Monday, June 8, 2009

Can Shai Agassi's Battery Centric plan make the world a "Better Place"

Added 6/16. Shai Answered questions posed by Business week which were asked by BW readers. Here are his answers. Watch his answer to my Question (starting at 4:00 min mark) about how we will generate large amounts of clean energy.

"How would you run a whole country without oil" was the question Shai Agassi posed when opening his TED talk about "Better Place", his company, his concept and his dream. I must say I was a bit skeptical when I first heard that. After all as Americans we consume more than 25% of the world's oil and for long we Americans have battled with our addition to Oil. It is a dependency for which we have no near term solution. Shai's argument is that we have to deliver an electric vehicle, something that 99% of the people can drive. Most importantly he says it must be doable with the science we know today and bound by the laws of physics and the laws of economics. I wont go into the explanation of these two limits he talks about here, but it essentially covers the issues of affordability and practicality of the solution. All these thoughts floated in my mind as I listened to the rest of his talk.

He was recently interviewed by Sarah Lacy on tech ticker and part 1 and part 2 of that conversation is available below.



Some Background: If you ask the question, "How much Oil does the world use"? The answer can best be explained by the Cubic Mile of Oil representation since that explains it best with comparisons to all other current energy sources. The world uses one cubic mile of oil per year. Now how much is that? you ask.

According to an IEEE Spectrum article (Jan 2007 issue), a cubic mile of oil has the energy equivalent to:

* 4 Three Gorges dams (China), cranking out hydro-electric power for 50 years.
* 32850 1.65 megawatt wind turbines, cranking for 50 years (at 100% capacity factor).
* 91,250,000 2.1 kW solar PV installations, converting solar energy for 50 years.
* 104 500 megawatt coal-fired electric plants, burning coal for 50 years. OR
* 52 1.1 gigawatt nuclear electric plants, running continuously for 50 years.

Illustration Source: SRI International (Illustration: bryan christie design)

Assuming that we will try to make America independent of Oil. I want to play out the following scenario. Taking into account that we consume 25% of the world's oil, the above 50 year number for each category can be reduced to 12.5 Years (25% of the 50 years in each of the above equivalent scenarios). At this time, I have no idea on what percentage of the US Crude Oil consumption actually goes to produce gasoline that powers cars specifically. I can say that producing the equivalent of that amount in electricity to be able to power all "Better Place" cars in the US will require some staggering amounts of electricity generation. Additionally Shai claims that it is possible to power these cars via clean energy. (He gives examples of Windmills in Denmark and Solar Panels in Israel)

In the US, we have not addressed how we are going to generate massive amounts of clean energy. Power generation by coal is still the predominant method followed by nuclear energy and natural gas (EIA stats). In all his talks, Shai does not talk about where we will find the additional capacity needed especially from clean sources. In fact none of the electric car makers actually address the problem of electricity generation. I would like Shai to address how we will actually generate that much power to convert more cars into his electric vehicle. I for one, believe that Shai's plan is much more viable than any of the other plans out there because it considers the hurdles of affordability and practicality. But my skepticism remains because America has not upgraded it's energy infrastructure and we do not have the resources to produce that kind of electricity to convert all cars to "better place" electric cars.

One way that Shai can increase adoption is by working with customers such as Hertz or Avis to try this out locally in the Bay (SF) area. That may be the catalyst that finally convinces America that this is a viable plan. But yes, the issue of the additional power generation to run cars will still need to be addressed.

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