One-minute battery swaps are driving EV adoption in Asia

That’s because Gogoro Inc., the Taipei-based company that sells Hsiao his mopeds, lets him swap out two batteries at will for up to 630 kilometers (392 miles) of travel per month for a subscription fee of NT$849 ($27.80). Every weekday, as the 26-year-old university administrator bikes to work in Hualien City, Taiwan, Hsiao’s app identifies the nearest swap station with rechargeable batteries. Once there, he takes out the moped’s dead batteries and inserts them into a vending machine-like device that dispenses new batteries. In 60 seconds, he was on the road again with a new 40 miles.

“If I can’t replace the battery, I won’t buy an electric scooter,” said Hsiao, who will not drive a gasoline-powered model until 2021. “The battery swap service is really attractive because it saves a lot of time.”

With batteries that can be swapped at any time, Hsiao is one of many in Asia embracing electric vehicles. While battery swapping is complicated to implement in an electric car—part of the reason it hasn’t caught on in the West—companies like Gogoro are proving that mopeds, rickshaws, and other two- and three-wheelers are great for fast and – Simple battery switch that both eases range anxiety and facilitates wider EV adoption.

The boost didn’t come fast enough either. In India, for example, nearly 80 percent of vehicles are two-wheelers, and motorcycles and rickshaws account for about a third of road fuel consumption, according to clean energy research group BloombergNEF.

“Electric two-wheelers and rickshaws could help reduce emissions in the decade before EVs become commonplace elsewhere,” said BloombergNEF analyst Allen Tom Abraham. In 2020, only 2% of Southeast Asia’s Two-wheelers are electric. BloombergNEF expects that figure to reach 20% by 2030, thanks in part to battery replacement.

Why the Swap Surge

Today, Gogoro says it has more than 500,000 monthly active users and more than 260 exchanges per minute on its network, in addition to running pilot projects in Indonesia, the Philippines and India. Also in India, Hyderabad-based RACEnergy sells conversion kits that convert petrol rickshaws into electric models, with batteries that can be swapped at stations. In Singapore, MO Batteries is offering a local swap pilot program with plans to enter Malaysia; the company is also testing battery swaps with logistics giant DHL in Vietnam. The potential for swapping has even attracted multinational corporations: Honda Motor recently installed its first moped driver swap station in Tokyo.

That enthusiasm stands in stark contrast to Western companies, whose battery-replacing efforts have been largely unsuccessful. Israeli start-up Better Place launched in 2007 with the goal of replacing batteries for electric cars, but by 2013 it was out of business, in large part due to the prohibitive costs of developing the infrastructure for charging and replacing cars. That same year, Tesla unveiled a plan to enable 90-second battery swaps for the Model S, but it never rolled out on a large scale.

BloombergNEF’s Abraham says battery swap stations for mopeds and rickshaws are easier to build and finance than those for cars. Companies like Gogoro have also made a habit of signing partnerships to ensure standard interchangeable batteries across multiple automakers. By contrast, the limited interoperability of car batteries has made swaps difficult to sell almost everywhere except China.

Chetan Maini, the inventor of India’s first electric car, the Reva, knows how difficult it is to get drivers to drive electric vehicles. When Maini started selling the Reva in the early 2000s, EV adoption in India was limited by high upfront costs and little charging infrastructure. He’s spent a decade developing a business that circumvents those constraints: In 2017, Maini co-founded Sun Mobility, a Bengaluru-based battery-swapping startup that works with about 10 electric rickshaws and mopeds. Manufacturer cooperation. Customers can change batteries at approximately 300 Sun Mobility gas stations in 18 cities.

Letting drivers effectively subscribe to on-demand access makes electrification more financially manageable, since batteries account for about half the cost of an electric vehicle, Maini said. Backed by Germany’s Bosch GmbH, which owns 26 percent of the startup, Sun Mobility has around 15,000 customers — a 650 percent increase over last year — and is working with investors to raise at least 1 million dollars, according to the co-founders. billion to further expand Ajay Goel. Maini estimates that moped drivers can save up to 40% on a monthly basis.

“The swap solution works from a time and space perspective,” said Abhinav Singh, head of delivery at Amazon India, which doubled the number of vehicles using Sun Mobility batteries in its fleet in India to 200 last year. – exchange services. “You can turn the vehicle around very quickly.”

what’s next for the exchange

For some battery swap startups, vehicle electrification is just the beginning. Horace Luke, founder and chief executive of Gogoro, said his company has turned some of its more than 12,000 power stations into so-called virtual power plants, meaning parked batteries can send power back to the grid at times of peak demand. So far, Gogoro has tested the idea with 10 stations in Taiwan, and Luke said he is preparing to monetize the service.

While Asia’s battery-swapping experience provides a case study for other developing countries—similar services are emerging in Kenya and Brazil—the model still has hurdles to overcome, chief among them the need for more battery standardization. Companies like MO Batteries are working to provide a universal solution, but the reach of any given switching startup is limited by the number of manufacturers using the battery models it supports.

While the number of battery swap stations has proliferated, it is still not enough to support a full electric transition. In India, for example, each Sun Mobility swap allows Amazon rickshaw drivers to travel 45 kilometers (28 miles), enough to deliver groceries in central Mumbai but not the suburbs. To get the company’s long-haul fleet on board, “swapping solutions have to be as ubiquitous as gas stations,” Singh said.

Even with the swap on the table, drivers need time to get over their range anxiety. In Taiwan, where Gogoro has spent hundreds of millions of dollars and nearly a decade expanding its network, Hsiao still plans ahead for all his battery switches—even the scenic 22-mile drive to the local canyon. He also changed batteries more than needed, citing factors such as driving uphill that made him nervous about running out of charge. This is to “ensure peace of mind,” Xiao said. “If I was sitting on my petrol scooter, I wouldn’t be worried.”

First published date: April 10, 2023 at 09:42 AM CST

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