Despite numerous challenges, EV battery swapping may still have a future, albeit with taxis and ride-hailing services rather than private passenger cars, according to a pair of recent reports from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
China already has 550 battery-swapping stations, which is a drop in the bucket compared to the 112,000 charging stations China installed in December 2020 alone. But the number of battery-swapping stations in China is still well ahead of the number of hydrogen fueling stations in the country, according to BNEF.
Many of these stations are operated by Chinese automaker Nio, for exclusive use by its customers. The company already has about 180 stations, and said it passed 500,000 battery swaps in May 2020.
However, for battery swapping to truly compete with charging, stations will need to service vehicles from different manufacturers. That's likely to prove a challenge, as it would require automakers to agree on hardware standards, one of the reports noted.
Yet the Bloomberg analyses found "some reasons for optimism."
Nissan e-NV200 taxis in Barcelona
China's battery-swapping network is growing just as many cities begin switching to electric taxis, adding that Shenzhen switched its 21,000 taxis to electric power in 2018. That makes for a lot of the same model of vehicle, with drivers eager to stay on the road as much as possible.
The main advantage of battery swapping is quick turnarounds (Nio previously said a swap takes around three minutes), which could make electric taxis more attractive to operators. Public charging has in the past been the limiting factor for electric-cab usability in major-metro areas.
Ample battery swapping
While the United States has no battery-swapping infrastructure to speak of, California announced last year that it will mandate more EVs for ride-hailing. The state's Air Resources Board is currently in the process of determining those rules.
Startup Ample even hopes to solve the interoperability problem with its own stations and modular battery architecture. Ample claims its stations can complete a swap in 10 minutes, and is reportedly working with Uber on battery swapping for a fleet of Nissan Leafs in San Francisco.