Rapid urbanisation has fueled mobility needs, creating an increased demand for vehicles. While it is a sign of progress, it has led to low air quality and increased dependence on crude oil.
To counter the ill effects of fossil fuels, electric mobility is being seriously considered as an alternative. Further, India has pledged to reduce carbon intensity by 33-35% by 2030.
The idea to adopt Electric Vehicles in India was first proposed by the government in 2015, with the launch of Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles under the National Electric Mobility Mission. While it is a big dream, the most feasible way to transition to EV is to start with the low hanging fruit – two-wheelers(2Ws) and three-wheelers(3Ws).
According to statistics, more than 80% of the total vehicles in India comprise of 2Ws, unlike 4Ws in western countries. Research by the Ola Mobility Institute suggests that imitating the West won’t help in achieving the same results in electric mobility, since the advantages of Total Cost of Ownership for 4Ws is still years away.
While users may be receptive to switching to EV, they may not want to struggle through refueling. While CNG vehicles take about 10-20 minutes to refuel, EV charging takes about 10 times this duration. This is where battery swapping comes into the picture. Not only will it eliminate this unnecessary waiting time, it will also help with better land use, reduce size of batteries in vehicles, and ensure an increased run time.
Some of the pioneers in this space include Sun Mobility and Kymco . A leader in diverse and innovative technology solutions, Panasonic recently launched Nymbus – a smart EV charging service in India.
Atul Arya, Head – Energy System Division, Panasonic India, shares with TBC, “As charging infrastructure continues to remain a challenge, I firmly believe battery swapping technology presents a leapfrogging opportunity that could catalyse the uptake of Electric Vehicles in India. Nymbus is a futuristic and potent solution that combines physical components like charging stations, swap stations and advanced tools like cloud service, analytics, and artificial intelligence, delivering one stop solution for the industry.”
Challenges in the use of EV batteries
In the recent past, several companies, including Ola and Uber announced their plans to bring in battery-swapping auto rickshaws in several cities. Sun Mobility, too, started off with auto rickshaws and buses. It has an agreement with Ashok Leyland to provide batteries and charging services for 18 buses. The company overcomes the problem of battery standardisation by manufacturing its own modular Smart Batteries™ that are adaptable to different vehicle platforms.
According to research, battery swapping is dependent on predicting, managing and extending the battery life. It is the battery life that determines the commercial viability and success of a model. The longer a company can maintain a battery’s performance, the better it is considered. While there are several companies who are looking to enjoy the benefits of battery swapping, not much is known about on-road battery life and performance.
As per studies, electric vehicles are expensive because they are powered by lithium-ion batteries. The cost of a battery amounts to 40 percent of the total vehicle cost. Lithium-ion batteries offer high energy density, relatively low self-discharge, and low maintenance but they have a limited life. On average, the estimated life of a lithium-ion battery is up to three years or 500-700 charge cycles, after which, they need to be replaced. Also, as the battery keeps getting used, it wears out (or even when it isn’t being used actively). Rather, it is not advised to let a battery sit idle at a 100 percent charge state.
The energy that has been stored gradually escapes, this is referred to as ‘self-discharging’. And if a battery remains completely discharged for a long period of time; there could be further damage caused by chemical reactions inside the battery, negatively impacting the battery life.
Some of the factors that affect battery life include excessive charging or discharging, high temperatures, or unused batteries. By leveraging battery usage data, companies can find the keys to unlocking better battery life. Optimum use of the battery could help reduce overall ownership cost and bring financial and operational efficiency to the swapping business model.
Advantages of battery swapping
Battery swapping stations can easily pack in 15-20 replacement batteries. With this density of batteries, the station works like a petrol bunk compared to a charging station. The number of vehicles that can leverage a swapping station compared to a charge point is 10X.
Unlike with battery charging stations, ‘the physical footprint of battery swapping is materially less since it’s more or less just a series of small storage compartments for batteries’ (EY). Since most of the batteries for two or three wheelers are in the 7-15 kg range, less physical space is required. This makes distribution easier. .
The possibilities for battery swapping placement are endless – it can be a restaurant, an ATM, a gym, there’s no limitation. Besides, the best part of the battery swapping infrastructure is; it doesn’t require any investment on the part of local power distribution companies. It can also rely on low current.
Fast charging and charging in high ambient temperature leads to degradation of the battery in due time. Whereas swapped batteries can be charged via slow charging in a controlled environment to prolong the battery life.
Safety of operations
While lithium-ion batteries are generally safe and heat related failures are rare, there are still some safety concerns.
Hiten Pal Saklani, Head Of Innovation at Micelio – Electric Vehicles, sharing his personal views, says, “Battery swapping in Indian B2B or B2C environments is quite challenging. For Li-ion chemistries , the most important factor which shall direct the future of swapping shall be safety of operations. This includes not only intrinsic quality but design ruggedness to allow abuse in uncontrolled environments.”
He further adds, “The bulk of 2W EVs presently come with detachable batteries which are not swappable by design. Connector design, battery chassis , battery form factor , battery vehicle side socket , energy density , thermal runaway safety are major areas where immediate development is required. Getting safety testing done shall not be sufficient, manufacturers have to invest in simulation and performance driven design. Swappable Batteries with inbuilt telematics are going to be the foundation stone for an interoperable , vehicle independent swapping infrastructure. Some interesting business cases can develop out of these which can offset fixed battery. Even ICE vehicles in near future if developed and implemented.”
While battery swapping is relatively less cost-intensive. There are still a number of cases in different cities for both 2W and 3W where swapping turns out to be unviable.
Rakesh Malhotra, Founder – SAR Group, explains, “Battery Swapping is not the holy grail as it is being touted. It surely is one of the options which will help accelerate the adoption of EVs. But we strongly believe that there is no one-solution that fits all. More work needs to be done on improving the product reliability in both vehicle and battery and creating solutions with a mix of slow charging, fast charging and swapping to make an impact. Ingenious models of financing and leasing will also play a key role..”
The government wants Made in India EV batteries to be technologically agnostic wherein the efficiency of the cell as well as life cycle is defined. In addition, they also want to define the performance parameters for batteries or advanced chemistry cells.
Further, Niti Aayog is set to invite bids to establish gigafactories in India with cumulative battery production of 50 GWH. One gigawatt hour of battery capacity can power a million homes for an hour and around 30,000 electric cars.
To conclude, Saurav Kumar, Founder and CEO – Euler Motors, believes, “India’s EV story in terms of batteries & charging infrastructure will be a combination of some form of both battery swapping and fixed charging models. As per our understanding, swapping solutions add more value to 2W and bikes and fixed charging models currently work better for 3Ws and 4Ws because of high energy density, complexity of swapping bigger batteries and sheer amount of CapEx involved. However, we believe that these two models will further evolve with time as per usage patterns and costs.”
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