Swappable EV batteries as a solution to faster adoption of electric mobility

EVs are significantly costlier than conventional diesel/petrol and gas vehicles. This hike in prices is due to the batteries. As per estimates, batteries make up for 20% to 50% of their cost.

May 27, 2021 4:38 PM

Electric vehicles (EVs) are the clean-tech solution to environmental pollution. With the rise in global warming, the time has come for the mass adoption of EVs. However, despite the understanding and willingness of vehicle owners, the path to owning and using EVs has not been as easy as is the case with conventional vehicles. This is why even with more than 9 years to go, India had to scale down from the ambitious goal of 100% electric mobility by 2030. The country is now aiming to have 70% of the two/three-wheelers and the public transportation to comprise EVs by 2030. This clearly indicates that the national focus now has to be on having electric vehicles for public transportation. The road to achieving that goal has certain daunting challenges such as EV cost, battery cost, operational range and charging time, and battery swapping is the ideal solution for all such problems.

The challenges

Cost: EVs are significantly costlier than conventional diesel/petrol and gas vehicles. This hike in prices is due to the batteries. As per estimates, batteries make up for 20% to 50% of their cost. This is what inhibits vehicle buyers who are not keen to invest a lot more than the cost of conventional vehicles. In India, an electric-rickshaw owner spends about rupees 25,000 on purchasing a battery and this cost needs to be incurred again after every six months as the battery life is limited. If battery cost is taken out of the vehicle cost then the EVs become much more affordable. The batteries will be owned by third-party brands who will replace the drained batteries with fully-charged, standard ones in a matter of minutes.

Charging time and infrastructure: Charging is a key headache for EV owners. It is easy to charge vehicles at home or office where they can be plugged in and left to charge overnight. However, the public battery charging stations pose a lot of challenges such as parking space, congestion on roads since they are invariably going to be by the side of major roads and highways, and long wait time as it can take as much as ten hours for a conventional battery to juice up. However, if the battery swapping process is adopted then the vehicle has to simply reach the battery swapping station where the technicians will replace the drained battery with the fully charged ones in a matter of minutes.

Range anxiety: Even if we assume that an average private vehicle owner who drives 20-30 km to work and back can easily manage daily commute as the vehicle can be charged overnight, it doesn’t augur well for commercial vehicles. Even if a private vehicle owner has to go on a road trip or interstate travel then the limited range becomes an issue because spending as many as 10 hours on charging is impractical. For instance, India has over 2.4 million electric rickshaws that ferry millions of commuters each day. However, these rickshaw drivers are not able to optimally use their vehicle’s operational range and earning potential as they can’t drive beyond 80 km a day.

There are already some operational, battery swapping stations in the country which have clearly demonstrated how the swap helps the EV fleet owners cover twice the distance, and double their earnings. They are able to achieve all this without spending heavily on batteries as they are owned by the swapping service providers. The vehicle owners only need to pay an easy swapping fee on a per swap basis. To drive EV adoption, and make it viable for all private and public vehicle owners, battery swapping stations are the perfect solution.

Battery Swapping Stations (BSS)

A battery-swapping station (BSS) has ample standardized lithium-ion batteries in stock. As soon as a vehicle drives into the BSS, the technicians replace the drained battery with a fresh, fully charged battery and the vehicle can go back on the road in as little as two minutes. That’s faster than even the average time that one spends on refueling a conventional vehicle at a gas station. Vehicle owners need not worry about spending long hours and since it is a quick, swap-and-go system, this is unlikely to cause any traffic congestion or parking challenges beyond what we already see at petrol pumps and gas stations across India. Since the batteries are owned, swapped and managed by the BSS owners, the EV owner doesn’t have to worry about the expenses on the battery and its lifecycle.

BSS in India

India is home to over 1.35 billion people and most of them depend on public transportation. This dependence also causes severe pollution, and electric vehicles are the key to making the air free from vehicular pollution. The concept of battery swapping can potentially bring down the EV ownership cost significantly, and this holds great promise for the vehicle fleet operators in the country. China has already started using battery swapping for its city bus services in major metros, and it has enabled it to keep public transportation moving with a positive impact on the environment. Once battery swapping becomes the go-to model in India, the country can become a trend-setter in clean-tech mobility.

Author: Varun Goenka, Co-founder and CEO, Chargeup

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author. These views and opinions do not represent those of The Indian Express Group or its employees.

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