Save ‘Better Place’


The development of the massive gas fields off Israel’s coast in the
Mediterranean (“Energy Promise In The Promised Land,” Dec. 20) holds the
potential of energy independence for the State of Israel; unfortunately it
also highlights the ways in which the political impediments inherent in the
running of the country can hamper legitimate technological and economic

Israel currently spends over 5 percent of its GDP on imported oil, and that
expenditure represents a significant contributor to their trade imbalance and
an obvious drag on GDP. While many countries are in a similar situation, 
Israel has the technological infrastructure to change that condition in a
very short period of time. I refer to the electric car company
Better Place.

Israel was essentially the testing ground for a unique approach to the spread
of electric vehicles via Better Place. The fact that the country is both
relatively small and fully isolated makes it ideal for cars with a relatively
short range, and the company built a network of battery-swapping stations at
intervals that allowed any point in the country to be reached without running
out of “fuel.” Although Tesla and hybrid cars have been
successful in the U.S., Better Place was unable to gain sufficient traction, 
and the company declared bankruptcy in late-May.

The Israel Electric Company has contracted to buy over 42 billion cubic
meters of gas over the next 15 years from the gas fields that are being
developed; this will presumably lead to much lower utility costs for Israeli
consumers in the near future. This increased supply of cheaper electric
power is a natural fit for an electric car company, particularly given the
high tariffs on imported oil in Israel.

Cheaper power
will make the electric car advantage even more pronounced and widespread
acceptance has the potential to legitimately reduce oil imports, leading to a
meaningful boost in the country’s balance of trade.

The continued existence and operation of Better Place (or its successor) is a
legitimate strategic priority for the State of Israel, and given that the
private operators who might have taken the company out of bankruptcy failed
to do so, the government should enter the fray very soon, before the constituent assets are sold. Only then would the full
promise of the Israeli gas fields be realized.