better place battery switch station 014Enlarge Photo
If their customers use their car's integrated GPS system, Better Place will know which cars are heading for a switch station--and what their car's state of charge is.
The company can contact owners and suggest they divert to another station if any station is out of service or too busy. The layout of 40 stations in Israel has been devised, the company says, to give two or more options for most journeys.
Keeping a fast-charging station open and working should be easy, but anecdotal evidence suggests this isn't always so. Access to unattended stations can also be blocked by gasoline car owners who park in the space required for an electric car to charge.
The business of providing fast chargers for payment or subscription is in its infancy: billing systems and charging mechanisms vary widely, and no leader has yet emerged in any market. It's debatable whether any business models for DC fast charging will support onsite 24-hour attendants, but it seems unlikely.
Israel's battery switch stations are currently undergoing stress testing. Each one will be opened to paying customers when it has completed 1000 switches with a maximum of only one failure.
Initially, each Better Place switch station will be staffed, though they are designed to be unmanned and remotely monitored. We won't know how reliable that system is until it's in full public use by thousands of Better Place users.
Battery Ownership issues
The current standards for fast charging seem robust enough that owners can be confident any given charger won't damage their battery.
Within a battery switching network, there is no way for someone to own a battery. All batteries must be owned by the network and leased to owners.
Renault Fluence ZE electric car belonging to Better Place user David Rose [photo: David Rose]Enlarge Photo
Battery and Charging Standardization
Manufacturers have a patchy record on agreeing to charging standards: Tesla is going in its own direction for its SuperCharger fast-charging network (and coupler), while Nissan and Mitsubishi have settled on the CHAdeMO standard.
In North America, a new standard that's a superset of the J-1772 Level 2 standard is now being finalized. And just last week a European consortium including Audi, BMW, Chrysler, Daimler Ford, GM, Porsche and VW announced support for the SAE standard with a slightly different plug and socket.
Thus far, Better Place has only convinced Renault to manufacture a single model of electric car that's capable of battery swapping. The batteries that its charging stations can handle, however, do not need to be identical in size and shape.
Fragmentation of swappable battery types, though, would make it much harder for switch stations to ensure they have a fully charged pack of the correct type for multiple vehicles.
People won't often need fast, mid journey recharging at night. That means wide uptake of fast charging would not use surplus overnight electricity. Fast charging will always place a non-deferrable load on the local grid
Switch stations do not need to recharge each battery as soon as it comes in. They are also under central control and can avoid charging at peak times. In general they will be able to recharge batteries mostly off peak.
Brian Thomas ("Brian of London") emigrated from the U.K. to Israel in 2009. He has placed an order for and will soon own a Renault Fluence ZE sold through Better Place. He owns and operates his own import company in Israel with more than 15 staff. He regularly blogs at Israellycool about life in Israel, technology and business topics.