Looking to blunt that argument, Better Place
has unveiled battery-swap stations that rely
on robotics technology to replace dead batteries with new ones in less time than it takes to
fill a gas tank. And Ms. Helweg-Larsen says
the convenience factor will help combat any lingering doubts about electric vehicles.
“Most cars stand still for 22 hours a day and
can charge that way—and for those that use the
switching stations, you’ll go a lot less often than
you go to a gas station,” she says.
Partnering with French automaker Renault,
Better Place aims to install 100 battery-swap stations
in Israel by next year. More projects will follow in
Australia, the United States and Denmark.
But first the company has to figure out exactly
where the swapping stations will go to ensure cars
can drive cross-country.
“It’s a huge mapping project to find out what
the right locations are, what is convenient and
what consumers want,” says Ms. Helweg-Larsen.
Comparing that process to “playing connect the
dots,” she says the company is planning for the
distance between all of the stations to be slightly
shorter than a battery’s maximum capacity.
Rival AeroVironment isn’t buying the switch
“We don’t see battery change as part of the practical adoption of electric vehicles,” says Ms. Helsel.
Her company is instead banking on “
fast-charge” infrastructure. The kiosks resemble gas
pumps but can produce 400 to 600 volts—enough
electricity to recharge an electric vehicle battery
pack in minutes instead of hours.
The technology is gaining traction
in the United States, sparking several
large-scale projects. In May 2009, the
Washington, D.C. Department of
Transportation, Nissan North America
and AeroVironment announced a
project partnership they anticipate will
lead to at least 100 fast-charging kiosks
throughout the district by 2011. In
January, AeroVironment also
announced Nissan-branded home
charging stations will be available with
2020 The year electric vehicles
could represent between 2 percent to
5 percent of total global light vehicle out-
put, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers
Leaf cars, slated to hit U.S., Japanese and European
markets this year.