Energy independence has been talked about so much for decades that many doubt it’ll happen in our lifetimes. But the world may soon see a dramatic change over the next few years — and that change is coming from Israel.
During my recent 10-day trip there, thanks to the Once in a Lifetime project by 24 Hebrew University students, I went to a facility run by Better Place — a company that seems to have worked all the kinks out of making electric cars free of gasoline a reality. The cars look like any other car, and drive smoothly and silently (you can see video of me test-driving one here). Once charged, either at your home or at a station, the car can drive 100 miles without needing another charge.
The new twist? Rather than wait for a recharge, you can go to a battery switching station that will install a new battery in less than two minutes. They charge up your old battery for another customer.
This recycling of the battery will significantly drop the price of the vehicle down to $20,000 or less, the company claims. Better Place is confident that they can make the electric car very affordable. Customers obviously won’t have to pay for gasoline, and maintenance will be cheaper. Plus, the vehicles employ a braking regeneration technology that will prolong the life of brakes.
The Israeli government has reduced the tax rate on electric cars down to ten percent — from 79 percent — to help get them on the road.
The system is ready. The staff answered every skeptical question posed to them by the audience, and they even had a pricing plan prepared. Customers will pay a monthly subscription to use the infrastructure based on how many miles they drive.
And this is coming very soon.
As you read this, Better Place is working to set up five to ten battery switching stations and thousands of charging stations around Israel for a test run this month. CEO Shai Agassi says that six months later, the cars will begin being sold, and they believe 100 switching stations will be set up and 1,000 electric cars will be added to the road per month. At least 92 Israeli companies have already agreed to convert some of their cars, and 17 local councils and municipalities have given the thumbs up to setting up charging stations. There are already 1,000 charging stations in Israel (and 100 in Copenhagen). Deals have been struck to build the switching stations in Australia, Canada, Japan, and Hawaii.
The significance of this cannot be overstated. According to War Footing, a book by Frank Gaffney and a team of national security experts, half of the cars in the U.S. are driven 20 miles per day or less. A “plug-in with a twenty-mile range battery would reduce gasoline consumption by, on average, 85 percent,” they write. But we’re not talking about a twenty-mile range. We’re talking about a range of about 100 miles with the ability to switch batteries if you need to drive longer.
One of the questions raised has been about the stress this would put on the electrical grid. Better Place says they are going to make use of alternative energy sources like wind power. The company is setting up its own energy infrastructure to take care of this obstacle and says electric cars are three times more energy efficient. Even here, Israel is making breakthroughs. Another company called Innowattech has developed the technology to generate electricity from generators in roads. The company says that it will not require extensive infrastructure construction and that the installation of generators on one traffic lane for one kilometer produces 220 kilowatts of electricity per hour.
However, not everyone believes the hype about Better Place. David Booth opines that the transformation in Israel isn’t transferable to the U.S. because of the size difference. He says that the limited range of a single charge means there’d have to be about as many battery switching stations as there are gas stations at the moment.
He also argues that car manufacturers won’t submit to one battery design, undermining Better Place’s plan to use the same batteries for each customer.
Booth’s first point puzzles me. If Better Place is successful in one part of the U.S., it will expand its operations just like any other business would. An immediate nationwide overhaul is not required. If customers are happy, the necessary revenue and demand will exist. As for the range, Booth doesn’t seem to take into account that customers won’t have to rely only upon battery switching stations. The charging stations that are much less expensive will be built in parking lots and you can count on the technology to improve and make each charge last longer as time goes on.
A valid point exists about car manufacturers wanting to design their own batteries, but we have to remember that they are businesses, first and foremost. Unless they want to build their own battery switching stations, they’ll have to make them compatible with Better Place’s facilities. Customers simply won’t buy their cars if it’s too difficult to exchange their battery. No matter how the capitalist competition ultimately unfolds, the point is that electric cars will have become a reality and businesses will be competing to make them as cheap and efficient as they can for consumers.
This is one of the few issues that all Americans can support wholeheartedly. It is great for the environment and will stimulate the economy as less money flows outside of the country to hostile governments. There may be nothing else that will as significantly shift the balance of power in the West’s direction.
Virtually every country hostile to the West relies upon our oil dependency, and a steep drop in this dependency will set off a chain reaction in our favor. Chavez will find himself struggling to fund the Colombian FARC. Ninety percent of the Iranian government’s export revenue is from oil sales and they can’t afford to lose a penny of it, especially as domestic consumption rises. Hezbollah, Hamas, and Syria will find themselves without the Iranian sponsorship they require. Radical Islamic groups around the world will see their wallets get thin as they can’t raise as much money from the Gulf. The mosques, Islamic centers, and Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated organizations springing up all over the place with Wahhabi financing will find their construction halted.
Israel may be about to deliver its most painful blow yet to its enemies since its creation in 1948 — without firing a single shot.