Israellycool » Better Place Down Under Punditry in the Middle East Fri, 24 Jul 2015 11:23:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 App Of The Day: Parking Polly Electrified Me Mon, 23 Mar 2015 07:52:44 +0000 I don’t post to the blog every new app that bubbles up from the Startup Nation: there are other blogs for that. But this one snagged me because the video features a good old electric Better Place car like mine. I’ll give Parking Polly a try when I head in toward my bank later today.

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Tesla To Cure Range Anxiety? I Think I Know How (Update) Mon, 16 Mar 2015 11:15:17 +0000 Update 19 March: I pretty much nailed it. One feature I didn’t mention (but should have) was that we also used to have real time information on which Battery Switch stations were working. Tesla cars will now have real time information on the status of nearby Super Chargers. They also get a routing system that can send them via appropriate chargers (as I described) and warns them if they plan an out of range trip. More details here. Embedded at the end of this post is the complete audio from the conference call.

Elon Musk tweeted out yesterday that he’s going to fix the perennial electric car problem of “range anxiety” on Thursday for all of his Model S cars already made by sending them some software.

Speculation is running rife across the tech and news sites but I’m pretty sure I know what he’s done. He will not introduce battery swapping like we had with our Better Place cars in Israel, that (for Tesla) was always about holding onto some more government hand outs. While changing the software in the car may make a marginal difference in range (a few percent at most) that doesn’t cure range anxiety.

Range anxiety does not come from the car having a limited range: it comes from not being sure, in advance, if you can make a certain journey. The best any other electric car does today is give you an estimate of how many more kilometres or miles you can travel. And that doesn’t take into account going up or down hills or road speed both of which make a huge difference. So much so that these devices are called “guess-o-meters” because they’re practically useless.

What he’s going to show on Thursday is accurate state of charge prediction at destination and (maybe) the inclusion of a feature to find and use Tesla’s fast growing network of fast chargers to make an impossible journey possible.

That’s basically what we had three years ago in our Better Place cars with battery switch. We could put into the GPS navigator any destination in Israel and be told what % our battery would be when we got there. This number changed dynamically as we drove getting increasingly more accurate as we approached the destination. We could also program in multiple stops or, say, a there and home journey to see if we could make it.

If it was beyond the range of our battery, the software would tell us where to stop and get a new battery along the way.

The system takes into account ambient temperature, your driving style and topography (meaning hills) because going up a hill uses more energy than going down. In fact going down can recover so much energy that on a trip to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, you may use 80% of your batter to get there but only 50% to get back. All these things affect the amount of charge used to make a journey.

Back in better days I filmed this video to show how the system worked. Be aware that move of this still works in my car today, it’s just I can’t stop and switch batteries anywhere. I can still program in multiple destinations and get a reasonable estimate of whether I can make the trip or not. Here’s one of my earliest blog posts: Electric Vehicle Range Anxiety Solved (before I even received the car) and below is a video I made of the system automatically creating a route from Tel Aviv to Eilat. If you don’t know what a battery switch looks like, I filmed that from the driver’s seat.

Making predictions can be a fools game. I don’t do it very often so I’m sticking my neck out here making one!

However, when it comes to computer simulation of an electric car driving on known roads over known topology, that is a problem that can be solved and Better Place proved that more than three years ago and it really does massively reduce range anxiety. Instead of routing via battery switch, he’ll be able to route Tesla customers via their now impressive network of fast chargers (called Super Chargers) that can increase a battery to 80% in the time it takes to eat a burger. Good enough for most practical purposes.

I do hope I’m right, and I do hope that one day Tesla will be seen on the roads in Israel.

Update 22 March 2015: Here is the complete conference call announcement.

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Destroying Turkish Made Electric Cars Wed, 27 Aug 2014 08:22:30 +0000 Better Place RFID tag and key fobIt’s a long time since I wrote anything about Better Place. I’m still driving my electric car almost every day. Except on days like today when I need to drive up to Jerusalem and back. Then I have to swap cars with my wife. Unfortunately. What a pity.

When I worked on plans to rescue Better Place from the bankruptcy, plenty of thought was given to these cars sitting in the port at Ashdod. These were tied up in huge bureaucratic red tape issues. Seems there really never was any will to get them on the road.

I can imagine that after one and a half years sitting idle, the batteries are completely wrecked. The car bodies (sitting next to the sea for so long) are probably not great either and this is just a huge disgrace. Carasso (the importer) and Renault should be ashamed of themselves. They could have given these cars away to a thousand families who would have LOVE to make local journeys in them just as I do almost every day.

If we want a positive spin, I guess we could say this is BDS against Turkish made cars. All these cars were originally built by Renault on a production line in Turkey.

Globes English – Importer destroys hundreds of Better Place cars.

The cars were stored in Ashdod Port, where they were apparently damaged by being kept there for so long, and it is therefore not economically feasible to sell them on the market. At the same time, the leasing companies and Carasso itself are trying to sell the usable cars through various bargain campaigns.

Carasso said in response, “We intend to scrap mainly Renault Fluence electric cars damaged during their prolonged storage in Ashdod Port.”

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What Would You Do With This Property? Sun, 20 Apr 2014 07:07:32 +0000 For those of you interested in what has become of the 40 or so Better Place battery switching stations that I used to use so frequently, here’s a snap of the one in the north of Israel near the Golan Heights (Katsarim) taken by Israellycool reader Eric.

The sign on the window says “For Rent”. Knowing what I know from elsewhere, all the equipment will have been stripped out.

Katsarim Better Place Swap Station for Rent

Better Place Battery Switch Station for rent in Katsarim.

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Revisiting The Better Place Past Fri, 11 Apr 2014 07:14:44 +0000 A couple of months ago I gave an interview to a journalist about Better Place. I picked him up near my office in my Better Place Renault Fluence ZE and drove him to the now stripped and abandoned switch station at Yarqon. That was the very first one I switched at and filmed. That was February 12th 2012, two years ago. It was before any customers got their cars and when it was only available for testing. The entrance to that amazing place looks like this today:

Better Place wreckage 1

I then took him to the old visitor centre. In better days it looked like this:

Better Place Visitor Centre view from the entrance

Today it looks like this:

Better Place wreckage 3

The first thing that Max (who wrote the Fast Company piece I’ll talk about in a minute) said when getting in my car was how close it felt to a Tesla Model S. I hadn’t been in one at that time so this was a very pleasant surprise. Stripping away tax imbalances the Tesla S is worth at least 3 or 4 times what the Renault Fluence ZE is worth. A few weeks later in New York I eventually test drove a Tesla and my abiding impression is just how good the Renault is for a fraction of the price. Clearly the Tesla is superior, but not by as much in as many ways as you think.

I let Max drive my car around the old Better Place test track a couple of times, dodging the overgrown weeds that seem to reach out and grab the car as you make the turn at the roundabout at the end. It’s profoundly depressing.

Here’s what I wrote on Jan 12th over two years ago. I still feel the same every time I get in my car and even the “too quiet” I’ve come to love and resent having to drive my diesel Hyundai for trips further than my car can travel on a single charge:

As far as I was concerned the science was in: the car would suck and be like driving a glorified golf cart. This would be especially because it is built around a Renault Fluence that, in petrol form, is not a great car and of which my company just returned a woefully underpowered version to our lease company.

But my mind was changed. I only drove it for a couple of minutes and will have a longer test on real roads next week but the thing was good to drive. A little too quiet for my tastes but the amazing torque characteristics of fully electric drive give tremendous acceleration at almost any speed.

I have a story to tell about the goings on after the bankruptcy. I haven’t written that, somehow I haven’t had the drive to do it. I don’t write for money, but I have to connect with what I’m writing. I actually get emotional about Better Place still. The promise was so great, the potential to change the world in a good way was there but many things went wrong.

So to come to Max’s piece in Fast Company: it’s a very good telling of the story. I knew most of this, I know some of the people he talked to (including a few who are not named) and until one of the principals of the company writes a book, this is about the best account there is.

Go read his piece. Any questions for me, put them in the comments.

“The technology worked, customers were satisfied,” says Pross, who in addition to being this particular car’s owner was a Better Place employee from 2008 until the bitter end, the company’s bankruptcy declaration in May 2013. He sounds heartbroken. “It would have been a revolution.”

Better Place was born to be revolutionary, the epitome of the kind of world-changing ambition that routinely gets celebrated. Founder Shai Agassi, a serial entrepreneur turned rising star at German software giant SAP, conceived Better Place “on a Davos afternoon” in 2005 when he asked himself, “How would you run a whole country without oil?” Four years later, onstage at the TED conference, Agassi, a proud Israeli with a bit of a Steve Jobs complex, wore a black turtleneck and promised, with the confidence of a man who has known the future for some time but has only recently decided to share his findings, that he would sell millions of electric vehicles in his home country and around the world. He implied that converting to electric cars was the moral equivalent of the abolition of human slavery and that it would usher in a new Industrial Revolution.

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A Jolt Of Electricity Thu, 21 Nov 2013 12:46:42 +0000 Something good happened today. My friend Andrew delivered to me a box that will dramatically improve the utility of my Better Place car.

I haven’t said much recently because, honestly, there hasn’t been much good news. I’m still driving my car almost every day despite the closure of the battery switching network and the public charge stations. I’ve had to make a few trips to Jerusalem (for the GA mostly) in my other diesel car and that sucked.

But today I received a box that allows me to plug my car in almost anywhere. My car is now charging at my office, something I’ve never been able to do. It means I can make a 120km trip tonight without going home and switching to the other car.

Andrew is taking orders for this cable and box which he is assembling from imported components here in Israel.

charging cable 3charging cable 4charging cable 5charging cable 1


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Where Are We Now With Better Place Sun, 13 Oct 2013 09:26:44 +0000 Better Place chargers at Ramat Aviv Mall, Tel Aviv showing out of service signs - Photo Credit: Brian of London

Better Place chargers at Ramat Aviv Mall, Tel Aviv showing out of service signs – Photo Credit: Brian of London

I have a new Op Ed at The Times of Israel which provides a brief update on where we are now.

I’m still driving my car and charging it at home, but I no longer have access to battery switch stations or public charge spots. It’s a real shame as these are being operated, but I have no confidence in the company that is now doing this. To that end I refuse to sign the new contract they are proposing.

Even though it would represent me paying again for something I’ve already paid in advance for, if a new company came along to run the network and behaved in a reasonable way, I’d pay. The new owners are not giving me that feeling.

Please read and share my Op Ed. I will be writing more as this develops.

Better Place is the tragedy that keeps giving

First, a chance to lead the world into a new era in transportation was lost – after hundreds of millions of shekels from outside the country was invested in jobs and infrastructure here. Hundreds were put out of work and the driving public was consigned to continuing to live at the mercy of the volatile global oil market, regularly manipulated by its adversaries. Now a circus of a bankruptcy process threatens to extinguish even the small nucleus of infrastructure that remains – setting the country back a decade or more in its effort to break the monopoly of petroleum on transportation.

This, even as Tesla, the US-based electric car manufacturer, has become the darling of Wall Street, with a market value roughly half of General Motors. And Tesla is using its new fortune to do what? To build a nationwide network to service electric cars across the US. At the same moment as Israel sees its network disintegrate.

Read the rest.

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The Science Is In: Yom Kippur Air Is Cleaner Wed, 11 Sep 2013 12:53:10 +0000 Over at the Times of Israel I’ve just published a completely rewritten post on a theme I’ve explored before here at Israellycool: the complete cessation of road traffic in Israel on Yom Kippur. This starts on Friday night this year.

On Friday night Tel Aviv will resemble a post apocalypse movie: the oil ran out and all we have left are bicycles and roller blades.

Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – begins this Friday evening. Many people know Jews don’t eat or drink for 25 hours (sun down to sun down) but few know what actually happens on Yom Kippur in modern, non-religious, Israel.

When I arrived, just over four years ago, Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv took me by complete surprise.

Practically all cars and motor transport will stop. Just not go anywhere. Almost no planes, trains or automobiles will move until Saturday night.

Read the rest (and like it and share it!)

As I’ve mentioned before here at Israellycool, there is a visible, tastable, smellable and hearable difference in the quality of the air on Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv.

While updating that article I found a very recently published scientific paper that completely confirms my own unscientific observations about air quality in Tel Aviv on Yom Kippur. I contacted the author, Ilan Levy, at the Technion in Haifa who replied immediately. I’ll try to pass on the gist of the paper in normal language. Here’s the title and bullet points:

A national day with near zero emissions and its effect on primary and secondary pollutants


  • All anthropogenic emissions are ceased for 25 h during a holyday.
  • NO levels drop by 83–98% at different sites.
  • Ozone increases by 8 ppbv at urban core but decreases by 5 ppbv downwind.
  • The study demonstrates the best case scenario for emissions reduction schemes.
  • Major health benefits are expected from alternatives to fossil fuelled vehicles.

The paper takes data from 15 years of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement abbreviated to ‘DA’ in the text) and also looks in detail at the year 2001 because similar daily weather patterns in that year means the days before and after Yom Kippur are easier to compare than in many of the other years.

The biggest point to note is that primary pollution: the stuff that comes out of the exhaust pipes of cars or from factory chimneys is almost instantly, massively and measurably reduced. The paper notes that nearly everything in Israel begins stopping from 2pm and by 6pm on the eve of Yom Kippur almost all travel and industry has ceased.

The only things left producing pollution are the large power stations (such as the Reding station in North Tel Aviv) and the very large industrial plants such as oil refineries. All small and medium industry as well as almost all transport stops for 25 hours or more. Having said that, the amount of electricity generated on Yom Kippur is also significantly reduced so even power stations cut their emissions.

I love the following graph of traffic flows on the Ayalon highway in Tel Aviv. The author notes there is some measured traffic but he thinks (correctly I’d say) that the measuring equipment is just recording the large number of cyclists going by!

Traffic flows

Traffic counts on selected road sections along the Ayalon Highway for DA of 2006 (a)


My photo of the Ayalon Highway at 19:30 in the evening. This section is usually bumper to bumper at this time.

My photo of the Ayalon Highway at 19:30 in the evening. This section is usually bumper to bumper at this time.



The paper goes into a lot of detail on a particularly specific effect around primary and secondary pollution. Simply put, secondary pollution is produced when primary pollution (the raw stuff that comes out of the cars and chimneys) reacts with other chemicals in the air and sunlight. The other chemicals can even be things given off by plants and trees!

It turns out that (and this is seen elsewhere in the world on weekends) reducing primary pollution briefly can lead to a small increase in secondary pollution. What they can’t say is what would happen if the reduction in primary pollution carried on much longer than 25 hours.

Even putting that aside, the reductions in Nitrogen Oxide (NO) and Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are dramatic. The time between the vertical red lines in the graphs below is Yom Kippur. You can easily see how levels of these pollutants, everywhere drop. Other studies have shown that these two pollutants represent a whole range of others and when these drop, all the others drop too.

Composite mean for the days before, during and after DA of 1998e2012 for NO (a), NO2 (b). [CBS in Red is the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv; UBG in green is an “urban background” reading in north Tel Aviv; DWN in blue is “down wind” of Tel Aviv in the town of Modi’in]

Composite mean for the days before, during and after DA of 1998e2012 for NO (a), NO2 (b). [CBS in Red is the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv; UBG in green is an “urban background” reading in north Tel Aviv; DWN in blue is “down wind” of Tel Aviv in the town of Modi’in]

I’m leaving out a lot of detail but the big message I’m going to repeat in the author’s own words:

The policy implications of this study are substantial. A change in vehicle fleet to low emission vehicles will have a major impact on both primary and secondary pollution levels over large regions, while possibly increasing secondary pollution levels at the urban core. The health benefits associated with the large regional changes are expected to be far greater than the costs of increase in sec-ondary pollutants (i.e., ozone) at the congested urban core. More- over, the low levels of primary pollutants will benefit not only populations at risk (i.e., young children, elderly and people with existing respiratory or cardiovascular conditions) but also the entire population. This is particularly true for carcinogenic TRAP such as benzene, for which there is no safe lower limit of exposure.

My opinion: if we were to switch to cars like my (still working) Better Place car, and to replace our bus fleet with electric buses, we could make almost every day in Israel like Yom Kippur. For very well understood reasons, this wouldn’t need a vast increase in electricity generation, and as we move away from coal and to gas, this also improves air quality in our cities.

It can happen and, as I’ve proved by driving 25,000km without inconvenience, it really is possible. We would all notice the improvement. I hope that day comes in my lifetime.

Let me finish by wishing all our Jewish readers Gmar Chatima Tova!

It’s Science!

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Israeli Parking Masterclass – Douchebag Israeli Ferrari 9102773 Sun, 30 Jun 2013 20:42:06 +0000 It’s not just that he’s illegally occupying two spots in the Mamilla Mall in Jerusalem.

He’s occupying two of only twelve charging spots for electric cars (like mine) in the whole of the car park.

Douchebag Israeli Parking Ferrari 9102773

Obviously owning a Ferrari in Israel gives the owner the right to act like a complete douchebag.

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Big Government Little Government Better Government Tue, 04 Jun 2013 08:44:18 +0000 better_place_blueThere is a petition (in Hebrew) asking the Government of Israel to recognise the special importance of Better Place and do all that it can to preserve it.

Shai Agassi hasn’t said much publicly about the bankruptcy (I believe he is legally constrained in what he can say) but he has shared this petition on Facebook:

Shai Agassi shares petition on Facebook

I’m not a government intervention kind of guy but (as I have written) I believe the Government of Israel has actively hindered the adoption of electric cars. They certainly could have done a lot more (without spending much money) to help.

It’s time they remove some barriers and help Israel take a lead in the massively important task of weening ourselves off our devastating Oil Addiction.

BTW if you use Chrome, you can auto translate this and fill it in in English. Petition link here.

Crappy Google Translate below, I just don’t have the time to clean it up but if anyone wants to please leave a comment and I’ll switch to a real human translation.

This appeal to various government offices, in order to require state intervention to improvise on Better Place and definition Cmiizm National in early for my clients different, and secondly in order to make the vision a reality: 

Prime Minister’s Office

Ministry of Finance

Ministry of the Environment and of the Interior and Environment

Now Better Place not in private hands and the process of liquidation, we urge the Israeli government took a hand in saving a model electric car only of its kind in the world. Among other things, this petition was to lobby for legislative changes and the provision of benefits and Sibsodim substantial citizens of Israel will reduce the emission of toxins by using components electronic (purchase and rent) initiated electric car Better Place serves a turning point in ensembles worldwide and humankind’s relationship to the environment in which he lives. derives from the fact that Israel see This technology springboard for global implementation of a model electric car slowly takes more and more countries in the world.therefore, we close in order that Israel will see Better Place has no property left on the shelf, and implies that the electric car entrepreneur may contribute to Israel in the energy, infrastructure, employment, health, economy, security (reducing global dependence on Arab oil) and most importantly: Environment – the only way we will ensure to create a better world for us and especially for our children no less important, for Ncdeino.  proposals / comments / clarifications please

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