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Battery swaps are about to become a thing

Battery swaps are about to become a thing

Without a doubt, the first question that gets asked about electric vehicles (EVs) is: “How far can they go on a single charge?” Despite the leaps and bounds in energy storage technology, any answer to that would still be unsatisfying, because the follow-up question would be: “If I run of charge in the middle of my trip, what happens to me?”, and the answer to that, right now, is: “Well, you’re on your own.”

And so, for now, this is the inherent limitation of EVs. Without the reassuring presence of a sufficient out-of-home battery charging infrastructure, range anxiety will always be occupying the minds of EV owners and users. Even if, let’s say, battery charging stations were put up in strategic locations, the next problem would be the duration of charging. Waiting for 30 minutes to an hour to get your EV batteries juiced up to at least 80 percent would still be too long a wait, especially in our ICE culture when filling up at the gas stations wouldn’t take more than 10 minutes.

There must be that “magic spot” where EV users can use their vehicles without fear of range depletion, and battery top-ups without the hassle of long waiting times.

EV makers and allied sectors have come up with a novel solution: Battery swaps. In a nutshell, battery swapping allows drivers to replace depleted batteries quickly with fully charged ones, rather than plugging the vehicle into a charging point.

Reuters wrote two months ago that swapping could help mitigate the growing strains placed on power grids as millions of drivers juice up, yet specialists caution it can only take off in a big way if batteries become standardized industry-wide.

Battery swapping aims to match the convenience and speed of visiting a gas station, which proponents say could help strengthen the case for EVs by making it faster to replenish a car’s range. This is how the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Climate Portal rationalized the system when it featured San Francisco–based startup Ample demonstrating its new battery-swap system on May 17. Ample said its system could exchange a depleted EV battery for a fresh one in five minutes.

The concept is simple enough, and makes us think “Why didn’t we think of this sooner?” But, mind you, there may be a looming caveat here. MIT’s website did add: “Some experts are skeptical, viewing battery swapping as an expensive solution that will at best serve a narrow niche within the future of electric transportation.”

What if a simple system that is otherwise viewed as costly, be scaled-down in cost, in order to attract a more mass-based market.

This is apparently what Ayala Corp and partners 917Ventures (of the Globe Group) and Gogoro had in mind when, last April 24, they launched the Gogoro Smartscooters and its battery-swapping system at the Globe headquarters in Bonifacio Global City.

The Smartscooters, along with the battery-swap system, would be initially available in Metro Manila starting the last quarter of this year.

The first Gogoro battery-swapping station was also unveiled at The Globe Tower—the start of a network of Gogoro battery-swapping stations planned to be established initially in Metro Manila and eventually across the country.

The Gogoro Smartscooters and the battery-swapping station would be pilot tested by 70 Globe employees for two months starting this May. They will eventually share feedback on their experience to ensure an even better customer experience once the e-bikes become available to the public later this year.

Globe Group president and CEO Ernest Cu described the Gogoro scooters and the upcoming battery-swap stations—the first of its kind in the country—“a transport ecosystem that marries mobility innovation and sustainability.”

Gogoro’s launch is the Globe Group’s debut in the climate tech space. The group views that, coupled with the battery-swapping stations, two-wheeled EVs such as Gogoro would become the “better transportation alternative, addressing commuter woes on expensive gas prices while helping curb carbon emissions, in line with the partners’ shared commitment to sustainability, and the Philippine government’s sustainable development agenda.”

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Replicating Taiwan’s success

The group hinges on Gogoro’s remarkable success in Taiwan, where the brand and its battery-swapping system has transformed two-wheel mobility there and has fostered a new smart mobility industry with a network of eco-friendly businesses and end-users. In addition to Taiwan and the Philippines, Gogoro also operates in China, India, Japan, Indonesia, Korea and Israel.

In Taiwan, Gogoro currently has 540,000 riders and has deployed more than 1 million smart batteries at 12,000 battery-swapping stations. Gogoro riders have made over 450 million total swaps, 400,000 per day, saving more than 627,000 tons of CO2 since it launched.

The numbers are impressive. The question remains, however, if the Taiwanese success can also be achieved here.

Local support

I asked Ferdinand Raquelsantos, chair emeritus of the Electric Vehicle Association of the Philippines (EVAP), for his thoughts about Gogoro and its battery swapping system. He said that the introduction of Gogoro is a “welcome development.”

“This is great news. The system will work well, especially in controlled environment clusters like commercial business districts, school campuses, and the like. In other countries, this concept has proven very effective and is even available on a rental basis. The plan of locally producing these two-wheel electric scooters/motorcycles and applying them to urban areas, then the increased demand for its lithium-ion batteries, would also justify localizing the repackaging of battery packs, if not totally producing the battery cells,” Raquelsantos explained.

Raquelsantos is currently in Detroit, Michigan for the APEC 2023 Dialogue on Electric Mobility, with EVAP president Edmund Araga, Rommel Gutierrez (president of the Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines) and Transportation Undersecretary Timothy John R. Batan. Raquelsantos disclosed that his group had just finished a presentation outlining the application of two- and three-wheel electric mobility in Southeast Asia.

This year is quickly shaping up to be an exciting one for the two- and three-wheeled EV sector.