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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Filed Under: charging stations, electric cars, shai agassi

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  1. identicon
    Adam, 29 Oct 2007 @ 1:51pm

    isn't this putting the cart before the horse?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous of Course, 29 Oct 2007 @ 1:56pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    n/a, 29 Oct 2007 @ 1:58pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Haywood, 29 Oct 2007 @ 2:01pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    tek'a, 29 Oct 2007 @ 2:19pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Sephrial, 29 Oct 2007 @ 2:29pm


    It's 2007, where's our flying cars!?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Oct 2007 @ 2:30pm


    What did big oil ever do to you?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Jordan, 29 Oct 2007 @ 2:34pm

    Electric cars

    Electric cars are flawed by design. They will never catch on unless they are made to achieve highway speeds, and drive for longer than 50 miles. People don't want to buy a second car just so they can drive somewhere besides the grocery store down the road.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Oct 2007 @ 2:35pm

    "It's 2007, where's our flying cars!?"

    Most of the people driving ground cars are morons who can't handle that relatively simple task responsibly and reliably. Do you really want to be flying around in the air with them?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Oct 2007 @ 2:43pm

    I dunno, my car...

    ... is pretty electronic and it never needs charging....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Haywood, 29 Oct 2007 @ 2:48pm

    Re: people driving ground cars are morons

    I'd be concerned with people on the ground. Fender-benders could become a leading cause of death for people walking around or sitting in their living rooms watching TV.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    OKVol, 29 Oct 2007 @ 2:56pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Oct 2007 @ 3:15pm

    Re: Cart before the horse?

    Are you so quick to dismiss the vehicle industry (in cahoots with the oil industry, as everyone knows, for they deliberately withhold the 100mpg engines) and their ability to lobby? Surely its a match for the airline industry.

    Stuff your conspiracies up your ass, sir.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Oct 2007 @ 3:17pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    DisGuysed, 29 Oct 2007 @ 3:39pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. 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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Steve Coallier, 29 Oct 2007 @ 3:57pm


    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 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).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Michael Long, 29 Oct 2007 @ 3:58pm

    Re: Electric cars

    "They will never catch on unless they are made to achieve highway speeds, and drive for longer than 50 miles."

    How about 245 miles per charge, and zero to 60 mph in less than 4 seconds with a top speed of 125 mph?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    sand, 29 Oct 2007 @ 4:11pm

    Electric car

    Watch who killed the electric car. The technology is already at a usable level. The project was scraped for "unknown reasons."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Oct 2007 @ 5:11pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Overcast, 29 Oct 2007 @ 5:25pm

    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?

    http://www.truthout .org/issues_06/101207EB.shtml

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    bron-yr-aur, 29 Oct 2007 @ 5:38pm

    electric car

    Every time there is discussion of electric cars the debate is always over the length of time it takes to charge the batteries. Wouldn't it be simpler to create a standardized battery that you could swap out at these charging stations? Then it wouldn't matter how long it takes to charge.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    bcostoa, 29 Oct 2007 @ 5:42pm

    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 ...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    T, 30 Oct 2007 @ 8:16am

    I'm leery of any company that wants to lock me in. That implies to me that they are more interested in monthly cash flow than providing a good enough product or service that I, or any other customer, will want to stick with it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    jaylweb, 30 Oct 2007 @ 8:19am

    money better spent

    I'd rather see them raise the money to be spent on fuel cell technology.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Tim, 30 Oct 2007 @ 8:46am


    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    gagelbyte, 30 Oct 2007 @ 9:50am

    Re: electric car

    Battery Technology may just be ready to take us to the next step.
    A Texas company says it can make a new ultracapacitor power system to replace the electrochemical batteries in everything from cars to laptops.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    Bob, 30 Oct 2007 @ 1:46pm


    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    bob, 30 Oct 2007 @ 1:48pm

    Re: How's this?

    This is not a bad idea. Especially if McD's also offered to sell the excess grease as BioDiesel.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. identicon
    Seth Brundle, 30 Oct 2007 @ 3:01pm


    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. identicon
    Mike Burrell, 1 Nov 2007 @ 7:34am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. identicon
    scott starling, 1 Nov 2007 @ 3:27pm


    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!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. identicon
    Thinker, 2 Nov 2007 @ 10:18pm

    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!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. identicon
    scott nelson, 11 Jan 2008 @ 2:35pm


    i have an electric golf cart but it parks on the curb side of a street, are there any alternatives to cords on the sidewalk or hanging overhead

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35. identicon
    paul newell, 8 May 2008 @ 9:00pm

    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!!!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36. identicon
    Harold Boulette, 14 May 2008 @ 2:48am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37. identicon
    Steve, 24 May 2009 @ 3:10pm

    I think that electric cars have been available for many years but the oil producing lobbies have been preventing the electric cars production on a bigger scale. Steve, editor of Gaba Supplements

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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