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Electrification Nation

Electrification NationMichael Granoff (A'91), co-founder of Better Place, seeks to steer the world away from oil-based transportation.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [04.06.09] While thumbing through a newspaper is a mindless morning routine for many, for Michael Granoff it was quite life altering.

In February of 2007, Granoff, then working on a venture fund in Israel, was going through a local newspaper when he came across a piece on Israeli president Shimon Peres' trip to the World Economic Forum.

"It had a one-sentence reference to him speaking about Israel and electric cars, and based on that I called his office," Granoff says. "I knew someone there, and sent them some of the material that I had worked on over the prior year on vehicle electrification."

Granoff, whose life has led him down a number of paths, from studying religion as a Tufts undergrad to going on to business and law school, started his personal career by founding Maniv Bioventures, LLC, which invested nearly $20 million from 1997 to 2004 in an assortment of life science companies. As his interest in sustainability technology began to grow, the company then morphed into Maniv Energy Capital, LLC, established in 2005 to explore opportunities in the rapidly growing sectors of clean technology and alternative energy.

In 2001, Granoff had begun to build on this interest,finding capital to fund Securing America's Future Energy, a not-for-profit organization started by Fletcher School graduate Robbie Diamond that is committed to reducing America's dependence on oil and improving U.S. energy security. Granoff then moved on to help another group of friends raise the first venture funds in Israel focused on clean technologies.

Still maintaining a number of passive investments with Maniv, Granoff was looking for something more.

"Around 2005 and 2006, I came to the conclusion that there was only one true alternative to oil, which was electricity," Granoff says. "I spent about a year looking for an opportunity that would meaningfully accelerate what I saw as an inevitable transition from oil to electric in transportation."

Having sent his work to Peres, Granoff was then given the opportunity to meet with him, during which time he listened to Peres' ideas for electric cars in Israel. Granoff says he was impressed with the vision, but skeptical about the implementation. That is, until he met Shai Agassi.

Agassi, a former top executive at the software company SAP, had left the firm to work on his plan for vehicle electrification and had been in contact with Peres about this idea. Hearing this, Granoff contacted Agassi through Peres' office, and in 2007 the two worked together to raise initial funds of $200 million to found Better Place, a California-based, venture-backed company that aims to reduce global dependency on oil. Granoff currently works as the company's head of oil independence policies.

The goal of Better Place is to set up an electrification infrastructure that is similar to what is currently in place for gasoline-based transportation. Parking lots will be equipped with outlets that will provide enough of a charge for a 100-mile trip, or the equivalent of average day-to-day driving.

Better Place is doing work within Israel, Denmark, Australia, California, Hawaii and Canada, all of which have made the commitment to deploy the world's first electric car networks.

According to Granoff, due to working with Better Place, Israel already has almost 1,000 charging spots deployed in parking lots along the coast and plans to reach 100,000 in the next year. Working with automotive manufacturer Renault-Nissan, the current goal is to have consumers in electric cars by 2011, heading toward a goal of oil independence in 2018.

Although the population of Israel at just over 7 million (a little less than that of North Carolina) means many fewer cars on the road, Granoff hopes the United States will heed the country's example and begin to electrify-sooner than later.

"Right now I'm spending a lot of time educating policymakers about the fact that the investment required to deploy infrastructure that enables electrification throughout the United States is about three months of what we spent importing oil in 2008," says Granoff. "It's more than a company can quickly raise and spend, but it is a fraction, obviously, of what the federal government just spent on the stimulus and a fraction of what U.S. exports in terms of dollars exchange for oil every year.

"I think that for national, economic and environmental security reasons, it is imperative that the United States move quickly away from oil," Granoff says. "Not gradually, but quickly."

Story by Kaitlin Provencher, Web Communications.

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