Fast Charging Vs Battery Switching: Better Place Customer Compares

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better place battery switch station 014

better place battery switch station 014

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By far the most reasonable use for electric cars charged at home is for a regular commute. If the return journey is less than the range of the car, electric cars make complete sense.

Battery topping up using Level 2 chargers in public areas is a bonus, but rarely make an impossible journey possible.

If an electric-car owner with no other vehicles also has to make occasional longer trips that exceed the range of the battery, there are two options today: DC fast charging en route or battery switching.

Battery switching is within weeks of being a reality for private electric-car drivers in Israel who are also Better Place customers. Hundreds of fast-charging facilities exist in Japan, and they are being rolled out in selected areas of North America and Europe.

Charging or Switching Time

Today's fast charging can recharge a seriously depleted battery to 80 percent of capacity in 15 to 30 minutes. That last 20 percent takes far longer, so the law of diminishing returns sets in.

Battery switching, on the other hand, takes 5 minutes. The charge level of the old battery doesn't matter and the car always emerges with 100 percent charge.

If fast charging or battery switching is combined with rest and refreshment breaks, there's no need for an electric journey to take much longer than a conventional one.

Capital Investment

Fast charging stations are comparatively cheap. Local upgrades to electricity supply may be needed, but costs per charging plug of $15,000 to $25,000 are realistic if each installation includes multiple charging cables.

2011 Nissan Leaf plugged into an EVgo quick-charging station, Texas

2011 Nissan Leaf plugged into an EVgo quick-charging station, Texas

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Battery switch stations are much more complex. They involve elaborate industrial automation robots, cooling systems, driver instruction systems, safety mechanisms and, at least in the early stages, must be attended by a staff member.

Best estimates for the cost of each switch station are around the $500,000 mark.

Cost to the User

Fast charging is not used by all owners, and only sporadically by some, so its use will only be paid for by a minority. This means capital investment will have to be recouped with comparatively high per-time usage or subscription fees.

Looking at costs per kWh compared to home electricity, users will see a big discrepancy. They need to understand operators will recoup capital investment and make a profit.

Better Place offers no real choice: all users are paying for battery switch stations whether they want them or not. This fundamentally alters the ownership cost. Better Place's subscription price is pitched to be 15% cheaper than running a gasoline car rather than related to the cheap cost of using domestic electricity.

At present, some fast chargers are complimentary, while others are provided by for-profit entities (like NRG's EVgo network), and they levy a variety of fees. We may see a variety of models emerge over the long term.

Location, Property & Upkeep Costs

Nissan electric taxi leaving Better Place battery switching station, Tokyo, April 2010

Nissan electric taxi leaving Better Place battery switching station, Tokyo, April 2010

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Little more than a spare parking spot or two is needed for a fast charger. These need to be kept open for electric cars. In theory, maintenance should be simple but these are high-power devices used by the public: they can and do fail.

Battery switch stations need about the same amount of land as an automated car wash. They need entry and exit roads and either underground or overground storage for batteries. Building permits can also pose problems of cost and delay, especially where the facility doesn't fall under any permitted category in local building codes.

In Israel, Better Place has co-located its battery switching stations with gas stations. This extra land, coupled with the possible need for staffing and system complexity, gives a much large running cost for switching. There is some scope for installing photovoltaic solar collection to increase the green component of the power used.


If each fast charge takes 30 minutes, a single charger can only handle 2 cars per hour. An owner who arrives while another is charging may have to wait up to 30 minutes to begin his charge, though obviously additional charging units at the same location can dramatically improve throughput.

Eaton CHAdeMO DC quick charging station, Mitsubishi headquarters, Cypress, CA

Eaton CHAdeMO DC quick charging station, Mitsubishi headquarters, Cypress, CA

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Battery switching is said to handle 10 cars per hour. It's not clear that all batteries at a given switching station could be recharged this quickly--but that level of use would be extreme. Stations hold up to 12 batteries, and can recharge a depleted pack in less than 30 minutes. Each station can only swap one car at a time.

Demand Forecasting

Nobody has yet implemented a way to give advance warning that a given charging point is in use or expected to be in use at a certain time, although many different entities view that as a medium- to long-term goal.

The multiple players that provide DC fast charging make it challenging to envision and implement a single, universal system that would serve this information in real time from multiple providers.

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Comments (13)
  1. I just don't see battery swapping as a long term solution. Charging is getting faster every year, however the main reason I think it won't catch on is the obvious one: Can you imagine every new electric model from every manufacturer agreeing on a single sized battery pack. Size size, same dimensions, some voltage?

    I think it's about as likely as my cat learning to speak and write Latin. And trust me, I've tried teaching her the basics but she keeps dropping the pen.

  2. As small as the distances between points of interest in Israel , one wonders why they worry about range at all. As the size of battery packs grows larger, recharge times are less important - the Tesla Model S with a its 320 mile range is a case in point - it can recharge in around one hour, which wouldn't impede the long distance traveler in the slightest. I can't imagine even the shotest ranged Tesla (170 miles) as having any problems in Israel (or Hawaii, etc.). The future for Better Place seems bleak - any sharp reduction in battery prices destroys their raison d'etre. Any improvements in recharge speeds (they are already pretty fast) would also doom their technology. They
    are also locked in to an EV architecture that is obsolete

  3. Kent, it is their pricing strategy that may attract buyers. The ability to buy the vehicle for less than $20K, and lease batteries per month is very attractive compared to spending $35K up front.

  4. The car may be less than $20k but then you have to add monthly rent, you don't have to pay rent on a Leaf unless you lease it. But what happens to Better Place when a 200 mile plus range electric car comes out priced around $20k? And with gasoline being slowly fazed out most people are going to be able to wait until the bettery cheaper electric car comes out anyway.

  5. I'd still have to go with charging over swapping, electric cars are supposed to be easier to own and swapping takes some of that ease away. The complex mechanics of the swapping station are not always going to work as planned, and your mobility is enslaved by a contract and billing. Your still going to be charging when your at home so your paying to recharge and rent the battery. Going electric was supposed to be easier with low maintenance and simple charging, swapping ads rental fees and after a few thousand swaps you local station will have to shutdown once and a while for maintenance or you'll find out what a bad swap is like

  6. I love that car in the main picture - nissan should be making an EV that looks like that.

  7. I like the Better Place model, because of the advantages for EV owners. Hopefully the real world demonstration in Israel proves that this model is working for the customers and for Better Place and that it will save money for the country as a whole.
    To me following arguments count for Better Place
    - Separation of ownership between car and battery will speed up adoption by customers because EVs get affordable to more customers
    - Low risk due to not owning the battery which may break down and will be rapidly loose value when new battery technology becomes available. In case of defect the "repair" will be really quick. No need to put the car into a garage for some days to replace fixed battery.
    - Central energy management with the utilities.

  8. Battery swapping will only work if the drivers only pay for the energy used and the time it "borrowed" battery... So, if the battery swap station treat the full charged battery similar to a full Butane tank, then it will make a lot more sense. The EVs would be also cheaper since the battery does NOT come with it.

  9. The Better Place model totally disconnects the subscriber from the electricity cost. It's not helpful to think in terms of how much the electrons alone are costing. You're buying the whole package: $15,000 worth of leased battery for your use, unlimited switches and all the electrons you need to cover a pre-determined distance.

    There are other benefits but those are the main points. The price of the car includes a mandatory installation of a home charging spot and for high mileages a work one as well.

  10. It is the same problem as unlimited data plans -- if you don't actually use the battery switching much (only occasional long trips), then you are paying more in your subscription fees for the benefit of others. Over time, only heavy users will gravitate to this solution, which means the costs to the operator have to go up (more electricity and more swapping facilities to cover heavy use), which then have to get passed on to the users.

    So, if you won't often need long-range travel, you would be better off with a traditional EV and just renting a car when you need it.

  11. Correct: I do fall into the category who definitely needs occasional swaps. At least 1 per month and, probably, because of the "unlimited" data plan nature of pre-paying, I'll drive more now.

    One trip to Haifa or Jerusalem a month is a minimum. Jerusalem is (apparently) possible without a swap, but a swap means I can drive up the hill at 100kmh and not care. Haifa is 100KM each way for me so not possible without a slow charge for a few hours in Haifa.

    The problem in Israel is that the mere existence of Better Place is blocking anyone else from bringing a "conventional" EV. It's not my belief that the prohibition on charging from domestic electricity is the major problem, more inertia on the part of the 6 cartel like local car importers.

  12. Why would anybody prefer a 30 minute charge over a five minute swap? What are you supposed to do when your car is charged after 30 minutes and the main course has just arrived? Get up and move the car? And what if your at the movies, a sporting event or concert?

  13. For the EV driver, like me, who mostly drives within the range of his EV and only occasionally needs to take a longer trip, the easiest solution is just to rent a gasoline car for the long trips. That is much cheaper than being part of a subscription for a fast charging or battery swapping service.

    My guess is that the only way we'll see a large number of fast chargers any time soon, is for the DOE to pay for them. If Obama is serious about 1 million EVs in 2020, paying for EV infrastructure is essential.

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