(Bloomberg) — For delivery drivers under pressure in Bengaluru, recharging the batteries of the electric auto rickshaws increasingly used to transport everything from people to groceries through India’s teeming tech center can now only take a little while. take a matter of minutes.
Sagyarani, a 38-year-old e-shuttle driver for MetroRide, stops at one of startup Sun Mobility’s 14 automated orange-and-black booths, taps her authentication key to open an empty compartment, inserts a dead battery, and retrieves a fully powered package. That means more hours on the road to transport commuters to metro stations, which is MetroRide’s core business. Another bonus: It costs just 50 rupees (67 cents) to change a single, fully discharged battery, which is about half the price of 1 liter (¼ gallon) of gasoline.
Battery switching, a relatively new technology pioneered in China, has undergone a transformation for Sagyarani, who bears only one name. She has to charge three lithium-ion batteries — which give a combined range of 80 kilometers (50 miles) — in her auto rickshaw twice every five hours.
“Swap is best because I’ll be back on the road in five minutes,” Sagyarani said. “I don’t have to worry about how much charge is left,” she said, although the 13-kilogram (29-pound) batteries are heavy to lift. Charging the rickshaw at a charging station would keep her off the road for up to three hours, or more than half of her shift.
In addition to the obvious benefits for drivers like Sagyarani, battery swapping in India is now seen as a way to electrify the world’s largest fleet of two- and three-wheel vehicles, a critical step if the country is to cut emissions in some countries. of the dirtiest cities in the world and achieve its goal of being net carbon neutral by 2070. But the pace of change in battery technology and the reluctance among automakers to adopt standardized designs means it may not be a catalyst for passenger cars, with India lagging behind countries like China and the UK in wider adoption of EVs.
The pivot of battery swapping was a focal point in Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s budget speech last month. The government is developing policies to encourage the industry, she said, given the lack of space in India’s busy urban areas makes it more difficult to roll out traditional charging infrastructure. The key to the move is that the government plans to standardize battery hardware design and force automakers to follow the new standards, Economy Minister Ajay Seth said.
So far, battery swapping outside of China hasn’t really caught on, partly because it takes a critical mass of EV uptake to make it profitable, and partly because electric car owners in the US and Europe generally have better access. charge to home. Many drivers in China, the world’s largest EV market, live in apartment buildings and so don’t necessarily have a personal charging point. That has seen battery swapping flourish with companies like Nio Inc. and Geely Automobile Group that plan to build more than 26,000 stations by 2025, according to BloombergNEF.
Battery change for EVs is big in China This is how it works
The situation is similar in India, especially when it comes to the fast-growing electric two- and three-wheeler market. The country of about 1.3 billion people has only 1,640 operational public EV chargers, more than half of which are concentrated in nine major cities.
In an incident that received national media attention, an e-bike owner in Bengaluru had to tow his scooter to his fifth-floor apartment and power it in his kitchen while not being allowed to install a charging point.
Swapping in India will be mainly used by the country’s 1.5 million electric rickshaws, which make up 83% of total EV sales. Because interchangeable batteries have a shorter range, they are better suited to low-speed vehicles, as opposed to sedans and SUVs, which require powerful batteries to cover greater distances, said Rajeev Singh, partner and automotive lead at Deloitte India.
Automakers can also cut back on adopting a standardized battery design, which is an important part of how an electric vehicle is built and brand differentiation, Singh said. Some battery developers are also against standardizing power packs in the near term as technology is advancing rapidly and India could switch to the more efficient and environmentally friendly sodium ion batteries than the lithium ion batteries preferred by e-rickshaw manufacturers.
But even before the government gave in to barter, entrepreneurs dived into it. Sun Mobility was founded in 2017 by Chetan Maini, who invented India’s first electric car, the Reva, to tackle the three biggest barriers to using electric vehicles: high initial costs, range anxiety and long charging times. Sun Mobility has since attracted investment from oil trader Vitol Group and Bosch Ltd., who bought a 26% stake in the startup. It plans to expand its exchange station network to 600 out of 70 in India by the end of this year.
Another startup, RACEnergy, founded in 2018, sells retrofit kits to convert gasoline rickshaws into clean vehicles with removable batteries that can be swapped at one of six stations in two cities. While most startups are largely focused on electric tricycles used by fleet operators, Bounce Infinity has launched a personal-use e-scooter and plans to invest more than $100 million to expand its battery swap network.
“Battery swapping makes a lot of sense for the Indian market,” said Maini of Sun Mobility. “It’s low-hanging fruit for driving electrification.”
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