On Saturday night, with the Times of Israel’s social media queen, Sarah Tuttle-Singer and fellow ToI blogger Eric Schorr in my car I experienced, yet again, why the Better Place system is so much more than an electric car.
First I’ll repeat a fundamental truth about electric cars: their best role is repeated travel between fixed points with a daily use below 75% of maximum range. If the car is parked where it can be recharged at two ends of a daily commute, the car is good for travel up to 150% of it’s maximum range. Long distance road trips or mobile offices for travelling salesmen are just not their forte today.
Electric battery cars DO NOT need anything like the scale of public infrastructure gasoline cars need. Internal combustion engine cars need tens of thousands of ugly, polluting gas stations, fleets of diesel fume belching tankers and a world dotted with oil wells, crude oil tankers and refineries.
Electric cars need the same same national electricity generation and a public electricity grid we already have. For complex reasons, largely related to overnight charging, the existing generation and grid facilities in nearly all developed nations can cope with widespread adoption of electric cars without significant expansion.
The most important electric car infrastructure is discretely installed out of sight in owners homes: it can be just a power socket or a more professional $200 box on the wall with a cable.
Just realise that 37 single lane battery switch stations in Israel will service many thousands of battery cars while there are tens of thousands of gas station with 10’s of pumps each to service all the ICE cars. The main difference is that nobody has gasoline delivered at home, every night, while they sleep.
But electric car users do benefit from some public infrastructure. The gold standard, which we have here in Israel and Denmark, is battery switching stations and public slow chargers. Elsewhere networks of fast and slow chargers do significantly increase the utility of electric cars.
Last night, a Saturday night straight after Shabbat ends, I planed to drive to Jerusalem for the Times of Israel’s 1st Anniversary event at the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem. I was picking up two passengers including a detour that adds 20km to my normal 70km Jerusalem trip. Even though I was planning on parking at a hotel with a charge spot, I know that 90km up hill to Jerusalem is beyond the comfortable limit of my car.
However there are actually four switch stations not far from the route after my second pick up. The later two (Hemed near Abu Ghosh and Gina Sakarov right inside the entrance to Jerusalem) are the best because they come after the major climb to Jerusalem. Switching there would mean I was giving up an almost empty battery in exchange for a new one.
My range coming down from Jerusalem is easily 150km because of the large hill descent.
However last night I could see on the car’s screen both stations showing as out of operation. I called Better Place and asked if it was temporary. They couldn’t tell me if these would be fixed by the time I got to them (and apologised profusely for this).
I knew this in time to divert to the Anava switch station which was fine. The only downside was switching too early and therefore having to make an extra switch on the way home. In the end I didn’t park at the hotel with a charge spot because I found free street parking outside and the hotel would have cost me almost $10 (₪35) for a couple of hours.
It’s hard to explain this without it sounding complicated. I can only say that it all becomes second nature and, because the service on the phone and the information displayed in the car by Better Place is so clear, it really is easy to make these kinds of decisions even while driving.
Obviously we all made it to the event in plenty of time, David Horowitz did a masterful job chatting with Rabbi Dov Lipman and the drive home was smooth and quiet enough to make at least one passenger consider buying a similar car.
As the range of the cars increase, as it most surely will, these kinds of decisions will become fewer and a growing proportion of trips will be made purely with energy delivered while cars are parked at home or at work.
This doesn’t render the switching system redundant, but it means the same number of switch stations, when they hold larger capacity batteries, will comfortably service a larger number of cars.
The real test of a service is how it deals with adverse conditions. I have yet to fault Better Place’s service even when technical difficulties close one or two stations temporarily.
This morning, upon looking on the screen in my car, both stations were back up and working and once again the energy fairy had visited my car over night and filled it up with electrons for the day.