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What is battery swapping?

What is battery swapping?

Range anxiety and charging time continue to impede widespread adoption of electric vehicles, even as their popularity continues to grow worldwide. Given that electric vehicles on a broader scale are still relatively new and may be somewhat intimidating to those who frequently travel long distances, this is not really surprising. Numerous technologies are being developed to address the issue, with the goals of enhancing the charging experience and reducing the amount of time required to recharge the battery before returning to the road.
Rapid chargers, for example, are very well received, while battery swapping, on the other hand, is not so well received.
We’ll try to explain what battery swapping is, what it offers, and why so many people are skeptical in this piece.

What is swapping batteries?

Simply put, battery swapping is a way to swap a dead battery for a fully charged one without having to wait for a charging session. Its primary objective is to align the charging experience with that of filling up an ICE vehicle.
The fact that the process aims for complete automation is a positive aspect of this solution. The time it takes to change a battery can actually be cut down to between 6 and 10 minutes by using robotic cranes, which is about the same amount of time spent at a gas charging station.
This solution undoubtedly raises a significant concern—how about the batteries? The owner of an electric vehicle cannot actually own the car batteries in order for it to function. In this scenario, the driver of an electric vehicle will need to lease them from the battery manufacturer or car manufacturer.

How does changing batteries work?

On paper, this works pretty straightforwardly. The owner of an electric vehicle drives to the specialized battery swapping station. The vehicle is then moved to a separate platform, where it is slightly raised to retrieve the battery. The vision anticipates that an automated procedure will be used to remove the battery from the vehicle after it has been disconnected from it. After that, a brand-new, fully charged battery is installed and connected to the vehicle. The electric vehicle is driven away from the station and off the platform. The removed batteries remain at the station and are currently being recharged. They can be used again for a swapping session once they are fully charged

Change of Nio battery

Nio is a huge Chinese automaker that makes electric vehicles. The electric vehicle manufacturer based in Shanghai is often compared to Tesla. Nio kicked off its European expansion in April 2021 by launching services in Norway, the world’s largest EV market at the moment.
In addition to a number of car models that are doing exceptionally well in China, Nio has piqued a lot of interest by introducing battery swap stations on a rather large scale. Earlier this year, they announced that the 1000th battery swap station had been completed. The mechanisms in this are comparable to those previously mentioned in terms of how they operate.
The swap station has an automatic car wash-like appearance. On the platform, the car enters straight through. The battery pack is exchanged for a new one by automatic mechanisms after it is unbolted. This is compatible with all Nio models and is available in three battery capacities—75kW, 100kW, and 150kW—with a six-minute exchange time.
It may appear to be great technology given the number of swap stations and the lightning-fast speed at which one can recharge a full battery. Before even considering applying this on a larger, international scale, there are, however, a number of considerations to be made.

Switching out batteries: will this ever work on a larger scale?

In order to answer this question, one needs to take into account all the advantages and disadvantages of such a solution. Certainly, at least at the first glance, it may seem like an extremely attractive and efficient way, especially on lengthy distances or when time matters. Such instances occur especially with heavy-duty transport (meaning trucks) or buses in cases when lengthy stop for charging is not possible. However, there’s a lot more to the story.

Benefits of battery swapping

As was previously mentioned, the solution’s most appealing feature is its “charging” time. Since filling up an EV battery will always be compared to filling up an ICE car, swapping batteries might be the closest thing in terms of how long it takes. In their more advanced forms, battery swapping stations can also serve as energy storage and a significant means of incorporating demand response practices. Since the charging station usually houses the batteries, they make quite a powerful power system. When there were a lot of empty but charged batteries available, some of the energy could have been fed back into the grid in times of high demand. The fact that solid solar panels can be installed on roofs is a significant possibility with battery swapping stations, which is another positive aspect. As a result, EV drivers might not only be able to take advantage of a quick car charge but also the satisfaction of having it done largely or entirely with green energy. Both the possibility of using photovoltaic (PV) and the storage capacity of the battery are great ways to ensure that the EV charging industry remains environmentally friendly and contributes to the overall health of the grid. Lastly, the cost of an electric vehicle is directly affected by the need to swap batteries. Drivers of electric vehicles are exposed to rewards that reduce the cost of what may frequently be the most expensive component, the battery, thanks to a solution that anticipates leasing batteries rather than purchasing them as part of a vehicle.

Disadvantages of battery swapping

Sadly, despite the fact that the advantages appear to outweigh the disadvantages, the benefits appear to be quite promising. The building of a battery swap station is first and foremost expensive. With the current prizes, building a complete network must cost millions of dollars, as one of these stations may cost anywhere from 450 000 to 600 000 pounds. Naturally, the rewards will decrease in the future, just like they do with any other technologically advanced solution, but the majority of CPOs probably won’t be able to invest in them. In addition, it is important to keep in mind that the price does not include the land on which they are intended to be constructed. Another problem appears here. While “classic” EV chargers do not require a lot of space and can be installed in infrastructure that is already in place, battery swap stations are much larger and require a construction to be set up before they can operate.
The interoperability of such stations, on the other hand, might be the greatest obstacle. Even though Nio is doing well in the Chinese market, keep in mind that their stations are only compatible with their own car models. Given that more and more brands are launching their own electric vehicles, the variety of models on the market grows exponentially, making it extremely challenging to compete. This basically leaves three battery swapping options:
In practice, battery swapping stations are developed in such a way as to serve various models, which in practice would cost even more. If at all possible, car manufacturers agree on universal battery instalment, which in many cases would require significant changes to the entire production process. All of the above are beyond complicated in terms of their widespread adoption. Each car manufacturer starts developing their own swap stations, which would involve a huge investment and most likely the lack of space. In the above scenario, the ownership of the battery makes things even more complicated. The idea of universal batteries comes up at the same time, making it a whole new case to talk about.
There have already been some attempts to swap batteries in the past. As an illustration, Tesla has proposed the idea while seeking investors. However, the plan was probably scrapped sooner than it had been announced. Renault tried as well. They even started a subbrand called Better Place to make managing and setting up swap stations easier. The business declared bankruptcy almost five years later.

Changing batteries post-scriptum

Even though we may have been negative in the narration, it is important to remember that battery swapping may still be a good option in some situations, despite the fact that widespread adoption is extremely difficult. Taking China as an example, the solution definitely has the potential to work in some situations. For European standards, it might not be cars, but there are many other ways to make it easier, like with scooter companies.

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