I am blogging live from Shai Agassi's talk @ MIT on December 4, 2008. The Wong auditorium is overflowing and Shai Agassi is a very engaging speaker and a great evangelist. He talks about doing the right moral thing and doing right by coming generations by ridding ourselves of oil dependence.
He offered a lot of statistics on the cost benefits. Two particularly stood out - the cost of the entire infrastructure for electric cars in Israel (when it's all complete) will be $100 billion. This is the cost of oil imports for Israel for 2 months. The cost to implement electric car stations on the freeways between the SF Bay Area and LA on all 3 of the connectors - 101, 5 and Hwy 1 is only $25 million! I am scratching my head - so why are we not doing this?!
Shai is now taking questions.
Someone asked him this question: the electricity Shai wants to power cars with is generated from coal anyway, so why the evangelizing? Agassi responds they are replacing oil, not coal, which only costs 5 cents a hour, with electric technology that costs 6 cents a hour.
Another person asked him why car manufacturers would allow him to offer the option of an exchangeable battery since this is an important source of revenue for car manufacturers? His response is his model solves the mainstream economics problem. This allows the car to be sold for $20,000 instead of $35,000 and therefore wider adoption. Interesting approach.
He was asked how his model accounts for the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources used to charge the car batteries. His response was that the grid controls how many cars can be charged at any given time, and this ensures that energy generated is optimally used. The grid also has capacity to store excess energy. Both better place and utility operators can control the grid to achieve optimal performance.
Someone asked a question that I am sure is on a lot of people's minds. He wanted to know how to join betterplace. Shai's answer was to email email@example.com, but not to expect a response right away because they have over 7000 unsolicited emails to get to!
He next got asked about the critical mass aspect of this problem. Whats' the time to payback for this infrastructure investment? Shai splits the problem into 2 parts: charge spots (parking spots with charging facilities) - every 1 of 10 spots roughly needs to be electrified before people think of this as being ubiquitous. Part 2 is the switch station. For Israel, there needs to be 250 to 300 stations. The ratio is 10x of capital expenditure for viability. He didn't quite answer the question, but interesting numbers nonetheless.
Next question was whether better place had any plans for airplanes. Answer is no, not at the moment, since it's hard to switch batteries midair!
The talk just ended to a big round of applause. It was 1 hour well spent this evening!