Better Place - Bringing Electric Vehicles Powered by Renewable Energy

Project Better Place founder Shai Agassi was in town last week announcing that Australia will become the third country, following Denmark and Israel, to implement the group's vision of electric vehicles powered by renewable energy.

Better Place and Macquarie Capital Group will raise $1 billion to build a network of 250,000 charging stations and battery exchange stations in key locations along the east coast by 2012. The network will be powered by wind turbines owned by AGL Energy.

Agassi has been promoting the plan as a way to reduce our dependence on oil (the starting premise for the project was "how do you run an entire country without oil") while creating jobs and boosting the local economy (see this interview on the Today Show for his explanation). Operating in Australia will also help the group prove it can work in large countries as well as the much smaller geographical areas covered in the first 2 rollouts. Agassi also noted that the Federal Government's $500 million Green Car Innovation Fund played a part in encouraging them to set up in Australia.

Green Car Congress describes the Better Place network as consisting of three primary components:
  • Charge points. These are to recharge car batteries. Better Place is planning a 2.5:1 ratio of charge spots to cars.
  • Battery switching stations. For trips longer than 160 km, Better Place plans to build roadside battery switching stations. Stations are to be completely automated, and the driver’s subscription takes care of everything. The driver pulls in, and the depleted battery is replaced with a fresh one, without anyone having to leave the vehicle. The process takes less time than it does to fill a tank of liquid fuel, according to the plan.
  • Software to automate the charging and exchange process.

Better Place has a partnership with the Renault-Nissan Alliance to provide electric cars. The prototype electric eMegane sedan features a 160+ kilometre range for highway driving.

Better Place says it is committed to open network access and using industry standards, with the goal being to allow customers to have a choice of make and model of car.

Automotive Energy Supply Corporation (AESC, a joint venture between Nissan Motor, NEC Corporation, and NEC TOKIN Corporation) and A123Systems have been identified as lithium-ion battery providers to the system.

Better Place plans to own and operate the batteries and power generation (via AGL Energy, in Australia's case), and to sell kilometres travelled to drivers on a subscription basis, in similar fashion to the mobile phone industry.

Better Place in Australia plans to start by setting up charging stations in the Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney, and then connect them with "electric highways," with stations set up every 25 miles.

Overall I'm quite excited by this project - though obviously executing the plan, in terms of setting up all the infrastructure and getting a significant volume of electric cars on the market at a competitive price, will be challenging. If the 3 countries piloting the idea can demonstrate it can work successfully, it will provide a blueprint for personal transport in a post-oil world.

Cross-posted from Our Clean Energy Future.

Fantastic. This could form the framework for a new form of electric public transport. Electric busses and mini-busses connecting outlying suburbs to transport hubs.

I grant you that trains and trams are more efficient users of electricity, but with a serious shortage of public $s available, this may be a way to bring electrified public transport to suburbs that have no trains or trams without having to put up big money for infrastructure.

It also means that (hopefully) I can turn my Prius into a plug-in hybrid without having to install 160 km worth of batteries! If I know that there are recharging points nearby, I can probably cut back to 30 km worth of batteries - a big saving in money and weight.

Given that most of our electricity comes from coal, electric cars still use fossil fuels, just coal instead of oil; and they produce as much greenhouse gas emissions, just out of a smokestack instead of a tailpipe. Will the scheme be setting up or buying renewable energy to power the things?

Currently, 1,750 people each year are killed in car accidents; a quarter of them pedestrians, with a total cost to the community of $17 billion. Will the cars being electric reduce this?

Currently, around $10 billion is spent by federal government on roads, money which could be spent on much better things. Hell, it was $55 million a kilometre just for EastLink. Will the cars being electric change this?

Currently, the presence of cheap personal transport in the form of cars means that large shopping malls miles from anywhere come to dominate the landscape, causing small shops to close, destroying small businesses and communities. Will the cars being electric change this?

To make Australia a better place, we don't need electric cars, we need less cars altogether. And eventually none at all.

Will the scheme be setting up or buying renewable energy to power the things?

Yes - as the article noted, AGL will be providing the power and creating it using wind farms.

As to the other issues, the answer is no in all cases. However, I still view a switch from oil fuelled vehicles to electric ones powered using clean energy as a huge step forward - at the very least it mitigates the peak oil and global warming problems. And large swathes of Australia aren't really viable without personal transportation - public transport needs some minimum density of travellers to be worthwhile.

As the saying goes, don't let perfect be the enemy of good...

As the saying goes, don't let perfect be the enemy of good...

I'm not. I'm letting good be the enemy of pretty crappy.

Thank you Big Gav for your post. I think the concept is well worth exploring. I posted comments and links to Shai Agassi earlier this year. As I pointed out then, the idea has great potential for a symbiotic-like relationship with PV generated power.

There are two things limiting massive PV usage at present. 1) PV is still very expensive. 2) PV only produces power during daylight hours and storing the electricity is a major hurdle to overcome.

My feeling is that PV costs will decrease soon with thin film technology but the storage problem will not go away easily.

If large numbers of vehicles have storage batteries, as envisioned by Agassi, this might well be the answer to the second problem. Providing recharging during the day would help use the PV generated energy without having to employ pumped water technology (to higher elevation reservoirs for turbine-produced energy later) or other schemes to store the electricity - which usually entail large energy losses.

This alone makes the concept well worth exploring.

The economics of solar for this use look pretty good for some areas of Australia.
If you take Nanosolar's idea of building Municipal power:

Then you have a reasonable 2-10MW power system, which can be built on the ground and so would have easy maintenance and erection, and which would not need transmission to distances or even stepping down.
If we then throw away some of the first advantages, and build the solar arrays as a roof structure then you have garaging shaded from the sun.

First solar quoted a cost of $1.29/watt some time ago, so by the time you have put it in a system you might come out to $3/watt or so.
EV's do around 3miles/kwh, so if you allow 20 miles as the average two-way commute you might need 6kwh or so.
At 30degrees from the equator this is the pattern of solar incidence over the year:

See figure 1.6
So at that latitude just eye-balling it you might get around 40% of the rated capacity over the course of the day at the spring and autumn solstice.

If you rated the system at 1.5kw per car that would give the needed 6kwh at those times of the year, with a shortfall in the winter balanced by a surplus in the summer when it is most valuable and of course a power supply to the grid over the weekends when the office would perhaps be closed.

Putting the numbers together that is around $4500 per car, over 7 years or so that is about $650 per year, or $3.5 per working day (200days)

A lot of people would pay that to park their car in a shady spot anyway! - and the fuel is then 'free'

You need to also include the cost of the batteries, and their short life, which probably ends up costing more per day than the electricity to recharge them.

That is a different subject to the cost of the electricity supply, and anyway inaccurate.
Even lead acid batteries when allied to capacitors and some excess capacity have decent life, and many of the new batteries such as 123 systems and Altairnano have the ability to cycle many thousands of times.

Both maintenance and longevity are far better on an EV than for an ICE car.

To make Australia a better place, we don't need electric cars, we need less cars altogether. And eventually none at all.

Have to agree there buddy! This is simply a fantasy being foisted on a gullible public that BAU is possible into the idefinte future. Having electric cars does not negate all the other oil inputs into happy motoring such as the road base itself(bitumen); the ongoing maintenance of roads which still requires large trucks and other heavy equipment which presumably won't be electric; the components of the cars themselves from the plastic coated steering wheels to the paint on the plastic bumper bars.

The car culture has encouraged suburban sprawl that must be serviced by cheap individual transport ofthe drivers choice. You want a peoplemover, no problems just buy one. You want a family car that can do soccer as well commuting? No problems. Wahtever car you need to make your life work? Just get it. You want all this choice in electric vehicles? No way!

Once the punters find out that their choices will be limited due to powerto weight ratio limits, Their enthusiasm for EVs will be underwhelming and no amount of marketing is going to change that in a hurry. What people will conclude is that sprawl doesn't work that well without cheap oil, and we better get to and start reconstructing our human habitats to accomodate the new reality.

Wouldn't it be great if the public abandoned BAU, moved into the inner city,or countryside, only used mass transit.
It's not going to occur unless we have a Paul Pot dictatorship. People want to make the minumum change to lifestyle, keep their nice suburban homes and gardens, have private transport.
But wait, maybe they don't have to abandon what they have saved for the last 20years, we are running out of oil, not electricity, we have to reduce carbon dioxide, not eliminate electricity consumption, we have to save water, not stop watering gardens, or stop showers.
Electric cars will not elininate the need for oil, but they can really dramatically reduce oil consumption, giving us time to replace diesel. Mass transit infrastructure can help to reduce oil and traffic, but it takes decades of investment to really make a difference. Cars are replaced faster than houses, roads, rail, so its logical to make the maximum change initially in vehicle transport. Replacing coal generated electricity will take longer, but EV/(battery powered) will stop CTL or hydrogen fuel cells.

I've never really understood the belief that we will just abandon suburbia entirely if there is any feasible alternative open to those who have their life savings sunk into it.

Electric cars are a feasible alternative, and thus their adoption seems inevitable to me.

In my day job I'm frequently in the position of proposing options for projects that aren't able to generate a good enough business case to get funded - and often have to settle for second-best alternatives that acknowledge dismal BAU reality.

That's life unfortunately - no one has an infinitely large amount of money and our starting point is what is out there today. Better place will make suburbia a better place if it succeeds - its not an enemy of Transport Oriented Development and the like - just an alternative which will be necessary for a lot of people - at least for the next couple of decades.

As we've seen in California, real estate in the farther suburbs crashed harder than real estate in nice urban neighborhoods. Gas prices and long commutes certainly played a part, but the bigger reason is that the relative affordability of these areas attracted more first-time and subprime borrowers who took out option ARM loans.

As energy prices rise even more, you can expect the discount on suburban housing to grow even larger, maybe enough to offset the fuel costs of commuting. When cash-strapped governments can no longer afford to maintain utility lines, suburban housing may get even cheaper.

I expect that you are right Neil in that people won't abandon their homes in the suburbs. What they might junk is tripstothe mall, endless weekend sport trips for kids, road trip holidays, long commutes to far flung jobs, large scale home improvement projects, and generally all the other discretionary lifestyle car trips that can be avoided. Given that we are not going to run out of oil, there will still be fuel for ICE cars and probably plenty of them for the next 30-40 years. We can retain the existing vehicle fleet and use it much more efficiently for a lot less investment than this EV proposal. Doesn't it make much more sense to go down that road first? Getting traffic off the roads will assist with longevity of them and we may just find new ways to make suburbs more inhabitable so that people don't have to travel as much.

I don't know about you, but I live in a commuter suburb that is essentially abandoned on a daily basis and it's a weird palce to be on a weekday. I have developed a plan for my immediate neighbourhood which would transform the place into a workable self reliant village in a fairly short timeframe. I now believe that it won't be an oil shortage that kickstarts the plan but widespread unemployment in the next few years. The net effect will be the same. My neighbours and I will have a shortage of money to buy energy to transport us out of here each day so we going to be stuck here. In that situation nobody is going to have the money to even buy a bicycle let alone an EV. We do have plenty of cars though and there is still petrol to be bought and I expect that we will do a lot of car pooling for essential trips. We're going to have an awful lot of bloody good rolling stock that could be mothballed for decades and brought out one by one as we need them.

Not quite sure why think the market is going to just jump at EVs rather than evolve to less driving unless they are forced by some dictator? Thats the great thing about the free market: people are free to choose and once people realise that happy motoring is going to be increasingly expensive (or lame) they will make other choices in how they live. Even if EV's are an alternative, I still think that many people will start to rethink the whole commuter lifestyle.

I appreciate your right to advocate for this new and as yet unproven technology. But as Einstein said "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." I suggest that this fantasy of EV's is simply an extension of the thinking that has created the problems of a society completely dependent on cheap motoring. It is an attempt to treat the most obvious symptom of a much greater systemic disease and as such is doomed to ultimate failure.

The main planks of the EV economy need to be developed anyway, most particularly batteries, as otherwise transport of goods from railheads, small agricultural tractors etc will not be possible.

It is also a stretch to call EV cars an unproven technology. Performance does not yet approach ICE cars with which they currently compete, but they can certainly be done, and battery technology has been improving at around 8% a year for many years.
What is far more unproven is any notion that without extensive use of electricity to power transport people can keep eating in an oil-poor world.

Perhaps I should have framed the context a little better. While electric cars undoubtedly exist and function just fine, the technology is yet to prove itself is widely deployed system which has reached critical market acceptance.

People have been eating for a long time without electricity or oil. Lots of people will keep eating. It is just those that rely exclusively on cheap transported food could have some real difficulties. This is one of the most powerful forces that will force societal change in profound ways. Long before you can roll out the elctric trucks and tractors, people will have found other ways to keep eating if it gets that bad.

Without oil and electricity only a fraction of the present world's population 'kept eating', so there is no evidence at all that this would be possible in the modern world.

Any new technology faces hurdles to it's introduction, but the understanding of what is needed for electric transport to be introduced at a large scale is well understood - the context under which it has so far operated is one in which oil has been cheap, and that is unlikely to be the case for much longer.
Here is one example of what can be done at the moment in trucking:

The costs are high, but not out of line with the costs for petrol driven alternatives, and can only improve.

The British supermarket, Sainsbury's, is also in the process of making 20% of it's home delivery fleet electric.

60 million electric bikes are on the road in China.

In any project it is a good idea to consider upside and downside risks.
On the upside, if this works then BAU could presumably continue, at least as far as transport is concerned.

However, I would view this as the less likely alternative, but development of EV cars should be very helpful just the same.
At the moment huge sums are being spent on developing batteries, and large sums are likely to go on the power systems to run them.
These sums are based on the assumption that tens of millions of cars will be produced annually, so the cost of the research and factories can be spread across them.

The crashing economy means that, in my view, this alternative is unlikely to happen, but considerable personal mobility and also electric tractors etc will benefit from this development work, which would not be carried out if the only market was reckoned to be for a much more modest transport system.

Millions of electric bikes are already on the roads in China, and all sorts of bikes, trikes and EV motorbikes seem likely to take to the roads, at much more modest expenditure and capability than full cars.
The battery research will also benefit buses, and trucks for transport of goods from railheads.
In more densely populated areas, mobility be on demand shared taxis would provide much of the convenience of having a personal car, at a fraction of the cost:

Emergency vehicles will also make life much more possible as a result of this technology, as the outlook might be grim without.

The energy cost of this sort of network and use of EV's would be tiny fraction of current costs, whilst providing some degree of convenience and allowing much more possibility not to immediately abandon suburbs, which would mean that accomodation would be much better than would otherwise be possible and solutions like in-filling for more dense living and re-zoning for more local work could take place over a longer period and the fall in house prices would not be so drastic, which is a major source of financial instability at the moment.

The reduced convenience from current practise should mean though that the pressure would still be on to reduce distances routinely travelled and alter living patterns, but at a rate which would be more practical.

BTW, Ireland is also considering a grid of this kind:
Of course, it is not nearly as challenging to provide this for a small country as for Australia.

Hi Kiashu,

Currently, 1,750 people each year are killed in car accidents; a quarter of them pedestrians, with a total cost to the community of $17 billion. Will the cars being electric reduce this?

E-Cars even pose a greater risk to pedestrians etc. since they are almost silent. (This problem, however, can be solved with artificial sound or so.) There is research under way (by Toyota, if memory serves) to construct cars which automatically detect pedestrians and slow down. I do hope that the alternatives in carbuilding will include this, and significantly decrease the overall weight of cars. We shall not forget that SUVs cause most terrible fatalities, due to their insane weight. There is a disarmament necessary in all the industrialized nations - this would be a 'better place'!

Currently, around $10 billion is spent by federal government on roads, money which could be spent on much better things. Hell, it was $55 million a kilometre just for EastLink. Will the cars being electric change this?

Lighter cars would reduce the abrasion of streets. But I agree with you: significant reduction of all motorized traffic is necessary.

Currently, the presence of cheap personal transport in the form of cars means that large shopping malls miles from anywhere come to dominate the landscape, causing small shops to close, destroying small businesses and communities. Will the cars being electric change this?

Alas, no. And you might have added congestion as well, which costs a lot and causes many problems. But, even being generally opposed to cars, I like Agassis project.

$17B for 1750 deaths? There are some zeros missing. Or maybe one missing on the "deaths" side and one added on the "costs" side? $10M per individual can't possibly be accurate.....

Practical valuation of human lives is another topic that needs to be addressed in the US, but which cannot be politically managed.

yes, that can be true, but it's a potential cost.

like the wounded soldiers coming from war, people crippled or killed in accidents are removed from the "productive" society. they will not earn (and spend) wages, they will not pay taxes (if dead), they will be added to healthcare costs. on top it all, there's the money multiplier effect, you know, one buyes bread, the bread maker buys flour, the flour maker buys gasoline, and so on :)

I think Kiashu's figures refer to Australian statisitics. Ironically as cars have become safer,you are much less likely to die ina car accident than you are to suffer serious injuries. The lions share of the $17Bn quoted would go towards treating and rehabilitating th injured.

I was unclear; the total cost of all road accidents in Australia is $17 billion and there are 1,750 or so deaths. The cost comes from a University of Queensland . Or you could consider this South Australian look at it.

Costs soon add up.
- destruction of vehicles, and lost time of operation
- Overtime for police, fire and ambulance
- trauma & intensive care
- rehabilitative care
- lost work income of injured and killed people
- coronial and police inquiries

Perhaps you're unaware that in addition to the 1,750 or so dead, we have 70,000 severely or permanently injured people. Brain damage, lost or crippled limbs, and so on. The ongoing treatment of those people is very expensive.

What about for ultra long distances (e.g. Sydney to Cairns etc) putting cars on trains, electric of course, and enjoying a quiet night on a sleeper carriage for the passengers. There is a passenger train from Brisbane to Cairns that occaisionally has one or two car transporter carriages behind it. Having been a passenger on this service there is still a lot of room for improvement though but needs will triumph.

The method of changing batteries still doesn't solve the fact that batteries are expensive and have a finite lifetime.

The method of changing batteries still doesn't solve the fact that batteries are expensive and have a finite lifetime.

However Better Place own the batteries and manage their maintenance - you pay a subscription fee for using them.

One of the attractions of this approach is that is a start towards a cradle to cradle style system for these components - McDonough recommends companies owning components and managing their full lifecycle as a way of minimising waste and maximising recycling.

I really support the sustainable thinking behind this scheme, but the idea of an unmanned battery changing station out in the boonies full of valuable batteries would be a security nightmare. Look at the trouble that the power authorities have in hanging on to their stocks of copper wire, whereas each Lithium battery has a value of several thousand dollars in a handy portable package!

I don't think the station would be unattended (the battery replacement process doesn't require an attendent, but neither does filling your petrol tank).

I expect people would be on hand to sell all the other stuff you buy at petrol stations, keep the gear maintained, manage the battery inventory, clean toilets etc etc

So it wouldn't be a looters paradise.

.. and while these batts would be valuable, they'd also be BIG, HEAVY, and would probably be hard to sell, or rather, easy to trace.

The getaway might make for a funny Mack Sennett film, though!

easy to trace.

Infrastruture owned by the corporation.

RFID of course, for inventory management and tracking.

If the car is tagged to allow refuleing to be sent as a monthly bill, then POW! any single car can be pinpointed every time it recharges.

If it is setup like this, it's great for the police!

Of course, you eTag already allows you to be tracked as you move around (and your in-car GPS device logs everywhere you've been, just like your mobile phone does), so this isn't adding much more data to your trail.

It is another issue for the privacy-conscious to be aware of though.

I can see your point but I don't like the idea of another monopoly on transport just like the petrol station companies. I am just hoping that the option is given to be able to charge your own vehicle at home and not just at these charging stations. Who knows, we may have a thing like fuel watch in 30 years time where the cost of charging the vehicle is a matter of national concern.

I can see the oil companies muscleing in on this business somehow and taking it all over, again.

Better Place has talked about working within a standards based framework, which would presumably allow other companies to offer batteries and power to appropriately equipped vehicles.

I'd assume in the long run we'd end up with different chains of charging and battery replacement stations, just like current petrol station setup (and possibly using the same sites - which would probably result in the oil companies getting in on the game - at the retail level).

I would guess the power supplier to Better Place would also allow charging at home if you used them as your power retailer - so maybe the various power retailers would end up owning charging networks, just like the oil companies do today - but you'd be able to use their services at home as well.

Of course, we'll see PHEV's as well, which you'd charge at home but don't have as many options out on the road, other than using petrol.

Would it not make more sense to just hire a car in Cairns rather than spend a shipload of energy carting a car all the way up the coast?

Best of luck, if this business model works that will be great. It seems overly ambitious and complex. How will it compete with an Avis or Hertz renting PHEV's ? Personally, I would prefer to either hire or own a PHEV that I can re-charge myself and use petrol on longer trips.

If you are going out of range of the metro areas and highways covered by the scheme, then you would be better off renting a PHEV.

But if 95%+ of your trips are in the serviced areas (and assuming it is price competitive), you may as well go electric - and I think that would cover most people (from my point of view, if the highway to the snow via Canberra is included, and Pacific Hwy north to Brisbane is, then I can only think of 3 trips I've done in the past 2 years which wouldn't be serviced by this network).

It comes down to the compromise between having an EV range 100-200 km and thus carrying around more batteries or a PHEV battery range of 20-60km and carrying around a small ICE engine and fuel. You won't want to drive to Brisbane and have to exchange batteries every 60 km, but 95% of trips within a city are less than 60 km, probably less than 30km.
I like the idea of having the flexibility, and re-charging at home is always going to be cheaper than battery exchanges.
The problem I see with the business model is that those who find EV's the best solution will not need the battery exchange, while those who need more flexibility will buy a PHEV. Who are left?; out of state visitors renting.
I hope I am wrong, it would be great to see a rapid uptake of EV's, even if depend on battery exchanges.

There are a few misconceptions embedded in this one :

- The range for the EV is 160 km, not 60 km.

- You only have to exchange batteries if you don't have time to wait for a recharge at a recharge station (ie. the trip to Brisbane scenario).

- It would be a litttle annoying to swap batteries say 8 times on a trip to Brisbane (vs one petrol refill) but its not the sort of trip most people do on a regular basis. If it only takes a minute or two its not an insurmountable hassle in my view.

I really like the idea of the battery swap. This strikes me a solution to all kinds of problems. Construction equipment, for example, does not take a break in some applications but would benefit from the torque control and extra traction that batteries can provide. An automated way to swap out batteries quickly would be a boost for this application and farming applications as well.


Yep. A vehicle can be designed to allow a swap in seconds.

One big advantage- the companies who own the batteries and rent their use do all the work of keeping them up to date- and they have every incentive to evolve them to better ones fast so as to keep competitive.

Funny, I suggested this battery swap idea a couple of times in the past and got rewarded with so much heavy flak I could walk on it, as they used to say in WWII. Now I hear of several companies seriously thinking of it- one in Israel.

For my short commute, I am thinking of a small EV designed for a quick swap, with a battery at home, one in the vehicle, and one at work, so I am always running on a full charge. The robot rapid replacement widget I am thinking of is-at least initially, a strong young guy at either end with a hand truck , gloves and a rubber apron.

I've thought about battery-swap as well.. came up with

- Pro: Range, speed of 'refuel'.
- Pro: Don't need to worry about battery replacement cycle.

- Con: Are you allowed to charge at home.. in which case a person using their car for commuting only may just 'flip batteries' once a year to get a new one, subsidised by frequent flippers.
- Con: Standardising batteries means you can't fit them to the shape of the car, and they have to be easily accessable, so you probably lose space in the car.

Space constraints can be designed around to some extent, but the first 'con' probably means a monthly subscription, which might put people off. Tricky.

I would also expect most 1st-gen EVs to be the second car of a typical 2-car family. For work commuting, school run, supermarket, etc; in this case overnight charging at home and a 100km range are fine for 90% of customers.

In some cases, electric locos in coal mines "hot swap" lead acid batteries several times per day (or shift). In other cases, they run (or sit) under wire for a while and recharge the batteries.


This scheme is ok as far is it goes, but can somebody answer me this: how will it mitigate the economic impact of a permanent decline in world oil production equivalent to the temporary decline of the 1979-80 oil shock, when the world financial system is already in meltdown? I'm sure a lot of relatively wealthy, debt-free people will sign up for this and drive around happily in their shiny new EVs, but they will be the priveleged few. The problem is that, in the meantime, the ignorant masses will be deluded into believing that BAU will continue. The promise of a shiny, new EV sometime after 2012, assuming Macquarie Bank survives, won't stop tens of thousands of mortgage defaults in the outer suburbs and the devastating, flow-on socio-economic consequences.

Why is it that every possible COMPONENT of a future solution is rejected unless it solves ALL problems forever?

The way I see it we, we are going to have a very, very rough ride on the downside of peak oil, millions dying in wars and starvation etc, so any tool that can help as maintain PART of the current infrastucture and economy should be welcomed.

A world in which all the cars are electric isn't Business as Usual. It's a different world. If we can then transition the electricity from coal to renewable and nuclear, it is a different world again.

In answer to your question - EVs will mitigate the economic impact of decline because without EVs we won't (at some stage) even have a functioning economy.

I wouldn't say that my statements "this scheme is ok as far as it goes" or "a lot of relatively wealthy, debt-free people will sign up for this and drive around happily in their shiny new EVs" is a rejection of every possible component of a future solution.

Now, let's just do a few sums for "a world in which all the cars are electric." Very simplistically, about 1 million new cars are sold in Australia each year and the average car on the road is 10 years old. Assuming an EV will cost say $40K, we would need to spend $40 billion per annum for 10 years, totalling $400 billion, just to replace half the car fleet, ignoring all of the supporting infrastructure. In the face of declining world oil production, oil shocks, the meltdown of the world financial system and the various flow-on socio-economic impacts, I think $400 billion would be much better spent elsewhere.

It will take about 6 years to replace half the VMT since new cars do more km per year. New vehicles are being purchased anyway so its not necessarily an additional cost. The savings in fuel importation will be spent in other areas of the economy. EV cars are part of the solution in a post peak oil world.

That's assuming every new car is an EV. At present, less than one per cent of new cars are HEVs. VKT will have collapsed due to 'demand destruction' before the roll out of EVs has a significant impact, and it will be due to affordability and the broader socio-economic impact of peak oil, not merely fuel prices. For example, Aug 07 to Aug 08 VMT on all roads in the US declined by more than 7 per cent.

The assumptions behind your sums seem false to me. If we are indeed going to have to make do with much less oil, and this is accompanied by a financial crash, then there is no way anything like traditional numbers of cars will need to be made, nor could there use be financed, at least for many years.

What you are looking at then is a choice between in some way managing to do without advanced transport, which would pretty much mean game over from the POV of transporting goods from any railheads to the shops, and mean huge areas of land set aside to grow crops for draft animals alone, or as much of the infrastructure as is practical could be run by the use of electric and hybrid vehicles.

EV vehicles will also not need to suddenly take over from ICE vehicles in one move, as there will be oil available, albeit more expensive.

If you think in terms of EV's being produced at perhaps 100,000 a year, mainly used as taxis etc, and many different bikes and trikes run by EV with hybrid batteries and a re-emphasis on trains, then this is perhaps on the right lines.

This would be a far more survivable world than one without EV's, although not having the same convenience as today.

This world should not be compared for transport with that of today, but with the desperate world that would result in not having a working though greatly reduced transport system.

This is likely exactly the same as for the roads, where instead of 6-lane asphalt you might have one lane each way of concrete, with gravel in the suburbs and minor roads.

Reasonable, but not great, transport is available at a fraction of today's energy cost.

The assumptions behind your sums seem false to me. If we are indeed going to have to make do with much less oil, and this is accompanied by a financial crash, then there is no way anything like traditional numbers of cars will need to be made, nor could there use be financed, at least for many years.

I agree completely. My very simplistic sums were intended only to highlight the sheer scale of the problem. EVs will be extremely important, but there is no way they will able to replace ICE cars on the scale that we currently use them.

The bottom line is we have to figure out how to use less energy. Trying to keep the same number of cars on the road is not the solution.

In many parts of the world certainly UK and Australia main roads are concrete with steel re-in-forcing, with an asphalt covering. Many Sydney concrete roads were built >50 years ago, without asphalt and they just replace cracked or rusted sections. Many suburban concrete roads have never been repaired as we don't have frost or salt. Heavy trucks do most of the damage.
If you assume a financial crash as bad as the 1930's, that's going to delay peal oil. We have to plan on getting through this recession and dealing with the same problems we had last year. A PHEV will be ideal for my needs, but others will still drive around gas-guzzlers, while others will choose HEV or very fuel efficient ICE vehicles, or walk or bicycle. If we do have a financial collapse any number of doomer scenarios are possible, plenty of third world models are available.
I am confident whatever happens ( except nuclear war) cities in developed countries will all have water, electricity, basic foods, some form of sewerage and garbage service. They may be expensive, electricity may be off several hours of the day, just like 3rd world counties today.

Here in the UK my main concern is with the provision of heat and power for agriculture, fertiliser etc.
If I lived in Australia, my biggest concern would likely be with water.

Both need substantial upgrades to their housing stock, in the UK to provide insulation, and in Australia I would imagine to in-fill and provide transport links and to provide passive cooling rather than fossil fuel based air conditioning.

I find it a little amusing in a sad way that the assumption seems to be that Australia will be allowed to determine whether they will produce uranium and coal if they are in short supply.
Great powers when the chips are down act in the just one way, and if it is deemed vital then either the Australians will mine it and sell it themselves, or military/financial/political means of one sort or another will be employed to compel it, by the US or China.

In this EV solution, the customer does not own the battery. So the vehicle costs much less, perhaps $15K. The miles (or km) driven cost more than just the cost of electricity for recharging though. As long as the total cost for transportation is coming down, this solution should have some appeal. It should be noted that even with declining oil, people will still buy cars so the money is going to be spent anyway.


You still need to pay for the battery through subscription. As long as you need one battery installed in every car, every car owner will end-up paying for a battery. I don't see much cost reduction from the car owner point of view.

What I see is increased convenience solving some logistics problems such as fast recharging and recycling old batteries. This alone makes the system worth trying.

Well, suppose the batteries are good for 200,000 miles and cost $15k, then the cost per mile is $0.075. That is less than the cost of gas a $2.50/gal for a 25 mpg car. We still have not paid for the electricity but we are in the ballpark of similar costs. The big cost reduction will come as the batteries continue to improve, but it looks like we're over a hump for pure EVs is some markets.


Better Place and Macquarie Capital Group will raise $1 billion to build a network of 250,000 charging stations and battery exchange stations in key locations along the east coast by 2012.

Sounds unlikely in this economic climate. Big deals aren't getting funded right now. Which investor wouldn't say, "Can't you test this using less money?"

"Big deals aren't getting funded right now. Which investor wouldn't say, "Can't you test this using less money?"

I don't know, a billion dollars sounds like a "big deal" to folks like you and me, but to the corporate players it's really not that big.

The bigger enemy right now is falling gasoline prices. There is no way that anyone will make serious changes with gasoline at $2.00 per gallon (in the U.S., I know it's higher in Australia). In Europe it's been almost 4 times that much for years and still has not ended the hegemony of the gasoline and Diesel engine.

Never mind the battery exchange, I could live without that but I would love to have the little sedan shown with the A123 batteries. I live 22 miles out in the country from where I work, and that alone could do 95% of the travel I do. If the utility would do a lease deal for the batteries, I would be protected from catastrophic battery failure, the greatest fear holding up electric car acceptance, and be using no gasoline at all for my commute to work, shopping, etc. It would be a hell of a deal! Well, depending on the monthly lease of the vehicle and battery, but it would sure put a dent in OPEC sales...:-)


I agree that one billion dollars really isn't that much - much less than many other Macquarie infrastructure investments over the years (and no doubt destined to be sold off via a listed investment trust structure).

As you say, the problem would be low petrol prices stifling demand - though that may not be a problem in 4 years time if we see less investment in new production and the sort of depletion rates the IEA is talking about.

Thus far the economic downturn doesn't appear to be affecting EV and battery investment. In the last day or so we've seen :

- rumours Tesla was about to run out of cash, only for them to announce $40 million in new funding

- another $55 million investment in batteries by GE

The problem is that, in the meantime, the ignorant masses

No no. The PROBLEM, Brisvegas, is people like you who would call your fellow people "ignorant masses". The range of IQ readings among humans is really not very broad, certainly not near as broad as ignorant educated minorities would like to think it is. The "masses", if not deliberately and intensively misinformed, make better decisions collectively than elite few self-appointed "leaders". See downfall Soviet Union, etc. etc.

Ignorance and intelligence are two very different things lengould. I happen to agree that the vast majority of "the masses" are very intelligent. But I am also aware of at least two post-graduate students who have conducted polls of peak oil awareness in the general community, with the simple question "what is peak oil?" Between 1 and 2 per cent of the respondents were able to provide an answer. This indicates that around 98-99 per cent of the population is, by definition, ignorant of peak oil. "Ignorant masses" is an appropriate description. Ignorance, not intelligence, is the problem.

I am also aware of at least two post-graduate students who have conducted polls of peak oil awareness

There's no way to make the word "ignorance" pretty. That's a pig which your semantic lipstick doesn't help.

Of course you are one of the very few who absolutely know what the top priorities must be for every citizen. No chance in the world you may be wrong in your evaluation of the relative importance of oil. Not even after the humiliation of a price drop from $145 speculative highs which you claimed proved the significance, but which in fact simply proved the level of speculation.

Isn't it interesting how a few observations about the feasibility of an EV project can degenerate into ideological hyperbole?

There's no way to make the word "ignorance" pretty. That's a pig which your semantic lipstick doesn't help.

"Ignorant" means "unaware or uninformed". This is not a value judgement or semantics, just basic English comprehension.

Of course you are one of the very few who absolutely know what the top priorities must be for every citizen.

Maybe you can provide a quote where I have made this claim.

No chance in the world you may be wrong in your evaluation of the relative importance of oil. Not even after the humiliation of a price drop from $145 speculative highs which you claimed proved the significance, but which in fact simply proved the level of speculation.

A half-century correlation between growing world oil production and world economic growth is good enough for me. See for example Jeff Rubin's latest analysis, including the observation that four of the last five recessions were triggered by oil price shocks.

I'm not sure what you mean by "humiliation of a price drop from ... highs which you claimed proved the significance ..." Maybe you can provide a quote. What I have been saying publicly for a couple of years is that the long upwards price trend and high price volatility would continue, causing serious economic consequences. The fact that a seven-fold oil price increase in as many years contributed to an economic shock which most mainstream commentators are calling the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression is a reasonable vindication of this. The Campbell/Laharerre "bumpy plateau" thesis is now an observed phenomenon rather than merely a 'thesis'.

"Ignorant" means "unaware or uninformed". This is not a value judgement or semantics, just basic English comprehension.

Just no way to weasel out of it. That word carries explicit baggage in common usage. Many inoffensive common usage words could have substituted. Your weaseling is just semantic exercise.

Send your complaint to Oxford University mate. I didn't invent English, I just use it to communicate. Maybe I'll use Latin next time.

"Better Place in Australia plans to start by setting up charging stations in the Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney, and then connect them with "electric highways," with stations set up every 25 miles. "

Why is Perth always left out?

I do agree with one of the commenters that with 80% of our energy derived from coal electric cars on their own will only be a part of the solution. It will decrease our dependance on foreign oil however less cars is the desired objective. I think that this will happen naturally. Certainly more spending on public transport will help to make it a more viable alternative. The new Liberal government in WA have just cancelled a new extension to the excellent Northern railway line so I think we are back to the oil/car people here in WA. Labor had its faults however it was more committed to public transport than any of the liberals.

Let us hope that the politicians can be weaned off clean coal and start on the renewable energy future that we need here in Australia. As soon as that is done this electric car scheme will be a whole lot greener.

Perth is always left out because it is a long way from anywhere.

In this case, you can link 3 largish cities on the east coast via a few highways and have a network that covers a lot of the area the majority of the Australian population travels around. Covering Perth would only be useful to people who hardly ever leave the Perth metropolitan area.

Its a shame McTiernan is out and her transport plans are being rolled back.

In the last decade, Western Australia has lead the way with rail expansion in Australia. CNG buses instead of trams in Perth though (understandable given the surplus of natural gas there).

Best Hopes for Trams in Perth, and more electrified railroads,


In about 10 years, there won't be enough oil to support all of this electric economy. Oil supports the manufacture, transport, and maintenance of the electric economy and power grid. Don Quixote comes to mind. Those idle wind turbines will stand for hundreds of years for all to see as monuments to ignorance, greed, and infatuation with mechanical things. It's time to quit fooling ourselves and plan for a world without oil and electric power, while we still have the oil, electric power, and communications for making such plans.

The proponents of this electric economy must have a plan for how it will work, what the infrastructure will look like, where the capital will come from. And they must have a plan for how it will work without highways, trucks, and oil to manufacture and transport parts from all over the world to keep it going. I have asked the proponents of the electric economy on this site many times for plans, but just get more posts like this one which just says we can do it. That is unacceptable. You are proposing trillion dollar/Euro infrastructure changes with no plan, It does not wash. Where are your plans? These investments take money and effort away from preparing for living without oil and electric power.

Why are there almost no posts on TOD that focus on preparing for Peak Oil, that is, preparing for when there is not sufficient oil to maintain the highways and power grid? Why can't TOD editors face preparing for Peak Oil???

Probably because the editors do not share your belief that we will be unable to maintain the power grid.

cjwirth - "Those idle wind turbines will stand for hundreds of years for all to see as monuments to ignorance, greed, and infatuation with mechanical things."

Why will they be idle - we are not talking Peak Wind here. The latest turbines that are taking over now do not have gearboxes and are far more reliable that previous ones. It is well within an electric transport system to support the maintenance of the electronics and mechanical systems in a wind turbine.

Peak Oil also does not mean that the oil is going to completely run out. Oil will be around for hundreds of years for critical infrastructure that can be economic with say $500 per barrel oil. Much like a precious metal like platinum used in fuel cells - though the metal is very expensive the pay off is greater than the cost.

Well said - why EV's can't keep renewable power generation infrastructure maintained and running is a meme that constantly gets repeated yet makes little sense.

And we won't run completely out of oil for many decades - we've got plenty of time to build what needs to be built - if we can be bothered doing it...

I think it makes plenty of sense. If EV's are so great why is it that even the electrcity companies don't use them? There must be a reason.

Because oil has been cheap historically - with cheap, plentiful fuel, people didn't need to pursue EV's (conspiracy theories about "who killed the electric car" and the like aside of course).

As oil becomes scarce / expensive, that situation changes, and people will respond.

Given that people have demonstrated a clear preference for cars for some time, I think its likely they'll try to continue using them - which makes EV's a logical progression if they can be made affordable.

Given that you can (if you are lucky enough) buy a Tesla Roadster for $100k or so right now, I don't see why you won't be able to buy a Renault Megane or a GM Volt or whatever is 3 years time for, say $40k, which is going to be affordable for a lot of people unless there is a deep depression (of which I remain as yet unconvinced).

You can buy a 2008 Prius and add an A123 plug-in conversion TODAY for $35K, give or take a grand. That gets you a few miles EV-only, but many miles at 55-70mpg. Even just this 'little' step, if broadly applied, could cut US gas consumption, and probably Australia's, but a factor of 3 or more for "average" drivers. This would make $12 gas "survivable" for most people, which buys more time on the high-price edge of marginal production.

A PHEV minivan would catch much of the remainder. At even 40mpg blended average, with 4 people as a carpool vehicle or a family hauler current lifestyles will be supported for a decade longer.

Moving from there to EV-only for in-town commuting seems straightforward. Heck, CNG Civic's are only useful for in-town use, yet demand is exceeding production. I'd buy an EV Civic today if it cost $25K or less and went 100 miles.

Certainly PHEV doesn't fix everything, but it will enable existing lifestyles to be maintained for a longer transition period, and it will certainly ramp the production of cost-effective batteries which are needed for any solar/wind future.

Once we get cheap batteries alt sources suddenly makes sense, and I think transportation is stable then -- wind/solar for generation, EVs for neighborhood transport, light rail for metro transport, and electric rail for long-haul.

As for those who say suburbia must die, and that all cars are evil, you are selling an unsellable proposition. Maybe 5-10% will readily go along with that future -- the rest will go kicking and screaming. PHEVs will have to come and go, and oil, coal, and nat gas will all give way to nuclear and biofuels, and wind and solar will have to for some reason fail to deliver before the average US family is going to give up sports, jobs, vacations, lawns, and malls. The only other possibility is massive depression, so that suburb dwellers don't have jobs to pay for it all. That's the only hope of a "fast collapse" of vehicles and suburbs, and it's an ugly path indeed, since those same people won't have money for food or heat either.

If EV's are so great why is it that even the electrcity companies don't use them?

They're moving to things like hybrid-electric bucket trucks because the fuel savings pay for the hardware.  How much more before they scrap the engine and go to e.g. Zebra batteries?  I don't know, but there's some price where it makes sense.

Note that we'll still need some liquid-fuel trucks or trailerable generators for missions like going into hurricane-hit areas where there is no power.

It is perhaps a side argument but there seems to be an assumption by EV proponents that the rising cost of oil plus the falling cost of mass production will at some point coincide to make EV's the system of choice for popular consumption. Tracking and predicting that threshold price must also take into account the general economic disruption of sustained high oil prices and its deleterious effect on the exisiting industrial infrastruture. If that industrial system is damaged enough, there may be another critical economic threshold below which a high tech, high resource EV industry is prevented from emerging. In a sense it is now a race between those two thresholds to see whih gets ther first: economic collapse or transistion to a new electric economy.

The dominant force at the moment, of course, is the collapse of expansionary economics, manifested by restricting credit markets, deleveraging of financial bets, falling home values and most importantly for this thread, severe sales falls for the major car makers. If this industry, or even significant chunks of it, fail in the next few years, the prospects of mass EV adoption are slim, along with the prospects of new public tram systems, light rail and long haul electric heavy rail. There may be critical function vehicles adopted by large utilites to keep the power grid going but I don't see lots of new suburban subdivisions being built with electric bulldozers and backhoes.

Oil will be around for hundreds of years for critical infrastructure that can be economic with say $500 per barrel oil.

Hydrocarbon products can be synthesized from e.g. biomass for less than that.  Essential fuels can be supplied with simple compounds like methanol.  For things like lubricants, the same chemical syntheses now starting with steam-reformed natural gas can start with gasified biomass.

I saw the following elsewhere (I've edited it lightly:

"The economics of making hydrogen from electricity is well known. Assuming wind power at 6 cents per kWh and 50 kWhs for a kilogram of hydrogen, that is $3 for hydrogen with an energy equivalent of four litres of gasoline.

Now, hydrogen is expensive to handle, so even though the cost seems competitive with gasoline, it really isn't at current prices. Now, there are suggestions to react CO or CO2 with hydrogen to make methanol, which is a much nicer liquid fuel. What efficiency/cost would we expect in going from hydrogen to methanol?

If the conversion is only 50% efficient, you'd have $6 for the methanol equivalent of a gallon of gasoline. Under the same assumption, a 3 MW wind turbine should be able to produce electricity enough to produce 7 barrels of oil equivalent methanol per day. Thus, to replace the entire world consumption of oil, one wind turbine per 500 people would suffice, at a cost of about $8000/capita. This is about the same figure as the current world GDP per capita. So, if we need to renew investments every 20 years, 5% of world GDP need to go into wind powered production of liquid fuels. "

I haven't gone through the calculations - any thoughts?

The losses mount up; electricity to hydrogen(25%loss), hydrogen to methanol(say 25%loss), methanol ICE 75%-80% loss; only about 12% of energy recovered. Compare this with an EV 80-90% of electric energy into useful motion.
If 220Million vehicles in US are using 420 Million gallons/day, this represents about 40miles/day, using an electric vehicle would be 8kWh/day(0.2kWh/mile). A 3 MW turbine at average of 30% generating capacity will produce 24,000 kWh/day, so could provide electricity for 3,000 vehicles, transport for 4,500 US citizens. Clearly methanol is going to require a lot more electricity than EV, but for a PHEV a little methanol may be a good back-up once the oil is gone.

"for a PHEV a little methanol may be a good back-up once the oil is gone."

That's how I would put it: today's electric drivetrains cost about $.10/mile, including the amortization of the battery and electricity costs, for the first 30-40 miles per day. On the other hand, these costs rise quickly for the miles beyond that range, due to the battery overhead. If synthesized methanol costs $.20/mile in a PHEV ($6/gallon divided by 30mpg, lower due to methanol's lower energy density), that's pretty cost-effective for the less often used extra range.

The more interesting cases are water shipping, long haul trucking and aviation. If $6/gallon is really feasible, those things would go up in cost, but still be feasible (especially water shipping).

Some of those figures sound a bit optimistic, although I don't much disagree with the general thrust of what you are saying.
30% generating capacity from wind is only available in very favourable locations, and may be obtainable in the US and Australia but for most of the world 25% is far more realistic and even optimistic.
In addition the figure of around $4 million dollars for a 3MW windmill that is being used here is surely optimistic, both for the windturbine itself and because it does not allow for the very substantial connection costs inherent in wind and for back-up costs.

Solar power though seems likely to make a large contribution to me, with grid parity by around 2015.
IOW, I would reckon on power at around twice the $0.06kwh you give.

Methanol, regardless of what we might like from a GW POV, seems likely to be made from CTL from coal to me, although stranded wind may play a part.

The broad picture sounds right to me, but costs are likely to be higher and capabilities lower.
It boils down to an ability to continue a technological civilisation, but one which is far from BAU, and at least for the forseable future one where personal mobility is restricted compared to current practise.

Neil, how much is energy is lost in the production of batteries? I have no idea, but it seems to be a lot since they are so expensive. Let's hope this improves - there is some promising research out there - but today I believe methanol might be competitive to batteries. Also, I guess batteries is not an option for anything other than light cars. There are lots of other transportation uses for petroleum that needs to be replaced in the long term.

I can't help on the energy inbedded in batteries, but the reason for the high cost is not particularly due to that AFAIK, and onve they are built the new designs will last several thousand cycles.
As regards use for other than light cars, batteries can deal with most uses up to the stage of long distance goods transport - you would need to switch to rail for that, and heavy agricultural machinery would probably need to run on biofuels, and is ideally positioned to do so.
Here is the heaviest-duty EV so far:

Delivery vehicles etc can easily use electric, and indeed that is it's most currently profitable use.

Methanol synthesis from syngas is actually highly efficient, in the order of 80-90%. Catalysis of CO2 into CO + 1/2 O2 is probably about as efficient as H20 into H2 + 1/2 O2 since that's the same entropy balance. Methanol can als be upgraded after that to gasoline with maybe 5-10 % energy losses. The equipment would be very expensive though, especially the H20 electrolysers I think, for many years to come. A serious downside, the capital won't likely be available.

Another aspect it that it should be possible to use what waste heat there is for heating or cooling. This is not exactly CHP, but it is similar. It you are using the waste heat then costs come down.


How expensive would the H20 electrolysers be??

Is it reasonable to think that one could synthesize 40-45 KWH equivalent of gasoline (or diesel, through transesterification) from atmospheric CO2 and water, with the input of 100KWH of electricity?

I think at least USD 2000 per kW, with platinum (or platinum group) catalysts technology, probably more in practice. Costs are still going down, some projections as much as low as USD 300 per kW. With scaleup and new advanced nano catalysts, that may yet happen. And the facility can run at higher capacity factor than a wind generator, close to 100% would be best.

100 kWh of electricity should give more than 50 kWh of gasoline. 75 percent electrolysis (slightly better probably in the future) 80 percent at least for methanol synthesis. Zeolites are at least 90% efficient at conversion of methanol to gasoline. Chris Dudley had some thoughts on air mining CO2 for jet fuel and used a figure of 0.77 MJ/kg CO2 extraction energy. Since there's 20 MJ per kg methanol that should give more than 50 percent total efficiency, electricity to gasoline.


At $.06/KWH, 50% efficiency and 35 KWH per gallon of gasoline (or 70KWH/gallon), that gives us $4.20/gallon. If the electrolyzer costs $1/W capacity, that's $1 for 8.76 KWHs in a year, or about $8/annual gallon capacity, for about $.80/gallon of capital cost. Those two add up to $5/gallon. That doesn't seem bad.

So, could we estimate the total capital and operating cost of such a setup, per daily gallon of output?

Could I impose on you for links/sources?

Los Alamos has done work on this stuff. 'green freedom' they call it, abominable nomenclature if you ask me. But very American, yes!

That would be viable with gasoline at least USD 4.60/gallon which is in line with your estimate. But, their figures are most likely obsolete (eg new nuclear plant cost, electrolyser cost). I'm sorry for having to post such a dubious reference. Most of the stuff on the Internet is shit full of assumptions! And most of the good stuff appears to be centered around CTL. Now what does that tell us? Brilliant minds working on coal! But ignoring that, the quoted figure is 10 billion total for 18 mbbl/day plant including the nuclear powerplant. Now, clearly we don't want to replace the current 9 mmbbl/day gasoline use in the US. But when most transportation is electric, as mentioned it's a good idea to look after remaining liquid fuel necessities. Air travel, ships, non-electric part of SPHEV, the works. Diesel and kerosine might be made as well, since those are strongly liquid fuel bound uses, probably with somwhat similar conversion efficiencies.

A hundred 10 billion plants costs a trillion which seems reasonable (I don't think we need more than that, IMHO we shouldn't even want to).

I don't think a lot of people would want to invest in this right now, but you are right that it seems a very tolerable cost to the economy, especially when most of transportation is electric. That latter part is what we should focus on though, for now. Money's tight, big gains first.

Also, the $.80 figure you give is subject to an interest multiplier. Credit is getting more costly these days. That multiplied with today's higher cost of electrolysers, plus methanol synthesis plant and catalytic upgrading plant, makes it a total loser in today's liquid fuel markets.

I think that more advanced biofuels will be more competitive. Besides, we'll want all the clean electricity in as many EVs and SPHEVs as possible right now, since that is a better allocation of resources by a rather large factor.

"we'll want all the clean electricity in as many EVs and SPHEVs as possible right now, since that is a better allocation of resources by a rather large factor."

No question. Take a look at the discussions below, and search for my name: you'll see me making that point at length (as well as very good points by other, including Engineer-Poet).

I was more curious about the somewhat theoretical question of the availability of liquid fuels in the distant future - it seems helpful to be able to determine whether there's a simple way to synthesize liquid fuels from simple building blocks like water, air and electricity.

Yes, you've hit the nail on the head! Let's hope others will get it as well.

I was more curious about the somewhat theoretical question of the availability of liquid fuels in the distant future - it seems helpful to be able to determine whether there's a simple way to synthesize liquid fuels from simple building blocks like water, air and electricity.

Thinking about it, my main critique would be neither cost nor complexity, but rather the low cycle efficiency, because it means so much electric generating capacity will need to be installed to cover overhead, we would just make things very difficult for ourselves. Let's face it, there is no abundance of nuclear powerplants or wind generators.

It really depends what we want to do. As you would agree, trying to power a large chunk of cars with this proces isn't the best idea. 50% efficiency x 20% ICEV = 10% efficiency. 10 kW of electrolysers for 1 kW at the wheels. In the future, maybe 60% x 30% = 18% efficiency. Still crappy.

If the purpose is to make liquid fuels for aviation, shipping, and longer distance road travel/trucking, then there could be some potential, but people must be willing to pay for it, (you're probably right about the cost being closer to $10/gallon than $5/gallon) and these sectors must increase efficiency (and for ships, as much wind and solar as possible as we've discussed before).

There could be other options for Big Things That Go (as someone on these forums has called them) such as high performance flow batteries, zinc-air cells, sodium fuel cells (who knows?) that could be more efficient and cheaper. And, of course, biofuels, about which the opinions vary greatly.

A couple of thoughts.

First, as currently developed this is a very high capital cost thing, much higher than batteries for PHEVs. That's striking, given that the cost of the batteries is the biggest barrier for PHEVs, and it suggests that PHEVs would be not only cheaper, and more energy efficient, but faster to ramp up.

2nd, as long as liquid fuels are a niche thing, their cost doesn't matter that much. For instance, if used in a PHEV for only 10% of Vehicle Miles Travelled, costs might be $.05/mile for electric, and $.20/mile on fuel ($10/gallon/50MPG) for a combined average cost per mile of only $.065/mile.

That 2nd point applies not only to light vehicle PHEVs, but ship and truck PHEVs as well.

Correct, however if biofuels are cheaper they are a more likely candidate for that, as the Engineer Poet noted in the comments on one of your links. 10 percent of vehicle miles travelled should be doable with waste corn stover, forestry waste, etc, which should be much cheaper than $ 10 per gallon. That depends on how much cheaper the synthetic fuel process will become. A SPHEV + advanced biofuel combo looks like a winner to me, but perhaps with thermochemical hydrogen production (from high temperature nuclear or solar) things could get more interesting. Then again, those nuclear high temperature reactors won't arrive at GW scale for at least another decade, and solar thermal's low capacity factor makes it difficult to be competitive for this application, so will need development to bring down costs. At any rate this whole synthetic fuel scheme is a long term thing, which weakens the argument that it is compatible with existing infrastructure and mobility. And there needs to be some kind of price on carbon dioxide and chemical pollutants, otherwise coal to liquids will have an unfair advantage.

I think that what makes the synthetic fuel concept so attractive is that it is really cool. Electricity, air, water, presto there's gasoline! But I don't want an energy policy based on coolness, I want one based on reason.

I was trying to figure out a way that solar could be used for producing fuel.
The problem is variability, of course, as you say.
What that means is that a lot of your equipment is lying idle for much of the time, which costs big money.

You can probably get over the diurnal variability by using solar thermal, which has good possibilities to store the energy over night by molten salts and other technologies.

Annual variation is a lot tougher, as at anywhere north or south of around 15 degrees or so from the equator both the length of the day and the power of the sun cause large variability winter to summer, even at as favourable a location as Cairo.

Another characteristic of solar thermal is that it is very sensitive to cloud cover, so monsoonal climates etc cause difficulties.

Some areas stand out as possibilities, such as the Atacama desert and the Northern Territories in Australia.

A further criteria is that you need water, and lots of it. Whilst dry cooling is possible, it is expensive.
You can use sea water for cooling, so the Atacama perhaps stands out, at a superficial level at least, and since it is a narrow area then the other water needs, for the water to be split, would need transporting comparatively locally.

On the whole though perhaps geothermal is a better bet, as it is available 24 hours a day in many locations where water is plentiful - Iceland and Alaska spring to mind.

A few figures spring to mind, ocean transport used 3% of worlds oil, in US truck transport 12% of US oil consumption, rail 1%. Since we have not started a decline yet( if we are at peak oil), we are still likely to have 50% of to-days oil supply in 10years. Plenty for essential services, infrastructure maintenance,lubrication, transport. Passenger vehicles using ICE only will probably have to ration driving if not in next 10 years at least in next 20. All the more reason to switch to EV or PHEV as soon as available.
What will the electric infrastructure look like? almost the same as today, only more long distance HVAC and HVDC, additional wind , solar, geothermal. Natural gas used for peak demand only. Not much oil used now.

We could charge almost all vehicles at night now, using surplus capacity, if we had the EV's.

These types of plans ARE preparing for when there is not sufficient oil! There will always be electric power, its just too useful. Even if the world descends into another dark age, electric power technology is simpler that making steel weapons, glass or ceramics.

But in 10 years the demand from the middle east and China will at least have doubled, and eastern europe, latin america and other asian nations like indonesia, india, thailand and so on will also see strong demand increases in that time. So even with 50% of the oil we have today, it does not mean 50% for Australia.

You are erecting a straw man.

There will be less oil, NOT no oil.

Although I research and analyze to an era where gasoline was primarily used for dry cleaning and oil's main use was lighting, I do not pretend that less than 1 million b/day will be available in the foreseeable future.


Electric cars are nice, but nothing can beat an electric bicycle for efficiency.
An electric bike, 2 batteries, and a 200 watt solar home charger should allow a 20 mile daily commute! Swap batteries each day, one stays home and charges while the other gets you to work and back. I just wish I could get enough A123 Lithium cells to replace my heavy lead-acid batteries!

My 48 volt 20 ah LIFEPO4 bike batteries are about to be shipped from China ... approx $700

You mean 10 miles to work and ten miles home. Get a second charger to keep at work and charge up the battery on your boss's dime. When your MOL is 20 miles, you don't miss any opportunity to top off the tank.

You mean 10 miles to work and ten miles home. Get a second charger to keep at work and charge up the battery on your boss's dime. When your MOL is 20 miles, you don't miss any opportunity to top off the tank.

I don't see this getting off the ground. Massive upfront costs will be combined with consumer resistance. Batteries have a niche role for electric bicycles, scooters and local delivery vans. Anything needing range should stick to good old hydrocarbons, even if they are made with low EROEI. Of course public transport such as light rail and CNG buses should be widely available. City daytime working hours could be staggered and night shift workers living way out of town could be reimbursed unavoidable fuel costs.

Unless there are breakthroughs in battery cost, capacity, weight and cycle life I think we might have to forget the idea of universal energy storage. Dispatchable grid power should move to the intermediate kind which can be throttled back to accommodate surges in wind or solar output. Either that or surplus power is used to plasma gasify garbage to create the low EROEI hydrocarbons referred to above.

This is pure hunch since life cycle data for either Better Place or synfuel is not available yet.

If your choice is no transport or a limited EV, then I can't see where the consumer resistance will come from.
As for costs, the majority will likely be running EV bikes and trikes as their personal transport, with true EV cars in use by the wealthy and for taxis, emergency vehicles and so on.

If your choice is no transport or a limited EV,....

There's the problem isn't it! You are assuming that there are no other choices for transport except an EV, when we kniow that there are plenty of choices. Bicycle, walking, horse, mule, sailboat or how about motorcycles using either ethanol, bio-gas, or God forbid CTL. Then we have the current EV's in some cities called trams. There is a huge body of existing equipemnt whih can be used much more efficiently than it currently is before we need to look at wholesale conversion to personal electric vehicles. I for one have plenty of consumer resistance... and plenty of ohter choices thankyou.

What I can't work out is why in the world you would want to.
Trams are fine, but that is for high density areas, which is not where most people live, and the capital costs of building them is substantial.
Biofuels use huge amounts of land and water for their production, although to be sure they have their place, mainly in running heavy duty agricultural equipment, where it is easiest to get biofuels anyway.
Draft animals typically need a third of agricultural land to provide fodder.
Why convenient and cheap electric transport should not be used in your view escapes me, and seems to be allied to a dislike of suburbia in your own personal system of preferences.
Suburbia seems likely to be on the decrease, but it would seem preferable to me not to have total collapse and people being forced into cramped multi-shares of city centre apartments.

What I'm amazed to see is no-one mentioning the diminishing returns of public transport as you force them out into less and less densely populated areas. At some point the energy cost of hauling around a 50 ton vehicle plus dedicated driver on a high-frequency schedule to transport 2 or 3 passengers per hour exceeds the energy cost of having the people drive themselves in EV's of bio-fueled PHEV's. Odds are, if some theories of knowledgeable people esp. edit staff on this site are correct in assigning Petroleum and Money equivalency, then present city transit systems are already operating at or near that limit.

There's way too much inspiration and not enough perspiration among posters here.

I have mentioned it in previous threads on the subject.
Even in densely populated areas, the efficiency of public transport decreases greatly as soon as the rush hour is over, whilst the cost to pay the driver and amortise the bus or train increases.
Of course though during rush hour private transport takes up a lot of road space, and that tends not to be adequately costed.
For densely populated areas this system seems the way to go to me:

I this way it should be possible to have the point to point convenience of private transport far more cheaply than running a car, but at the same time have much lower set-up costs than buses, and be able to set out and return as convenient.

Even in much more lightly populated areas it would perhaps be possible to run a system with longer delays which dropped people off at main transport nodes.

Electric bikes to the transport nodes would also seem to be a good way to go, perhaps similarly to the French Velib system.

Up here in Canada, there are some months of the year when a biker would simply freeze to death. On those days, if you can't walk the distance then you need a sheltered vehicle (or a "ski-doo suit", basically a thermal space suit.)

It should also be borne in mind that batteries don't much like the cold, and their efficiency is less.
I don't really believe in universal solutions, nor are they needed.
A roll-out of EV's together with electric bikes and so on would greatly decrease total demand, freeing oil for uses where it really is advantageous, Canada for instance.
If it is that cold it is worth paying premium prices for oil.

Hybrids or covered trikes might work in the Canadian environment, but really the challenge for now is to get EV's working where they are most suited, for short distance commuting in city environments.
Australia is well suited in many respects for this, although they are lucky enough to also have the possibility of using natural gas.
For many in rural areas that might be the way to go.

Initially I was holding out for a four seater with a huge range.
Looking at what will fit the bill: the norwegian think city is perfect.
It's in my price range and will easily work for my daily commute and runabout chores.
Otherwise for long trips we could take the minivan (assuming gas is available).

The problem I see is that the banking crisis is going to cut out a lot of funding and the false sense of security of reduced oil prices might take the impetus away from production and shift things out from "released in 2010" to "released in 2013".

While I think we haven't hit peak yet, I think if we don't have mass production of EVs real soon now we are looking at a depression instead of a recession with a very real non-zero risk of collapse down to third world levels.

Boof - "Anything needing range should stick to good old hydrocarbons, even if they are made with low EROEI"

Agree here however only probably <10% of vehicles with long range actually use it on a day to day basis. For the rest it just means less trips to the petrol station which is all I use the 400km range of my car for. Most studies of actual car travel show that more than 85% of all car trips are under 20km.

For the vehicles that actually use their range there are plenty of options even with scarce expensive oil.

That probably supports PHEVs charged at home rather than BEVs at public charging points a la Better Place. Like many other things battery charging may be best done at home rather than in public. The concept of 'home fuelling' can take several forms
1) battery top-up (but not liquids tank) in a PHEV
2) CNG compression using piped gas for an NGV
3) keeping a liquid fuel dispenser at home.

Re 3) I'll be trying to travel 800km without a garage visit this weekend using a stash of diesel kept at home, admittedly a fire hazard and possibly illegal. I've just noticed Wikipedia gives some support
to the idea of sunk costs in vehicles and supply networks, though glossing over the thorny issues of CO2 and inefficiency.

Shai Agassi is renowned as an excellent publicist and salesman but what has his Better Place project actually achieved in concrete terms?

I have been trying to find details of his agreements with the Israeli, Danish and Victorian governments. The Better Place website is extremely vague about this. Have these governments agreed to concrete, practical plans or merely endorsed Agassi’s mission statement and promised the usual facilitative assistance that would be offered to any new development proposal?

Has he actually opened any of his battery changing centres or any of the 500000 charging points he has promised for Israel? Certainly, there does not seem to be any substantive signs of progress in Denmark, where it looks like it will be another seven years before anything practical happens: “Renault-Nissan’s electric cars will be among the first to be on Danish roads by the middle of the next decade. “ (

According to one source the Victorian government’s support amounts to not much more than lip service:

The Victorian government showed its support for the Better Place proposal with the presence at the launch of state minister for environment, climate control and innovation, Gavin Jennings, and provided a statement by Premier John Brumby, but did not reveal if Better Place is receiving funding from the federal green car fund.

“The Victorian government supports any initiative that will have positive outcomes in reducing emissions in the transport sector and welcomes this innovative approach to help make broad adoption of EVs in Australia possible,” said Mr Brumby in the statement.

There seems to be a certain skeptical attitude towards Agassi in two Israeli sources I checked and also in the Huffington Post:

Other sources doubt the sustainability of the Israeli project, pointing out that more than 70% of Israel’ electricity comes from coal, and that there are likely to be problems with water supply if Agassi’s electric car plans are ever realized.

These criticisms seem to be based on the premise that all problems need solving simultaneously and flawlessly.
At the moment most people do not realise that we are in a real fix for oil, and so the pitch has to be to replicate ICE performance as perfectly as possible.
It is however clear that shortages and the cost of oil will mean that most will be willing to take what transport they can get, and even if many of the electric cars are not compatible with battery swapping then they would be fine for local runs, which comprise the vast majority of mileage.

As for power consumption, encouraging coal burn and so on, EV's are vastly more efficient than ICE, and only need 200-400watts a mile to run, so for the forseable future emissions are likely to be limited to produce this, and by the time they do count much solar or nuclear or wind power may be available in much greater quantity.

If solar PV is substantial then water use issues would not come into it, and dry cooling is possible for solar thermal and nuclear.

Better place is far from the only scheme to build power networks - here is the scheme for Paris:

Any change in technology does not spring forth full-grown, and takes time to implement with less than perfect results.
EV cars are no different.

But the question remains. What concrete plans have been implemented to date? What has been done? When will the electric vehicles be produced in mass numbers and at good prices and by then, the infrastructure for those must be there. We need to see concrete, substantial action.

I can't understand the criticism. Yes, we do not have a full roll-out yet, yes, we are at a relatively early stage, but that applies to any endeavour at some time.

As for concrete plans, aside from Better Place there are infrastructure plans going ahead from Paris to Berlin to London.
Massive resources are being devoted to battery production, for instance in BYD in China where Buffet has recently taken a 10% stake.
Almost all car manufacturers have cars in the works, with Mitsubishi likely to be one of the first of the mass-producers through the gates:

As for the issue of using electric transport at all, there are 60 million electric bikes on the road in China,

"We need to see concrete, substantial action."

The guy is fundraising, which IS a concrete action that makes the next steps possible. It happens with most startups. He's described his plans, as far as that goes.. why not credit that with being 'Wet Concrete'? It still has to be formed and to harden.. your challenge seems to be impetuous and not much more than that.

It's like the guy who stops the barber in the middle of the haircut to look, and says "Is this what it's going to look like ?!"

Life of Brian..
"Something's actually HAPPENING, Reg!"
"Right. This calls for immediate discussion!"

But this guy has been talking about this for quite some time now and it really seems to be going slowly. And the problem is that this guy doesn't have all that much time, so we better see some results soon. By 2012, oil production will for sure go into freefall, and then there is no turning back. If he doesn't speed up, Australia might as well go for massive Coal-to-Liquids plants, those need to be built very soon if they are to be ready for the downward slope.

The cars are only just becoming available. The Mitsubishi, for instance, is going to start being released in Japan in 2009, and then only around 2,000 of them.
Large scale releases from many manufacturers will not start until 2012, so there is no point getting too far ahead with the infrastructure.
As for coal to liquid plants, not many places have got as good coal reserves as Australia, many are concerned at CO2 releases and in any case it takes some time to build a plant and the product is expensive.
It is just not practical to have instant solutions, and will take time to transition fuel and transport systems.

Then it is even more important to start construction of CTL plants ASAP. They are proven and tested to produce alot of fuel and CO2. We know what they can do and we can trust the technology. The way this Better Place project is going, it might be 2015 before everything is rolled out and fully ready, and 2020 or even 2025 before alot of people have those electric cars needed. This is time we absolutely dont have. The guy is a late bird. If he doesn't have the leverage to slap around those suppliers to speed up the process, then his project will fail.

?? His suppliers are the major battery companies, and he is trying to work alongside the biggest car companies, so no, he will not be 'slapping them around'.
The battery technology will be ready when it is ready, and personally with car sales at a 25 year low in some markets and the depression just starting, together with shortages of oil, I very much doubt that traditional transport systems will survive.
But yes, if you disregard CO2 then CTL should be possible.
However, even if it is technically possible the politics seem doubtful, and do you really think that the system would be up and running by 2015, including construction?

If I believe that CTL plants will be up and running by 2015? Absolutely, if the authorities realized the severity of the situation we're in. But the authorities believe that there wont be any peak in 2012, they believe that production of oil will just keep on rising. If IEA dont present a report stating that we will see a peak oil in the next few years, there wont be a rush to CTL plants, but those beasts can be up and running in a short time with government determination, they are proven and tested for many decades by Sasol of South Africa. A million barrels per day could easily be produced from 150m tons of coal annually, enough for Australia, and the catastrophe could be avoided.

There are a number of coal to liquids initiatives in Australia that have been in planning / talking stage for a lot longer than Better Place has, none of which has produced a drop yet (and don't look like doing so any time soon).

$1 billion for Better Place is a rather smaller amount of money than that required to build the Monash CTL plant, as just one example.


My questions were concerned not so much with the viability of EV technology as with the viability of Agassi and his firm. My intention was to see if any others at TOD could provide further information to enable me to judge whether the "projects" that Agassi talks about are backed by firm business contracts or are mere aspirations. Here in Australia one state government has expressed polite interest, a bank has said it would help him to try to raise capital, and an electricity company has said it would sell him electricity. These expressions of interest would not seem to justify some of the positive claims in the lead article posted by (but not written by) Big Gav. (I am certainly not criticizing him). For example, the link to Agassi’s announcement speaks of the “infrastructure already set up in Israel and Denmark”. Just what infrastructure? If anyone can point me to a source which gives details of this I would be grateful.

Fair enough.
The information I have come across indicates that early stage investment is in place, and they are currently doing prototype roll-outs of a trial 1,000 charging points:

I wouldn't normally expect firm commitments to be made by the financiers until the results of these trials are in, and falling oil prices might delay them, although the security situation for Israel gives me some confidence that a re-charging network of some kind will go ahead in that country.

The Nissan/Renault backing is also significant for the Better Place initiative.

Tasman - what more "backing" from the government (or in the form of "firm business contracts") do you think they need ?

The company is a startup that has proposed a business plan, arranged 4 key suppliers to make the business viable (Macquarie - funding, AGL - clean power, Renault - cars and batteries - AESC and A123).

There are bottlenecks that need to clear regarding manufacturing of cars and batteries before they could roll anything out, so 2012 seems like a realistic timeframe - whereas 2009 wouldn't be realistic at all.

The idea has only been around for something like 2 years - I really can't see how they could make progress any faster than they have.

If 2 years pass and they still haven't raised capital and started constructing their infrastructure, then it be fair to criticise lack of progress and doubt the likelihood of the project occurring - but at this stage it seems to be a pretty professionally run effort.

Also involved in funding:

Better Place closed funding from investors Israel Corp., Morgan Stanley and VantagePoint earlier this year.

From my link above.

Yes - I was just referring to the parties involved in the Australian venture.

Agassi is pretty well connected - particularly in Israel, where he seems to be moving at the highest levels.

I'm also worried that we might be out of time and that the other poster might be right (too little too late).
That said, we have no alternative.
Though it is arguable whether we need the world's fleet of hydrocarbon passenger cars replaced, it is absolutely IMPERATIVE that our local delivery fleet of medium duty trucks be made resilient. The only practical way to do that is electric or hydrogen fuel celled (though electric is better).

My gut feel (and it's nothing more than very high level looking at trends) is that we are too late for mass uptake of passenger vehicles. The production capacity is just not there. I base this on a 2015 beginning of depletion curve as per Shell Oil's estimates and also the megaprojects.

If we are LUCKY and we get a long plateau out to the 2020s then we have a better chance of making it but I think the best we will realistically achieve is the following:

Battery factories and electric car factories WILL be built, but the collapse in oil production will lead to a mandated shift towards service vehicle production rather than passenger car production. This is similar to what happened in WWII.

Once the distribution and mass transit systems are stabilized then and only then will we see a pickup of passenger car production.

I expect the whole process to take 20 years and follow this pattern:
Plateau - Crash - Bump along the bottom - Recovery.

Your timeline seems accurate to me, as I don't expect really large output of EV's before 2015.
There is a caveat to that though. China and Japan with their high savings rate and manufacturing capacity may change production substantially before this, and I would expect these two to be the leaders, not the US or Europe.
Even in those countries low oil prices out to perhaps 2012 due to depression may delay really substantial deployment until after that date.

There is a second transport option though, which for financial reasons I expect to come to the fore.
That is the build of large numbers of electric bikes, trikes, motorbikes and golf-cart like vehicles.
This seems to me likely to provide most personal mobility for most people out to around 2020 at the earliest.

We have all the technology we need for delivery vehicles and so on to be electric powered, and the only things likely to delay this are difficulties in raising the cash for the higher initial cost and low oil prices due to recession.

As the motorised road transport system is hopelessly inefficient, there will be nowhere near enough wind or other renewable energy available to power it. Say what you will, but the laws of physics will not be persuaded otherwise.

There is a vast difference in efficiency between ICE cars and EV.
An EV only uses around 200-400 watts/mile.
Surveys indicate that grids can cope very well at projected increase rates for EV's:

As for the adequacy or otherwise of renewables, that is part of a wider debate, and anyway would vary from country to country.
It should be noted though that EV cars would fit in very well with solar or wind power, and provide some possibilities for helping to store it and spread load.

So keep giving it all she has, Scotty, even if you canna break the laws of physics! ;-)

I agree that the electric power is definitely not the problem. The problem is the batteries. Let's do a back-of-the-envelope calculation:

Batteries cost about $300/kWh, and a kWh takes you about 4 miles. Now, how much could you utilize your battery capacity in a year? Let's say you dimension your battery pack to your average commute and do 3 miles (utilizing 75% of charge) per installed kWh about 500 times per year (twice a working day and then some). That is 1500 miles per installed kWh every year. This means you spend $300/1500 = $0.2/mile on batteries if we spread the cost over the first year's miles.

Electricity use is 0.25 kWh/mile and if electricity is $0.1/kWh (don't know yankee utility prices) electricity adds $0.025/mile.

Now, with gasoline at $2/gallon and for 40 MPG that is $0.05/mile. (Sure, you might replace a 20 MPG car, but that would be comparing apples to oranges.)

So, electricity might save you yanks about $0.05-$0.025 = $0.025/mile in running costs. But battery capacity had an up-front cost of $0.2/mile-of-the-first-year. So you'd need eight years to recoup the battery costs, but if you consider discount rates and battery life, you'll realize that the investment isn't justified.

BUT, the EU is at about $5/gallon (down from $8), so we pay $0.125/mile and would save $0.1/mile with electricity. At this rate, battery costs are recouped after 2 years, and suddenly the investment makes sense. So I expect EVs to create a niche market quite soon in the EU if car manufacturers are smart enough to accomodate customer-dimensioned battery packs.

Infrastructure with battery replacements at gas stations can create another niche for frequent but variable-length travellers, but I really think fixed-length commutes is a more direct and simple first application, for that you simply need custom battery dimensioning, a high enough gas price and recharging stations at home and at work.

Those figures are in the right kind of ball-park. Batteries start to make financial sense with petrol at around $4/gal.
If you are talking about a pure EV as opposed to a hybrid though the simpler system means that you can make further savings by lower maintenance costs.
In addition if you just want sort of golf-cart to get to the shops and back then more economies should be possible.
At the moment costs are still relatively high as the batteries are not being produced in volume, so it is a chicken and egg situation.
Delivery vehicles with their short runs are the very best market for EV vehicles, and tiny city cars next.
Japan would also be very favourably placed to roll out EV's quickly.
The US and Australia are a lot tougher with their longer distances, and in the US relatively cheap fuel.

Jeppen - "Batteries cost about $300/kWh, and a kWh takes you about 4 miles. Now, how much could you utilize your battery capacity in a year? Let's say you dimension your battery pack to your average commute and do 3 miles (utilizing 75% of charge) per installed kWh about 500 times per year (twice a working day and then some)."

You are neglecting cycle life here. The problem with your analysis is that batteries have a definite cycle life that changes with the Depth of Discharge(DOD). Lead-Acid batteries only have a life of about 300 cycles@50%DOD however will give up after <100 cycles@100%DOD, Nimh (in the Prius) can go about 1000 cycles@75%DOD and the new Lithium Ion can go up to 2000 cycles @90%DOD. AltairNano batteries promise a cycle life of 7000 cycles@100%DOD however not much has been heard of them lately.

In your analysis you could size your batteries to last the lifetime of the car. I only work 200 days of the year as do most people that do not work on the weekend and have 4 weeks of holidays per year. Probably a more accurate estimate is that a average person driving will drive approx 20 000 km per year. For a 20kW battery pack that will require, given than 1kW takes you 10 Km, 20000/200 = 200 cycles@100%DOD or 400 cycles at 50%DOD. A well managed ThunderSky lithium battery pack in a real world EV will last at least 2000 cycles@50%DOD if not more, so 20 000km/year will mean that your battery should last 2000/400 = 5 years at a minimum however with the low DOD it could easily last 10 years. An EV with a 200km range can be expected to only use 50% of its battery more than 90% of the time. If you have a longer commute than 100km then an EV is not for you or you need a larger battery pack. (The same battery if subjected to constant 100% discharges could only last 500 cycles so it is always better to size the batteries around 50% to 75% discharges to preserve cycle life)

The battery problem becomes more a resale value problem rather than paying for the cost of the batteries. Given that IC cars currently depreciate at least half their value in the first 5 years of operation selling a second hand EV with 2000 cycles on the clock will be a salesman problem not a technical one. There will be, I am sure, capacity testers available by then to help consumers decide.

Given that the new batteries will last the life of the car and are part of the purchase price why should the cost of them determine the economic viability of the electric vehicle?

Most plans intend to avoid the question of battery wear by leasing them to the customer instead of selling them, as does Better Place.
Here is an analysis of the economics of that based on a battery cost of $500/kwh, which is for near term lithium batteries:

As a side note currently the cheapest batteries, suitable for repeated discharge in a plug-in hybrid although too heavy for most designs of EV is the lead-acid assisted by capacitors:

This kind of design might be suitable for Australia, with it's large distances so that you could swap to the ICE as needed.

Ender, I'm not sure what your point is here. First you say I neglect cycle life and then you end the post by saying batteries will last the life of the car?

You talk about a "more accurate estimate" of driving based on commuting 200 work days, but the car will probably be used for some additional purposes as well, and I feel my 75% utilization 500 times a year (commutes are two way) is somewhat realistic. I want to be a bit optimistic for the sake of argument.

Well, anyway, you estimate 400 cycles at 50% DOD equivalent, which is about half my estimate. This might be more realistic, and it also worsens the economic outlook considerably - you need to pay $0.375 for batteries per mile of the first year. As I said, at $2/gallon of gas and $0.1/kWh of electricity, you save about $0.025/mile in running costs. This means you need 0.375/0.025 = 15 years to recoup battery costs, disregarding discount and battery life time. That is a no-starter, right?

Given that the new batteries will last the life of the car and are part of the purchase price why should the cost of them determine the economic viability of the electric vehicle?

Because they are a part of the purchase price. :-)

jeppen - "Ender, I'm not sure what your point is here. First you say I neglect cycle life and then you end the post by saying batteries will last the life of the car?"

My point is that battery life is determined by the cycle life of the battery. Considering that the new batteries will have a cycle life of 2000 to 3000 cycles which for an average driver is a lifetime of 5 to 10 years. Most average drivers will not have to replace their batteries in the lifetime of the car so the battery cost is irrelevant.

What you are saying is like when purchasing an IC car considering the cost of the engine seperately and working out the cost per mile based on buying the engine. If cars had aviation engines, like a Rotax 912, that cost up to $18 000 each and need an overhaul at 1500 hours for a cost of $12 000 then your battery cost comparison would be valid. At the moment because most EV battery packs are small volume, hand made components then they are like IC cars with aviation motors. As BEVs and PHEVs become more common and the battery packs become volume mass produced and standarised this will not be the case.

When this happens the purchase price of the car will include the batteries and will be of concern only to the car manufacturer wanting to compete with others. The cost of motoring will include the cost per km of the purchase price of the vehicle rather than the batteries. After all you have to buy an IC car to use petrol so your comparison, if you are including the price of the batteries for EVs, should include the purchase price of the IC car to be fair.

BTW I based my analysis on the generally accepted average driving figure of 20 000km per year. We use this all the time to figure whether the mileage for second hand cars is reasonable for the age of the car. This figure would include commuting and other uses.

In the interests of weight many of the EV cars are likely to contain a lot of composites, see for instance the Th!nk car.
The body then, with some panel replacement, is likely to last indefinitely. The gear box is often non-existent, and even brake shoes with regenerative braking should rarely need replacing.
It all boils down to cars which last pretty well forever, which ties in with actual experience of electric vehicles.
Some of the battery manufacturers reckon that their batteries will last 7,000 cycles, so it should be a slow motion race as to what eventually gives up first that can't be replaced.
Pass your car on to your grandchildren?
More seriously, it is difficult to see poorer people being able to buy in to a second-hand car, as depreciation should be negligible so the divide may become sharper between car-owners and non car-owners.

Ender, I try to compare the economics of ownerships here. Sure the purchase price of an EV may include hidden battery costs, but the batteries may easily make the EV cost $20,000 more than a comparable IC car. This is a very visible premium which will be hard to justify.

In fact, much of my point was that the battery costs should NOT be hidden in the purchase price. Instead, battery capacity should be customized for each buyer, since EVs currently only make economic sense when you have high utilization of battery capacity (and a high gas price as in the EU).

I maintain that the 20,000 km per year figure is irrelevant. What is relevant is the battery capacity utilization per year. EVs make just as much sense (probably more) at 10,000 km per year as at 20,000 km per year, provided the battery capacity is halved in the former case.

Rough calculations suggest that 17% of US electrical production would be needed for EVs for people (ignoring freight).

By contrast 3% of US electrical production would be a "maximum hoped for" electric rail for people (majority of urban travel + intercity) and freight (83% by rail, 17% by truck). Add bikes and walking for Urban transport.

One factor ignored in this analysis is the relatively short lives of EVs. Current ICEs last an average of 15 to 16 years between wear & tear, accidents, salt and other factors. Technology obsolescence will be an additional issue with EVs. So replacement EVs will absorb a good % of production before EVs reach saturation.

Best Hopes for Energy Efficient and Long Lived Solutions,


Those figures are for BAU projections. In reality mobility is likely to be much restricted compared to current ICE transport, just as it is when you catch a train compared to a car.
A vigorous electric transport delivery system will be needed to move goods from the railhead to shops and people's houses, and taxis and emergency and service vehicles need the battery technology to provide access right up to the doorstep.
There is no conflict between rail and EV's, nor do people who find it difficult to pedal a bike need to be stuck.
60 million Chinese electric bike riders prove that.

There are electric cars around that are just fine, and were built in 1908, as they need very little maintenance compared to an ICE car.
In addition, may of the configurations of battery proposed including common lead-acid assisted by capacitors for a plug in hybrid have very long life-times indeed:

In reality mobility is likely to be much restricted compared to current ICE transport, just as it is when you catch a train compared to a car.

So if mobility is going to be much restricted, doesn't it also make sense to start planning for more localised living?

End of posts on this thread now. I'm off to watch the US election result.

I'd agree. We need to make use of all our assets, including walking, shopping locally etc.
OTOH it makes no sense to me to get too retro with transport, when we have the technology to do EV vehicles - I would sooner go to hospital in an electric ambulance than rely on horse and buggy!


I'd prefer the EV passenger vehicles + EV delivery vehicles + Electrified rail system. I like to think of this as the "gold" option.

The silver option is
EV delivery vehicles + Electrified rail.
Personally I think this is what we're going to get over the next 20 years.

The bronze option is:
Electrified rail and no EVs.

I suspect this is not feasible.

There's no doubt electric propulsion is more efficient than mechanical gear trains on hydrocarbon fuelled ICE vehicles. However those vehicles will carry a family and luggage over a mountain pass knowing there is already 'charging' infrastructure on the other side ie service stations. Thus a long term benefit comparison must give credit to the sunk costs or embodied energy in the hydrocarbon-ICE infrastructure minus a debit for inefficient energy transfer. I'm assuming that we can always make enough hydrocarbon fuels with EROEI possibly as low as 0.5. For charging and battery swap infrastructure debit gazillions in new costs. Which comes out ahead over 20 years? More data needed.

Hi Boof,
The estimate for infrastructure cost is here:

The total infrastructure cost would work out at about $500-$1,000 per car, in what Agassi estimates as a $7 trillion global auto market, including gasoline and services consumption.

"In some countries it will be in the billions. In the U.S. it would be $100 billion to do the whole country -- that's two months of oil imports into the United States."

What is that, around $17 billion for Australia?
Chickenfeed compared to swapping to a hydrogen infrastructure.

Real-world information on the costs of charging points at least might be available for London, if you dig around enough on the web, or maybe the charging network they are building in Paris, although the battery swapping stations are new.

Here is a breakdown on running costs for the cars themselves, based on batteries at $500/kwh:

Over the 20 years you specify a number of companies including Toyota have plans to reduce the costs far below that, to perhaps $200/kwh or so at the worst.
Toyota may move to a zinc battery in that time frame.

By 'infrastructure' I think they mean charging points. I would include batteries, say $5000 each for 20kwh. There would probably have to be more than one spare battery on the shelf for every one on the road. If that is correct the cited figures are too low.

I think those whose daily driving makes this seem attractive are close enough to the big smoke to take public transport. Some of us on the other hand are 'spaced out'. I live 60km from a city. We could always ride our bicycles to the local mini-mart, select our groceries then have them home delivered for a small fee. Thus no need for a car to do shopping.

Most people most of the time only go short distances - particularly those for whom buying an EV is worth while.
That means that your estimate of a spare battery for every car is way too high. on removal they would only need a few hours recharging, so for perhaps the 10% of cars that are on a long journey on a given day, you might need a 6 hour or so recharge.
Call it 3% or so of the total stock as spares, 5% to be on the safe side.

Your estimate of battery costs is low for the moment, according to the links I have given.
At $500/kwh 20kwh comes out to $10,000, but that still amortises out fine against an ICE car if you assume petrol at $4/gal or so.

If you live 60km from the city, an EV does not make much sense. A hybrid or ICE fits the bill for the comparatively small part of the population who have that sort of use.

All this project does is allow for continued growth and expansion .

The time frame for ramping up the project will easily be overwhelmed by new energy users demand.

This is denial in a big way. A huge waste of brain power, resources, and most of all time. It does not buy time it wastes it terribly.

This kind of feature post and thread is what gives me the utmost doomerish outlook. You all are willing to commit suicide rather than stop worshiping the Great God TECHNOLOGY.

Lets use tech to work out the fastest, least destructive path to power down with the highest quality of life possible.

"Lets use tech to work out the fastest, least destructive path to power down with the highest quality of life possible."

This is that path - electricity is much more efficient, and supports wind/solar.