For Paolo Alto, CA based Better Place, the world is at the brink of a quantum-shift in transporation and at their LEED Platinium certified Evergreen Brick Works offices, Better Place has already begun to make their mark following the March 11, 2011 grand opening of their demonstration facility and Canadian office.
Better Place is supported by the Ontario Government and has partnered with two of Ontario's largest municipally-owned electric utilities, PowerStream Inc. and Veridian Connections Inc., as well as the City of Toronto. The last piece to this miraculous social engineering puzzle is the national charity Evergreen. Better Place's mission at the Evergreen Brick Works, to put it succinctly, is to deploy an EV charging network, promote EV education, and lay groundwork for EVs in Canada's most populous province.
Having spent 20 years working with electric vehicles myself including a recent stint with Santa Cruz California's electric motorcycle company Zero Motorcycles, I know how hard it is for visionaries like Martin Rovers of Better Place to penetrate the minds of 'piston-heads'. I like to say, the internal combustion diehards kowtow to the lords of the oil sands in fossil fuel addicted Canada.
I was once a 'piston-head' myself, oblivious to the power and eco-possibilities of electrification until purchasing a Club Car electric golf cart back in 1990. We used the golf cart at my family dealership for use as a serene utility vehicle alternative for around the family farm. For many, technological advancements are hard pills to swallow requiring capital expenditures and fundamental shifts in thinking but for Better Place, it is really a matter of economic sense and environmental stewardship.
Martin Rovers, the Canadian-based Global Development Officer for Better Place, bares an impressive resume with a MSc in Physics from McMaster University, an MBA from the University of Toronto's Rottman School of Business and a career that began with the prestigious Boston Consulting Group (BCG). BCG has even followed Rovers' lead by also setting up shop at the mind expanding Evergreen Brick Works location a formerly abandoned 120 year old brick factory revitalized into a centre for nature, culture and community as boldly indicated on the main lobby wall.
The Evergreen Brick Works is more broadly a centre for socio-economic innovation featuring nature walks, educational facilities for children, a farmer's market, a skating rink and some really hip urban graffiti art that graces the walls of the former industrial brick kiln factory. Amongst all this, there are many other companies involved in the green scene to act as economic engines at the Brick Works but I will let you delve into that on your own.
Having served on the Board with Electric Mobilty Canada (EMC), I myself have had the pleasure of meeting Rovers' a couple of times now and it is evident he is a man that lets his actions do the talking. Not one to jump in front of the camera unless required, as I discovered at my May 5, 2011 personal tour of the Better Place facility, I found Martin shooting the photos and me playing with the cool EV gadgetry at the Better Place interpretation centre. The fifth office floor of the Better Place Bayview Ave campus is just off the Don Valley Parkway in a neatly tucked away piece of the roughly 16 hectares (40 ares) of property. The campus is sheltered from the hustle and bustle of downtown, but convenient to get to. Once on site you can hardly believe you are in the heart of the city.
Upon arrival at the demonstration facility, I was asked by Rovers to engage with a touch screen interactive guest book and then sit down for an introductory video in the theatre room. The promotional piece showcases the incredible vision of Better Place founder Shai Agassi a man which has been recognized around the world and spoke at TED Talks, just to give you an idea of his level of pull. Pleasingly, the video featured Toronto specific content illustrating the 15 locations across southern Ontario that Better Place has already installed level II 40 amp charge stations in, including; Barrie, Vaughan, Bowmanville and Toronto.
EV converts admittedly will be disappointed by such stats since the US already has charging stations numbering in the thousands scattered about the country. This is by no means a dig against Rovers or Better Place in Canada, considering that there has been only limited support from the Province of Ontario and nothing Federally in Canada.
What eco-preneur Agassi has brought to the table in his Better Place model is nothing short of game changing because it addresses three fundamental hurdles that have plagued the acceptance of EVs. What Better Place has done is firstly removed the cost of a battery from the purchase price of the vehicle equation and re-distributed the capital cost of the battery into a monthly fee for use of the stored energy and recharging. This model has been juxtaposed to the nonsensical idea of buying a lifetime supply of gasoline at the time of purchasing your car. Imagine how much your car would cost if a lifetime of fuel cost was piled on at the time of initial purchase? What this new pricing model has effectively done is, make the electric vehicle cheaper to purchase than a gas car. You don't buy all the stored energy needed to propel the vehicle at the time of purchase, just the car itself. Yes you read correctly, this makes the EV cheaper to purchase than a gas car!
Secondly, what BP has done through the genius of their five minute battery switching station process, is remove the range anxiety issue from the equation for motorists. The BP switching station is somewhat similar to driving your car into a car wash where the battery is swapped out through a robotic assembly line type process with a fully recharged battery. Taking about the same time as a gas refill or a car wash, the switching system allows a driver to extend their range and get to where they want to go without the 30 minute to 8 hour wait normally associated with battery recharging depending on the level two or three charging technology used. Thirdly, with the surge in fuel prices versus electricity and the implementation of the Better Place fee for recharge, the daily operational costs of the EV has been made equal or lower to that of driving a gasoline car.
The switching station technology does not however eliminate the need for home-based charging. Since 90% of driving will be done by Canadians in the Southern Ontario area at least within the 160 km range limits of EVs such as a Nissan Leaf, the bulk of the recharging will take place at home overnight. The intent of the battery switching is for extended drives outside of a region, maybe to the cottage for the weekend for example.
The Better Place battery switching technology however is only available in Israel, Tokyo and in Northern Europe at this point, do in large part to lack of government support and North American auto manufacturers not buying into to the battery standardization and switching process as of yet. Rovers' is hopeful that the Better Place facility at the Evergreen Brick Works will one day be a battery switching station hub, but he is not able to indicate a timeline on the completion of such critical pieces to the puzzle at this early juncture.
Getting these 15 charging stations installed was not without a lot of heavy lifting as Rovers explains, due to the present lack of Canadian Standards Association (CSA) blanket safety coverage for charging stations in Canada. To get the 15 charging stations safety approved that are installed across the GTA now, involved more costly and time consuming 'one off' approvals. As the electric vehicle industry advocacy group Electric Mobilty Canada (EMC) explains in their "Driving the Rapid Adoption of Electric Vehicles" white paper, a $2 million investment is needed from the Federal government to permit the CSA to proceed with safety inspections and broadly certify the charging hardware.
So far approximately 500 people have toured the new Better Place digs. Most of these being dignitaries, the media and EV greenies taking in the experience.
- One of the lesser known reasons why folks escape the city to rural areas is because of noise and confusion of urban spaces caused by ICE transportation. With EVs there is none of the noise.
- Presently there are 2 million hybrid cars on the roads and 500 million gas cars.
- Better Place Toronto Consumer Research
Having myself been at the cutting edge of new EV technology product roll outs, I asked Martin Rovers to describe his experience in trudging forward against the tide of climate change denying government and head office demands for deliverables, metrics and ROI. His response was characteristically understated, but his smile spoke volumes. I took that to mean that being an eco-preneur and EV activist means you need thick skin, the patience of Jobe and a long-term vision of the future to guide your way to the promised land.