There has been a tremendous amount of press about Project Better Place over the last few days. In particular in Israel these last few weeks the voices for and against the project have been sounding off their opinions. I will set a list tomorrow so that people can follow the arguments, but I chose to put one piece which is not very flattering up here...I think it is an accurate description of what we face and although there have been others that are a lot more friendly (THANK YOU FOR THE TRUST) - I wanted to highlight this short one...
Analysis / The state is betting on Agassi
By Yoav Kaveh
The cabinet's announcement to back the electric car project will be phrased in general terms and will include only principles, but it will be clear to everyone that they really mean to support Shai Agassi's project directly. Or perhaps better to call it Agassi's dream.
Agassi has a vision of ending our dependency on oil, of non-polluting transport, of solar energy. He is dreaming of a revolution on a global scale.
But will his dream actually take to the road?
The wunderkind of the high-tech world certainly succeeded in electrifying the government and achieving state support in less than two weeks. "Agassi presented us with his ambitious plan. If another person had presented us with a similar plan, we would have thought he was crazy and thrown him out," said a senior government official. "But this was Agassi. He is a young man with an impressive record who knows how to reach the highest people directly and convince them."
The Ofers and their Israel Corporation are also involved in the project, and they also know how to open government officials' doors.
This will be Agassi's last project: If it succeeds he will never need to raise money again, and if it fails he will never be able to raise money again. If within a decade we can stop breathing exhaust fumes then we should give him a couple of Nobel Prizes. If he fails - and remember there are a huge number of technological, bureaucratic and other problems - he will have to eat his hat. And so will the Israeli government.
So, as I always do, I parsed the article a bit too much, and here is my take.
- The government of Israel has not and will not given us any money, so all the risk falls on my reputation and on my investors money. we simply didn't ask for money, since I do not believe in trying my ideas at the expense of the general public of a country.
- On the other hand, if the plan works, we will save people's lives, save the country a lot of money which is now spent on importing oil, and create a whole new industry and jobs for Israel.Not a bad deal for the first movers.
- By the way - if we do succeed, we will be heavily taxed, so while we don't get money from the government we definitely enjoy having them as a senior partner with us (and we are not even complaining about it...we think it is good).
- I find it amazing that we always know how to blame large corporate even when they are doing something that is good for people...why can't we say for a change that a company (Israel Corp) has taken a risky initative which may be good for the country and is still doing it in great faith (and I have to tell you Idan Ofer is one of the most amazing people I have met during these last 6 months, he truly gets the problem with climate change, and its affect on humanity).
- I am willing to lose my wunderkind status, not looking for nobels, and am even willing never to raise money again - if we can get this plan to work. The race is bigger than one person, and all people who are ready to sign up can only help. It is not an exclusive game when one is right and the others are wrong, it is a journey where we will all learn, make mistakes early and fix them quickly - to make sure we reach our goal, or dream if you want to call it that way - I have been called worse names in the past...
In the new version of this article that was published this morning there is a comment by one of the Israeli car importers (and some engineering expert called Nameri, as the article states) regarding our electricity cost calculation - The translation goes roughly like this
"...A car in Israel drives roughly 15,000 km a year which requires 5,000 kWh costing 2,500 Shekels...which will cost an enourmous amount. Making the electricity through sustainable means will cost even more money which is just ridiculous to think about"
Let's run the real math for a minute
car goes for 15,000 km - requiring on the average 150 wH per km - making the required energy 2,500 kWh per year [that's half the amount mentioned in the article] - which costs roughly 1,000 shekels per year (that's about $250 for you gys without Shekel calculators handy)
Now, if you wonder how many gas station stops you can make in Israel with $250 - the answer will become pretty apperant when you realize that gas at the pump costs roughly $6.5 per gallon or $1.65 per liter. If your tank is the average 20 gallon (80 liter tank) then you could fill up the car about twice for those same $250 (or 1,000 shekels). I wonder how many people would drive for a whole year on two gas tanks. By the way, if I was wrong and the aticle's calculation is right - it is still 4 full gas tanks - which most people in Israel consume in less than a month. I suggest next time using a calculator for checking the data before publishing.
The real interesting question though was whether we can generate the electricity in a clean way without harming the environment at all. So let's see how much it would cost to create 2,500 kWh in a year from clean sources, like solar thermal - which enjoys an abundance in Israel (if there is somehitng that is abundant in Israel it is the sun).
To generate 2,500 kWh over a year we need about 1 kW of solr thermal capacity which in volume costs roughly $3,000 - but works for 25 years or more (ask Solel for the data...). In other words for about $150 a year we can generate enough electrons to drive a car. That's even cheaper than dirty electrons...oh, and by the way if we did install those solar plants, got our electric cars, and converted a country we would get the first ever "artificial oil field" which goes for ever and does not emit a single C02 molecule...for less money!
I think that critisicm is fair in general, the duty of proof is on us. At the same time, the duty of responsibility is on those who want to publish information. I hope we can get help from people along the way and that the nations who sign up will act with the same vision as Israel just demonstrated this morning. Shai doesn't matter in this entire story - it is our kids who do - so let's worry about how we make their world a better place.