One Year With Better Place: Electric-Car Driver's Report

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Better Place Renault Fluence ZE on the streets of Jerusalem

Better Place Renault Fluence ZE on the streets of Jerusalem

Today marks my first anniversary driving a Better Place Renault Fluence ZE battery-electric car.

So it seemed appropriate to summarize my experience to date with the Better Place service, which has had some challenges but is still very much in operation.

I paid around $45,000 upfront for my car and four years of service, which covers all my electricity, battery switching and various other costs for 4 years and roughly 50,000 miles (80,000 km) of driving. All the details can be found here.

Driving and switching

Like the archetypal, mildly obsessive early adopting electric-car driver, I kept a careful record of my first year of ownership.

I've covered 11,650 miles (18,750 km). I also covered 937 miles (1,509 km) in borrowed Better Place cars, so my electric driving total for the year is 12,410 miles (19,970 km). It's not much compared to some high-mileage U.S. drivers, but not bad in a country smaller than New Jersey. I know other owners who have covered nearly double that.

I would estimate 80 percent of my energy is delivered at home, overnight, via the Level 2 charger that Better Place installed in my condo's underground garage. I have also charged on Better Place's public Level 2 charging network at least 20 times.

What's unique to Better Place in Israel and Denmark is the ability to swap out a depleted battery pack and replace it with a fresh one in 5 minutes. There is no fast charging (it would seem slow next to a 5-minute switch to 100 percent charged).

I've switched batteries 89 times, though only 73 of those were completely necessary. (In the early days I showed off the process to interested passengers when it wasn't completely necessary to complete a trip.)

This amounts to one switch every 170 miles (275 km). Shai Agassi's intention was to replace a weekly fill up with gas with a weekly battery switch for out-of-range journeys.

The 100-mile (160-km) range that Renault promised for the Fluence ZE is not normally achievable. A range of 75 miles (120 km) is more realistic, and for this reason I've switched more than Better Place would have anticipated.

Better Place user David Rose w/keys to Renault Fluence ZE electric car in Israel [photo: David Rose]

Better Place user David Rose w/keys to Renault Fluence ZE electric car in Israel [photo: David Rose]

Looking at my rate of switching, however, it has fallen since the network was completed. Today I switch roughly once a week.

I've kept updating the data I mentioned back at 100 days, and so I have a new graph showing my daily driving distance distribution.

Long Distances in A Day

My longest recorded day's driving occurred in February, when I followed a normal day's commute and business use with an evening trip down to Eilat. 

That day I covered 251 miles (405 km). I needed four switches to get to Eilat and four on the way home. My hotel had a number of Better Place-installed and maintained charge spots. They were  mostly blocked by ICE cars but at some point during the weekend a spot opened and I quickly ran to take it.

There is a switch station right at the entrance to Eilat so it's not a big deal starting the return journey with a depleted battery, but it's more convenient if you can charge at a hotel.

It may be technically possible to make the trip from Eilat to Tel Aviv with three switches, but I wasn't prepared to try--and functionally it makes little difference.

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