Battery Swapping – A Pragmatic Complement to EV Charging

India’s mass mobility market comprising of 2 wheelers, 3 wheelers and buses is going electric at a quick pace. As industry builds the charging infrastructure for these vehicles, we take a look at another re-fuelling option that could be both feasible and practical – Battery Swapping.

What is Battery Swapping?

Battery Swapping is a process in which a drained battery is exchanged for a fully charged battery at a Battery Swapping Station or BSS. The BSS acts as a  battery aggregator that provides the infrastructure where a number of batteries are kept in charging and charged batteries are made available to the EV drivers. This is where we embrace the concept of shared economy in the context of energy storage.

Pros of Battery Swapping

There are four main barriers when it comes to mass EV adoption, namely, the high up-front cost, range anxiety, long charging time and absence of reliable supportive infrastructure. Let’s see how battery swapping can help overcome these roadblocks and offer other advantages as well:

1. Reduction in EV Acquisition cost – Battery accounts for 40-50% of the total cost of an Electric vehicle. In case of a swap system, we can separate the vehicle business from the energy business, i.e. the ownership of the batteries may lie with the BSS and not with the vehicle owner. Thus, the battery becomes a variable cost, reducing the acquisition cost dramatically.

2. Eliminating Long Charging Time – AC charging and even fast DC charging times are painfully long when compared to refuelling an ICE vehicle. This is especially true for commercial vehicles with high utilisation rates where time spent in recharging the batteries directly translates into lost time on the road and lower wages for the driver. Battery swapping provides an option that is as fast as refuelling a conventional vehicle.

3. Alleviating Range Anxiety – A widespread network of BSS can effectively offer an unlimited range to the electric vehicles thus easing Range Anxiety.

4. Equivalent Infrastructure – A charging station needs a huge parking area. However as battery swapping is quick (up to 3 minutes), only limited space is required to install charging kiosks for the batteries and there is no requirement for an elaborate public infrastructure.

5. Longer Battery Life – Fast charging and charging in high ambient temperature leads to degradation of the battery in due time. Swapped batteries can be charged via slow charging in a controlled environment to prolong the battery life.

6. Grid Load Management – Battery charging schedule can be managed to allow for maximum changing to be done at night time or during off-peak hours. As swapping stations will have hundreds of charged batteries at all times, there also exists an opportunity for the BSS to provide power to the grid during peak load hours.

7. Battery Recycling and Disposal – Organised swapping operations allow for systematic disposal and recycling of spent batteries.

Challenges with Battery Swapping

Battery Swapping solution comes with a mix of technical and commercial challenges. Let us take a look at main issues in implementing a Battery Swapping solution:

1. Standardisation of Battery Packs – Battery packs that come with different Electric Vehicles are not standardised. Most automakers protect the design and information about their battery packs as their core technology. For a large scale swapping operation, interoperability between battery packs will be required that can be achieved by standardisation. However, at the same time standardisation of the battery packs takes away from automakers freedom of design and may restrict innovation in the field.

2. Reliability of Leased Battery Pack – It will be a challenge to ensure the EV driver/owner that the battery pack being put into their vehicle is reliable and works in tandem with their vehicle.

3. Commercially Viable Business Model – We are yet to see a successful proof of concept built around operating a swapping station in India. Globally, Tesla and Better Place have tried their hands but both of those attempts were unsuccessful. One successful exception is Gogoro that launched scooters running on swappable batteries in Taiwan in 2015 and has since expanded operations to Japan, France and Germany. Around the world, Gogoro riders swap 86,000 batteries every day.

Is Battery Swapping a Feasible Solution for all EVs?

As discussed above, battery swapping helps commercial fleet owners lower their capital expense of procuring the vehicles and enable higher utilisation of the assets by providing a quick re-fuelling solution. In fact, a well-established network of swapping centres can be a great enabler for mass adoption of EVs in the Indian public transport system.

– In India, EV penetration is spearheaded by 3 wheelers, and battery swapping makes a great case of e-autos, e-rickshaws as well as 4 wheeler fleets. 

– Under FAME II, Indian states are going to procure 5,500 electric buses. Bus depots can be used as a facility for battery swapping.

– With the rise of micro-mobility services in India, there can be numerous use cases for closed fleet use of swapping solutions.

Battery swapping solutions are better suited for commercial fleets rather than self-owned vehicles. The main reason behind this is the concern around battery ownership and reliability of a leased battery.

Companies Working on Swapping Solutions:

In the Indian EV ecosystem, multiple companies are working on swapping technology, with Sun Mobility being the pioneer. Let’s have a look at the developments made by these companies:

1. Sun Mobility, co-founded by Chetan Maini (founder of India’s first electric vehicle Reva), is creating a full-stack battery swapping solution for buses, two-wheelers and three-wheelers. The swapping process requires the user to use an IoT enabled keychain to access the dock to place the drained battery, pay for energy consumed and pick up a charged battery. Sun Mobility plans to deploy more than 50 interchange stations in Delhi NCR and Bengaluru and use Microsoft’s technology to facilitate end-user access.

The company overcomes the problem of battery standardisation by manufacturing its own modular Smart Batteries™ that are adaptable to different vehicle platforms. Sun Mobility is in the process of delivering tailor-made batteries for 500 e-rickshaws to SmartE in Delhi NCR and for 18 Ashok Leyland electric buses to ply in Ahemadabad where it has installed an automated battery swap station equipped with a robotic arm to swap the 600 Kg battery within 3 minutes.

Sun Mobility has also partnered with Uber and Pune-based Piaggio Vehicles to provide swapping solutions for their EVs. See swapping demo below.

Sun Mobility Battery Swapping Demo

2. Lithion is a start-up based out of New Delhi that provides charged lithium-ion batteries for e-bikes and 3 wheelers via Lithion Swapping Points in North Delhi and NCR adjacent areas of Haryana. Each swapping takes less than 5 mins.

3. 22 Kymco (an alliance between startup Twenty Two Motors Pvt. Ltd and Taiwan’s Kymco Global), plans to set up about 240 swap stations across Delhi, Pune, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad and Kolkata by March 2020, using Kymco’s Ionex battery swapping technology.

4. Panasonic India aims to power an estimated fleet of 500,000 electric two-wheelers and three-wheelers in five years via charging and swapping points. The company is conducting pilot programmes on battery swaps in Delhi NCR.

5. Ola Electric announced plans to bring one million EVs on Indian roads by 2022 and set up an ecosystem involving battery swapping stations with a focus on two-wheelers and three-wheelers.

6. Amara Raja Batteries has installed EV charging and battery swapping stations for with a fleet of e-Autos in Tirupati.

7. ACME launched EcoCharge station as India’s Ist Battery Swapping & Charging Station for Ola Electric in Nagpur in May 2017.

8. Esmito – Esmito (housed at IIT Madras Research Park) offers a B2B SaaS platform for EV Infrastructure management including battery swapping management. Their solution adheres to LS-VBCC (Locked Smart – Vehicle Battery Charger Cloud) protocol suite, that represents the protocol and model for electric 3-wheelers battery swapping solution.

We will keep adding to this article as more development takes place in the field. Let us know your feedback on this article in the comments section.

Further reading – Parag Diwan’s take on Battery Swapping

For information on EV Charging Standards and Charging Solution Providers, please visit the respective links.

Last Updated: 6 Nov, 2019

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