Better Place says it plans to open 40 swap stations in Israel by the end of the year, and a total of 55 by the first quarter of next year. The company says that will be enough to allow people to drive anywhere in the country. It has also set up about 1,000 charging stations.
Better Place recently announced the opening of its first swap station in Denmark, the next country to get a network. It is also building a network of stations in Australia, starting in Canberra at the end of the this year, and then Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane.
The company has backed off one of its original goals, which was to create an extensive network of public charging stations that would let drivers plug in almost anywhere they parked. After months of testing, the company said ubiquitous chargers aren’t needed. If a person has a charge station at home and at work, and can find them at places where a car could be parked for a long time, such as ballparks, that will be enough for most driving, Granoff says.
To ensure that batteries are available at swap stations, the company has developed a system that charges the battery in one hour (compared to roughly seven hours for charging the Nissan Leaf at a home outlet). Such rapid charging can damage the battery if it causes overheating, so the swap stations have to keep the batteries refrigerated.
The company is working with local utilities to ensure that swap stations—or large numbers of cars being charged at night—won’t overload the grid. Better Place will manage charging for a central location, prioritizing cars that are low in charge (drivers can indicate if they need charging urgently).
Menahem Anderman, founder of Total Battery Consulting, says most major automakers don’t think the approach is promising. The swap stations will cause wear and tear to the batteries, he says, and the economics may not prove as attractive as Better Place claims. For example, he says, the prices consumers pay will need to cover the cost of not only the batteries in the vehicles, but also the ones stocked in swap stations.
Although Better Place will start by selling just one vehicle, it says it has pilot projects with Chinese automakers Chery and Beijing Auto, and it is testing seven retrofits of a model that GM makes for the Australian market.