Battery swapping: Where do we stand?

There is a long way to go for battery swapping to become a reality, but the path looks clear. With battery swapping, batteries can be charged slowly, efficiently, and at a time when the demand on the grid is low

Battery Smart, Park+ partner to boost access to battery swapping infrastructure

By: Puneet Jain founder, Natural Battery Technologies, a battery manufacturer

In Budget FY23, the finance minister proposed a battery swapping policy for electric vehicles (EVs). While the fine print isn’t yet out, it is important understand global trends and trials around the battery-as-a-service (BaaS) model.

Positive insights
Battery swapping is an alternative to charging an EV at charging points—it involves exchanging discharged batteries for charged ones. Battery swapping ensures the EV is kept in the operational mode with negligible downtime (especially for commercial EVs).From a sustainability perspective, battery swapping is a green policy.

Fast charging degrades batteries at a faster rate, and can lead to additional e-waste. With battery swapping, batteries can be charged slowly (in a more efficient manner) and at a time when the demand on the grid is low.

A reason battery swapping makes sense for densely populated countries like India and China is the flexibility of all energy demand for transport, in a degree that is impossible to achieve in other models: system imbalance during most of the time of the year is close to zero even without battery-to-grid.

From a consumer point of view, battery swapping is fast, efficient and convenient to get an EV back on the road, especially during a long trip.But as global experts have maintained, battery swapping is too convenient, too economical and too logical for not to happen at scale.

What is stopping it from becoming a reality is that automakers across the globe aren’t able to agree to convergence on batteries.

Challenges
Battery swapping can become a reality only when safety, quality, design and operation towards battery management are streamlined with similar technology across vehicles and manufacturers.

But the challenge is that differentiation and distinction of vehicles from automakers will be compromised to the extent that all will have to use the same type of battery.

A big blow to battery swapping was probably delivered by Tesla, which unsuccessfully tried to initiate a limited battery swapping model in the US.

China and India are pushing the model, and due to the sheer force of their market size, they may be able to push through the proprietary mindset of manufacturers.

How is India faring?
As a pilot project, Greaves Electric Mobility and Sun Mobility will deploy swappable batteries for EVs. The government has announced plans to make the execution successful:

1) The policy promotes swapping of batteries with advanced chemistry cell (ACC) to decouple battery costs from the upfront costs of purchasing EVs, thereby driving adoption.

2) The policy is encouraging localisation of battery cells and their quality through PLI schemes focused on batteries with advanced chemistry.

3) It has been suggested that the GST Council consider reducing the differential across tax rates on lithium-ion batteries and EV supply equipment. Currently, the tax rate on the former is 18%, and 5% on the latter.

4) The policy proposes to offer the same incentives available to EVs that come pre-equipped with a fixed battery to EVs with swappable batteries, where the size of the incentive could be determined based on the kWh (kilowatt hour) rating of the battery and compatible EV.

5) The policy requires state governments to ensure public battery charging stations are eligible for EV power connections with concessional tariffs. It also proposes to bring such stations under existing or future time-of-day (ToD) tariff regimes, so that swappable batteries can be charged during off-peak hours when electricity tariffs are low.

6) The policy proposes to assign a unique identification number (UIN) to swappable batteries at the manufacturing stage to help track and monitor them. It also proposes to install battery swapping stations at several locations like retail fuel outlets, public parking areas, malls, kirana shops and general stores etc.

The way forward
Battery swapping can enable batteries to be charged in a controlled environment, thus bringing down the risk of power fluctuations and possible fire incidents.

For better protection of assets, swappable batteries will be equipped with advanced features like IoT-based battery monitoring systems, remote monitoring and immobilisation capabilities.

The interoperable mobility solution while being safer, robust and efficient will effectively address the issue of extensive charging times and range anxiety, as batteries can be swapped in minutes.

This solution will also work on a pay-per-use model that empowers individuals, e-commerce companies and fleet operators to easily adopt electric mobility for last-mile connectivity.

As India enters the first phase of implementation of battery swapping in cities with a population above 40 lakh, globally stakeholders will be looking at China and India for success stories that can be repeated in other geographies.

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