all those batteries with clean juice — lest eco-friendly EVs have to run on on dirty electrons from coal/diesel power plants — there is a good chance this model might work out: context has never been better for radical changes in the human transportation industry, and green is the new pink.

Where Google claims Do no evil as its motto (which is unrealistic, sounds a bit holier-than-thou and is largely disproved by the facts), Agassi takes a more radical and uplifting approach of not just dreaming the world was a Better Place.

My 2KW.
The enabler value of this project is not to be overlooked either: not only does it have the potential to single-handedly grow the market for clean electricity to critical mass, but it should make green juice available anywhere you have cars, which is also where consumer of electricity (for other purposes) hang out.

Once the infrastructure is there, and you can buy clean electrons right at home or at the corner shop for cheaper than the no-name current of your local utility company, both on tab and canned, the realm of possibles for creative/derivative applications (and lawsuits) is rather shweet.

Despite appeasing cookies thrown in the general direction of electric utility companies such as "Better Place’s services will also create an opportunity for utilities to utilize electricity produced from intermittent renewable energy sources more effectively (e.g., wind power generated at night).", it's pretty obvious where this is headed: the electrons route is about to become a two-way street as consumers awareness of electricity as a product (as in good/commodity) rises.

It's a recurring theme in Better Place's discourse that not all electrons are equal, depending on how they are produced, harvested, distributed and used.
With the green fad nowhere near ending, organic junkies will jump at the opportunity to switch to clean electrons for much more than powering their cars, as soon as convenience meets quality.
It won't be long after Better Place goes gold before homegrown and farmer-market styled electrons offers begin to flourish.

Will the utility companies cling on their crumbling monopolies, or embrace the change to get in business with local producers by offering to store and distribute their green juice ?
My guess is: both, and the former will go down lobbying and suing till they're blue in the face and get washed off.
The remaining ones will have to fight for their lives, by competing on retail price and/or perceived value (green is better, hence worth more) driving up the demand for affordable clean electrons.

I suspect Shai Agassi knows this already, but I can see clean electrons becoming an everyday alternative currency before 2030 if Better Place works out halfway as good as announced.

Meanwhile, I'd put my money in flywheels and efficient small scale water turbines if I had any (I'll leave as an exercise for the reader to work out what just crossed my mind, here).

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