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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