October 28, 2007
Venture Capital Start-Up Targets Electric Car Recharging

Time to start planning the infrastructure to support electric cars.

SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 28 — Shai Agassi, a Silicon Valley technologist who was in competition to become chief executive of SAP, one of the world’s largest software companies, has re-emerged with a grand plan to reinvent the world’s automobile industry around battery-powered all-electric cars.

Others are developing green cars, like the Tesla and Chevrolet Volt. However, Mr. Agassi is not planning to make cars, but instead wants to deploy an infrastructure of battery-charging

He's got deep pocket investors lined up to the tune of $200 million.

Maybe A123Systems isn't really ready to start selling next gen lithium nanophosphate batteries to GM. But maybe existing lithium ion batteries are good enough for electric cars. Big maybes.

“If you listen to the car companies, they suggest there is a fix, but it’s not there yet,” said Stephen J. Girsky, a partner at the investment firm Centerbridge Partners who formerly served as an adviser to General Motors.

However, the new venture, which Mr. Agassi has named, for now, Better Place, would be viable even with existing lithium-ion battery technology, he said.

To make this venture viable it seems to me pure electric cars are needed. People will recharge their pluggable hybrids at home and run them on gasoline for longer trips. They'll even recharge their pure electric cars at home. So why electric recharging stations? A few reasons: Long trips most obviously. Also, some people live in places where they can't easily recharge while at home. Some people live in apartment buildings. Some park on streets and can't be guaranteed to find a parking space in front of their house. Some live in neighborhoods bad enough that an electric cable running from house to car would pose security problems.

Maybe Agassi can make a business out of home upgrades to install home electric charging equipment for electric cars. That seems like a hard business to do well though.

GM is talking a good game on their Volt pluggable hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV).

The Volt’s most ardent supporters acknowledge that there is a lot at stake. G.M.’s environmental image suffered when it backpedaled on plans to build hydrogen-powered cars and stepped away from an earlier battery-powered car, the EV1.

“The company has taken a risk,” said Tony Posawatz, vehicle line director for the Volt.

GM needs the battery technology to make this happen. They've hooked up with A123Systems as their battery supplier. But can A123Systems deliver? I haven't come across good public information that addresses just where they are at with their lithium nanophosphate battery.

GM is talking a really upbeat line on the Volt pluggable hybrid that they claim will go 40 miles between recharges.

“I’ve been unbelievably enthusiastic about this vehicle,” said Robert A. Lutz, vice chairman for product development at G.M. and arguably the vehicle’s most vocal promoter, despite his reputation as a fan of cars big and fast.

“I would be surprised, shocked and dismayed if we decide not to do it,” he said.

GM's expected battery supplier, A123Systems, has just got another round of VC financing. So are they ready? Have they solved the battery problem?

A123Systems, developer and producer of patent-pending Nanophosphate™ lithium ion batteries, today announced it has completed a $30 million round of funding, bringing the total capital invested in the company to $132 million. A123Systems will use these funds to increase production capacity for new contract awards for hybrid electric, plug-in hybrid electric and extended range electric vehicle design wins with major automakers including a contract to co-develop proprietary cells for the GM E-FLEX program. A123Systems continues to expand its fast growing power tool battery business with Black & Decker Corporation, the world’s largest manufacturer of cordless tools, where the company is helping drive the transition from nickel technology to doped Nanophosphate lithium ion technology.

Suppose GM manages to pull this off. I don't see the market for battery recharging stations. People could maybe stand to plug in their car when they get home every night. But they aren't going to go to an electric recharge station 3, 4, 5 times a week to recharge a vehicle that has only 40 miles range in pure electric mode. The Volts with 40 miles electric range will also have a gasoline burning engine to partially power the car and to recharge the batteries while cruising down the road. People will prefer filling up the tank for that engine at a much lower frequency.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 October 28 11:54 PM  Energy Transportation

glock said at October 29, 2007 5:48 AM:

Doesn't his plan involve a "carwash" type facility that automatically swaps out your spent battery for a freshly charged one?

Julian Morrison said at October 29, 2007 6:26 AM:

A reason for charging stations: they can afford to run industrial-rated wiring, meaning they can charge the batteries as quickly as the batteries can accept current. Home charging is either slow, or requires another expensive bank of batteries to hold current drawn down during the day.

Charging stations are for cars like the Tesla, that have 200 mile ranges.

glock said at October 29, 2007 6:33 AM:

Tesla's home charging station claims a 3.5 hr charge using a 70Amp charger, ideally at night when ratel are "low".

glock said at October 29, 2007 6:36 AM:

oops, make that "rates".....

reanimator said at October 29, 2007 8:50 AM:

How low will the rates stay at night when and if this becomes ubiquitous?

Brett Bellmore said at October 29, 2007 9:59 AM:

I suspect the sticking point is actually going to be the limited capacity of the residential electrical grid. I, for instance, have 300 amp service to my house. But that doesn't mean that everybody on my street could suck down 300 amps at the same time without the lines between the houses catching fire.

This is the chief argument in favor of recharging stations: They could be located next to substations, instead of requiring that the entire grid be upgraded.

I first noticed the inadequacy of the residential grid when considering switching to off peak electrical heating. (It's cheaper than propane!) The utility turns out to strictly limit how many homes can be on off peak pricing, and the number is WAY below what it would take to ballance consumption. It's got to be a function of grid capacity...

Paul Dietz said at October 29, 2007 10:32 AM:

If I had a PHEV, I'd love to see a recharging station at my workplace. This would cut the required all-electric range (and size of batteries) in half, if I wanted to avoid using any fuel. The chargers would be installed in the parking lot, probably in a single group near heavy duty electric feed.

glock said at October 29, 2007 11:07 AM:

Actually charging during the day while @ work could make a case for solar charging farms in company, mall, and mass transit parking lots and roofs. Germany has panels along stretches of highways in places - now if we could just get the efficiency up and price down......

Michael G.R. said at October 29, 2007 12:19 PM:

"How low will the rates stay at night when and if this becomes ubiquitous?"

Still lower than gasoline, but they'll probably stay fairly low as long as a lot of baseline on the grid (in the US anyway) is coal plants that can't be shut down and started up back quickly, so they stay on all night.

K said at October 29, 2007 2:58 PM:

Don't worry about the load on the grid. How likely is it that these cars will be common in five years? Or seven? About zero. The Volt won't be out at all for three. And competitors won't be offering much before then either.

We should be happy if more energy will come the grid. We know how to increase electrical generation and distribution and have known for a century. We don't have to guess about how fast scientist and engineers can invent and at what cost. Expansion of plant can be quite fast when regulators don't delay matters.

In contrast the ICE driven vehicle must resort to increasingly expensive and complex technology to eke out ten to twenty percent more mileage in the next decade. When the costs of this complexity are factored in the ICE will lose its production cost advantage over the pure EV.

Randall Parker said at October 29, 2007 5:59 PM:

But how fast can the batteries get recharged? Aren't there heat limits to how fast they can get recharged?

undergroundman said at November 1, 2007 8:31 PM:

How about Altair Nano's NanoTitanate batters? Phoenix Motorcars is about ready to start selling them.

Electrodenture said at November 16, 2008 11:32 AM:

The UK's Lighting Car company is entering the same market as Tesla later this year (if all testing etc goes well) and they are also using Altair's NanoTitanate batteries under the brand name Nano-Safe, the battery will have an average life equivalent to Tesla's battery life, a range that possibly exceeds Tesla, the vehicles acceleration will also just about exceed Tesla and a charge time of roughly 15mins with a fast charger which would need to be fitted into your home. On the other hand if someone was to make recharging stations then you wouldn't need to retrofit your house for your car, you wouldn't have to worry about driving longer distances, if you charged up every 100 miles or so it'd take less than 7 mins and you'd never have to compromise the performance of your vehicle with a weighty, inefficient and pointless gasoline engine stuck in the back.

Charles Kittle said at January 14, 2009 2:02 PM:

I'm a writer and currently writing/researching for a piece of fiction regarding the impact of all these new green technologies on the grid. I see a lot of questions in the comments before mine, but I don't see a lot of answers.i.e. what might the anticipated load on the grid be for a fast recharge time?-in kwh or amp-hrs? Presumably if the recharge is done at home in the off-peak hours the drain will be small, but if a significant portion of a city were to convert to evs and go on line at around the same time at night, then what might the peak be? Anyone out there who can assist?

DC said at April 30, 2009 12:08 AM:

I am in Thailand trying to help encourage this type of infrastructure. We want to convert Tuk (the Thai taxis) and bikes/ motorcycles. Perfect vehicles too convert. However I need to buy a Good charging station. Any suggestions? I am working with Chiang Mai university and Chiang Mai tech college. Any leads to purchase one that can take a ATM type card will be helpfull.


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