Electric Vehicles Better Place Unveils First Solar-Powered Electric Vehicle Battery Switching Station

Published on May 13th, 2009 | by Clayton

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Better Place Unveils First Solar-Powered Electric Vehicle Battery Switching Station

Battery Switch Station

[UPDATE]: Video of the switching station in action and photos added below.

YOKOHAMA, JAPAN- Last night at approximately 10:30 PM PST (1:30 AM EST), electric vehicle services provider Better Place will demonstrate key elements of their battery switching station technology. This is the first public exhibition of a battery switching station—which Better Place lauds as the final piece of a “total electric vehicle solution.” The company was invited by the Japanese Ministry of the Environment to set up an exhibit in Yokohama.

“Range anxiety,” as it’s called, describes the most fundamental fear expressed by would-be adopters of electric vehicles. It’s no different than the fear of driving through sparsley inhabited parts of the United States, where it’s important to know your car’s mileage and the distance to the next gas station.

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Electric vehicles differ in that their fuel is electricity stored in a battery pack. But battery packs can’t be recharged in the same amount of time that it takes to pump 10 gallons of gas. It usually takes hours. That means that either EVs are restricted to short driving distances, fully charging during long breaks in commuting (like work or home), or, they just never take off.

Better Place intends to solve this problem, and thereby eliminate range anxiety, by swapping out used batteries for fully-charged replacements. If this can be done in the same time as a pit stop (under 5 minutes), it would offer drivers a hassle-free way to dramatically extend the range of their electric vehicles.

Better Place CEO Shai Agassi’s TED speech:

Clearly, Better Place will face numerous challenges when bringing this technology to market. A multitude of these stations must be built before range anxiety can be completely eliminated, and that’s going to take time an money (each station costs $500,000, though Agassi says that’s half the price of a regular gas station). But if the idea works, it could revolutionize transportation.

More:

Image Credits: Better Place




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About the Author

In a past life, Clayton was a professional blogger and editor of Gas 2.0, Important Media’s blog covering the future of sustainable transportation. He was also the Managing Editor for GO Media, the predecessor to Important Media.



  • http://www.buildbabybuild.com/ Stephanie

    Love the idea of the battery swap station for electric cars! This is indeed the future of driving. So exciting to hear about Better Place’s news.

  • http://www.buildbabybuild.com/ Stephanie

    Love the idea of the battery swap station for electric cars! This is indeed the future of driving. So exciting to hear about Better Place’s news.

  • vvurdsmyth

    It seems a lot of structure for something that might not be around too long. It it can work as long as all vehicles have similar batteries attached the same way, but advances in the energy density of batteries is increasing and may obsolete the idea before it goes full scale.

  • vvurdsmyth

    It seems a lot of structure for something that might not be around too long. It it can work as long as all vehicles have similar batteries attached the same way, but advances in the energy density of batteries is increasing and may obsolete the idea before it goes full scale.

  • http://www.alexascordato.com Alexa

    I’ve been hearing a lot about Better Place lately, which I think is great. See this other blog post for a Better Place video, which actually demonstrates the entire concept in 1:30: http://www.buildbabybuild.com/uncategorized/better-place-driving-the-transition-to-electric-vehicles

  • http://www.alexascordato.com Alexa

    I’ve been hearing a lot about Better Place lately, which I think is great. See this other blog post for a Better Place video, which actually demonstrates the entire concept in 1:30: http://www.buildbabybuild.com/uncategorized/better-place-driving-the-transition-to-electric-vehicles

  • Antonio Andolini

    I hope this technology doesn’t become obsolete within the next 60 days…

  • Antonio Andolini

    I hope this technology doesn’t become obsolete within the next 60 days…

  • Rowan

    It’s a great idea but there should be some sort of tracking system to determine age of battery, number of times it’s been fully or partially charged, and in what vehicles it’s been in. I’m sure driving requirements/behavior in a Tesla Roadster will be different than a Nissan Cube or Tesla Model S. This plus the above variable which would affect the condition of the battery. Great idea, great coverage. Thanks!

  • Rowan

    It’s a great idea but there should be some sort of tracking system to determine age of battery, number of times it’s been fully or partially charged, and in what vehicles it’s been in. I’m sure driving requirements/behavior in a Tesla Roadster will be different than a Nissan Cube or Tesla Model S. This plus the above variable which would affect the condition of the battery. Great idea, great coverage. Thanks!

  • Captain Morgan

    While they certainly mean well, the business model of Better Place is completely flawed. Gasoline fueling stations work because there is industry standardization. They might be on the right or the left, but the receptacle on everyone’s gas tank is more or less the same … just as the nozzle on every pump is more or less the same.

    A reasonable comparison would be a gasoline filling station in which the entire gas tank is removed and replaced with a full one. Now, all of a sudden, you have a serious problem. Auto manufacturers don’t all design their fuel tanks in the same way, they don’t all mount onto the vehicle in the same way, etc. Now each vehicle will require specialized handling, which drives up cost.

    Electric vehicles will emerge in much the same way. There will be standardization on the electrical interface, plugs, cables, etc., but auto manufacturers are not going to limit themselves to specific battery configurations that lend well to drop-in replacement. The requirements of each type of vehicle will play a large part in determining battery configuration. Some will have a T-shape, some will be rectangular, some will mount under the cab, some will mount in trunk. You can see that already in they electric and hybrid-electric vehicles under development.

    The only way their business model works is if ‘Better Place’ can convince all of the auto industry to adopt designs that work with their battery swapping systems. Given the start-up status of ‘Better Place’, I think that would be more or less like the flea on the tip of the tail wagging the dog.

  • Captain Morgan

    While they certainly mean well, the business model of Better Place is completely flawed. Gasoline fueling stations work because there is industry standardization. They might be on the right or the left, but the receptacle on everyone’s gas tank is more or less the same … just as the nozzle on every pump is more or less the same.

    A reasonable comparison would be a gasoline filling station in which the entire gas tank is removed and replaced with a full one. Now, all of a sudden, you have a serious problem. Auto manufacturers don’t all design their fuel tanks in the same way, they don’t all mount onto the vehicle in the same way, etc. Now each vehicle will require specialized handling, which drives up cost.

    Electric vehicles will emerge in much the same way. There will be standardization on the electrical interface, plugs, cables, etc., but auto manufacturers are not going to limit themselves to specific battery configurations that lend well to drop-in replacement. The requirements of each type of vehicle will play a large part in determining battery configuration. Some will have a T-shape, some will be rectangular, some will mount under the cab, some will mount in trunk. You can see that already in they electric and hybrid-electric vehicles under development.

    The only way their business model works is if ‘Better Place’ can convince all of the auto industry to adopt designs that work with their battery swapping systems. Given the start-up status of ‘Better Place’, I think that would be more or less like the flea on the tip of the tail wagging the dog.

  • Rowan

    Captain Morgan, I partially agree. However, just as plugs/interfaces/cables are being standardized, I suspect so will batteries as the major players get dwindled done ala blueray vs HDDVD formats. So eventually they only need 2-4 different battery types.

    In current car batteries, there are many brands but they are all the same general size. Same with tires.

    The other x factor is the rate of charge is decreasing rapidly. A123 has a battery that charges 95% of the way in less than 10 minutes, comparable to gas. Thus, Better Place will just have to put more resources in charging stations rather than battery switching.

  • Rowan

    Captain Morgan, I partially agree. However, just as plugs/interfaces/cables are being standardized, I suspect so will batteries as the major players get dwindled done ala blueray vs HDDVD formats. So eventually they only need 2-4 different battery types.

    In current car batteries, there are many brands but they are all the same general size. Same with tires.

    The other x factor is the rate of charge is decreasing rapidly. A123 has a battery that charges 95% of the way in less than 10 minutes, comparable to gas. Thus, Better Place will just have to put more resources in charging stations rather than battery switching.

  • Christian

    The technology is exciting, and everything Israelis put their minds to solve is really great. I sure hope to see

    this implemented in Israel in 2010. It will begin to stop the oil addiction to the Middle East hyper rich countries. Good luck guys

  • Christian

    The technology is exciting, and everything Israelis put their minds to solve is really great. I sure hope to see

    this implemented in Israel in 2010. It will begin to stop the oil addiction to the Middle East hyper rich countries. Good luck guys

  • http://www.howell.gr PMHowell

    The battery , forgive the pun , is currently a significant cost item and warranty issue on new electric car purchases.

    To make this battery swap work the ‘ownership ‘ of the battery will likely need to be a lease ownership like pressure gas bottles are owned by the ‘gas company community’ – where we pay an insured deposit that is refundable on return, or retained on swapping an empty for a full bottle.

    And who is going to make the car industry standardize on battery size , fit and connections..more legislation ?

    Good idea now get everyone to play nice…

  • http://www.howell.gr PMHowell

    The battery , forgive the pun , is currently a significant cost item and warranty issue on new electric car purchases.

    To make this battery swap work the ‘ownership ‘ of the battery will likely need to be a lease ownership like pressure gas bottles are owned by the ‘gas company community’ – where we pay an insured deposit that is refundable on return, or retained on swapping an empty for a full bottle.

    And who is going to make the car industry standardize on battery size , fit and connections..more legislation ?

    Good idea now get everyone to play nice…

  • http://www.howell.gr PMHowell

    The battery , forgive the pun , is currently a significant cost item and warranty issue on new electric car purchases.

    To make this battery swap work the ‘ownership ‘ of the battery will likely need to be a lease ownership like pressure gas bottles are owned by the ‘gas company community’ – where we pay an insured deposit that is refundable on return, or retained on swapping an empty for a full bottle.

    And who is going to make the car industry standardize on battery size , fit and connections..more legislation ?

    Good idea now get everyone to play nice…

  • http://www.howell.gr PMHowell

    And , lest we forget , where there is value in stealing something it will happen.

    Perhaps a battery VIN / id tracker will need to be incorporated to reduce the incidence of battery swap out fraud. A pimped bad battery dropped off for a spanking new replacement..

    Won’t be long before that concept ‘gets up to speed’ with bad guys inside and out trading batteries on the black market..

    I still like the battery swap concept but this might have the same resistance factor that ‘shared drop off cars’ has. We like to own the ride not share with sweaty careless strangers.

  • http://www.howell.gr PMHowell

    And , lest we forget , where there is value in stealing something it will happen.

    Perhaps a battery VIN / id tracker will need to be incorporated to reduce the incidence of battery swap out fraud. A pimped bad battery dropped off for a spanking new replacement..

    Won’t be long before that concept ‘gets up to speed’ with bad guys inside and out trading batteries on the black market..

    I still like the battery swap concept but this might have the same resistance factor that ‘shared drop off cars’ has. We like to own the ride not share with sweaty careless strangers.

  • MichaelBryant

    the problem is that very few evs that can have there batteries swap. plug for high powered charging stations make more scents. I think the standard should be type plugs that clothes dry use.

  • MichaelBryant

    the problem is that very few evs that can have there batteries swap. plug for high powered charging stations make more scents. I think the standard should be type plugs that clothes dry use.

  • MichaelBryant

    the problem is that very few evs that can have there batteries swap. plug for high powered charging stations make more scents. I think the standard should be type plugs that clothes dry use.

  • Bill Berggren

    This is a horrible idea. PBP just wants $100 million in funding. You don’t need this crap, batteries can be recharged at the outlet.

  • Bill Berggren

    This is a horrible idea. PBP just wants $100 million in funding. You don’t need this crap, batteries can be recharged at the outlet.

  • Bill Berggren

    This is a horrible idea. PBP just wants $100 million in funding. You don’t need this crap, batteries can be recharged at the outlet.

  • http://mediapals.net eric

    1) I want to own my own battery. Leasing reminds me of cellphone contracts and mfgs. trying to create an ongoing revenue stream for themselves. Tech will eventually lower the cost enough to where anyone can afford to own their own

    2) I want to plug in and charge my own battery with energy I have harnessed from the sun or wind

    3) I don’t want to be tied to a system designed to create tax revenue for the government

  • http://mediapals.net eric

    1) I want to own my own battery. Leasing reminds me of cellphone contracts and mfgs. trying to create an ongoing revenue stream for themselves. Tech will eventually lower the cost enough to where anyone can afford to own their own

    2) I want to plug in and charge my own battery with energy I have harnessed from the sun or wind

    3) I don’t want to be tied to a system designed to create tax revenue for the government

  • http://mediapals.net eric

    1) I want to own my own battery. Leasing reminds me of cellphone contracts and mfgs. trying to create an ongoing revenue stream for themselves. Tech will eventually lower the cost enough to where anyone can afford to own their own

    2) I want to plug in and charge my own battery with energy I have harnessed from the sun or wind

    3) I don’t want to be tied to a system designed to create tax revenue for the government

  • Falstaff

    As I see the economics of the EV, battery exchange coupled to networked charge stations is the only concept in play that enable the EV to take a serious share of the transportation market place. Agassi/BP/Renault have taken a serious look at the problem, and I hope to see more of engagement on this forum.

    In addition to solving the range problem, battery exchange solves other worries about the battery life, quality, and displacement of today’s technology by tomorrows.

    Rowan: what do you care about where the battery has been or its past life? You don’t own it, don’t pay for any capital costs for it. It is electrically simple to guage the charge on the battery for your current trip. If it exhibits some aging, take it back and burn the two minutes it requires to exchange for another one. And also, lets not suddenly pretend we’ve had some perfect quality standard for vehicle fuel. Everyday in the US bad tanks of gasoline are sold, blended imperfectly or even had water seepage in the tank storage somewhere along the way.

    PMHowell – Yes the battery is significant cost and warranty issue. That is why BP’s plan is the workable approach thus far: eliminate all that. The EV owner does not pay for the battery or the warranty up front, any more than we currently pay for oil wells and drilling up front. And don’t fret about theft – BP batteries have computers in them that talk to computers on board the EV and thence to the network.

    Capt. Morgan – I find your comments odd. Yes the battery exchange concept will require some standardization, and if you watch some of the BP video’s/interviews you’ll see they are promoting standards. Obviously many parts of today’s combustion vehicles are standardized to the gas industry: nozzle, cap, pump, static discharge; fuel quality. Just so batteries. Because someone can make different battery mechanical packaging, doesn’t mean they must, or will.

    EV’s with exchange are the only concept that makes any sense:

    -EV w/out exchange is limited to metropolitan area driving, and they stuck with the large capital cost of a battery which must be amortized over the same

    over only the vehicle, even though large EV batteries might have twice the life of the vehicle (3-500,000 miles).

    -PHEV (Volt, Plug Prius) will always have the cost of two the two drive trains to burden it. The lower capacity batteries on PHEVs compared to EVs are thought to be a cost advantage, but they are also a weakness. Since they’re smaller, they see far, far more cycles than a large EV battery and thus life becomes an issue. The Volt deals with this by effectively using only half the battery to insure the owner never needs to replace it, creating in effect 8kWh of dead weight and cost. Again, all that goes away with exchange. For you the owner of a rented-by-the-mile battery, who cares if it lasts 30,000 miles or 300,000 miles?

    -Fast charge. Fast charge batteries are just coming out of the lab, so we’ve yet to see how they hold up. But why bother? On the supply end, it is just not going to happen. Charging, say, a 150 mile = 30kWh battery in five minutes requires a 360kW line, per ‘pump’. And down the road with higher capacity batteries, say 300 miles and 60-70kWh, now the pump approaches a full megawatt. Multiply that by ten again for a freeway size, 10-spot charging station. Fast charge does not scale, nor can the grid handle it in even small doses now. With an exchange concept, the battery capacity in 10 years is not a factor for the car or the owner.

  • Falstaff

    As I see the economics of the EV, battery exchange coupled to networked charge stations is the only concept in play that enable the EV to take a serious share of the transportation market place. Agassi/BP/Renault have taken a serious look at the problem, and I hope to see more of engagement on this forum.

    In addition to solving the range problem, battery exchange solves other worries about the battery life, quality, and displacement of today’s technology by tomorrows.

    Rowan: what do you care about where the battery has been or its past life? You don’t own it, don’t pay for any capital costs for it. It is electrically simple to guage the charge on the battery for your current trip. If it exhibits some aging, take it back and burn the two minutes it requires to exchange for another one. And also, lets not suddenly pretend we’ve had some perfect quality standard for vehicle fuel. Everyday in the US bad tanks of gasoline are sold, blended imperfectly or even had water seepage in the tank storage somewhere along the way.

    PMHowell – Yes the battery is significant cost and warranty issue. That is why BP’s plan is the workable approach thus far: eliminate all that. The EV owner does not pay for the battery or the warranty up front, any more than we currently pay for oil wells and drilling up front. And don’t fret about theft – BP batteries have computers in them that talk to computers on board the EV and thence to the network.

    Capt. Morgan – I find your comments odd. Yes the battery exchange concept will require some standardization, and if you watch some of the BP video’s/interviews you’ll see they are promoting standards. Obviously many parts of today’s combustion vehicles are standardized to the gas industry: nozzle, cap, pump, static discharge; fuel quality. Just so batteries. Because someone can make different battery mechanical packaging, doesn’t mean they must, or will.

    EV’s with exchange are the only concept that makes any sense:

    -EV w/out exchange is limited to metropolitan area driving, and they stuck with the large capital cost of a battery which must be amortized over the same

    over only the vehicle, even though large EV batteries might have twice the life of the vehicle (3-500,000 miles).

    -PHEV (Volt, Plug Prius) will always have the cost of two the two drive trains to burden it. The lower capacity batteries on PHEVs compared to EVs are thought to be a cost advantage, but they are also a weakness. Since they’re smaller, they see far, far more cycles than a large EV battery and thus life becomes an issue. The Volt deals with this by effectively using only half the battery to insure the owner never needs to replace it, creating in effect 8kWh of dead weight and cost. Again, all that goes away with exchange. For you the owner of a rented-by-the-mile battery, who cares if it lasts 30,000 miles or 300,000 miles?

    -Fast charge. Fast charge batteries are just coming out of the lab, so we’ve yet to see how they hold up. But why bother? On the supply end, it is just not going to happen. Charging, say, a 150 mile = 30kWh battery in five minutes requires a 360kW line, per ‘pump’. And down the road with higher capacity batteries, say 300 miles and 60-70kWh, now the pump approaches a full megawatt. Multiply that by ten again for a freeway size, 10-spot charging station. Fast charge does not scale, nor can the grid handle it in even small doses now. With an exchange concept, the battery capacity in 10 years is not a factor for the car or the owner.

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  • http://Web Bert

    This idea is becoming more and more of a reality.

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