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Driving Electric

What does the state’s electric car plan mean for drivers?


Photo: Courtesy of Better Place

At a December press conference, Shai Agassi, founder and CEO of Better Place, goes under the hood with Gov. Linda Lingle and Rep. Gene Ward.

Ok, I’ll admit it: I love my car. And considering that I’m an eco-conscious person, this is not an affection I am proud of. In past lifetimes, I biked to school, walked and skateboarded to work, and took mass transit via the subway and bus. But, in Honolulu, my four-door Nissan is what beams me from Point A to Point B. So if I won’t give up my vice—and I know I’m not alone here—how do I avoid feeling like a hypocrite every time I turn the ignition?

A possible answer came in December when Gov. Linda Lingle announced an agreement with the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company Better Place to bring an electric car network to Hawai‘i by 2012. But is the car affordable? And will I get stuck in a pineapple field if it loses juice? Here are the facts:

 


Photo: Courtesy Better Place

The Better Place plan will introduce all-electric vehicles, such as this Nissan Rogue.

 
 

The Car

Better Place’s first partnership is with the automaker Renault-Nissan, whose zero emissions electric cars are compatible with the company’s infrastructure. Stats: The vehicles can go from zero to 60 in less than 10 seconds, hold five passengers, and possess similar features—such as air conditioning and a stereo system—to the car you drive today, minus the gas-guzzling engine. Plus, when your battery is running low, an on-board computer system will direct you to the nearest charging spot. The sticker price isn’t available yet, but under Better Place’s business model, it should be as affordable, if not cheaper, than the standard internal-combustion engine car. (In the coming years, the company hopes to partner with more carmakers so that consumers can pick and choose from different makes and models.)

The Infrastructure

Charging Spots: Roughly 70,000 to 100,000 charge spots, which look like parking meters, are planned for Hawai‘i and will be located at such places as grocery stores or movie theater parking lots, as well as your home, allowing you to plug in while you’re away. It takes about three to four hours to completely charge a battery, and cars can go approximately 100 miles after that. But the goal of these charge spots is to provide a convenient way to “top off” on energy, not to get a full fill.

Battery Exchange Stations: If you’re on the go and need energy fast, then pull into a battery exchange station, which will resemble a car wash. You won’t need to leave your car since robotic arms remove the empty battery from underneath the vehicle and replace it with a charged one. The process takes fewer than five minutes and, with a fresh battery, you’re good to travel for another 100 miles.

 

The Cost

Better Place will offer subscription plans similar to a cell phone. Instead of buying minutes, you buy miles for a monthly fee. If you drive a lot, you can sign up for a large amount of miles, and vice versa if you’re a meager motorist. Exact pricing hasn’t been set, but the company says it will cost the same, if not less, than what drivers pay for gasoline.

 

The Energy

Hawaiian Electric Co. has signed an agreement with Better Place to power public charging spots and battery exchange stations with renewable energy, such as wind, solar, wave and geothermal. That’s big news considering Hawai‘i spends up to $7 billion on oil imports annually. Plus, it’s a move that promotes the Hawai‘i Clean Energy Initiative, which aims to have 70 percent of the state’s power come from clean energy sources by 2030.

 

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,February

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