Posts Tagged ‘Shai Agassi’


photo: Better Place

Silicon Valley startup Better Place on Tuesday announced a deal with Hawaii’s governor and the state’s biggest utility to build an electric car charging network throughout the islands.

The agreement comes less than two weeks after Better Place CEO Shai Agassi and the mayors of Northern California’s three largest cities unveiled a plan to build an electric car infrastructure for the San Francisco Bay Area. Better Place also has signed similar deals with governments in Australia, Denmark and Israel.

Agassi said the network of charging posts and battery swapping stations will be ready by 2012. That’s roughly the target date for Better Place’s other projects, which means the year-old startup will be simultaneously building electric car networks in four countries while raising billions of dollars in project finance.

Renault-Nissan will supply electric cars for the network. Better Place will own the car batteries and charge drivers for the miles (or kilometers) driven. By removing the battery from the purchase price of electric cars – the most expensive component – Better Place hopes to sell vehicles at prices competitive with their fossil-fueled counterparts.

Appearing with Agassi at a press conference at the capitol in Honolulu, Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle said the Better Place partnership offers the state the opportunity to slash the $7 billion it spends annually on imported oil and provide a market for renewable energy. Hawaiians pay some of the highest gasoline prices in the U.S. and the state has set a goal of obtaining 70% of its energy from solar, wind and other renewable sources by 2030.

“It’s not a simple goal – we’re looking to end our dependence on oil,” said Agassi, who shed his customary dark suit for a gray polo shirt and wore a lei. “Any form of renewable energy – wind, solar, geothermal – is here in Hawaii.”

“This will be the blueprint where six or seven million visitors will come and experience first-hand what it’s like to drive an electric car,” added Agassi, 40, a former top executive at business software giant SAP. “You couldn’t ask for a better advertisement.”

Utility Hawaiian Electric (HE), which supplies 95% of the state’s power, will generate renewable electricity equal to what the Better Place network consumes and work with the company on developing the charging infrastructure.

“The price of oil is irrelevant to us – we have to reach a clean and secure energy future,” Lingle said.

Better Place’s latest deal came on the same day that General Motors (GM) and Ford, which have asked for a multi billion-dollar bailout from Congress, (F) announced plans ramp up production of hybrid and electric cars.

“It’s a win-win-win – the only loser in the equation is oil and that’s ok,” said Hawaiian Electric executive vice president Robbie Alm. “Green cars will provide the market for renewable energy.”

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betterplaceplugElectric cars are as good for the economy as the environment and could put $80 billion in consumers’ pockets by 2030, according to a new study from the University of California.

Not surprisingly, the oil industry would take a $175 billion hit under the scenario sketched by UC Berkeley’s Global Venture Lab, while a booming battery business would gain $130 billion as the internal combustion engine sputters out. “There will also be significant changes in the balance of payments among nations as petroleum imports decline,” the authors wrote. “We find the net imports of the U.S. will decline by $20 billion.”

The report makes several assumptions to arrive at its optimistic conclusions: The Cal researchers are counting on 39% of cars on the road to be electric by 2030 and powered by electricity generated from renewable sources like wind and solar.

Electric car owners would save an estimated $7,203 in operating costs, mainly because with no engines to maintain, battery-powered vehicles rarely see the inside of mechanic’s garage.

Left unexplored in the report was the impact of electric cars on the United States auto industry. If General Motors (GM), Ford (F) and Chrysler survive – and that’s a big if these days – they stand to benefit assuming they retool for the electric age and produce cars consumers want to buy before rivals like Toyota (TM), Honda (HMC) and Renault-Nissan beat them to the punch. But their dealer networks are sure to suffer once their lucrative repair and maintenance business evaporates.

Another winner in the electric car economy will be solar and wind companies and utilities, particularly those like PG&E (PCG) and Southern California Edison (EIX) that are making multi billion-dollar investments in renewable energy.

One of the biggest assumption the Cal report makes involves the rise of a U.S. battery industry. “We don’t have a battery industry today,” said Shai Agassi, CEO of electric car infrastructure startup Better Place, on Friday at a panel Green Wombat moderated for the University of California’s Global Technology Leaders Conference. “Either we make them here or they’re going to be made in China.”

Agassi and the mayors of San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland on Friday announced that Better Place would build a $1 billion network of charging stations throughout the Bay Area. Renault-Nissan has agreen to provide Better Place with the hundreds of thousands of electric cars it’ll need to put on the road make its business model profitable.

photo: Better Place

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Photo: Better Place/Acey Harper

SAN FRANCISCO – It was a day when the shift from the past to the future was almost palpable.

It started Thursday morning in Berkeley where Green Wombat was moderating a panel of tech luminaries gathered at the University of California’s Global Technology Leaders Conference. As Shai Agassi, founder of electric car infrastructure company Better Place, makes the case for harnessing Silicon Valley’s technological innovation to Detroit’s manufacturing might to create a sustainable car industry, dispatches from the automotive apocalypse roll down my BlackBerry: Ford (F) shares sink to $1.01…GM’s (GM) stock falls to its lowest level since World War II…U.S. automakers beg for a bailout…California Congressman Henry Waxman ousts Michigan’s John Dingell — the Duke of Detroit — from his 28-year chairmanship of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Agassi slips out of the conference and an hour later I catch up with him across the Bay at San Francisco City Hall where he and representatives of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the mayors of San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland announce a $1 billion project to build a regional network of electric car charging stations. Better Place has signed similar deals with governments in Israel, Denmark and Australia, but California is the company’s first foray into the U.S. market. Planning for the Bay Area network begins in 2009 with construction scheduled to start in 2010 and commercial rollout set for 2012.

better20place202The mood is ebullient. “This is the start of a regional effort to become the capital of electric vehicles in the United States,” proclaims San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom before an audience that includes representatives from state and federal environmental agencies, green groups. Silicon Valley business leaders and officials from GM and Toyota (TM).

For his part, Agassi says, ” We believe this is not just a model for California, but a blueprint for the United States.”

The blueprint works like this: The mayors of the Bay Area’s three largest cities agreed to expedite permitting and installation of electric car charging stations, standardize regional regulations to promote an electric car infrastructure and offer incentives to employers to install chargers at workplaces. The mayors also agreed to pool purchases of municipal electric car fleets.

Better Place will raise the capital to install thousands of charging spots on the streets of San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland as well as stations between California cities where drivers can swap depleted batteries for fresh ones when they make longer trips. The Palo Alto-based company will own the car batteries and charge drivers for the miles driven. Automaker Renault-Nissan is developing electric cars for the Better Place network.

The big idea: Only by building an electric car infrastructure first will automakers produce the tens of millions of electric cars needed to make a significant dent in greenhouse gas emissions and the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.

That business model elicited some skepticism earlier in the day at the Berkeley conference, where Michael Marks, former CEO of electric carmaker Tesla Motors, questioned Agassi’s claim that Better Place would be able to provide electric cars that cost no more than gasoline-powered vehicles. And Jim Davidson, co-founder of Silicon Valley private equity firm Silver Lake, asked if Better Place would essentially be tapping the power grid to create a monopoly. (No, Agassi said, the Better Place network would be open to all electric cars.)

When Green Wombat sat down with Agassi and Newsom in the mayor’s offices Thursday afternoon, I asked Agassi, who brings a charismatic messianism to his mission, how Better Place would raise the billions needed to roll out an electric car infrastructure in California amid a global economic meltdown. He noted that in Australia Better Place signed up investment giant Macquarie Bank to create an infrastructure fund to finance that project while in Denmark a utility will provide financing.

“We will do the same thing here; we’re working with Morgan Stanley (MS) and Goldman Sachs (GS),” Agassi says, recounting a conversation he recently had with investors who he said were eager to put money in Better Place projects.

If anything, Newsom, 41, and Agassi, 40, and their allies regard the confluence of the financial crisis, the great Detroit car crash and the consolidation of green power in the incoming Obama administration and Congress as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to launch a disruptive technology on a global scale and transform the U.S. automotive industry.

“We’re uniquely positioned in that our local representative is Speaker of the House,” notes Newsom, referring to his close political ally, San Francisco Democrat Nancy Pelosi, who on Thursday sent a message of support for the Better Place initiative. “That can elevate what we’re trying to achieve out here.”

There’s no doubt that Newsom has a knack for game-changing politics. (He launched the gay marriage movement in these offices.) But the nuts and bolts of getting the bureaucracy to fall in line will be a harder challenge, as anyone who has ever tried to get a permit to do a home renovation in San Francisco can tell you. And not all of San Francisco’s collaborations with Silicon Valley tech companies have gone well — witness the collapse of the citywide Wi-Fi initiative Newsom undertook with Google (GOOG).

Agassi hesitated when I asked about plans to extend the Bay Area electric car network to the rest of California, noting that negotiating agreements with the nearly 100 municipalities that make up Greater Los Angeles poses a challenge. “I got a call the other day from the mayor of L.A. asking where are we,” Agassi says. “We hope to eventually make it an electric charging corridor from California to Seattle to Vancouver.”

On Thursday, Agassi and the politicians took pains to paint the Better Place initiative as not a California versus Michigan thing, or new economy versus old. And they just may be right. For in a strange way, by building an electric car infrastructure, California is offering Detroit a rescue package of its own: Supplying the network lays the groundwork for the mass production of electric cars that could be the auto industry’s salvation.

That may be counter to conventional wisdom, but perhaps Robert F. Kennedy Jr., environmentalist and advisor to Silicon Valley’s VantagePoint Venture Partners – a Better Place investor – put it best on Thursday at the press event when he upended the East Coast view of the Golden State: “When you come to California, you find people in touch with reality.”

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photo: Todd Woody

SAN FRANCISCO – As Congress considers bailing out a U.S. auto industry damaged by its dependence on fossil fuel-hogging SUVs, San Francisco Bay Area leaders on Thursday unveiled plans for a $1 billion regional network of charging stations for electric cars.

Silicon Valley startup Better Place will construct the network, deploying thousands of chargers for electric cars on the streets of San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland. The cities will be linked by battery swapping stations so drivers can travel longer distances. Better Place, founded by former SAP executive Shai Agassi, previously struck deals with governments in Israel, Denmark and Australia to build electric car networks. This is the well-funded startup’s first move in the U.S. market. Construction on the Bay Area network will begin in 2010 with commercial rollout in 2012.

“This is the start of a regional effort to become the capital of electric vehicles in the United States,” proclaimed San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom at a press conferences at city hall attended by the mayors of San Jose and Oakland as well as representatives from state and federal environmental agencies.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger threw his support to the project and the the cities of San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland have pledged to expedite permitting of Better Place charging stations, standardize regulations and offer incentives for employers to install chargers at workplaces.

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