Electric cars and swappable batteries

By April 1, 2013 EVs No Comments
Mahindra E2O

Mahindra E2O

Someday we’ll have a super-efficient and seamless multi-modal public transport infrastructure in India’s cities. The smattering of  private (or government) vehicles you’d see on the roads would be either electric, solar, or wind-powered vehicles.

Okay. That day might not come in my lifetime but it’s a distinct possibility for the next generation. Coming back to the here and now, our cute blue-colored Reva-i will turn three in a few months. It’s been a very satisfying journey so far. Reva critics indulge in all kinds of uncharitable name calling (ugly, khatara, midget, etc.). But I don’t pay them any heed. What the Reva-i lacks in style it thoroughly makes up in substance. It was designed to be a small no-frills lightweight car (for two adults and two kids) with top speeds suitable for intra-city commuting. It delivers on that promise.

The smart folks at the Reva Car Company have been working on the next generation EV for several years now. The car (originally dubbed NSX) got a fillip when Mahindra acquired Reva in 2010. The new car (rechristened E2O) has been eagerly awaited by Reva and EV enthusiasts in India (including many current Reva-i owners like me waiting to upgrade).

Unfortunately the central government seems to have led Mahindra Reva up the garden path. The National Electric Mobility Mission, which was supposed to unveil a subsidy plan for EVs in the recent budget, has gone mum . Last week I received a call from the local Mahindra E2O dealer informing me that the price of the entry level E2O model would be 7.05 Lakhs – ouch! Delhi denizens can drive the same model for a (relatively affordable) price of 5.95 Lakhs, thanks to a 29% subsidy from the Delhi state government.

Plugging into a “lump of coal”?

Cleantech purists will posit that while EVs have zero emissions (unequivocally a good thing), it’s still only as clean as its electricity supply. Since majority of electricity generation in US, Europe and India is from coal-fired plants, celebrated cleantech venture capitalist Vinod Khosla disdainfully refers to electric cars as “plugging into a lump of coal”. Not happy with this characterization, I went looking for data on electricity generation sources in India. Turns out coal plants contribute only 53% of India’s energy demands, hydro-electric plants contribute 25% and renewables generate 8%.

So EVs (at least in India) aren’t entirely plugged in to a “lump of coal” – there’s 25% hydro electric power and 8% of renewable energy power as well. Whew!

What’s to love about the E2O?

My perspective is that of a current Reva-i owner, so my answer is “Lots!”

  • Much higher range (100km)
  • Lith ium ion batteries means you can recharge everyday without reducing battery life. This is a huge improvement over its lead acid counterparts.
  • Several public charging points
  • Sun2Car (charging via solar panels) – though it doesn’t come cheap

But, as this HT review concludes, this is one car you’ll have to buy with your heart rather than your head.

Future of EVs?

EVs are cool and all. And I’ll always root for the Reva and its successors in India. But the EV ecosystem innovation I’m REALLY excited about is the concept of swappable batteries pioneered by California-based and Israel-grounded Better Place (aka BP). Here’s the overview of BP’s model:

Instead of buying a battery car and then figuring out how to charge it — public stations, home unit? — BP is a one-stop transportation solution. In Israel, customers buy “electric miles,” paying BP roughly $32,000 for the car (the Israeli price) than leasing the battery and a charging plan that gives them access to the company’s public network and the swap stations. It may not work this way, but the general rule of thumb is that you’d use home or public charging for commuting and errands, battery swapping for longer trips.

Swap stations are apparently not very different from the automated car washes in US…

The swap station was fascinating, reminding me of the heavily robotized BMW factory I recently visited in Leipzig, Germany. The driver enters the business end of the car wash (excuse me, swap station) and hears various whirrings and clickings, including some compressor whine as the car is lifted up a few inches for optimal replacement angle. What the consumer doesn’t see is the extensive underground battery condo, capable of holding 16 packs (and with expansion capability to 32).

The above excerpts (about Better Place) were from this Mother Nature Network article. Worth reading in its entirety.




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