Are Charging Stations The Missing Key To Electric Cars?

from the we-may-be-about-to-find-out dept

When Shai Agassi left SAP earlier this year, he talked about how he was inspired to do something in the alternative energy space. He apparently didn’t waste much time in moving forward. He’s now raised $200 million to try to build electric charging stations for electric cars around the world. It appears that the working theory here is that one of the things that’s held back the success of the electric car is the lack of more widespread infrastructure to support it. There are gas stations everywhere, but electric charging stations are still quite rare (though, there are some). Of course, some might argue that there really are electric charging stations everywhere: they’re called outlets. The second part of the plan is apparently that the company will own the batteries and charge people a service fee or rental fee to use and charge them at the stations — lowering the upfront cost to consumers of buying an electric car. No matter what, this is definitely a “big bet” type of operation, and when you think about it, you could even ask if $200 million is even close to enough to actually accomplish the goal (meaning that the company is likely going to have to raise a lot more money). However, a bigger question is whether or not it really is the lack of these stations that are holding back the electric car industry. If you believe it’s a chicken and egg issue, perhaps Agassi is onto something by getting folks to bet on building a bunch of chickens. But if the problem is that the eggs don’t work right yet, then it may be quite a long time before the chickens matter. It would be nice to see this succeed, but it’s a timing play. If Agassi is right about the timing, then this could become a huge business. If not, this could become another Iridium, with billions of dollars spent on mis-timed infrastructure, eventually left to rot away or sold for pennies on the dollar.

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Comments on “Are Charging Stations The Missing Key To Electric Cars?”

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Anonymous of Course says:

Proven model to a point

This is how many electric lift truck batteries
are handled. They are leased to the end user,
often accompanied by a charger. The user
expects X number of ampere hours service.
When the battery is worn out, it’s returned.
After all who wants several thousand pounds
of lead and sufuric acid to dispose of.

I think that until the EV batteries can be
charged as quickly as a gasoline tank is
filled the changing stations will be of
limited use and appeal. Better to charge at
home before a trip or after arrival at work,
when possible.

If the ceramic capacitor guys are successfull
very fast charging will be a reality. However
the charging stations would be very different
due to the high voltage required.

n/a says:

Could be that the electricity would still come from burning fossil fuels, and it’s more of a stopgap/cover than an actual independent solution. However, it would take the control away from “big oil” and put it in the hands of the common-man, oh, wait, nope, big oil again.

Anything is better than more money thrown into corn subsidies, though.

Haywood says:

It could work, but might stifle innovation

The key to this plan would be quick release, interchangeable, battery packs. All manufacturers would have to adhere to the standard. Once the ball was rolling, if someone came up with a better battery pack that couldn’t be configured to the standard, it wouldn’t be adopted due to change over / legacy issues. This among other things keeps electric cars not ready for prime time.

tek'a says:

yes, moving energy generation to power plants as opposed to burning fuel in an engine is technically a stopgap solution.

the energy does indeed need to be generated Somewhere.

The Pro here is that generation on a large scale can be more efficient then small point generation for fossil fuel systems, and much more efficient for things like Solar, Wind or Other sources (you cant wedge a tide power generation plant under the hood of your vehicle, even if its SUV sized)

The problem with trying to place charging stations/energy storage solutions is the lack of visible return coupled with high costs to enter.
Will you spend the money to retrofit your service station with Super-Charge “pumps” if there is a chance that the industry and public will instead embrace the competitive Charge-Overlord system, leaving you saddled with junk you would be lucky to sell as scrap?

And for consumers, why invest in a new ford (or whatever) with a particular system if you cant be Sure to find a station with the proper plugs and whatnot.

You can get gasoline anywhere, pour it in a car and go, its hard to match that kind of portability of use.

Even more hurtful to future industry, these big plans have been tenativly rolled out before (EV1) before simply slapping the face of consumers (who want the car) and everyone who wanted to do business with them (the forward thinking companies who shelled out for charging stations and the like on their property)

its a Big Bet alright, but best we be careful before just throwing money at it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Electric cars

um…sir, where have you been? You do realize that when cars (yes cars) first came out (we’re talkin before model-T time) 1/2 of the cars on the road were electric. Even 70 years ago… Ya they didn’t go very fast 25mph or something, but neither did gas powered engines at the time.

But jumping back to more recent times, fully electric cars can actually out race sports cars (although they have more battery capacity than you would find on a normal vehicle, but this would be a good comparison considering most super sports cars are basically engine with room for a driver). And even the EV1 went 250 miles on a charge (at freeway speeds mind you).

Do some research. Its not the charging stations fault. Its the billions of dollars “big oil” has spent making electric cars useless. There have been batteries for years now that have super capacity, are extremely rapid charging, and paired together have high potential for energy output and longevity.

Tim (user link) says:

Re: Re:

Actually, I think the reason you get so many morons on the roads is because the government (certainly here in the UK) and local councils *expect* morons. They go around putting up extra bright LED signs right beside junctions at the bottom of dark glens that light up suddenly when a car approaches, thereby distracting drivers from actually looking at the road, presumably in the name of “the masses” who think it’s “dangerous” – well, name 3.

How about *not* insulting people’s intelligence by default, and charge them, or their estates, the cleanup costs when they fail to look where they’re going?

OKVol says:

Cart before the horse?

But Haliburton has designed a steering system that will take care of any potentially dangerous issues.

We can’t have flying cars because it would endanger the airline industry, who’s PACs fund our congresfolk at the income level they expect.

Yes, let’s shift the burning of gasoline to burning natural gas to produce the electricity to recharge the cars. The oil industry and the gas industry are the same for the most part.

Anonymous Coward says:

This topic has already been repeatedly hashed over. I recommend that everybody watch the documentary film “Who Killed the Electric Car” for more insightful information. Electric cars are definitely feasible, seeing as how they were on the road for a good 3 years or so, and the people leasing them loved them. Unfortunately, all such projects were scrapped, and the vehicles crushed, due in part to influence from big oil of course.

The thing to remember is that shifting the emissions focus to electric plants will make it MUCH easier to regulate said emissions. Regulating emissions from millions of tailpipes is far, far more difficult. But the auto industry will fight it every step of the way. It’s not just big oil. Think about it for a minute. All kinds of filters (air, oil, fuel), all parts of internal combustion engines, fuel systems, lubricants, exhaust systems, and just about every other product you can find at an auto parts store, will all become obsolete. Even brakes will be in low demand because electric motors can act as braking mechanisms, removing much of the load from the actual brakes. The conversion to electric cars would put about 90% of the auto industry out of business. Oh yeah, change is easy, mmhmm.

DisGuysed says:

Charge time

The main problem with electric cars is charge time. I forget the site but there is a battery in dev called Nano Safe or something. They have managed to make nonvolatile lithium ion based batteries that have more capacity and better charge times (something like one minute for full charge at 480V) The problem is getting 480V charging stations everywhere and of course getting these batteries to the public. If you only have to wait 10 minutes to charge then your range is heavily increased. The nice thing about gasoline is the amount of space it takes even if its not energy efficient.

Max Powers at (user link) says:

Green People Can Have Their Toys

The only people I see driving these things are celebrities or “green people” who feel they are doing their part to help the environment.

I agree with Jordan’s post, when and if they develop an electric car that compares to a gas car in mileage, length of time to “fill up” and similar attributes, this guy is going to be wasting all that money.

But I’m sure he will still come out with money from the deal.

Steve Coallier says:


Most every modern car on the road is electronic to some degree.

What you clearly mean is all-electric drive vehicles. I don’t know about others, but I can plug in here at work (although there’s only so many spots near outlets).

Do your homework folks…you CAN have a car that is perfectly suitable as a commute vehicle (and travel at freeway speeds, and have range that will last for days at typical commute distances) for 98% of the commuting public.

The problem is that people will need a second combustion or hybrid vehicle anyway for some trips, so the commuter needs to be dirt cheap. Unfortunately the majority of the relatively cheap plug-in electrics are unattractive, freakish things that most people wouldn’t be caught dead driving (and with little or no cargo or even passenger space).

Overcast says:

The only people I see driving these things are celebrities or “green people” who feel they are doing their part to help the environment.

Kansas Just put in a law prohibiting any new power plants. Well, at least some bureaucratic ‘blocking’ let’s say..

Each summer they go on and on about California Brownouts, and you hear a relentless drone about the damage power plants do to the environment – and somehow people seem to think putting a *massive* drawl on the existing power grid is a good thing?

Sounds like some people watch too much ‘feel good’ TV.. 🙂

So sure, we can get electric cars, just no new power plants to produce the trillions + of wattage needed to power them.

Bob says:

Re: Re:

We won’t necessarily need more power plants if many people switch to electric cars. Most cars will be charged at night when electricity consumption is lowest. I read a study recently (sorry, don’t have the link) that stated that if as many as 25% of the cars on the road were electric that we still wouldn’t need to build a single power plant.

I don’t know whether Mr. Agassi is going to be successful, but the model that he is proposing will greatly mitigate the charging time problem. The idea is that the charging stations will swap out your spent battery for a charged battery. That is why it is important that the batteries follow a standard. Your spent battery will be put on a charging rack. Presumably, the batteries will be charged at night when electricity is cheaper, and then place in someone else’s car the next day.

Personally, I think that electric cars are feasible. I still think we should continue research into bio-diesels, plug-in hybrids and other technologies. Chances are, the “solution” will be a blend of various technologies.

bcostoa says:

How's this?

Who has a slowly failing business model, good enough access to enough power and plenty of parking to charge a dozen cars at one time with over 13k locations in the US? McDonalds. Next step is to get a company called IdleAire to build the charging stations (an easy step from one of their current products).

McDonalds, to scourge of the world for fatting everyone* up now is Mr. McGreens. Add in that people need a place to go for 15-30 minutes while they charge up.

Chance of happening: 0% but still interesting.

* IMO not really but …

Seth Brundle says:


Its not the lack of a charging station infrastructure that is the problem – the problem is that we have no technology for charging electric cars in a reasonable amount of time.

If we could charge our electric cars in 5 minutes like a car I’m quite certain both the cars and infrastructure would be very well established by now.

The best way to move forward until that technology is ready is to keep pushing the hybrid model, keep improving its efficiency, look for alternative sources to replace the gasoline side, and give users the ability to plug-in *if they want* and only have it switch to as when the electricity runs out.

I think people really underestimate the power of the hybrid model as a rtemendously more usable and flexible electric car, instead of a ‘partial implementation’ of an all-electric car.

Mike Burrell says:

Electric Recharging stations

Instead of recharging stations, how about just selling electrons? Here’s an idea: develop an easily replaced modular battery system which is standardized. The batteries are owned and maintained by the equivalent of an AT&T. The consumer pulls into the “battery station”. A discharged battery is exchanged quickly for a fully recharged battery, and he/she is on their way.

scott starling says:


Kudos to Shai Agassi for daring to propose a solution that may well change how we transport ourselves! Even if the power is 100% from fossil fuel plants, the efficiency of an electric motor far exceeds that of an internal combustion engine, so it’s still a better deal. Standardized battery packs that can be swapped out would offer unlimited mileage. Ideally the electricy could come from “green” sources such as PV, hydroelectric, tidal or wind turbines. Given the environmental gains associated with taking gas burners off the highways, the federal government and private industry should provide the power cheaply and perhaps subsidize it. A great idea!!

Thinker says:

reality check

Ok gang, did anyone look at who was investing and why? If you follow the model Better Place used for the biz plan you would understand they might be on to something! I remember the first cell phone I had, didn’t work in many places, was way too expensive, but not too expensive to keep me from buying the darned thing anyway! The towers had to be built so I could talk when I wanted where I wanted because I was willing to pay for it. Today, where can you go without being able to talk on a cell? In under 10 years! Fewer and fewer places. The electrical grid is already in place, just needs to be tweeked to make this work. The investment in alternative energy is already being done on a grand scale and will be linked to the current grid in the next few years slowly eliminating the need for fossil fuels. And regardless of what opinions are about global warming, major companies are going green on a daily basis because SOMETHING is happening. If you look at the current Telsa auto and it’s abilities, gee I think one could easily imagine an EV Ford or Chevy getting to the masses for a reasonable price sooner than later because even those guys see the direction oil based transport is going. And, the “big oil” gang is investing huge amounts in alternatives as they to have looked into the crystal ball! Sure, we could just keep the current transport model, pay $10 a gal in the next 5 years or so, not too much pain I guess? This IS the next big infrastructure build out!

paul newell says:

interchangable batteries

YES.. Interchangable quick change batteries are the answer.
Modular units that could somehow change on the fly.
Maybe we would need a change lane built into the side of the roads where you only need to slow down (not stop)and the battery is dropped out and the new one clipped back in.
All while you are going 30miles per hour or so. Actually faster than stopping for gas!!!!

Harold Boulette says:

Charging Stations

It would make more sense to me for corporations to put charging stations in the garages and parking lots at their facilities to encourage workers to use electric commuter cars, even if you had to drop in some change to pay for it.
I don’t know why some continue to think they will not catch on. I sent in my deposit for a Tango T100 a few days ago.

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