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Standards key to electric vehicle adoption

The electric car has many barriers to adoption, the cost of the battery being a major one. California-based firm Better Place is proposing a solution: customers don’t pay for the battery at all. Instead, they pay for electricity as they would minutes on a cell phone, or go to battery swap stations for an entirely new battery if, for example, they can’t wait for a full re-charge. The company has chosen Toronto as its first Canadian location, and plans to roll out its charge spots and swap stations over the next few years, after partnering with an auto manufacturer. (You can read more here.)
But another challenge to widespread adoption is setting international standards for EVs and charging infrastructure. At Better Place, this task falls upon Ziva Patir, vice-president of international standardization. I spoke briefly with Patir yesterday, and she explained why standards are so important not only for Better Place, but for all players in EV industry. Theres a big difference between mass deployment and having small city cars, she said. Were not talking about that. We want to change the world.
Grandiose statements aside, adoption of EVs will be hindered if there is no standardization, says Patir. For example, will the socket be on the car, or on the charge spot? You’ll be quite frustrated if you can charge your car in one jurisdiction but not another. Or if you, as a Better Place customer, cannot re-juice at a competitor’s charging station.
But what makes Better Place unique (and what presents an added challenge) is it’s the only company proposing to build battery swap stations, which it unveiled for the first timelast month in Japan. Batteries need to be roughly of the same size and, more importantly, in the same location in each electric vehicle model. Some have questioned the logic. Henrik Fisker, founder of hybrid sportscar manufacturer Fisker Automotive, has saidnot all carmakers might want to locate the battery along the bottom of the vehicle, which is necessary to be compatible with a Better Place swap station. A representative from Toyotas advanced technology vehicle group has also said battery packs are not typically designed to be taken on and off frequently.
Nevertheless, Patir said Better Place can still expand (and is indeed doing so) even without everything finalized. But if Better Place wants to mass deploy quickly, the best solution is to create internationally recognized standards to be accepted everyone, she says, adding it can take two to three years to work out these issues in each country.
As for the companys plan in Canada, Better Place is in part waiting on a report from the Ontario government on how to speed up the adoption of EVs in the province, such as offering incentives to consumers. It was supposed to be released last month, but has been delayed. A spokesperson from the Ministry of International Trade and Investment told me yesterday it could be ready in a matter of weeks.