One of the biggest hurdles for any place looking to adopt electric mobility is ‘how to charge the electric vehicle batteries?’. Lack of charging stations in an area can demotivate & discourage citizens who are willing to adopt green technology. In countries & states where e-mobility is in nascent stages, different players are working towards two possible solutions: Charging Stations & Battery Swap.
The most common way of charging currently is through EV charging stations. Universal charging stations can charge a battery in 3 to 6 hrs but there is a lot of room to improve efficiency as it happened with Superchargers.
For cars, charging stations are very important and recharging time is being reduced constantly with technological developments. For e-scooters & e-bikes, instead of waiting for EVs to be charged at the station, battery swapping is another viable option.
The universal battery swapping concept fits perfectly for e-scooters as they have smaller, easier to handle batteries in comparison to cars. The main advantage of the ‘swap-and-go’ method is that it saves time. Battery swaps compulsorily need universal batteries with a single design that is adopted by every operator.
Currently, the majority of on-road EVs in India are two-wheelers & three-wheelers. To address the problem of lack of charging infrastructure and time-consuming plug-in charging, battery-swapping has emerged as a viable alternative.
Many two-wheelers in the market are equipped with detachable batteries which can either be charged or swapped. Battery swapping has the potential to be the most economical method especially for commercial 2-wheeler & 3-wheeler fleet operators.
Both the methods have unique advantages which can be used in different situations.
1. While battery swapping is fast and focuses specifically on the battery instead of the whole vehicle, charging stations provide parking and security for the vehicle.
2. Charging stations require large infrastructure investment for space & electrical fittings. Battery swapping can take place in smaller spaces and are much more cost-effective.
3. Plug-in fast charging of batteries can lead to rapid battery degradation, resulting in a reduction of battery life. On the other hand, battery swapping makes it possible to charge the discharged batteries in a controlled environment which helps extend battery life.
4. Universal battery swapping involves the need to adopt a type of battery on a massive scale. If a technological upgrade happens, it will require the replacement of all batteries that are out there with new ones. This is not that big a problem with charging stations.
5. Battery swapping can encourage riders to travel long distances without having to worry about charging their batteries, provided there are ‘switch stations’ at uniform distances. But with the current infrastructure, fast charging is the better option.
6. If you start off with a fresh battery with a high charge capacity, you could end up swapping to an older one with a lower capacity. Such a problem doesn’t exist with charging stations.
7. Swappable battery infrastructure needs multiple batteries which will cause financial strain.
8. The biggest hurdle in adopting fast charging technology is that the onus of setting up a charging infrastructure falls upon the manufacturer. Companies such as Ola Electric are capable of setting up a vast network, but newer, smaller players may find it challenging.
9. Another benefit of battery swapping is that the vehicle doesn’t need to be carried or driven anywhere to be recharged. Only the battery has to be taken and swapped.
10. Swapping is beneficial for e-scooters but is not viable for e-cars as swapping bigger batteries will make it more complex, economically expensive and the process will not be as ‘green’.
In India, GST on batteries sold separately is 18% as opposed to 5% on EVs. Several state governments have taken steps to support battery swapping along with plug-in charging. The swapping market can generate huge revenue. Used EV batteries can be repurposed for use in stationary applications.
Sun Mobility, a Bangalore based start-up, has developed automated battery swapping machines and lightweight batteries for rapid swapping.
Hero MotoCorp announced a partnership with Taiwanese company Gogoro. Gogoro is a pioneer in the battery swapping ecosystem. They have a network of 1900 swap stations across Taiwan and complete 20,000 battery swaps a day. In India, Hero & Gogoro will launch ‘Swap & Go’ stations.
In Europe, Tier EV Charging Solutions tied up with Okai scooters to develop a system that involves placing swapping cabinets in convenience stores & cafes for swapping batteries.
Bajaj Auto backed Yulu has introduced ‘Yulu Max Network’, which will help riders swap batteries in no time. The first 10 Yulu Max Stations were launched in Bangalore in November 2021.
Zypp, a Gurugram based start-up, offers e-scooters on rent for Rs.109 per day to Rs.3600 per month. The scooter offers a range of up to 75 km, with a single swap costing just Rs.10.
A swappable battery consortium has been formed jointly by Honda, KTM, Yamaha & Piaggio which can make battery swapping an alternative to recharging.
Battery swapping has the potential to be the most economical alternative for charging infrastructure, especially for commercial two-wheeler fleet operators. To ensure consumer confidence, battery swapping service providers must prioritize the reliability & safety of swappable battery packs.
Indraprastha Gas Limited (IGL), which operates Delhi’s CNG distribution, is planning to launch 50 battery swapping & charging kiosks at its CNG stations across Delhi.
Reliance BP Mobility is setting up EV charging hubs & battery swapping stations at commercial complexes, malls, parking lots pan-India.
The above examples show that a combination of both is being considered the best way forward. Experts say India’s EV growth story will involve the coexistence of both battery swapping & fixed charging infrastructure. In different circumstances, we can find either of them more convenient. While one can provide a quick battery swap solution during daily peak hours of high demand, the other can provide recharging and safe parking at night.