Does Battery Swapping Represent the Future?
Currently, the two most successful companies in the field of battery swapping are NIO and Oudian New Energy. However, recently, Geely announced that it will start laying out battery swapping facilities, with plans to operate 5,000 battery swapping stations by 2025. Meanwhile, CATL (Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Limited) is also holding the EVGO battery swapping brand release conference tomorrow to enter the field of battery swapping.
As for CATL, you may be familiar with it as the “King of Ningde” that created the A-share market value myth in 2021. Now, as it is entering the battery swapping business, its biggest market may be the professional car rental and ride-hailing industry, which is aimed at enterprise customers.
According to M&F, the experience of the taxi battery swapping market is not good. With many cars and few stations, it is difficult to queue and it often takes an hour to swap battery, which is not as good as the experience of charging at a charging station. The other market is aimed at private car owners, but Ningde Times will face the issues of how to solve the problem of battery wear and tear of each car and the ownership of the battery asset after swapping.
So, who will be the mainstream in the future, battery swapping or charging? I have some personal analysis, but please indulge me as I am not a professional in this field.
Currently, NIO is doing the best job in the field of battery swapping, with a total of 791 battery swapping stations as of January 15. And its battery swapping stations are only available to NIO owners. The number of vehicles per station has been reduced from 606 vehicles per station to 204 vehicles per station. When the owner drives to the battery swapping station, they can activate the automatic battery swapping function. The car will enter the station by itself and the battery will be inspected and automatically swapped each time to ensure that the car and battery are always in the best condition. This experience cannot be matched by any other battery swapping station.
Meanwhile, the battery swapping stations of CATL will be available to all car manufacturers, and its own battery production can control the standard of battery size. As long as the car meets this standard, the battery can be swapped.
However, the level of intelligence of each car varies. Therefore, users will have to drive into the battery swapping station themselves and drive away after the swap. This experience will be much worse than that of NIO’s battery swapping.
On the other hand, NIO has the BaaS (Battery as a Service) model. In the case of other companies’ battery swapping stations, how to allocate batteries to users is still a question. Will users be willing to turn their new batteries into ones with 80% wear and tear? And how will they handle batteries with excessive wear and tear? These are all issues.
Currently, the average time for battery swapping of a car is about 5 minutes, while the time for fast charging is about 1 hour. It is undeniable that, under the current technological environment, whether in terms of energy replenishment speed or experience, battery swapping is superior to charging stations.But battery and fast charging technologies are also advancing, just like the charging technology of smartphones. Over the past decade, great progress has been made from removable battery design to integrated design. Enterprises like Xiaomi and Oppo have also released their private fast charging protocols, which can fully charge batteries in less than 15 minutes.
As more and more models support battery swapping, we cannot be sure that there will be no waiting at battery swap stations. If there are 2 cars in front of you and you need to swap batteries, plus your own swapping time, it will take exactly 15 minutes. At this critical point, the time of charging and swapping batteries may reach a balance. When there are 3 cars in line, it will take 20 minutes to swap batteries, and it is not possible to install three or four stations in one location because of the limited space and power supply capacity.
At this point, the advantages of fast charging are shown as a fast charging station can have many charging piles. In the same 15 minutes, 4 piles can help 4 cars to fully charge, which is more efficient than battery swapping stations. However, other factors affecting charging cannot be ignored, such as the voltage and current of the power grid cannot always stay at a perfect value, and the battery temperature also affects the charging speed.
Therefore, the 480 kW charging piles of XPeng and the charging and battery swapping station mode of NIO show their advantages.
The energy storage fast charging station of XPeng can perform internal energy storage when idle or when the electricity price is cheap at night. After being fully charged, it can continuously charge 30 cars without the problem of unstable charging power during multiple car charging, and it also saves the expensive charging cost during peak hours.
The charging and battery swap station mode of NIO also allows you to choose the charging piles next to it when someone is waiting to swap batteries. This experience cannot be achieved by battery swap stations such as CATL and Geely.
Of course, the premise mentioned above is that ultrahigh voltage charging is fast enough, so both fast charging and battery swapping are high-quality complementary energy systems. At this stage, the battery swapping mode has a better user experience, but with the development of technology, the user experience of ultrahigh voltage charging will be better than that of battery swapping in the future. Both methods complement each other, promoting the coverage of new energy vehicles, and helping to achieve carbon peak and carbon neutrality.
There is no absolute good or bad between battery swapping and fast charging. As long as enterprises are engaged in this matter, their efforts should be affirmed, and ultimately, it is consumers who benefit from the convenience.
This article is a translation by ChatGPT of a Chinese report from 42HOW. If you have any questions about it, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.