There are still questions around the draft policy as to how far it will solve the pressing issues that the EV industry is facing today
If battery packs are completely encapsulated from the rest of the system, they will never give the kind of efficiency that we can otherwise expect: Altigreen’s Amitabh Saran
It remains to be seen how the subsidies work and how the cost of the additional battery packs would be managed: Orxa Energies’ Ranjita Ravi
Amid a flurry of activities in the electric vehicle (EV) industry and the country buzzing with both positive and negative news from the sector, government think-tank NITI Aayog released a draft battery swapping policy last week for the EV industry.
The policy is aimed at improving the efficiency of the battery swapping ecosystem for electric scooters and three-wheeler e-rickshaws, which would thereby drive EV adoption. However, there are questions as to how far the draft policy will help in solving the pressing issues the industry is facing today.
Battery swapping is an alternative which involves exchanging discharged batteries for charged ones, providing flexibility to charge them separately. This de-links charging and battery usage and keeps the vehicle in operational mode with negligible downtime.
The policy would support the vision of catalysing the large-scale adoption of EVs “by promoting the adoption of battery swapping technology implemented via BaaS (Battery as a Service) business models which will ensure lower upfront costs, minimal downtime, and lower space requirements”, reads the draft document.
Though the government’s plans in this regard are both futuristic and good, they have several issues because battery swapping has multiple challenges, and they need to be addressed first to make the impending policy a success, believes Amitabh Saran, founder and CEO of Altigreen Propulsion Lab.
“The fact that someone is looking into it is a good thing, it’s a very good starting point,” Saran said, adding that there are a few things that need more clarity, especially when it comes to interoperability.
To make battery swapping successful, battery packs and other parts of a vehicle need to function in sync, users handling the battery packs need to be more careful, and there needs to be good communication among all the stakeholders.
Interoperability Issues Need To Be Addressed
According to Saran, Lithium-ion batteries have a lot of sensitivity. In the case of swapping, when different batteries are going into different vehicles, it’s extremely difficult to maintain the same consistency in terms of the age, quality of the battery pack, and the range expected from it as the cell’s behaviour would vary in different temperatures, state of charge and according to different demands.
“If you completely encapsulate the battery packs from the rest of the system, you will never get the kind of efficiency that you would otherwise want, and that’s the reason people have their own batteries and they tightly couple it with the drivetrain of a vehicle” he added.
Echoing similar sentiment, Ranjita Ravi, cofounder of Orxa Energies, an EV two-wheeler manufacturer, stressed on the need for vehicle makers and battery makers to work closely, ensuring the battery packs work well with all the vehicle parameters.
“The battery packs are not necessarily ‘drop in’ replacements; the vehicle OEMs will have to ensure that the packs communicate with their vehicles and appropriate tuning parameters are built-in,” she added.
Care For Battery Packs Could Be Challenging
Besides the interoperability challenges, there is also the issue of handling the battery packs. Ownership is a very important factor in India, and if people don’t own an asset, they tend to not take good care of it, Saran said. He cited the handling of rental vehicles as an example of this.
The other issue is that users wouldn’t know what happened with the battery pack in the previous swap. If by mistake somebody drops a battery pack, causing some internal damage, the current user of the battery would remain unknown to the fact and use it, Saran said.
The draft policy also says that a Unique Identification Number (UIN) would be assigned at the manufacturing stage for tracking and monitoring EV batteries in order to implement unique traceability across the battery lifecycle. However, Saran said that the concept is not new and is already in use.
Battery is an asset for every original equipment manufacturer (OEM) that they control very tightly. Every battery in India and across the world has a chip inside, and any decently good manufacturer of a battery pack would have this feature, Saran said.
However, he said that the standardisation of UIN might help in solving the problem at the lowest end, which is the e-rickshaw segment.
Questions About Subsidies And Data Collection
The draft policy has proposed that an appropriate multiplier may be applied to the subsidy allocated to battery providers to account for the float battery requirements for battery swapping stations, and a seamless mechanism for disbursement of subsidies would be worked out by the concerned ministry or department.
Commenting on the matter, Ravi said it remains to be seen how the subsidies work and how the cost of the additional battery packs (referred to as ‘float’ and needed for the swap ecosystem to work) would be managed.
“Battery packs still are about 50% to 60% of the cost of a vehicle and a ‘float population’ could be 1.2x to 2x the units required for the ‘fixed population’. The market evolution of the BaaS models, subscription models, etc. will be interesting to see over the next few years,” she said.
Besides, it also remains to be seen how the data generated from the batteries is handled.
Saran said that the collected data would perhaps be used only for posterity, in case a mishap takes place. However, questions still remain as to where the data will go, who will have access to it and when it will be used, he added.
As of now, the draft policy states, “The information to be tracked by battery providers on an ongoing basis will be defined and the assigned nodal government authorities may access it at any time.”
It also mentions that for the classification of collected data under the broad categories of proprietary, restricted-access, private and open-data, a non-restrictive detailed guideline will be developed for adherence by all industry players.
A Positive Step But More Needs To Be Done
The guidelines for charging and the draft battery swapping policy show the intent of the policymakers towards pushing new business models in EVs and helping the ecosystem evolve, said Dr Prajwal Sabnis, another cofounder of Orxa Energies.
“It is interesting that the distinction is made between a ‘charging station’ and a ‘swapping station’, meaning that in certain situations, large, centralised warehouses for charging, with small “kirana” swap stations are also a possibility,” added Sabnis.
According to him, this would be positive for smaller locations that might not have the financial or other means to obtain appropriate permissions or additional permits needed from power distribution companies (discoms) to function as charging stations as they can still earn revenues by being a swap station.
While the draft battery swapping policy seems to be a move in the right direction for the EV ecosystem, the government also needs to look at setting up quality standards for the manufacturing batteries at a time when the EV industry is facing a lot of criticism due to fire incidents involving EVs.