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Battery swapping as an approach to accelerate EV adoption in India

The shifting policy landscape within electric vehicle (EV) sector has invigorated an industry response which has resulted in development of newer technologies for faster and convenient adoption of electric vehicles (EVs). Battery swapping is one such technology that aims to make the transition from ICE to EV more favourable for users. This article explores how a ‘pay-as-you-go’ model for battery swapping can cater to the diverse auto industry in India.

Auto industry’s evolvement is a crucial part of India’s development

As a country, India is at a cusp of a transformative change in energy and mobility sectors driven by a need to innovate for sustainability and presence of a supportive policy ecosystem. For the first time in several decades, we see several factors such as availability of technology, outlook of consumers, conducive policy environment, cost economics and interests from businesses are all getting aligned in these two sectors towards creation and adoption of sustainable solutions. It is a no-brainer for a country such as India which is largely dependent on foreign oil (we imported $111B worth of oil last year!) to shift to a transportation system which can run on domestically produced electricity. This also helps the Indian automotive manufacturing industry, which employs nearly 37 million people and contributes to half of the Indian manufacturing GDP. To safeguard its future, automotive sector is moving towards electric and autonomous.  

India houses a diverse auto industry

India, owing to the diversity it has, across geography (terrains), usage patterns, climatic conditions, cost economics, requires multiple mobility solutions that are optimized (or have a flexibility to adapt) to suit local conditions. Unlike the West, the transport mix of the country is dominated by 2-wheelers, 3-wheelers and buses (and not personal cars) which together contribute to ~85% of vehicle sales. The focus of electrification is therefore on these segments and not very much on cars. The characteristics of vehicles in these segments include high asset utilization (except the personal 2-wheeler segment) but the users of vehicles in these segments are extremely value conscious and purchase decision is often economics based.

Private sector participation is high in the process of transition

Several other challenges with respect to electrification of these include suitable thermal management of batteries for Indian climate and lack of infrastructure (power, parking, etc.) for setting up charging infrastructure. But, Government of India is keen to have private sector invest in setting up relevant charging infrastructure to accelerate EV adoption and supporting the same with financial incentives. Despite of the complexities and challenges, the industry has started to respond well to the call by the Government. Several private players have come up with their technologies and business models to solve the charging infrastructure question. Slow charging, fast charging, flash charging and battery swapping are various approaches being deployed towards setting up of charging infrastructure for this EV revolution.

Battery swapping can adapt a ‘pay-as-you-go’ model

Fundamental premise of battery swapping approach involves delinking vehicle usage from battery charging to increase asset (vehicle) utilization. Battery swapping can be offered as a service on a 'pay-as-you-go' model which can decrease EVs upfront cost. Discharged batteries can be swapped with charged ones within few minutes reducing the downtime associated with charging. This allows mimicking user’s existing refuelling behaviour at a fuel station.

Advantages of battery swapping

In the context of shared mobility, there are several advantages of battery swapping over conventional charging methods (regular or fast charging) as below:

  • Range Anxiety alleviation: Due to the use of a smaller battery, while the range per battery pack may be low the user has access to (virtually) unlimited range as swapping takes just a few minutes to refuel
  • Low vehicle upfront cost: In an EV, the battery is the biggest cost component out of the vehicle cost equation at the time of purchase. Due to swappable battery system, the upfront cost of an EV comes down by 40-60% versus that of an EV with a fixed battery.
  • High asset uptime thus revenue: Since the process of battery charging and vehicle usage are decoupled and swapping of battery pack is very quick, the uptime for vehicle is extremely high which could be used to increase the driver’s revenue.
  • High throughput per sq. ft of real estate: Due to the long hours associated with charging a fleet of vehicles, a charging ecosystem requires a dedicated parking real estate. But battery swapping requires only a fraction of real estate to cater to the same number of vehicles.
  • Efficient EV charging ecosystem: Using advanced thermal management, charge/discharge control, etc, the operators of swapping stations are incentivized to maximize the life of the battery. This facilitates the creation of an efficient EV charging ecosystem.
  • Lowest TCO and higher revenue: The lower upfront cost, longer life due to control, lesser battery management required- all these efficiencies result in economic benefits (higher revenue due to higher uptime) to the user and businesses operating swapping.
  • Lesser lithium requirement: Usage (and reusage) of compact, long-life battery (up to 1/5th in case of an eBus) compared to a conventional fixed EV battery, allows reduction in the overall battery requirement across the fleet versus in the case of a fixed battery based EV fleet (even while taking into consideration the additional batteries required for swapping). This can help in the reduction of the overall Lithium imports in the country.

Several players such as SUN Mobility, Ola Electric, ACME, Exicom, NTPC, 22Kymco have either started deploying their battery swapping based solutions or are in the process to do so. Cities such as Ahmedabad, Gurgaon, Delhi, etc. have already seen this technology being operational and getting scaled up. This approach can truly help a nation such as India to look at ways that could accelerate EV adoption in the country.

It is vital for all the automotive industry stakeholders in India to come together and focus on building smarter technologies to promote sustainable mobility. This should be viewed as an opportunity—one that is driven by collaboration, with patrons of the EV industry and their fellow automotive counterparts leading the change, towards creating an India-centric solution.

Yuvraj Sarda is Head of Strategy at SUN mobility. He has 6 years of the experience in the electric vehicle sector. During his tenure with Mahindra Reva Electric Vehicles Pvt Ltd in Strategy and Business Planning, he explored various niche transport segments for deploying electric vehicles such as last-mile commuting, employee transportation, intracity goods transport, carsharing and city taxis.

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Author: Yuvraj Sarda