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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Shai Agassi notes from Alfred Deakin lectures

In 2005 Shai Agassi was asked the question 'How are you going to make the world a better place by 2020?'

Agassi describes himself as an 'Imagineer', but his research and planning shows he is firmly routed in the world of practical realities. 
In his quest to find how he could change the world he set a baseline, With current technology and consumers, how would a country run without oil?
He explored the then popular and promising technologies of biofuel and hydrogen before discarding them and moving to Electric Vehicles. He based his design process on the basic premise that current battery technology supporting a limited range of 120 miles (190 km), could be  made more convenient then an internal combustion car, if equivalent supporting infrastructure was developed. The most inconvenient part of the mostly convenient  IC automobile, is the refuelling process, 8 minutes, 50 times a year. Agassi identified this as the key area where improvement would convince people to switch for their own benefit. By developing a business model where homes and workplaces were fitted with recharging points, the only time a user of a Better Place integrated car will need to visit a service station is when making a long trip.  Robotic battery switch technology demonstrated in Japan allows a 40 second automated changeover of batteries,  without leaving the vehicle. It is assumed the average user would swap the battery 10 to 15 times per year. 
The projected price for a Better Place EV is around $20,000 US. Government subsidies to purchasers in many countries would drop this price by up to 25 percent. batteries will be rented as a utility, rather then a product, with the user paying for power used.
Better Place will not build the EV's themselves, instead selling their technology to traditional vehicle manufacturers. Renault has produced their first prototype working with this system, of which 350,000 will be built. The second generation vehicle will build on that with projections of one million sales over 5 years.
The life of a battery pack is expected to be 400,000kms. This will translate to users paying 5 US cents per km initially, offering equivalent value to 60cent per litre fuel. By 2020, the supporting infrastructure will have been offset, and mileage costs will equate to 1.5 cents per km. (as to whether any business would actually choose to reduce their profits in this way, time will tell)
Agassi envisions cars sold like mobile phones on plans, with 6 to 7 year contracts with a set electricity price and little upfront costs. He believes an 8 year changeover time is inevitable, stating that industry will tip based on expectation, not delivery, and that once a trend emerges it will be self fulfilling.
Apparently 66% of petrol usage is by 20% of users- long distance commuters, and power users who would probably be the first to switch to a cheaper alternative.
There is a market for 1 billion batteries and a country like Australia which has the natural resources to produce and manufacture them could become the next Saudi Arabia (enviable, no?) 
Using EV's would reduce 10% of our carbon emissions, and a further 10% by hooking into the grid and using the power in the batteries during times of peak demand to reduce the need for old power stations to come online. 50,000 cars plugged into the grid would provide 1 gigawatt of on demand power.

all notes from Shai Agassi lecture at the Alfred Deakin lecture series, data is as i wrote on the day, and not necessarily 100% accurate, allowing for transcribing errors. EV= electric vehicle, IC = internal combustion/petrol engine

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