Battery Swapping for Electric Cars Rather Than Charging Stations


India is considering battery
swapping for electric cars rather than charging stations as it seeks to spur
adoption of cleaner transport in its notoriously polluted and crowded cities.

“Considering the constraints for
space in urban areas for setting up charging stations at scale, a
battery-swapping policy will be brought out and interoperability standards will
be formulated,” Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in her budget
speech Tuesday, without going into detail.

The private sector will be
encouraged to develop “sustainable and innovative business models for battery
or energy as a service,” she said, improving the overall efficiency of the EV

Swapping an expended battery out
of an electric car and replacing it with a fresh one, as opposed to charging
the existing battery back up again, isn’t a concept that’s gained widespread
acceptance outside of China. It was tried by EV pioneer Elon Musk last decade
but ultimately abandoned due to poor uptake.

Still, there are some big
advantages, namely speed and convenience. Videos on YouTube show battery swaps
being completed in less than 10 minutes, including maneuvering the car into the
changeover bay. Downsides include high startup costs — building an automated
swap station can cost 10 times as much as setting up a fast-charging station —
and batteries are the most expensive part of an EV, making it a
capital-intensive business.

But India, which has fallen
behind other major markets such as China and Europe in the shift to clean
vehicles, needs to play catch up. EVs sales in the nation account for just 1%
of the total versus as high as 30% in some cities in China. The sparse charging
network and high prices — in a country where people on average earn less than
$2,000 a year — have impeded wider adoption of EVs in Asia’s third-largest

Sitharaman’s announcement buoyed shares
of battery makers, with Exide Industries Ltd. rising as much as 2.9%
and Amara Raja Batteries Ltd. climbing as much as 2.4%.


“A battery swapping policy could
be a big booster for all the startups already working in this space,” Rajeev
Singh, partner and automotive lead at Deloitte India, said. As well as helping
to spur EV adoption, it could “also help drive electrification of fleets,
especially for last-mile connectivity,” he said. 

Fast Charging vs
Battery-Swapping: Which One Is Better?

Back in the days when a Nissan
Leaf barely had enough range to cross the city boundaries, electric vehicles
were considered a bigger problem than the one they tried to solve, city
pollution. Not only had they a limited range of about 70 miles (113 km), but
also lacked fast charging, with the charging time taking hours. Besides, there
was almost no public charging. This is the context that prompted the idea of
battery-swapping as the better alternative to charging the battery.

Battery-swapping allowed for a fully-charged battery to be installed in
minutes. Besides, it was seen as a way of lowering the price of electric
vehicles, as the cars were essentially sold without the battery. Instead, EV owners
paid a subscription for the battery and so the “battery-as-a-service” concept
was born. Better Place was the company that pioneered the concept, but failed
to make it popular.

Better Place partnered with Renault for a trial in Israel and Denmark, but
things eventually fell apart. Not only the battery-swapping station were
eye-wateringly expensive, at $2 million each, but the Israelian company failed
to get other EV makers onboard. In 2012 the company was liquidated, and the
battery-swapping was eventually declared one of the most spectacularly failed
technologies of the 21st century. But not before Tesla tried (and gave up)
to offer battery-swapping for Tesla Model S one year later.

Today the battery swapping is
still considered by many a viable alternative to charging the battery. While
fast charging has become the norm in western countries, Chinese companies like
Geely and NIO still push in the battery-swapping direction. Both operate in China
an extensive network of automatic swapping stations that can change a car’s
battery in less than a minute, without the driver even getting off the car.

It seems like the nirvana of EV ownership, faster and more convenient than
refueling an ICE car at a gas station. NIO announced this
September it completed the fourth million battery swap so it must be
successful, at least for NIO and its customers. It seems we have a solid
proposition here, why not make it the norm around the world?

Well, before jumping to conclusions we have to look at all the aspects of the
battery-swapping vs fast charging dilemma. Surely there is something that made
Tesla abandon the concept back in 2013, right? The American company cited
several reasons including the cumbersome swapping stations and lack of
customers’ interest, but there are other reasons to consider, too. 

Perhaps one of the more important ones is about the technicalities of modern
electric vehicles. Li-Ion battery is arguably the most complex component of an
electric car, and they tend to become an integral part of the car’s rigid
structure. They usually involve sophisticated temperature management systems to
keep them cool under heavy acceleration and warm before plugging them into a
fast charger for maximum performance. This means that water hoses go in and
come out of the battery pack. You see now how swapping the battery is a big no in
this case. Besides, optimizing batteries for swapping means standardization and
it’s quite difficult to get several automakers onboard to make it a large-scale
enterprise. Hell, they couldn’t even agree on a charging plug. Even for NIO, it
means having unique batteries for all its vehicles. While not impossible, this
severely limits the options for a car maker. It also means simpler designs,
less performant vehicles, and shorter battery life as water cooling is out of
the question.

But the last nail in the coffin is the dizzying pace at which both electric
cars and DC fast-charging stations advance. Today’s new EVs routinely deliver
over 300 miles of range, with Lucid Air’s EPA range at a maximum of 520
miles. This is a lot more than most people drive in one leg and they still have
to stop for a coffee, anyway, why not do it at a fast-charging station? In 20
minutes, you can recharge a modern car’s battery to allow for another long
journey. In the case of Lucid Air above, we are talking about 300 miles of
range for 20 minutes of charging.

The convenience of fast charging is undeniable, especially when you put that in
contrast with the complexity of the swapping stations. This also comes with the
need to have a lot of car batteries lying around and even ferry them from
station to station, according to drivers’ demand. That’s not to say the
battery-swapping is a dead end. It might be an opportunity for ride-hailing
operators and other EV fleets where even the shortest downtime cuts into

Charging stations vs battery
swaps: What’s better for micromobility?

The battery-recharging
scheme evolved to the next level when mobility providers undertook recharging
operations in-house or even outsourced this business to third parties. Trucks
and vans started being piled with a larger amount of scooters that were driven
to hubs and warehouses for recharging and maintenance. This model still
requires combustion vehicles doing the job at a limited capacity and makes the
scooters unavailable for several hours while they are taken to recharge,
reducing the opportunity for generating revenue. The current battery-charging
scheme is difficult to scale, unreliable, expensive and unsustainable. Truth is
that the problem persists, there is currently lack of charging infrastructure,
and different players are working towards two possible solutions: the universal
charging station and the universal battery swap. 

Universal Charging Station

We are already familiarized with
EV charging stations, as electric cars rely on a dense and
ubiquitous network of ECS where users can leave their vehicle charging
while parked. These are nowadays not entirely suitable for micromobility
vehicles, such as ebikes and escooters, as they have different power and
amperage requirements, as well as different connectors and parking
infrastructure needs.

New players and industry leaders
are working to develop a charging station specifically designed for
micromobility that can meet the needs of these vehicles. PBSC is one
of them, and they promise to organize, secure, and charge electric vehicles,
all while reducing operating costs. Swiftmile offers a solar-powered
station with innovative digital displays that provide public transit
info, traffic alerts and generates revenue through ads.

Peter Deppe is the Co-Founder and
CEO of Kuhmute, a modular and universal charging station aimed at
micromobility. Their business model consists in either charging a monthly
subscription fee per vehicle to mobility operators or in selling the
customizable stations to shops and convenience stores. It also allows
individuals to take their privately-owned scooter and charge it (and lock it
securely) at a per-minute rate.

Universal Battery Swap

What if instead of waiting for
vehicles to be charged at the station we could swap depleted batteries for
charged ones? This is the universal battery swap concept and it fits perfectly
for e-scooters and e-bikes as they have smaller, easier to handle
batteries in comparison to cars. The swapping model can be implemented by
hiring a battery swap team or by deploying stations across the city and
assigning the battery swap task to the user through incentives.

The main advantage here is the
waiting time, as the battery change can be completed in less than a few
minutes. The swap-and-go scheme not only eliminates the annoying delay but also
maximizes vehicle uptime, extending the available hours of revenue-making for
operators. Another important benefit is that the vehicle doesn’t need to be
carried anywhere to be recharged. You can transport only the battery and change
it in situ, optimizing the process by reducing unnecessary recharging trips.

Tesla\’s Battery Charging Vs.
Nio\’s Battery Swapping: What Investors Should Know

A Battery Charging Primer: Charging
is key for powering the battery, which is the heart and soul of an EV. Charging
of an EV can be done at home — often called Level 1 or Level 2 charging
— although it can turn out to be an unviable option for individual

Level 3 charging, aka DC fast
charging, is done through a 480-volt DC plug. This is being deployed in public
or commercial settings and considerably reduces the time required for charging.
It is like refueling at a gas station, as an EV owner can initiate charging
through an access card given by a network or a smartphone app, with payment
linked to a debit or credit card.

Tesla has its own network of
charging stations, called Superchargers, that only require plugging in for
automatic charging.

A user can monitor the charge
status or can receive a notification when the process is complete. In 15
minutes, the charging required for up to 200 miles of driving can be done,
according to Tesla\’s website. The company has more than 20,000 superchargers
across the globe.

Tesla\’s supercharging network in
China recently saw an expansion through the opening of the world\’s largest
supercharger stations in Shanghai.

It has about 72 charging stalls,
although the power capacity is only 120 kW. Tesla\’s network in California is
armed with the latest V3 250 kW supercharger tech.

Nio\’s Battery Swapping: The
high cost, time and tedium associated with battery replacement and charging
drove the innovation that is called battery swapping. In fact, Tesla tried it
out in 2013 but eventually gave up on the concept. 

Nio\’s tryst with battery swapping
began in 2014 when it introduced its battery swapping with the Nio Power
Grid technology.

The company\’s power swap
technology is enabled by over 1,200 patents, and it takes merely 3 minutes to
swap a fully charged battery, Nio said.

The company also says automatic
battery and electric system checks are done during each swap to ensure that
both vehicle and battery are in the best shape.

Battery Charging Vs. Battery
: In charging, batteries are purchased outright, while
with a swapping arrangement, batteries are leased.

The battery-as-a-service
offering Nio announced last year is to complement with its swapping

At the time of the announcement,
the company said purchasing with the BaaS option will trim 70,000 yuan or
roughly about $10,7000 off the list price of a vehicle.

The main advantage conferred by
battery swapping is the lowering of the initial cost of the vehicle, and for
the company, it is a strategic option to push sales.

Tesla had become highly critical of
battery swap technology in recent times. Battery charging is the future and
swapping does not conform with development of the EV market and will be
eventually kicked out of the game, Tesla\’s global VP Li Tao said on her Weibo

\”We\’ve always believed that
the charging model is the best way to replenish energy for large-scale use of
civil electric vehicles,\” Tao said.

Nio\’s Power Swap Station 2.0
allows users complete a self-service battery swap with only one click while
staying in the car, which saves time for users.

Analysts are of the view that
high-end services such as one-click charging could make batter swapping a more
convenient option for users. However, until swapping is made applicable for a
large commercial scale, it is unlikely to emerge as the best option for


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