Battery swap at the heart of plan for e-vehicles

The government has decided on batteries with a range of 50 km on a single charge as part of a blueprint to push sales of electric three-wheelers and buses.

The smaller batteries can be swapped in stations within minutes, bypassing lengthy charging cycles that pose a hurdle in the adoption of electric vehicles.

Batteries delivered to swapping stations can be charged overnight. Government sources said as many as 15 manufacturers had shown interest in manufacturing the lithium-ion batteries in India.  

Larger batteries that run 120-200 km on a single charge require fast charging at 45 degrees Centigrade for over two hours, reducing their life by a third and increasing the cost of buying an electric vehicle. Also, investments of Rs 15-20 lakh are required to build each fast-charging battery station.  

The specifications discussed with automobile and battery manufacturers will form the basis of initial orders the government proposes to place for electric vehicles for its own use.

The government is planning to float a tender in November through state-owned companies for 50,000 three-wheelers, which will go up to a million in 18 months. In January next year, it plans to order 10,000 buses in 12 cities.

“We have received interest from 50-odd vehicle, battery and subsystems manufacturers as well as aggregators and those who want to set up swapping and charging infrastructure. We have finalised the plan for three-wheelers and buses and are working on taxis. In the end, we will take up passenger cars, where a final call on the battery size has to be taken,” said an official involved with the project.

He pointed out that most city buses travelled less than 30 km per trip and had gaps of 10 minutes between trips, enough time to swap batteries. The official said the plan was to set up over 200 battery-swapping stations in each of 12 cities.    

Manufacturers will sell vehicles without batteries. As battery specifications have been standardised for three-wheelers and buses, these will be manufactured and sold by separate vendors to customers.  

The government has also worked with the industry and academic institutions to reduce the cost of making the battery by 30 per cent, by decreasing the wattage required per km of charge.

Officials said the $250 price of a lithium-ion battery was expected to decline by $150 by 2020 with volumes picking up. 

The blueprint has been drawn up on the premise that the government will not provide substantial subsidies to push electric vehicles. This is in contrast to China and the US, where large subsidies are provided for electric vehicles, sometimes as high as 60 per cent of their cost. The plan for taxis involves a combination of battery swapping and fixed charging. These batteries could have a range of 110-160 km on a single charge.

  • Build three wheelers and buses powered by small batteries (50 km at one charge)
  • Create a swapping infrastructure for batteries where it can be changed within 2-3 minutes
  • Float tender for 50,000 three wheelers, going up to 1 million. Also for 10,000 buses
  • Govt has reduced battery cost by 30% with industry participation
  • 15 companies have shown interest in making lithium ion batteries

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