Funny Business with Jane Wells

Making Electric Cars Practical

Thursday night on CNBC we launch "Beyond the Barrel", which looks at the latest in using alternative energy.

VisionsofAmerica/Joe Sohm | Digital Vision | Getty Images

The special airs at 8 pm ET, 5 pm PT—and again on the West Coast at 9 pm PT.

My story for the program looks at real world, real time applications of solar and wind power in the U.S. Not a bunch of pie in the sky future projects, but those which are already up and running. Some things work, some don't.

One bit of advice, don't live too close to a wind turbine—they can be noisy.

While my story deals with the new ways we are powering our homes, here is something intriguing about how we may soon power, and re-power, our cars.

One of the greatest drawbacks to driving an electric car is the need to recharge it after 50 to 80 miles. For many Californians, living in the nation's car capital, that doesn't even cover one way to work. Worrying about whether an electric car can go the distance is called "range anxiety", and a Palo Alto

company with roots in Israel plans to change that.

Better Place is preparing to set up a network of battery switch-out stations. Drivers come in and, without ever leaving their cars, robots pop out a dying battery and replace it with a fresh one. "We can switch out the battery in less time than it takes us to fill up a gas tank," says Jason Wolf ofBetter Place's North American division.

Wolf says these switching stations could be set up at traditional gas stations to help those businesses transition to newer car technologies. The key to success is speed, or drivers won't be interested. "They will not be willing to wait 15 to 20 minutes for a charge."

Better Place plans to roll out the first network of switch stations in Israel, Denmark, and Tokyo, and hopes to have "mass adoption" in the U.S. by 2012. The company is also embedding special software in new electric Renaults which will tell drivers where switching stations are located. "It will also tell (them) how long is the wait there, is it available, which is the optimal one."

Better Place has been the recipient of more than one billion dollars in venture capital, the biggest VC investment in clean tech history. "If you look at the transportation industry," Wolf says, "you're talking about a trillion dollar plus industry. The energy industry is another trillion dollar industry. Both of these industries are in the process of evolving to a next paradigm. Electric vehicles are inevitable."

Wolf sees his company in a unique position to develop a system which will work for all makes and models of electric cars—"No one else is really focused on the mass market."

Questions? Comments? Funny Stories? Email