A decade ago, Israeli entrepreneur Shai Agassi came up with a tantalizing idea for expediting the adoption of electric vehicles. At the time, the limited range of battery-electric vehicles and available charging stations were negligible.
Agassi formed a company called Better Place to address the issue. Instead of recharging the batteries in a specific vehicle, it swapped out the battery pack. The idea was a battery-electric vehicle would drive into a station and have the nearly dead battery pulled out and replaced with a fully charged one in its place in a matter of minutes.
It seemed to be a rather elegant solution but unfortunately Agassi’s company flamed out and went bankrupt in 2013, an early casualty of the electric vehicle revolution.
But Agassi’s idea has never quite died particularly in China where it is currently being utilized, according to a new report for Lux Research, despite a decade’s worth of advancement by fast chargers.
Swapping an alternative to fast chargers
A new report by the Boston-based research firm suggests Agassi’s concept remains attractive as a more and more electric vehicles hit the road and charger speeds and availability have been major barriers to EV adoption.
Meanwhile, companies such as Tesla are proposing building fast-charging stations, which they are currently the most popular way to quickly add range to vehicles. Tesla founder Elon Musk — who once demonstrated a battery swapping station, but abandoned the idea — said last month he hopes owners of other brands of electric vehicles will utilize the Tesla charging network.
However, the additional power demands can stress the electrical grid, prompting reconsideration of other solutions like battery swapping, according to Lux researchers, who noted in its new report while battery swapping failed nearly a decade ago, it is now being considering for supporting taxi fleets in urban environments.
Swapping works well for taxi fleets
In its report, Lux, after analyzing and comparing costs for deploying fast chargers, which are not cheap as Tesla has acknowledged, says deploying battery swapping infrastructure to support electric taxis in cities, suggests battery swapping can be an alternative to fast charges.
Lux developed and used a model to perform a cost analysis of infrastructure supporting an electric fleet of taxis in two different countries — the U.K. and China — to prove out its concept, the firm says.
“Instead of quickly charging the battery, battery swapping solutions aim to physically replace a depleted battery with a charged one,” said Christopher Robinson, director of research at Lux Research, in a release.
“Battery swapping can address two main challenges with fast charging: It slowly charges depleted batteries to minimize grid impact and battery degradation, and it allows for faster addition of range in electric vehicles.”
There is a downside to swapping. Lux noted in its report noted faster charging minimizes taxi downtime but increases the rate of battery degradation, raising operating costs for fleet operators. According to the report swapping works best with larger fleets of 100 vehicles or more. In China, battery swapping is the cheapest and fastest solution for powering electric vehicles, even in small fleets of just 100 vehicles, while in Europe, the costs are roughly equal.