Can Electric Cars Have Replaceable Batteries?

While the idea of replacing battery on the go through swapping stations is alluring, the infrastructure and business model around it is another story.

The gist is that there isn’t much leeway when we consider how to make electric vehicles, EVs efficient for tomorrow.  And efficient is a word that means different things to everyone, mostly practical, have long range and affordable.

Recharge Time vs Convenience.  If recharge time from an empty battery pack is estimated in the 4 hours at least, to 13, depending on the pack capacity and voltage used, tomorrow’s solution must either involve faster charging batteries or keep a spare pack at home and at the office, swapped on the fly.  As a side note, an electric car is not driven until its battery pack empty, since it would deteriorate its life span but rather refilled whenever.  In this aspect, it is maintained differently from a gas car that gets driven until the gas tank is almost empty.

Better Place Build A Robotic Swap Station.  If Better Place wins the heart of investors and government leaders, we will drive through battery stations that will automatically lower our depleted battery pack and put a fresh new one in.  This is only one aspect of their multi-faceted view of the future.  If this idea sounds great, the logistics is a gigantic puzzle that needs very fine tuning.

Pros And Cons.  Obviously, there are many pros and cons to this scenario.  People driving long distances or commutes, such as traveling salespeople will probably like the idea of a hassle free battery maintenance system, as well as making cross country travel a feasible reality.  However, we wonder if this scenario works for city dwellers who will have electric recharging stations in convenient spots.

Technically Speaking.  Here are some of the technicalities to work out.  All batteries would have to be standardized.  This mean that they would have to fit and be able to to go in and out of a car for swap stations.  Considering the poor track record car makers have shown for standards, topped by destructive greed, this will be an uphill battle.  Second, the freshly charged battery packs will have to be maintained in cooled chambers, in order to not loose their charge.  This is an added energy drain that could mostly be shouldered by alternative energy, something Better Place wants to do.  Lastly, the handling of high voltage system by robots is something that will need serious real life test studies.

In conclusion, if the idea looks good on paper, we wonder about the quality control of batteries.  For instance, repeated periods of charge and discharge wear batteries down and effect their overall performance.  How will Better Place determine when a battery pack is too old, and how will it deal with a fading one?  Further more, we also understand that some people just want to outright own their EVs and battery pack.  While the idea is good, it is important to ask the right questions so that we do not find ourselves in the place we are today, at the mercy of the petroleum cartel.

To understand more about the Better Place model, go to TED and see Shai Agassi, the Better Place visionary and CEO explain it.

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