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Old 03-30-2011, 02:38 PM   #1
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Default Better Place opens first working battery swap station

Better Place, the Israeli/Californian EV infrastructure start-up, has just opened its first battery swap station in Israel. (An experimental facility currently operates in Japan, serving a fleet of electric taxis.) The Better Place facility is one of 40 such stations the company plans to deploy throughout the country.

The battery-swap process is fully automated, kind of like a robotic car wash. It takes five minutes to get a fresh battery that's good for another 100 miles—a much quicker turnaround than recharging.

Battery swaps, in contrast to battery charges, provide EV drivers almost the same convenience conventional car drivers enjoy. Israel already has 200 conventional public electric-car charge points in place and is installing 200 more, with the long-term goal to reach half a million charging or swapping spots.

These stations will sprout up in time for the arrival of the Renault Fluence ZE, an electric-only sedan that will go on sale in Israel and Denmark by the end of 2011. A GPS system that locates charge points and swap venues is standard. Better Place says that its stations are capable of accommodating other cars and other battery sizes as those become available.

The Better Place model is a test bed that will gauge if the concept can work elsewhere in the world. The process of erecting battery-swap stations throughout the United States is likely to be costly and tangled with bureaucratic delay. The emerging trend in the United States right now is to adopt "fast" DC charging stations that will be positioned in rest areas, malls, and other public areas. These stations can bring an electric car like the Nissan Leaf to 80 percent battery capacity in about 30 minutes, which is hardly "fast" compared to a gasoline refuel or pit-stop-type battery swap. The other hitch there is that with current technology, such rapid-charging degrades battery life if it's performed too often.

According to the Better Place business model, the car owner need not to worry about the battery. Instead, the owner becomes a subscriber to the service, whether it involves charging or swapping a battery and is billed according to mileage driven.

In the United States, Better Place is working on establishing public chargers in the San Francisco Bay area and has signed an agreement with Hawaii state authorities for a large scale public EV charging infrastructure.
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