In choosing a video to watch, I thought that it would be wise to pick one that related to my Paper 2 topic on US Oil/Energy policy. To do so I searched for a video on Oil and came across a series entitled ‘The End of Oil?’ where I chose to watch a video about electric cars. The talk was led by a very interesting man Shai Agassi who is an Israeli entrepreneur who founded the company Better Place which provides battery-charging and switching devices for electric cars. Agassi’s story is quite cool as he was originally in line to become CEO of the highly regarded software company SAP. However, at the urging of the Israeli prime minister, Agassi turned his focus to fighting to curb carbon emissions.
For him, hybrid cars are not the solution to our problem because they just don’t have a significant enough impact on the environment (12:30). Furthermore, he claims that they don’t hold enough appeal for consumers to be compelled to buy them over gas-powered cars. Therefore, the only solution that remains is to create an electric model that is scalable to the point in which 99% of the consumer population owns one. This means that the car must have at least the same level of performance as gas-powered cars, it must also be affordable, and it must be convenient. In his eyes, all of this is completely possible, but only if you there is ‘separation between the car ownership and battery ownership’ (2:15). So, unlike with our cars today where the gas tank is considered as just a part of the car, we would be treating the car and battery as two separate things. By adopting this mindset, Agassi argues that it allows us to build a full network consisting of charging stations and battery swap stations before the cars are actually introduced. Ultimately, this would make these cars much more attractive when they are actually introduced to the market because it would make them no less convenient than driving a gas car.
Overall, I think that Agassi lays out a very interesting and somewhat realistic vision for the future car ‘ecosystem’. Currently, many hybrids and electric cars are just not worth the high prices given their relative underperformance to gas-powered vehicle. Ultimately, it takes someone who truly cares about the environment over all other factors to make the decision to purchase an electric car, and this is something that Agassi, and I hope most people, want to change. Agassi’s ideas of setting up a network of battery charging and swapping stations do work to solve two major issues about electric cars: convenience and range. As our market is set up right now, gas stations are obviously the norm and it takes considerable effort to find a place where one could charge his car battery. Yet, with companies such as Better Places coming to fruition, there are now the resources to make charging stations mainstream. Additionally, Agassi’s proposed ‘battery-swap stations’ would resolve the range limitations of electric cars because it would make it just as easy to replace a battery as it would to fill up a tank of gas.
After listening to Agassi’s talk, I turned quite optimistic about the potential for significant world change. However, I then noticed that the talk was given almost 5 years ago and we haven’t seen much progress on this front, with the exception of the rise of Tesla. I also researched Agassi’s Better Place and found out that it had recently filed for bankruptcy. All this taken to together has led me to one unfortunate conclusion: that the typical person just does not care about our environment enough to make a change in his daily lifestyle. And as I mentioned during my BP case presentation, it just shows how we, especially as Americans, have such a reactive mindset. What will take for us to feel the incentive to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels? Unfortunately, it will probably take some sort of catastrophic disaster to effect major change. All that being said, I do take some solace in the fact that there are incredibly smart people, like Agassi, who are focused on making our world a more sustainable place.