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To Swap or not to Swap – Battery Swapping for Electric Vehicles

Venkat  Rajaraman's picture
Founder and CEO Cygni Energy

A seasoned business leader with over 30 years of work experience, Venkat Rajaraman is the Founder/ CEO of Cygni, a next-generation energy storage company that defines the future of energy storage...

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  • Mar 3, 2022
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Battery swapping is a method in which a depleted battery is replaced with a fully charged one.  Battery swapping is a potential solution to range anxiety, reduced vehicle cost and efficient charging arrangement.  This also addresses the recurring CapEx challenge of buying new battery packs and the economic viability of operating Electric Vehicles.  Battery swapping provides quick recharge alternative to EV drivers in the last mile delivery (LMD) space.  With swapping, the battery packs can become smaller and the average subsidy per vehicle will become lower implying more vehicle support within the FAME-II budget.  The battery swapping model uses battery leasing service which separates the ownership of the battery and the E2W/E3W and reduces the expenses incurred by EV owners.  

Need for swapping:  The plug-in chargers for Electric Vehicles (EV’s) are slow and are capable of charging a single vehicle at a time.  The vehicles can be mostly charged at home or work and charging type is typically 2 hours or more.

Separation of vehicle and battery, reduces the upfront cost of EV purchase, enhances the competitiveness.  The standardised battery can improve the safety and prolong the life of the battery by correct charging.  User’s also generally don’t need to worry about the residual value of the battery or the battery degradation.  They can continue to enjoy the dividends brought about by improvements in battery technology.  With centralized management of batteries and closed-loop management, reduces the overall cost of the batteries.  The batteries can also re-purposed after their end-of-life for solar and energy storage applications.  

Battery Swapping Standards:

Gogoro of Taiwan is the world leader in battery swapping stations.  Gogoro has over 2000 GoStations and has delivered over 180 million battery swaps to more than 375,000 subscribers.   Most recently Gogoro has partnered with Hero MotoCorp for building the next generation of smart vehicles powered by Gogoro swapping technology.
Graphical user interface, application    Description automatically generated

Figure 1: Gogoro swapping stations. Picture credit: Gogoro

Taiwan E-scooter standard (TES) was formulated to ensure standardisation in battery and battery swap stations.  Gogoro has engineered safer, swappable batteries and connected it all on a network of battery swapping stations that intelligently distribute energy so that the battery power is always available, when and where needed.  Gogoro has developed vehicles so that the battery packs are unstealable and comes with over-the-air software updates.  The network of swapping stations is all scalable and flexible with a small foot-print.  

Gogoro’s goal is to shift perceptions of what electric fuel could be.  Each Gogoro e-scooter connects two Li-Ion batteries, weigh about 9kg each and offer riding distances of upto 170km. They are encased in a durable, waterproof, aluminium case and every battery in the network is monitored with over 25 integrated sensors for thermal, overcharge protection, shock detection and equipped with wireless NFC communication.  

The Gogoro Charging Stations (GoStations) are modular, consisting of a main unit with additional expansion units that can be added as needed. The larger GoStations can retain upto 200kWh of energy, supporting upto 1000 riders.  They are accessible 24x7 in places like gas station and convenience stores. The touchscreen provides information about users’ energy use and displays notifications about their EV usage.  The typical expectation is that the users can swap their batteries and go in under 30 seconds.

The swapping stations can also power themselves using batteries in the event of power interruption or can be used as a power source to help power smaller microgrids in the event of power outages disrupting critical systems.   The consumers who like Gogoro’s battery system will have a choice between buying Gogoro’s own scooters or scooters from third parties. Gogoro’s ridesharing platform can be used as a white-label solution by companies that want to launch their own EV ride-sharing program.  

Honda, KTM, Yamaha and Piaggio Group have formed a Swappable Battery Motorcycle Consortium (SBMC).  The underlying aim is to address the future of electro mobility, such as range, charging time, infrastructure and cost of ownership.  They are developing common technical specifications for swappable battery systems 

Lock Smart – Vehicle Battery Charger Cloud Protocol (LS-VBCC) formulated by Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IITM) under the Chairmanship of Prof Ashok Jhunjhunwala published the open protocol for battery swapping.  This protocol document addresses the Charging protocol (between charger and battery), Driving protocol (between battery and vehicle) and provides protocol for communication between Electric Vehicle (EV) and Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) and for communication between EVSE and a Central Management System (CMS).  The Central Management System (CMS) design incorporates open-APIs enabling development of mobile applications, so as to provide a holistic platform for enabling EV proliferation. 

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Figure 2: LS-VBCC Battery Swapping Architecture. 

The physical layer is based on CAN interface (29-bit CAN identifier at 500kbits/sec).  The CAN identifier is as per the SAE J1939-21:2006 standard.  The protocol includes auto-addressing stage to address the various devices in the system and also includes authentication stage so that only after proper device authentication, the other transactions are honoured.   The detailed protocol document is available for free download.  

Challenges:  

Lack of standards for battery swapping, lack of openness and divergent technical and economic interests are the key challenges.  Also safety is a key concern that needs to be addressed in the battery swapping stations.  A common swapping policy for promoting battery swapping technology is key.  Other impediments are the large investment requirement for battery-swapping stations, operation and maintenance of the swapping stations, difficulty in achieving unified standards, unclear demarcation of division of responsibilities and limited space for station construction. Each of these challenges are intensely worked on by various players. 

In order for the battery swapping to take-off the following are the key points to be considered:

  • There needs to be standardised batteries and interfaces without restricting innovation.
  • Battery swapping stations should be strategically positioned to provide maximum reach
  • Reduction of the battery swapping service costs by utilising solar/renewable energy or grid electricity using off-peak hours
  • Maintain the quality of battery swapping service for managing battery warranty claims
  • Customers to feel that the battery they are receiving is just as good as the one they are leaving behind.

Need for standardisation in India:

India’s FAME-II (Faster Adoption and Manufacture of Electric Vehicles) scheme is primarily developed with fixed batteries in mind.  Standardisation of swappable battery form factor, connector and communication protocol is still under various stages of discussion.  The ISO/IEC standards related to battery and swapping station are also in draft stages.  BIS has constituted a committee for drafting charging station level standard (IS 17017 – Part I).  

Lack of standardization is an important barrier to the rollout of a single harmonised solution.   The electric vehicle standards and the battery standards for different companies are different.  More importantly, the automobile manufacturers generally do not want to adopt one unifying solution as they fight for control.  This power struggle and lack of trust makes this standardisation difficult.  

Policy Interventions:  

There are several policy interventions that are required to make the battery swapping for EV successful.  Few of them are listed below:

  • EV Tariff is to be made available for swapping infrastructure as well.  Currently EV tariff for swapping is not ratified in several states by the state regulatory commissions.
  • GST on charging or swapping as service.  Already the commercial electrical tariff in several states are very high and coupled that with 18% GST leads to relatively high operating cost for Battery Swapping Stations (BSS). A GST reduction on charging or swapping as service to 5% GST will reduce this burden.
  • One size fits all will restrict different consumer segments and use cases. Hence it is recommended to keep it flexible so that the ample scope of innovation can be exploited. 
  • Support for upgrading the grid infrastructure.  LT connections till 200kW is available only in limited states.  DISCOM to provide support in upgrading the grid infrastructure or provide some viability gap funding.  
  • Allow demand aggregation for availing open access for the BSS.  
  • Currently under the FAME-II scheme, vehicle OEM is the main anchor and takes the ownership for product liability including batteries.  Need policy intervention on how the ownership and liability will be handled when it comes battery as a service or battery energy operators.  
  • From consumer viewpoint, there is a need for interoperability or standardisation of the battery across various vehicle OEMs and battery manufacturers.

Summary:   The battery swapping as a service or battery energy operator is typically compared to the gas cylinder service in India or to the service provided by mobile operators. The mobile handset (EV) is different from the mobile service provider (Battery as a Service) and the same model might work in the case of battery swapping for EV.  It is clear that standardization is key and also recognizing that this might be the way forward for faster adoption esp. for some segment like last mile delivery operators.  Having said that, the market is still nascent and we should not restrict the innovation that can happen across pack dimensions, connectors and communication protocol so that there is ample scope for trying out new ideas.  The battery swapping in India is truly at an inflection point.  

 

Venkat  Rajaraman's picture
Thank Venkat for the Post!
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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Mar 3, 2022

Swappable batteries are always intriguing, but I wonder-- can they exist economically if they don't reach the scale that charging infrastructure is trending towards? Does the EV industry need to go predominantly one way or the other, or is there room for both? 

Venkat  Rajaraman's picture
Venkat Rajaraman on Apr 14, 2022

I believe there is a room for both.  This is especially true for South Asian countries including India.  India move on two-wheelers and three-wheelers.  Setting up swapping infra for two-wheelers and three-wheelers is much easier and economical than setting up charging infra.  

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Apr 14, 2022

That's a great point that the two/three wheel vehicles can (and arguably should) be treated different than cars and larger vehicles. Thanks Venkat!

Julian Silk's picture
Julian Silk on Mar 3, 2022

Isn't there a question of the ease and length of time it takes to switch batteries?  If the fresh batteries are just sitting around in gas stations or other stations, might they be stolen?

Venkat  Rajaraman's picture
Venkat Rajaraman on May 5, 2022

These issues are well addressed.  Gogoro has addressed these issues in Taiwan.  Bounce in India has already done a million swapping on its vehicles.  Through intelligent platform one can minimise the idle time of these batteries and theft issues are addressed through authentication mechanisms.  

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Mar 4, 2022

NIO does the most swappable battery vehicles. They make top rated car and are covering more countries all the time. 

Venkat  Rajaraman's picture
Venkat Rajaraman on Apr 14, 2022

Yes.  India is also planning to come out with its swapping policy soon.  Standardisation and a good policy is key for larger roll-out.

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Mar 4, 2022

It's worth noting that the Gogoro system batteries are sized for manual pull-out and drop-in from vending machines. No battery swapping robot required. I presume that users need an account to open the machine. It's an ideal system for e-bikes and e-scooters, or for small, short-range personal EVs. Designed more for urban use, not so much for inter-city travel. The vending machines are compact and relatively cheap. As Venkat says, they can be installed at convenience stores. So building up a usable network of stations within targeted cities is not a big deal.

Could vending machines be broken into and the batteries stolen? Probably. Bank ATMs are occasionally broken into for their cash. But the batteries have one advantage over cash: they're electronic devices. They can be designed to be inoperable if improperly removed from the vending machine, and perhaps to broadcast an "I've been stolen" message to the cellular network.

Julian Silk's picture
Julian Silk on May 5, 2022

Agreed entirely.

 

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