GE Links Up With Silicon Valley Startup to Peddle Electric Car Charging Gear

General Electric car WattStationGeneral Electric, (GE) which is eager for a big slice of the emerging electric car market, said Wednesday it's teaming up with a Silicon Valley startup, Better Place, to promote their charging station and battery-swapping businesses.

GE wants to find homes for its newly introduced charging equipment, and Better Place needs a partner with buff financial muscles to help it build a network of charging and battery replacement stations around the country. The two companies, which didn't disclose the financial terms of their agreement, plan to work together on marketing and service programs targeting consumers and fleet owners.

GE moved into the electric car market when it unveiled its WattStation charging equipment in July. The tech giant hired Yves Behar, the well-known industrial designer behind Jawbone's Bluetooth headset and the chandelier sculpture installed at JFK International Airport, to give WattStation a sleek, clean look that sets it apart from the boxy, grimy feel of today's gas stations.

The partnership is significant for Better Place, which has trumpeted its ambitious plan to build a network of car charging and battery-swapping stations around the world. Better Place is rolling out pilot projects in Israel and Denmark, where it has gotten handsome financial and regulatory support. Better Place also has announced plans to build stations in the United States.

The Pros and Cons of Battery Swapping

Better Place wants to offer battery replacement services because it believes consumers might not want to pay for and own the expensive lithium-ion batteries, which are the primary reason that electric cars coming to the market are so much more expensive than your typical family sedans. The idea is that consumers will pay for a service plan where they can stop by any Better Place station to trade in depleted batteries for fully-charged ones. Better Place will then re-charge the empty batteries, often at night when electricity is cheaper, and offer them to customers the next day.

The battery swapping seems both creative and impractical to many people in the electric car industry, however. There is no standard size or placement for the bulky lithium-ion battery packs, so a Better Place station will have to stock up on different battery brands and be able to install them quickly. The company has designed a robotic system that it says can replace batteries efficiently. It has signed an agreement with the Renault Nissan Alliance, which plans to roll out electric cars and make their batteries available to Better Place's stations in Israel and Denmark.

But the need for the robots and stations to recharge depleted batteries means Better Place will need a lot of money to make its business plan a reality. The company raised $350 million earlier this year: Investors included HSBC Group, Morgan Stanley Investment Management and Lazard Asset Management. Better Place also previously raised $200 million to help build a network in Israel and €103 million ($135.8 million) from Denmark's utility, DONG Energy, for the pilot project in that country.

Competing to Recharge

Charging electric cars like you would at a gas station today is a concept that is easy to grasp for consumers. In fact, while Better Place is out raising the hefty sums and lining up partners, other companies have been rolling out charging stations across the country.

Coulomb Technologies, another Silicon Valley startup, has installed charging stations in many states, mostly on the West and East coasts. The company also sells chargers for use at home.

Some market analysts believe most electric car owners in the United States will do most of their refueling at home. Residential charging gear will represent 64% of the 974,000 charging stations to be installed in the United States by 2015, predicted Pike Research. By comparison, in Europe and Asia, which have fewer single-family homes, residential charging spots will make up on 35% of their markets.

Globally, 4.7 million charging points will materialize from 2010 and 2015, Pike said.

GE said it will work with Better Place to finance 10,000 batteries to "help bring the first 10,000 electric cars to consumers" in Israel and Denmark, but it didn't offer details on the plan. The two companies also want to market their equipment and services to fleet owners in the U.S. and other parts of the world, likely by offering financial and other incentives to make a switch to electric cars more affordable.

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I have been in the technology world for a long time. I have a patent on a Hybrid that uses steam and electric, it charges the batteries using steam powered generators that are of less friction then the electric motors, the motors in which drive the car, or truck, are electric, the steam motor releases water vapor into the earth, it will require a better draining system on state roads, and better tires as roads will be wet much more often. I am working on desalinization currently so those of us on the coast could in theory fill up with ocean or salt based water. This idea, and original build has proven to work, it is cheap, and the car in which i used although heavy halls a**. The concept will never be adapted as the people in which i would need to fund this to get it moving would put the fossil fuel companies out of business. This will never happen.

September 23 2010 at 10:01 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to themanindbox's comment

additionally i can go about 30 miles on a gallon of water. which if you dont use poland spring is cheap.

September 23 2010 at 10:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Also, I would not allow international investment, i would prefer that if this idea was to take off that i employ US workers only, (Making my company a US based 100% company, i would like to get people working again) From everything including electronics, sheet metal, steel, brass, etc... Currently i use OLD parts from steam powered eqt built in this country. Every part used is made here, with the exception of the donnor shell in which i got a good deal on a civic hatch. I would have used another car, but i needed a bubble shape to fit the boiler in, and i could not find a donor car that was a pinto that did not have serious rust issues.

September 23 2010 at 10:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

So I buy a new electric car, take it to one of these re-charge stations where they keep my new battery to re-charge and give me one that's two years old but is fully charged? Next time I get one that's 3 years old or 6 months old, who knows? I don't think the public is going to go for this.

September 23 2010 at 6:48 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Changing stations with a standard battery pack has to be the way to go. Even so, many people would find an electric car impractical. So many of us are used to using head lights , radios, and air conditioners in our cars.

September 23 2010 at 6:40 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

Where will the electricity come from when all these elctric cars plug in? Not coal...not solar...not nuclear...not wind farms. Follow the money.

September 23 2010 at 6:22 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

If these stations have multiple stacks of battery packs, with each pack worth multiple thousands of dollars, they will need the security of Fort Knox to prevent theft.

September 23 2010 at 1:50 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to stubit586's comment

Not really as easy to carry as a 20.00 dollar bill..

September 23 2010 at 9:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I find the idea of swapping out batteries to be impractical, esp as long as the batteries are so large and of course the lack of standardization. I also find the idea of charging stations to be rather impractical, since who has time to park their car at a charging station for several hours. I do wonder however if there won't be a market for charging stations placed wherever there would be cars parking for a sufficient length of time, such as work, the mall, parks, restaurants, etc. I suspect the biggest problem with electrical vehicles will be range and charging time.

September 22 2010 at 9:54 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Give it up with electric cars - max mileage is 245 miles - if I go to AZ and had an electric car it would take me (4) days to get my destination - Tucson - a motel every 245 miles since it takes (6) to (8) hours for a full charge. This is a is just the enviro wacko's and Obama making a small few very, very ,very rich with a product that won't be successful.

September 22 2010 at 6:29 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply