Battery swapping has the potential to repower an electric vehicle in under five minutes – so what is holding it back from wide-scale deployment? Shazan Siddiqi, technology analyst at IDTechEx explains
In the pursuit of ever faster charging times, the fastest charge is the one you don’t have to do. Battery swapping technology has drastically improved and swapping station costs have decreased, which can address a lot of the shortcomings of cable-based charging infrastructure. In 2021 and 2022, battery swapping is experiencing high growth.
Battery swapping can replace an EV depleted battery with a fully charged one at a swapping station within three to five minutes. The main benefit of swapping is this time saved, with charging more comparable to refilling a car at a gas station, which is the end goal for the EV industry.
However, a major requirement to enable swapping is standardized battery architecture, this requires OEMs to create a common specification for battery form factors to allow them to be swapped between different makes and models. Furthermore, to achieve the best in range, weight, handling and performance OEMs have heavily integrated the packs into the design of the vehicles themselves – this is perhaps the biggest reason holding swapping back. But the positives could outweigh the negatives.
The fastest DC chargers today can charge to 80% in around half an hour, but in that time swap stations can charge dozens of EVs to 100% – without a driver having to leave their car or handle heavy cables.
By decoupling the cost of the battery from the vehicle the purchase price of EVs can be lowered. Removing this from the sticker price of an EV helps OEMs addressing the initial price pain point for customers. This allows manufacturers to tap into the highly sought-after mid-tier price point.
Cable-based infrastructure comes with energy grid concerns. However, swapping stations can act as grid support units and participate in peak shaving and trough filling. They can also function reliably off-grid in case of power outages by using the stored batteries to power the station.
Swapping can futureproof vehicles as the method can keep up with ever evolving battery chemistries. New battery models can be added to the circulation network to enable quick upgrades to user vehicles. Furthermore, different batteries could be offered to give users different ranges to suit their needs, this is something Nio has already offered in China.
Finally, retired batteries can be safely removed from the circulation system for recycling.
There are still massive hurdles to be overcome before battery swapping can be widely deployed. The biggest of these arguments against swapping is the high infrastructure cost including citing, permits, operation, and maintenance.
Then, there is the issue of standardization. Manufacturers build their vehicles based on proprietary designs. Using a standard format battery pack for all models would limit the manufactures flexibility and innovation. Given the battery structure accounts for a major part of the vehicle design it will be hard to persuade OEMs to embrace a standardized battery pack to facilitate automated swapping. It’s a very big ask for all automakers to give up their IP. The general trend towards structural batteries and cell-to-pack technologies will make battery swapping even harder to implement. And there are unsolved questions around who is responsible should a battery become defective.
Currently, the industry outlook on battery swapping is the scales are tipped against it, only benefitting a niche vehicle market. However, this could be short-lived and once OEMs take into account the benefits of swapping, it could act as a complement for a public charging solution in dense urban centers for fleets, heavy duty EVs, two-and-three-wheelers, as well as specific applications when a quick turnaround time is required.