"All the world's a stage we pass through." - R. Ayana

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Better Place Electric Transportation: Back to the Future of Electric Cars

Better Place Electric Transportation

Back to the Future of Electric Cars

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The ever more apparent negative effects of carbon emissions are driving a new urgency to reduce, if not eliminate, oil-based transportation emissions.  

Gasoline-powered vehicles are a major contributor to carbon emissions in the developed world, accounting for 33% of carbon emissions in the United States, and as much as 50% of carbon emissions in some of the countries in Europe.  Gasoline-powered vehicles also contribute to air pollution, which is increasingly problematic in urban centers around the world. According to the World Health Organization, 900,000 people die each year from causes directly attributable to outdoor air pollution.

To achieve major emissions reductions, we need to (1) increase the energy efficiency of our transportation system and (2) shift away from products that burn fossil fuels.

Mass adoption of electric vehicles provides an opportunity to achieve both of these goals simultaneously.  First, the inherent efficiency of electric motors allow us to travel three times farther in EVs than gasoline-powered vehicles per unit of energy. Second, by moving toward electricity-powered transport, we open up new opportunities to utilize excess electricity that currently goes to waste at off-peak times, and to create new markets for renewable energy from wind, solar, geothermal and tidal sources. 

Increasingly over time, the use of renewable energy based on wind, solar and other clean technologies to charge electric vehicles will minimize our impact on the environment and lessen our dependence on oil.


Efficient use of available energy

Better Place’s solution will provide utility companies with energy demand management capabilities that can minimize charging requirements during peak electricity consumption hours by leveraging connectivity with the car and known user profiles. For example, Better Place has developed algorithms that will construct individual user charge plans aimed at minimizing charging requirements during peak hours. 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). 

Electric vehicles offer a superior driving experience, delivering instant torque and smooth acceleration in an ultra-quiet environment.

The electric car is becoming inevitable.  Nearly every major automaker has an active program to develop and introduce EVs, ultimately providing the consumer a broad range of options.  Better Place is currently working with the Renault-Nissan Alliance, which will be among the first to introduce EVs, and is also in discussion with major auto manufacturers around the world.

These electric vehicles will be distinctive in more respects than their zero tailpipe emissions.  EVs inherently provide instant torque, delivering smooth, seamless acceleration.  EVs also offer ultra-quiet operation.  And since these cars typically have half the moving parts of their gas combustion engine counterparts, lower maintenance costs are expected.  All this means that in the coming decade, EVs will be at the center of mainstream personal transportation. 

Over the last 100 years, oil has fueled industrial development, mobility and prosperity for much of the world. Future progress will be made possible by new sources of energy.

Although we have consumed only 30% of the Earth’s proven reserves, much of the remaining supply is locked away in unconventional sources like tar sands and deep water, making it far more expensive to extract. As we spend more on production and approach what has been termed “peak oil”, further pressure is expected from new demand from industrializing countries such as China and India.


Rise of renewable energy

Renewable energy is the most attractive alternative moving forward. However, even though the Earth’s endowment of sun, wind, wave, river and geothermal resources are more than enough to meet our energy needs, only 2% of global electricity (and an even lower percentage of transportation energy) is currently generated by non-hydro renewable sources.

The recent growth in investment in renewable energy is encouraging. A study sponsored by the United Nations found that the 2007 global investment in renewable energy totaled $148.4 billion USD, up 60% from 2006. Much of this increase has come from solar energy and wind power, whose prices have declined steeply over the past few years.  Yet, without technological breakthroughs, further cost reductions are dependent on volume scaling and the ability to capture off-peak generation.


Renewable energy and transportation

The economics of renewables create an extraordinary opportunity for transportation.  But the economics of transportation also create an extraordinary opportunity for renewables.  A transition from our current system – in which 98% of transportation is powered by oil products – to an electric transportation system based on renewables, would benefit both renewable energy and transportation.

First, an electric vehicle system can take advantage of underutilized electricity, reducing oil consumption and providing resources for renewable development. U.S. government research shows that 73% of its domestic light vehicles could be replaced by EVs without requiring any additional capacity when the EV system is complemented with a “smart grid” that optimally manages the flow of available electricity. Second, EVs can alleviate the problems of intermittency, unpredictability and off-peak generation that have hindered the progress of renewable energy in the past. Third, because EVs offer energy efficiency up to three times greater than that of gasoline-powered vehicles, EVs reduce the overall burden on energy resources.

Denmark, for example, presents a strong case for the economics of the transition.  Denmark’s wind farms generate electricity at variable rates caused by unpredictable changes in wind patterns. Further, the wind farms generate much of their electricity at night, when winds are high but demand for electricity is low. If a critical mass of EVs is plugged in at night, they collectively serve as a distributed energy storage device that absorbs renewable energy as it become available, which then powers transportation the following day. Denmark’s DONG Energy estimates that the country’s entire fleet of 2 million passenger vehicles – if replaced with EVs – could run on fewer than 750 windmills (or about 60% of the installed wind capacity Denmark has right now). 

Better Place provides energy when and where you need it with a flexible network of charge spots and battery switch stations.


Charge spots

Plug-in virtually anywhere you go.  Better Place’s vast regional network of charge spots will provide convenient, reliable opportunities to charge EVs.

Better Place intends to deploy charge spots at private homes, workplaces and public locations such as parking lots and streets.  As the vast majority of driving trips are shorter than the range of a fully-charged EV battery, Better Place anticipates that most subscribers will use charge spots as their primary method of recharging.  At your home, a Better Place charge spot will provide safe, reliable, high-power charging using the Better Place network.
  On the street, in your work parking lot or at the shopping center, Better Place charge spots will be available to provide easy access to energy.

Battery switch stations

The Better Place battery switch stations are designed to allow drivers on a long trip to switch a depleted battery for one with a full charge, in less time than it takes to fill a tank with gasoline. 

At a Better Place switch station, the driver enters a lane and proceeds along a switch-lane conveyor. The automated switch platform below the vehicle will align under the battery, initiate the battery release process and lower the battery from the vehicle. It will then replace the depleted battery with a fully-charged battery.  The depleted battery is placed in a storage room and recharged to be available to other drivers.  The process is completed in just a few minutes, while the driver remains in the car, providing a fast and convenient range-extension solution. 

EVs now take advantage of the most advanced lithium-ion battery technologies which are recyclable, environmentally friendly, and safe.

Better Place is working with battery manufacturers such as A123 Systems and AESC, leaders in the development and manufacture of lithium-ion batteries.  Lithium-ion technology, the most promising battery technology for use in vehicles, has already proven to be effective, recyclable, environmentally friendly, and safe.  Further advances in battery performance (including power, range, charge time, lifetime, and cost) are expected as $1 billion per year is invested into lithium-ion battery research, with an increasing proportion going into automotive applications.


Performance & range

Lithium-ion batteries offer significant performance gains relative to battery chemistries such as nickel metal hydride (NiMH), used in many of today’s hybrids.  Lithium-ion batteries can store significantly more energy and generate twice the power per unit volume than these hybrid batteries.  These storage capacity and power generation improvements are critical in maximizing the range of a vehicle.  The result is that a lithium-ion battery in a typical sedan can deliver a range of about 100 miles / 160 kilometers on a single charge.


Charge time

Most cars are parked for more than 20 hours a day, and almost all are parked overnight.  Better Place will work with customers to provide charge spots where their cars are typically parked, be it at home, work, nearby parking lot or on a street.  Given that a vehicle battery can be recharged in three to seven hours, if a driver plugs in an EV at night, she/he will wake up every day to a fully charged battery.  This type of charging is ideal in that energy demand is lowest during the night and there will be little to no need for additional electrical capacity from the grid.  To exchange a battery during a long trip (over 100 miles or 160 kilometers), Better Place customers will be able to use a roadside battery switch station, in which their depleted battery will be switched to fully charged one in less than five minutes.  

Battery cost and lifetime

The cost of lithium-ion batteries has come down by nearly 75% in the past several years, creating a cost effective, high performance solution for EVs.  The lifetime of these new lithium-ion batteries is significantly higher than that of batteries in today’s hybrids.  These batteries are expected to perform over 10 years and 7,000 recharges, a major improvement over earlier generations of vehicle batteries. 

Safety, recyclability, environmental friendliness

The safety of today’s battery technology is unprecedented. 

Better Place uses advanced lithium-ion batteries made from non-toxic materials.  While early generations of lithium-ion batteries had a propensity to overheat, today’s lithium-ion battery has high abuse tolerance, low heat evolution, stable cathode material, and an intelligent pack design that ensures consumer safety.

A lithium-ion battery can also be recycled with minimal environmental impact.  More than 95% of the battery materials can be recovered and reused.

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