Better Place recharges business model with GE

EV battery-swap company to offer a self-charging option, as well as private swapping stations.

Candace Lombardi
In a software-driven world, it's easy to forget about the nuts and bolts. Whether it's cars, robots, personal gadgetry or industrial machines, Candace Lombardi examines the moving parts that keep our world rotating. A journalist who divides her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, Lombardi has written about technology for the sites of The New York Times, CNET, USA Today, MSN, ZDNet, Silicon.com, and GameSpot. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.
Candace Lombardi
3 min read
The Better Place Rogue, an all-electric version of the Nissan Rogue crossover SUV currently part of a pilot project in Hawaii, allows drivers to swap out their spent battery for a new one.

EV battery-swapper Better Place announced today it's partnering with General Electric to recharge its business model.

The GE partnership will augment Better Place stations by offering GE's WattStation charging service in addition to Better Place's existing battery-swapping service.

The WattStation is a Level 2 electric-vehicle charging station with 240-volt chargers compatible with any standard EV--similar to the Ecotality Blink station and Coulomb Technologies ChargePoint station.

A GE WattStation, depending on the car, can fully recharge an EV battery in as short as four hours, according to GE.

Better Place currently offers a subscription service in which members can pull their EV into any Better Place station and have their nearly spent car battery swapped out for a fully charged one. The old battery is then recharged at the station during off-peak electricity hours and ready to be placed in the next compatible vehicle.

Better Place and GE also announced today that they will introduce stations built specifically for municipal and corporate fleets. In that situation, Better Place will offer to set up one exclusive station for a specific fleet of EVs. The station will then switch batteries in and out for that fleet only. It's an alternative to parking the fleet vehicles for an extended period of time in order to recharge them, or subscribing to the general Better Place station network.

GE and Better Place will also partner to try to encourage drivers in Israel and Denmark--the first countries to get the original Better Place stations--to adopt more EVs. Together they'll finance a total of 10,000 batteries for EV drivers through various pilot projects.

Financial terms of the Better Place and GE partnership were not disclosed.

It makes sense that that Better Place would add a charging station to its existing station options. The Better Place subscription business model was initially intended to cut down on the cost of owning an electric vehicle, since the batteries were such an expensive component of the vehicle. It's also an assistance to electric utilities in that the batteries are charged during off-peak times.

While Better Place does already offer charging devices at some stations (there are 1,000 Better Place charge spots in Israel, for example) Better Place's swapping services are limited to cars with specific types of batteries designed to be swapped out.

GE's WattStation will be added as an option at Better Place's network of battery-swapping EV stations. GE

Currently they work with the Renault Fluence ZE, a converted Renault Megane; and the Better Place Rogue, a swappable battery version of the Nissan Rogue SUV. The company has also partnered with Chinese automaker Chery to incorporate swappable batteries in their EVs. It is also in talks with battery companies like A123 Systems and international standards organizations to develop international lithium-ion battery standards to make more EV batteries swappable.

But automakers like Nissan, Ford, Think, and Chrysler are poised to offer EVs to the mass market in the coming months with batteries already in place. Even if some of those batteries were technically swappable, the warranty or lease-agreement requirements would likely make battery-swapping untenable at this point.

While the battery-swapping idea makes a lot of practical sense over waiting hours for a car to recharge, it may take some time before swapping car batteries becomes the norm. It may also never become the norm if drivers adopt the residential charger and become accustomed to overnight charging.

Updated at 12:02 p.m. PDT to include the Renault Fluence EZ in the list of Better Place-compatible cars, and clarify the company's services. Better Place already offers charging stations in addition to swapping services at some of its existing stations.