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Electric Cars in Hawaii: The Future of Transport or Just Another Monorail?

The technology of networked electric cars is right on. The business model for it is still unproven. Will a firm called Better Place change that?

Electric Cars in Hawaii: The Future of Transport or Just Another Monorail?

I’ve written in this space before about the Smart Garage idea—linking electric cars, charging stations, and an intelligent electric grid. But the system has a chicken-and-egg problem—it seems to require massive, unlikely coordination to get utilities, car companies, software companies and real estate developers all on board.

Shai Agassi, formerly of SAP, came up with a simpler version of the idea called Better Place. His one company says they can do it all—like a cell phone company they will sell the cars relatively cheap and charge for charging—the "minutes." He signed up the government of Israel to test it out.

Then Denmark. Australia. Northern California. Now Hawaii.

An island is a great place to try this out since energy costs are high and driving distances are limited. 2012 is the estimated time horizon to actually get cars on the road, with a minefield of potential financing and technology problems between here and there.

I believe some version of networked electric vehicle will come to pass. What's not yet clear is the business model. Commercial fleets like those powered by Valence here and in the UK are an obvious first place to start.