Better Place Electric-Car Battery Swapping: Live Report

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Electric-car infrastructure firm Better Place has spent the past few years creating some serious waves in the electric car world with grandiose claims that it can make electric cars as convenient to use as gasoline ones. 

Alongside its fully integrated smart-grid network of charging stations, battery packs and cars, Better Place is best known for its concept of battery swap stations, where cars fitted with appropriate battery packs can exchange a discharged pack for a fully-charged one in less time than it takes to fill up an average car with gasoline. 

But does the technology work? How does battery swapping work, and what’s it like to drive through a battery swap station? 

To find out, we were invited to Israel, where Better Place is in the finishing stages of testing 40 battery swap stations which it hopes will turn Israelis away from gasoline and onto electric cars forever. 

Better Place Route Map

Better Place Route Map

After a morning’s briefing on Better Place and its business and technological underpinnings, we were given the chance to drive one of  the tens of thousands of Renault Fluence Z.E. electric cars that Better Place hopes will soon be driving throughout Israel.

Our destination? A battery swap station, designed to highlight the convenience and user-friendly experience of Better Place battery swaps first-hand. 

To simulate a long drive, we headed west from our hotel in Jerusalem, over the mountains that lie to the south-west of the city, finally heading north to an industrial park just outside the Modi’in, a Haredi Israeli city just outside the West Bank.

There, Better Place allowed us to try out several battery swap cycles in our car, and gave us a tour of the battery swap station. 

Next week, we’ll give you more insight into the technology behind the battery swap, but for now, we’re going to focus on the experience of battery swapping. 

Arriving with around 50 percent remaining charge, we pulled into the swap station to be greeted by a member of Better Place staff. 

Currently not open to the public, the staff member supervising the switch is there to ensure that Better Place’s final phase of stress testing goes according to plan. We were told each switch station has to endure 1,000 trouble-free switches before Better Place will allow it to open to the public. 

Guided into the switch station, which looks a little like an automated car wash, guide rails ensure each wheel is correctly lined, while a red/green stop light instructs drivers when they have reached the correct stopping point. 

Once correctly situated, the car’s own telematics system instructs the driver to place the car into Neutral, turn off the vehicle and remove all hands and feet from the controls. 

Better Place Battery Swap Station

Better Place Battery Swap Station

Enlarge Photo

Next, the car is moved forward by a conveyor belt, before being lifted up to ensure it cannot move while the battery swap takes place. 

Throughout the process, a clear monitor in the battery swap station and the in-car telematics system clearly illustrate what is happening, from the removal of the depleted battery pack to the insertion of a fully charged one. 

When complete, the car is slowly lowered, and the driver is instructed to move off. Throughout the process, the driver and passengers stay inside the car. 

From start to finish, the process took a little over six minutes, and gave us a fully-charged battery capable of driving another 110 miles without stopping. 

We loved the ease of the battery swap, and the clear way in which the system kept us informed of what was happening. Certainly faster than a rapid DC charging station, we’re interested to see how the technology will perform when opened to the public in the next month or so. 

That, as Better Place will agree, will be the real test of its technology. 

Better Place provided airfare, meals and lodging to enable us to bring you this report.


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Comments (27)
  1. The world has changed since Agassi first came up with his rather simplistic idea of how to make electric cars competitive with existing autos. Agassi believed that the key to success was in dealing with limited driving ranges and recharging. And he did so, but at a high cost. Meanwhile battery technology marched ahead, rendering his concept more and more obsolete and looking very much like a straightjacket for the consumer in terms of choices (there are none). People generally want to own, not lease, and not be part of a company's "installed base." And have a choice of more than one plain looking underperforming vehicle.
    Cars, as anyone can tell you, mean far more to their owners than just a way to get from A to B. Agassi doesn't "get it."

  2. You won't stop will you? I want to own this car. It costs less than a petrol car for at least the next 4 years. For the second one I'm buying, for my high mileage employee (who I'm not forcing to take this car) I'll probably save $250 per month immediately on taking the car. That is setting the cost of actually buying the car outright vs leasing a Mazda 3 which I do now. If the car is worth something in 4 years all that money is a bonus.

    Cars in Israel, as Nikki knows, are 90% leased and given to employees. Most can't afford to buy a car privately. After 5 seconds in the Fluence ZE my employee demanded that I get him this "plain looking underperforming vehicle". BTW have you driven it?

  3. Meanwhile battery technology marched ahead, rendering his concept more and more obsolete..

    ..There's no Moore's Law for electric cars meaning that lithium-ion battery cells do not double in performance every 18 months, as processor speeds have done..

    ..Averaged over that time, the rate of performance increase has averaged 6 to 8 percent a year..

    The 300 mile battery that costs an additional $2'000 to price of the EV is at least 10 years away. (LEAF's 100 mile batterry costs $18'000)
    Better Place is now.

    Not only that, Better Place is future proof meaning that the newest cheaper batteries will roll into the BPlace network making the monthly subscription
    to BPlace cheaper.


  4. ..looking very much like a straightjacket for the consumer in terms of choices (there are none). People generally want to own, not lease..

    If leasing with BPlace you get the EV at 1/2 of its price that's actually a good deal.

    People generally want to lease, not own! Just take a look at the Smartphone market (iPhones, Androids) The vast majority do a 2 year contract with AT&T, Verizon etc, and get the phone at 1/3 of it's price.


  5. There are more comments in this thread
  6. WAAAAAY too complex and expensive! Jeez, this is really an overkill for such a simple concept.
    This is the only feasible way to do battery swap and conquer the world. I can't understand why no one ever mentions innovation out of China. Is it political reasons?

    Or even simpler (small towns or stations that don't have money to buy robots):

    These modular batteries can go in any type of a vehicle too.
    Open up your eyes folks.

  7. It's the worlds most overly complicated fueling or charging station.

  8. Have you ever seen an oil refinery? Do you know what goes on inside modern petrol pumps? What about the fleets of oil tankers that carry fuel and pump it into huge underground tanks buried in built up areas all over cities? Complex? Yes. Clean? Smells nice? No.

    And because even in the Better Place system the vast number of miles are covered by HOME or Workplace supplied electrons, we will NEVER need even 1/50th of the num of bat switch stations that we have for liquid fuel.

  9. This is not about refining its about refueling or charging, Better Place is an interesting idea to solve issues with current battery technology. But, it is only a short term solution for a short term problem, batteries won't be the same for long. Have you ever been in an automated gas station? No. So Brian, what happens to Better Place when battery charge times shrink to an acceptable ammount of time? Better Place is for the impatient and people who have a debilitating case of range anxiety.

  10. There's no battery chemistry in sight that can tolerate 100 miles of range in 5 minutes. Ultra capacitors might be an answer but again it's way off. What if it always takes 10 minutes to add 100 miles and a battery switch drops to 3 mins (BTW I've seen inside and watched the robots move: they're running them slow deliberately now).

    If someone doesn't implement something NOW that makes the current EV's practical for more than a few pioneers, we'll just see a what we have now for a lot further: EVs are a nice oddity but not for real people.

    Nissan is a long way from making back $4 billion on Leafs and they'll never make it back if people can't use EVs for all their journeys.

  11. @ Brian, current EVs are not an oddity, they are the beginning of a major transition that will grow along with its technology. And as of right now no internationally sold EVs can use Better Place anyway. And with gas being fazed out slowly a lot of consumers are going to make the transition to electric at the same rate, so by the time the majority catches up new battery tech will be available. Please understand I am not trying to insult Better Place I simply don't see it as a long term solution, we can and need to give EVs time to grow. I for one don't think we'll have to wait as long as predicted.

  12. @CDSpeed

    Perhaps what hasn't come over in any of the reporting yet is how much value add beyond the switching, Better Place seem to add.

    I see it as a Ham or CB Radio versus a modern mobile phone network. Sure you can buy an expensive radio set and talk to someone half a world away, but paying a mobile phone company a few dollars a month and be able to call anywhere is what the majority need.

    Perhaps Nikki will communicate this or I'll be able to better when I get my car and drive 600 miles in a single day, something that I don't think has been done anywhere in the world in a normal EV.

  13. Not good: battery swap .. innovation out of China..

    see photo!

    On June 8, almost two months after a Zotye M300 (Langyue) EV caught fire which prompted the city of Hangzhou to pull all 30 electric taxicabs off the streets..

    ..battery pack installed in the trunk, .. The stacks are removable, and switched with fresh ones when depleted.

    .."In sealing and packing the battery cells, in loading and unloading the battery stacks, insufficient attention had been paid to several safety factors; monitoring procedures had been inefficient or neglected in the process of manufacturing, battery charging/switching, and vehicle driving, failing to detect anomalies,"..

  14. IF you can afford to buy, operate and maintain a Toyota Corolla then you can afford to buy operate and maintain an full EV in Israel and Denmark and have change to boot, under the Better Place model. And can drive anywhere in those countries. Within two years Renault and Better Place will have sold more EVs in these two countries than all other car makers in the rest of the Western world and will have a huge lead on the market. Manufacturing prices will come down and so the car will become affordable in more countries which give smaller tax breaks for EVs. New models will also be produced, the Renault Zoe is already battery transfer capable. Better Place will be able to take advantage of new battery technologies just like everybody else.

  15. Better batteries only means that customers will have to make fewer battery switches meaning Better Place needs to build fewer battery switch stations making charging per kilometer cheaper and closer to the price of electricity. But the five minute switch will always be more convenient than the quickest of quick charging. There is also no reason why BP couldn't take advantage of modular batteries some time in the future. It's actually a great idea.

  16. Should be very interesting when the public get to use the battery switching system.

  17. Nikki:
    Good Work; You do very well using Video. Please start adding more to your reporting.

    It's interesting to read the comments and see how little people know about foreign countries and their problem solving. I wonder how people in the U.S. would feel about battery leasing and swapping if they had to pay the real price for gasoline; you know, the price before the Government tax-payer subsides.

    Seems to me that companies like Better Place would be the ideal solution for a small country like Israel where the whole country is about 65 miles by 150 miles. Also, EVs are an ideal solution for transporttion, along with Solar Power and battery storage, especially V2G. This country imports oil from the very nations who seek to destroy them.

  18. Admittedly no, I hadn't looked at it that way. I have been looking at it from a technology, charging solutions, and I guess an international perspective. I guess locally in a country like Israel, Better Place could be the best way for them to start their transition from gas to electric.

  19. "Modi’in, a Haredi Israeli city just outside the West Bank."
    Modiin is not a Haredi city and not outside a west bank , all of Israel is is located on West Bank and "Modiin Elit" is Haredi city located 10 km from Modiin .

  20. My son in Israel ordered a car. We will see if it works.every car bought is a little less air pollution so I guess that is good.

  21. You'd have to standardize all the undersides of EV's, I don't see it being widespread in the states. Great idea though...


  22. Kent; you make pat statements that may apply for you, but i see a tremendous role for BP in the future. Even if you had affordable battery packs with a 300 mile range, the ability to 'refuel' quickly is still there. instead of personal transportation, EVs could provide the needs of the commercial sector as well.

    also, apartment dwellers who cannot charge at home will now be able to drive electric. keep in mind, EVs are still new and developing and NO ONE KNOWS which direction EVs will take us because right now they are running several different directions. but each direction addresses a very specific situation and need and is vital to a successful EV product in the future

  23. it has only happened to me twice in 11 years, but the next time you are stranded on the freeway for 6+ hours because a tanker full of gasoline tipped over in front of you (happened within ½ mile of Nisqually Wildlife Refuge which accounts for the extra precautions taken to reduce environmental impact AND the lack of freeway exits!!) you might want to compare the accident rates during transportation of liquid fuels and electrons!!

  24. Just a small correction: Better Place won't sell you a car if you can't charge it at home overnight. They will do all they can to give you a charge spot at home. When they do install a spot in a communal building they are responsible for paying the electricity bill for that charge spot.

    In my case they have not been able to install a separate meter in time so they will give me cash back each month which I will hand to the building committee that pays the communal electricity charge.

    The biggest problem for the time being will be people with no fixed parking spot, perhaps using on street parking every night.

  25. Even if charging time decreases dramatically, you can't decrease the strain on the power grid. It may actually go up.

    So IMO if you want to spread the EV market then the only viable solution is battery exchange.
    If you want to spread the battery change model then it absolutely CANNOT be over complicated and expansive to build (case in point, Better Place).
    Who in the right mind will demolish their gas station to replace it with BP station... maybe in 30 years?
    Who in the right mind will pay over half a million $ just to BUILD the BP station that will service a tiny % of the cars?

    You have to offer a solution that is can be integrated in the existing stations and/or doesn't cost you a fortune.

    Thus, I like Kandi more than BP.

  26. To simulate a long drive ... you drove about 50 miles. That's funny. Sad, but funny.

  27. By the way, the idea of Better Place, to exchange batteries, is a great idea. But that battery is going to have to store much more power before it will be a car of choice in a country with wide open spaces ... like France.

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