As the advent of EVs into their golden age of innovation continues, several ideas on various aspects of EV usage have risen to prominence. Arguably the deciding factor in EV ownership, charging remains a major concern for potential, new, and existing users alike. Two primary methods of ‘topping up’ batteries have emerged – plug-in charging and battery swapping – with both having their own sets of merits and demerits.
Battery swapping is where the user replaces the drained battery in their EV with a different, completely charged battery. Manufacturers and third parties provide battery swapping services. Companies set up hubs at various locations in a city where EV users can drive in and swap their batteries.
Plug-In charging is the more common charging model where users plug in their EVs to a power socket or a dedicated fast charger or home charger to charge it up. Manufacturers provide a wall-mounted charger (usually included in the cost of the vehicle) which can be installed at the user’s home for charging. Companies also set up fast chargers at various locations in and around cities where users can pay to charge their vehicles. There are electric vehicle manufacturers who are an advocate of this model, providing every user with a wall charger and setting up charging infrastructure at prominent locations in cities.
Battery swapping is a faster process but requires a lot of investment. Battery Swapping is a blessing for fleet services, as they can top up in as little as 5 minutes. In comparison, a charging solution comes in various price ranges, and plugging in an EV takes a longer time to charge. The swapping station model reduces the costs incurred by the user as they don’t have to pay for and maintain batteries.
However, manufacturers and service providers continue to invest in charging infrastructure as their merits outweigh their demerits for general users. It is in manufacturers’ interests to keep battery technology as confidential as possible. Lithium batteries are expensive and are not environmentally friendly to produce, and the battery swapping model requires a surplus of Lithium batteries for its hassle-free functioning. The transport and supply chain of Lithium batteries across a large region is complicated and time-consuming. Batteries used in this model are more susceptible to degrade over time as they are discharged and recharged very often. Hence, the range of a vehicle might not be consistent with every swap made. Different manufacturers use different kinds of batteries as well, resulting in a new dimension of complications.
In contrast, hosting a charging point at home, providing the user has space to do so, is much easier. Charging Points are objectively better for the environment as they can run on renewable energy and minerals like Lithium aren’t used to the same extent. Charging is also safer as incorrectly connected batteries can be a life hazard. Charging points solve compatibility issues as a constant standard can be established for charging plugs, regardless of what battery each vehicle uses. 40% of the total cost of an electric car is accounted for by its battery only. Plugging in is the only option for 4 Wheelers and heavy-duty vehicles as their batteries are heavier and more expensive. Charging stations are easier to set up along highways, as transporting batteries to locations of minimal use is not feasible. With the advent of solid-state batteries and faster-charging technology, the time constraints associated with charging are slowly disappearing.
Thus, each system has its own set of equally distinctive merits and demerits. The Indian marketplace provides a unique opportunity for both models to co-exist. Fleet providers who use low-cost Lead Acid batteries can use battery swapping services, saving them valuable time and streamlining their charging process. Cost-conscious private consumers can adopt the Plug-In model, ensuring battery longevity and safety. This also works well for manufacturers as larger consumer-focused manufacturers would prefer to control the user experience throughout, making sense for smaller manufacturers to outsource their work. Better solutions in both models are in the making, and India’s meteoric expansion in the EV sector is set to give them a boost.