EV battery swapping – is it set for revival?

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New data from Lux Research suggests that electric vehicle (EV) battery swapping may be set for a new lease of life.

Battery swapping for electric vehicles, in which a depleted battery is replaced with a fully charged one, was a model tested a decade ago to overcome the then slow charging times and enable drivers to continue their journeys with limited delay.

But the concept failed for several reasons, including the costs of establishing the infrastructure and the lack of standardisation and vehicle compatibility.

But now it appears to be set for a revival, particularly for large fleet use, according to new data compiled by Lux Research.

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In a study comparing battery swapping and fast charging installations to support a fleet of 100 electric taxis in two countries, the UK and China, Lux found the costs to be broadly competitive in the UK and slightly more competitive in China due to higher average travel distance.

In the UK the annual equivalent costs are calculated in the range $800,000-900,000 for both scenarios, with slightly lower cost for fast charging with on-site storage compared without. In China the estimated cost of fast charging is over $1 million with that of battery swapping around $800,000.

These two countries were selected with the strong focus on decarbonising taxis in the UK and China as the world’s largest EV market.

Taxi fleets also are considered a promising applications as they usually consist of one vehicle manufacturer and operate over a limited geography.

Another issue is that frequent fast charging of batteries can increase the rate of degradation, resulting in potential high battery replacement costs.

“Battery swapping can address two main challenges with fast charging,” comments Christopher Robinson, Director of Research at Lux Research and lead author of the study.

“It slowly charges depleted batteries to minimize grid impact and battery degradation, and it allows for faster addition of range in electric vehicles.”

Lux notes that China is currently the leader in battery swapping, with current incentive schemes making them more cost-effective than fast charging alternatives, and infrastructure is being deployed to support both electric taxi fleets and private EV drivers.

As such, activity in the region should be closely watched as a leading indicator of adoption elsewhere.