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Battery Swapping: Sustainable solution for the EV ecosystem

Monday, December 03, 2018

Akshay Singhal, CEO & Founder, Log 9 Materials

India has ambitious plans of achieving 100% electrification of mobility by 2030. However there are multiple challenges that lay ahead in this course. Currently the EV adoption in India is about 0.5%. EV adoption is strongest in the 2 wheeler and 3 wheeler segments. There can’t be a better saying than “infrastructure should precede innovation” in this race. As India is gearing up for this disruptive race, there is no doubt that focus has to be on the charging infrastructure.

India is a price sensitive market. The initial acquisition costs of EVs largely hindered the growth of this market initially. We have seen that battery performance has been increasing on an average of 8% year on year. We are also seeing a decline in the prices in a similar manner. However, it is impossible to avoid the concerns regarding range anxiety. Tackling this fear while balancing the cost and performance of the vehicle will be the only winning strategy in fuelling the growth of the EV market.

Battery swapping is indisputably one such game changing strategy that can address these concerns. Even with the best charging infrastructure, it would be nearly impossible to service at this scale and with the exponential growth expected in this sector in the coming years. This is mainly since the current batteries or charging technology available will still need about 1-2 hours of charging for at least 100 km range. Anyone in India is well aware of the waiting times at a CNG station or even some of the fuel refilling stations. Unless the charging time can be reduced to under 5 minutes to mimic the traditional fuel pumps, this will lead to added chaos and decline of the EV adoption. Battery swapping stations will enable the user to exchange his used battery with a fully charged battery in less than 2 minutes if it’s a small vehicle. Swapping time can go up to 5 minutes for a commercial Bus / heavy vehicle. The user will be charged for the depleted charge in the used battery. However, careful planning and execution is necessary to avoid pitfalls.

According to media reports, Lithion Power plans to invest $1 billion to create a battery swap ecosystem for electric vehicles in India. The company will focus on the two-wheelers and three-wheelers segment for the coming years.

There are some concerns that need to be addressed. Standardization of battery platforms is one of the fundamental change required across the different vehicles. Keeping in mind that one-size-fits-all approach may not be the solution. However, achieving this maybe an uphill task. Consider it like the AA or AAA batteries that we use in our day to day life. They go into a standard slot in a device regardless of the manufacturer or electronic device. This is challenging and questionable as most OEMs would want to hold on to their battery expertise as proprietary technology. However it is just a matter of time before most OEMs realize that in the absence of proper public infrastructure, decentralized models like battery swapping will only work to their advantage in more people buying their EVs.

Another major hurdle is regarding the battery ownership. Unless the mind-set surrounding this question changes, battery swapping technology may take time to catch up. Another concern is regarding the battery performance degradation over time (multiple charging cycles) as it reduces the range attainable with each charge. In a battery swap system there will be batteries with different energy storage capacities in the swapping station, mainly due to degradation. Quite naturally the question arises as to what measures would be adopted to ensure that every battery will be having identical performance. This question is also relevant as most companies will be chasing a pay per use model for revenue generation. It is inevitable that alternate battery technologies will emerge to complement this system. To make sure the demand and supply of the batteries are balanced, the swapping stations need to maintain an inventory of at least thrice the number of batteries than the number of vehicles on road. Given the cost of the batteries maintaining such inventory would be huge financial challenge.

While the EV community maybe divided on opinions regarding a viable method to charge EVs, there is no doubt that battery swapping is a front runner in providing a convenient, cost-effecting and scalable solution in the current scenario. Many companies are working on the best approach for rolling out battery swapping stations, and this would be a good turning point for more sustainable and optimised electric mobility future for the country.

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