Separating the Battery from the Car

Blog, Environment, Les Routledge

This week’s issue of The Atlantic contains an article outlining the plans of Better Place to roll out a system of swapping batteries in electric cars in Israel and Denmark.  It will be interesting to see how their attempt will fare.

In the past, I have read critics contend that no one will want to participate in the system because of the risk of receiving a faulty battery.  I suppose that is a concern, but on the other hand, there are services that sell you propane with exchangeable tanks instead of requiring the user to own their own tank.  To me, the Better Place business model is just an extension of one that works in the propane sector.

I can see that the approach being proposed by Better Place could have particular utility in a country like Israel where drivers are limited to travelling within a confined geographical area.  I can also see it being attractive for urban commuter vehicles in markets like Europe where petroleum prices are high or congested cities in China where air pollution is a big problem.

While the economics of this approach may be attractive today, they could be even more attractive in the future when Smart Grids and time-of-user metering enables a company like Better Place to manage the charging of a large inventory of batteries to minimize cost.  Indeed, this type of application could be an ideal complement to a Smart Grid infrastructure because it can rapidly turn demand on and off.  As long as the battery is charged when the customer wants it, it really does not matter if the power when the power to charge it was delivered.