EV Battery Swap Stations May Be At A Dead End

tesla-battery-swappingTechnology for battery electric vehicles is changing rapidly, but range anxiety still prevents many people from joining the electric car revolution. One proposed solution was battery swap stations, spearheaded by Israel’s Project Better Place. Folks would drive in to a battery swap station, machines would remove the old, discharged battery, slap in a new one and off they’d go! The idea sounds super smart and super cool, but something happened on the way from theory to reality.

With Project Better Place calling it quits last year, that left Tesla to carry the battery swap torch, and they seemed ready to do just that, debuting a battery-swapping station last summer. Elon Musk said the first stations would be installed by the end of 2013, but since then though, Tesla has been quiet on battery-swapping technology,. That’s likely because California dropped its ZEV credit requirements that clean vehicles be refueled in 15 minutes or less, which caused Tesla to lose interest in battery swapping.

Why? Here are a few reasons:

  • To be practical, battery swapping requires all cars have the same type of battery located in the same location. That just ain’t happening any time soon.
  • Some companies, like Tesla, use liquid cooling for their batteries. Disconnecting and re-connnecting cooling lines using automated machines is a daunting challenge.
  • Battery swapping stations would cost up to $1,000,000 each to construct. There are presently 127,000 gas stations in North America. So how much would it cost to build enough swapping stations to meet the needs of the motoring public? You can do the math, but the answer is – a lot!
  • Battery recharging technology is improving at a furious pace. Just a few years ago, recharging your EV could take 5 hours or more. Back then, swapping batteries in under two minutes was an exciting  prospect. But today, when Tesla’s DC Superchargers can get your Model S back up to 80% charge in 30 minutes. Suddenly swapping batteries seems a lot less appealing.

Tesla still sees a place for battery swapping in fleet operations, where a large number of identical vehicles depart from and return to the same location every day. But it seems like they’ll continue to focus on their Supercharger technology, with battery-swapping taking a back seat.  Tesla’s goal is to get recharge times down to under 5 minutes, and if they can make that happen and bring it to market first, they just may rule the post-gasoline engine world.


Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.