Thursday, December 13, 2012

An Alternate Infrastructure for All Electric Taxicabs

On December 10, 2012 the Arlington County Board in Virginia turned down the very first all-electric taxicab fleet in the US due to concerns about how far the electric cabs could travel on a charge, and the time it would take to recharge them.  The Board expressed concerns about the lack of charging infrastructure.  Another concern was the potential for passengers to be stranded if the battery is depleted.

Arlington, Va., was originally part of the "10 miles square" parcel of land surveyed in 1791 to be the Nation's Capital. It is the geographically smallest self-governing county in the United States, occupying slightly less than 26 square miles.  26 square miles.

The Washington metropolitan area has a number green taxi initiatives - integrating hybrid vehicles into the fleet, having some all-electric vehicles in combination with traditional gas powered cabs while others like Enviroride buy carbon off sets points equivalent to number of cars used and miles traveled by each car every year.  EV Taxicabs, a new company,  wanted to operate electric cabs equipped with WiFi hotspots and iPads in the back for passengers in Arlington.

EV Taxicabs lost out to an infrastructure problem.  Perhaps the solution to the problem here is an alternative infrastructure.  Instead of recharging the taxicab batteries, swap them out.  The county and the taxicab companies should look at an approach to have hot swap batteries available strategically located around the county and at frequently visited spots around the area -  airports, train stations, convention venues.   It costs a lot of money and time to install all of these charging stations all over the place while the battery exchange infrastructure is more scalable, easier to implement, and more efficient to run.  A suburban metaphor might be helpful here -  it's faster to swap the propane tank for a new one at convenient locations close to where you can buy garden supplies, ice and beer than to drive to the inconveniently located propane filling station in the industrial park and stand around while your tank is refilled.  The average BBQ-er doesn't have an emotional attachment to their particular tank so swapping works fine.

Better Place GmbH was awarded three patents under the USPTO Green Technology Pilot Program that cover inventions on how the batteries can be installed and removed from the vehicles; and the actual infrastructure itself. Better Place proposes a thoughtful approach from both a clean tech business model perspective and from an electrical infrastructure perspective.

The technical details on how the battery swapping infrastructure would work is described in an earlier post here.

Here is a circa 2009 Ted Talk on the Better Place view of the electric car business.  The numbers seem a bit optimistic given the current slow down in adoption of electric vehicles and the issues with US battery makes but it's an interesting talk on the emerging electric car market and an alternative business model for electric cars.  The real challenge is how to get there and to make the EV sustainable from both a technical and economic perspective.

Notable quote:  On hybrids.  A hybrid is like a mermaid.  When you need a fish you get a woman.  When you want a woman you get a fish.