A virtual oil field in Israel, created by electric cars

A virtual oil field in Israel, created by electric cars

When you think of getting off the dependence of Middle East oil, you think I must be talking about the United States. I am not, I am talking about Israel. If I talk about electric vehicles being produced by 2011, you probably think I’m talking about General Motors’ Volt, but I’m not. I’m talking about Renault, and Nissan and a company called Project Better Place.

Currently, it takes some form of oil to run the almost 700 million vehicles on this great earth of ours. Very few vehicles are off the dependence of oil. Israel is hoping to make their country the first country to have an electric car with the infrastructure built for electric cars.

Nobuo Tanaka, director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), has been on the CO2 soapbox since he became director of the IEA, studies have shown that, if the world continues on it’s current path, global CO2 emissions from energy production and use are likely to increase by more than 55% to over 42 billion tonnes per annum by 2030. The longer we wait, the more difficult the task of mitigating climate change becomes. Governments cannot act alone – the private sector must be involved from the outset

Some of these technologies are already commercial, while others need further R&D effort. While many of them are already available at a relatively small scale, huge investments will be required to enable mass scale substitution for the incumbent energy solutions. These emerging technologies need markets and government based incentives for more rapid deployment. Action should start with technologies that are already available.

Who are the players in Project Better Place?

As you read this article, remember, China is not beholden to the internal combustion engine. Both China and India are concerned with urban smog and CO2 and are open to engines other than the internal combustion engine, and they are open to energies other than hydrocarbons.

The Government

It is said that Golda Meir once quipped, Moses dragged us for 40 years through the desert to bring us to the one place in the Middle East where there was no oil. Israel is not friendly with the countries that do have oil. Combined that with high taxes and the price of a gallon of gasoline is over six dollars.

At a speech in Jerusalem, Israel on January 21st, 2008, Israeli President Shimon Peres acknowledged the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and said, “Today is a new age with new dangers and the greatest danger is that of oil. It is the greatest polluter of our age and oil is the greatest financier of terror. Oil makes a mockery of democracy, countries don’t produce oil, they discover it”.

The Israeli government is embracing a new technology; a paradigm of thinking that could transform the country and add 50,000 green collar jobs to the Israeli workforce.

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The entrepreneurs

Shai Agassi is the Founder and CEO of Project Better Place (PBP). Previous to starting PBP, Agassi was the Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President of SAP Portals.

A meeting in 2004 at the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland, brought about project Better Place. Shai Agassi was part of a group called Young Global Economic Leaders and they were tasked to think of ways to make the world a better place by 2020.

According to Israeli President Shimon Peres, Agassi gave a brilliant speech. Peres then called Agassi and said, You are brilliant in your speech? What is the future? Shortly after talking with Peres Agassi resigned from his high position at SAP and within a year, Agassi had reached a Memorandum of Understanding. At the MOU, Peres looked at Agassi and laughingly said, You were able to do this within a year, because you had the support, not the dependence of a government.

The Financier

Idan Olfer is a reclusive billionaire. Ofer is Chairman of a Tel-Aviv industrial conglomerate called Israel Corporation. Olfer provided $100 million and garnered the role of Chairman of Project Better Place. Olfer already has holdings in China and India and would be interested in expanding this electric grid to both places if it works in Israel. Businessweek lists the rest of the financiers as, Project Better Place launched on October 29, with $200 million in first-round funding to begin building a grid of recharge stations for electric cars. The company received the capital from Israel Corp. of Tel Aviv, Morgan Stanley of New York and VantagePoint Venture Partners of San Bruno, Calif., as well as a group of 15 private investors managed by Michael Granoff. In addition to Agassi, a former executive with SAP AG, Idan Ofer, chairman of Israel Corp., will serve as Project Better Place’s chairman; representatives from VantagePoint and Morgan Stanley will also take seats on the company’s board of directors.

The cars and the batteries

In the same speech in Jerusalem, Carlos Ghosn, President and CEO of both Renault and Nissan, explained how some of these pieces would work, Renault will provide the vehicles. Nissan, with a joint venture with NEC has created a battery pack that meets the requirements of electric vehicles. Project Better Place (PBP) will construct and operate and electric grid recharge across the country. The Israeli government will give tax incentives for zero-emission cars.

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Renault will provide the Electric vehicles for Israel, but Nissan will provide the electric vehicles being used in the United States. This is not the first foray into electric vehicles for Renault or Nissan. Renault’s first electric car was created in 1917; Nissan’s electric Tama was created in 1947.

Nissan says that the Tama had a battery compartment within the cabin floor of the Tama electric car. There were two such compartments, one on either side. Each battery case was provided with rollers so that used batteries could be quickly exchanged with freshly charged ones.

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Where will the electricity come from?

Solar panels are the ideal method for this group. Israel has been involved with building solar plants in the United States for years. They also have nuclear power, which is a very clean way to create electricity.

How does it work? – think cell phones

Agassi says there will be 500,000 car-charging unit’s around Israel, but what if you don’t have time to wait for the car to be charged?

The first way to charge your battery will be at home. Ninety percent of Israelis drive less than 70 kilometers (around 45 miles). Renault says they can travel 100 kilometers (around 62 miles) on one charge on their 1.6-liter vehicle.

This is where the analogy to cell phones comes in. Imagine if you can charge your cellphone at home, but during the day you run out of charge. What if you could go into a cellphone company and exchange batteries, for a small sum, and be on your way? That is the theory proposed by Project Better Place. Drive into the charging area, and they can change your old battery out in a matter of minutes, for a fully charged battery, and you can be on your way.

But what if you had time to charge your battery, say over a long lunch with a friend? You just needed an outlet to plug it into? You can either change out your battery at one of the 500,000 charging outlets of, for a smaller amount of money you can charge your car, and be on your way.

The Israeli government is embracing a new technology; a paradigm of thinking that could transform the country and add 50,000 people to the workforce.

Israel only has about two million cars on the road. Electricity is less volatile than the price of gasoline, and if supplied by solar panels, or nuclear power, could become cheaper as the initial investment is amortized. Since the batteries will be switched out frequently, Renault/Nissan will get to do a through study of the one part of the electric car that is the most volatile.

There are many people today that say ethanol isn’t the way to go, even though Brazil has shown how it can be done. There will people that will say that electric vehicles can’t be done, either. Maybe it will be Israel that will show us how it can be done. A virtual oil field in Israel, created by electric cars

About the Author:

Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year (NACTOY), Women's World Car of the Year (WWCOTY), and the Concept Car of the Year.

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