Why companies think battery swapping could be the solution

Could battery swapping be a better solution for electric scooter in India? That’s the question after a series of fires reported in electric scooters across brands. While the exact reason for the fires is not known, most companies are shifting the blame on poor charging practices by consumers. And this is precisely why some EV manufacturers in India prefer battery swapping instead of home charging.

In simple terms, charging an EV works just like it does with any other electronic device like a laptop or a mobile phone. It could be done at an EV charging station as well. But in case of battery swapping, as the user’s vehicle battery is discharged fully or about to be discharged, manufacturers or a third-party provider just swaps it out with a fully-charged battery at a battery-swapping station.

Companies claim users typically would spend around the same time waiting for their batteries to be replaced as they would have to fuel-up a vehicle. However, the challenge would be the limited locations where this facility would be available.

“With battery swapping, one of the key elements of EV, charging is in complete control of the swapping company. The customer never has to charge the battery. It is the service provider that charges the battery packs,” Arun Sreyas, co-founder and CEO of RACEnergy, a battery swapping company, said via an email.

RACEnergy is currently piloting its service in Hyderabad and Tirupati. According to Sreyas, the company also cools their batteries before charging and after charging.

“The second advantage of swapping is that there is always an extra pool of batteries that enables the swap to happen. This extra pool of batteries gives us ample time to charge the batteries and hence we are in no rush to fast charge. In fact, with our proprietary variable charging rates, we can slow down the charging as much as possible. This ensures that we utilise every available minute to reduce the rate of charging,” Sreyas added.

Another EV fleet player which relies on battery swapping is Bounce. The company is also a Battery as a Service (BaaS) provider. The company’s CEO Vivekananda Hallekere had tweeted in response to the EV fire reports that so far Bounce is servicing over 3,000 swaps per day, which is approximately 180,000 km. The company claims to have done over a million swap in the past two years for 20,000 customers.

Hallekere told indianexpress.com that there are several aspect that could impact a scooter’s battery health and lead to a fire. “There are many things that could go wrong with electric scooters: cell quality, cell packing, electrical wiring, battery management system and charging technology,” Hallekere said.

Battery care cannot be the customer’s job, Hallekere said, adding that there are other reasons why battery swap is good. “Fast charging results in cells getting heated up. Batteries are charged at 0.5C. The cells are not being damaged. One of the biggest benefits is that there is no fast swapping,” he pointed out.

On what could cause fires in EVs, Hallekere added that the way a battery is packed is also really important. “It has to be done really well with science and logic. If the space between the cells is not planned or if they are not balanced it can cause issues like fires,” he said.

There are also concerns where fast charging may be a problem for EVs, given this can heat up the battery significantly. According to Bounce, this is where the role of smart chargers is important. These can increase, decrease or stop the charge rate based on data and ensure that the batteries don’t overheat.

“Charging based vehicles should be designed in a way as to ensure that the customer shouldn’t have to worry. For example, the Battery Management System (BMS) should be able to communicate with the smart chargers so that charging can be cut off if battery temperatures reach dangerous levels or if battery health is being affected,” Hallekere explained.

Bounce claims it does not rely on any fast charging for this exact reason given it can impact the “health of the battery by making the battery behave erratically and this could adversely impact the thermal management.”

There’s no doubt that as EVs gain popularity in India, questions on safety will remain. As far as battery swapping goes, it might be a good solution to avoid EV fires, but it might also prove to be an inconvenient one for regular consumers, especially those who bought an EV for personal use.

However, companies such as Bounce are confident these solutions will see adoption from EV users. There’s also no doubt that the fuel-like convenience of BaaS solutions makes them more appropriate for other public transport modes such as e-rickshaws in Delhi, many of which already take advantage of battery swapping technology.