Sunday, December 21, 2008

Shai Agassi And Electric Cars--Maybe Not A Pipedream

Last year, in Will Israel Lead The Way In Using Electric Cars?, I wrote about Hillel Halkin's opinion piece in The New York Sun, Israel's Electric Revolution? (still accessible) where he bemoaned how
Israel is a country with a very high level of technological creativity and innovation, but once past the planning stage, its innovations have generally been developed by others.
As an example, he offered hi-tech entrepreneur Shai Agassi's proposal for making electric cars ubiquitous:
A small country running almost entirely on electric cars 10 or 15 years from now and serving as a model for the world? Or the pipedream of an overambitious businessman dragging his government into an expensive boondoggle that may make it the world's laughingstock?
The key to Agassi's plan is an entire rethinking of the electric car model, as described in an article in Wired this past August:
Agassi dealt with the battery issue by simply swatting it away. Previous approaches relied on a traditional manufacturing formula: We make the cars, you buy them. Agassi reimagined the entire automotive ecosystem by proposing a new concept he called the Electric Recharge Grid Operator. It was an unorthodox mashup of the automotive and mobile phone industries. Instead of gas stations on every corner, the ERGO would blanket a country with a network of "smart" charge spots. Drivers could plug in anywhere, anytime, and would subscribe to a specific plan—unlimited miles, a maximum number of miles each month, or pay as you go—all for less than the equivalent cost for gas. They'd buy their car from the operator, who would offer steep discounts, perhaps even give the cars away. The profit would come from selling electricity—the minutes.
Agassi is still going strong--he has a website (Better Place) and a blog (The Long Tailpipe). Just last month at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly Media had a half hour conversation with Agassi:

Maybe this time, Mr. Halkin, we are talking about more than just a pipedream.

Footnote: Something else novel is going on with Israel's roads:
Though it sounds like a farfetched idea, a small stretch of road in Israel capable of producing electricity will undergo testing next month.

Underneath the surface of asphalt, roadway engineers fitted a layer of piezoelectric crystals, which generate an electric current when pressure is applied to them. This would allow the road to capture the energy that a car or truck transfers to the ground when it drives by.

Its developers say that the one-kilometre stretch of road is capable of generating 400 kW of energy, enough to power eight small cars. Now, there aren’t any details about how this figure was calculated, but it’s a promising idea especially if multi-laned highways and traffic-plagued urban areas are considered.

The Environmental Transport Association (ETA) says that if these crystals were installed on every stretch of motorway in Britain, the output of electricity would be sufficient to run 34,500 small cars.

And there is a connection:

One neat tie-in with the electric road is that Israel will be starting an electric car program in conjunction with Nissan [which is partnering with Agassi]. As the project ramps up and vehicle sales increase, these roads could play an important part in developing the “fuel” for electric cars by contributing back to the main electric grid.

For many years scientists and engineers have tried to figure out a way to generate electricity from roads and passing cars. This could potentially be the most effective way of doing it. Other ideas include embedding solar cells into the road surface and installing small windmills by the roadside that harvest the wind produced by passing vehicles.

Better and better.

[Hat tip: Miriam Schwab]

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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