(by Jay Bushinsky, WashingtonTimes.com) JERUSALEM – An American-Israeli entrepreneur has been given the green light to mass market electric cars, a potential environmental breakthrough with global implications that could also reduce Israel’s need for imported oil.
Shai Agassi, 38, who made his name in California’s Silicon Valley, recently won an endorsement from Israeli President Shimon Peres to put electrical cars on the road. They would be made by France’s Renault and Japan’s Nissan.
“Today is a new age with new dangers, and the greatest danger is that of oil,” Mr. Peres said in backing Mr. Agassi’s initiative.
“It is the greatest polluter of our age, and oil is the greatest financier of terror,” Mr. Peres said.
Mr. Agassi’s firm, Better Place, plans to install 500,000 battery-recharge outlets and 5,000 service stations where batteries can be quickly replaced as they wear out.
The plug-in facilities, described as similar to curbside parking meters, will require a major infrastructure investment. Plans call for the network to begin operating by 2011, when the first zero-emission cars are expected to be delivered.
Israel’s tiny size makes it especially suitable for electric cars because major cities, such as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, are within an hour’s drive of each other.
Still, some local analysts are skeptical.
“The major problem is the battery,” said Amit Mor, co-owner of Eco Energy, an Israeli financial and strategic consulting firm.
He said the requisite lithium-ion battery must hold a charge for at least 100 miles, a capability that he says is beyond contemporary automotive technology.
“Less than that would not be practical,” Mr. Mor said. He emphasized that batteries would need enough power to run air conditioning at least half of every year, too.
Mr. Mor also is skeptical of the environmental benefits — fossil fuels would be burned to generate the extra electricity needed.
“Our biggest problem is global warming,” Mr. Mor said. “If we continue to use coal to generate electricity to meet the additional demand created by electrical automobiles, the generating plants’ carbon-dioxide emissions will aggravate this problem.”
Despite the potential obstacles, Israel plans to offer tax incentives that would not only help make the cars affordable, but also make them cheaper than conventionally fueled cars.
One possibility being discussed would cut government excise taxes for electric cars — but not gas- or diesel-powered ones — for 20 years. By then, the majority of Israel’s 2 million-plus cars would be electric. For example, the auto excise tax could be cut from the current 70 percent to 10 percent for electric vehicles.
Even with a cost advantage, they would have to travel at the same speeds and have the same acceleration rates as conventional vehicles — something Mr. Agassi says can be done.
The lithium-ion batteries, which are expensive, would be rented and replaced every 160,000 miles, according to Mr. Agassi.
He also says improvements in the batteries will enable the cars to travel 250 miles per charge.
The main recharging would take place at night, with the driver plugging in upon getting home from work. The parking meter devices would provide a short-term boost, not unlike someone plugging in a cell phone for a few minutes when the battery is running low.
If the car is about to die while on the road, the driver would simply pull into one of the service stations, where an attendant can switch batteries with a fully charged replacement.
The process would take about five minutes, about the time required to fill a tank with gasoline.
“The nationwide recharge grid will be suitable for other countries interested in having electricity-powered cars,” said Arie Tulman, vice president of Aran Research, an industrial-design firm cooperating with Better Place on the zero-emission car project.
The joint venture is being undertaken by Mr. Agassi with Ofer Idan, an Israeli industrialist who is investing $100 million in the project.
Mr. Idan, who heads the Israel Corp., a Tel Aviv-based conglomerate, reportedly wants to extend this technology to China and India.
“Their pollution is killing them and the rest of us, too,” he said. He described the air in Bombay as so murky that visibility often is almost nil.
Israel’s Transportation Ministry says it is favorably disposed to Mr. Agassi’s initiative.
“It has to be examined,” said ministry spokesman Avner Ovadia. “Several committees have been set up to make the requisite evaluation.”
Most of Israel’s oil comes from Egypt, a neighbor with which it established diplomatic relations in 1979.
Copyright 2008 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times. This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization. Visit the website at www.washingtontimes.com.
1. Why does Israeli President Shimon Peres support Shai Agassi’s plan to mass market electric cars in Israel?
2. What makes Israel especially suitable for electric cars?
3. Electric cars are operated with rechargeable batteries which currently run less than 100 miles before needing to be recharged. What solution does Mr. Agassi propose for this problem?
4. Why does Amit Mor criticize Mr. Agassi’s plan?
5. Electric cars are more expensive than gas-powered cars. How does the Israeli government plan to make electric cars affordable for the average person?
6. Why does Mr. Agassi’s partner Ofer Idan want to extend electric car technology to India and China?
7. a) What do you think of Mr. Agassi’s plan? Be specific.
b) Do you think the electric car can/will be used on a large scale in the U.S.? Explain your answer.
Read more about the electric car at Shai Agassi’s website ProjectBetterPlace.com.
Read an entry on “How Electric Cars Work” at auto.howstuffworks.com/electric-car.htm.