Another Try at Battery-Swap Idea, from Slovakia

By · November 07, 2012

An electric van with switchable battery by Greenway, in Slovakia

An electric van with switchable battery by Greenway, in Slovakia

The Renault Fluence ZE, the one and only electric car built with a switchable battery, is selling way below initial expectations, and it's more and more likely that Renault will give up the idea after that car's lifetime. The Renault Zoe does not have a battery-swap feature. That doesn't mean battery-swapping is dead. Some other people are working on it: Slovaks. But they are taking a very different approach than Better Place, which is currently looking for a $100 million investment. Slovak company Greenway is doing things on a budget, yet it is surprisingly effective. How about a nation-wide service of parcel delivery via electric vans? It could be fully operational in a few months.

An electric van with switchable battery by Greenway, in Slovakia

An electric van with switchable battery by Greenway, in Slovakia

It helps a lot that Slovakia is a small country, about half the size of Kentucky. Choosing to do things in the most simple way could be the key to success. Greenway didn't try to sign a deal with a car manufacturer, like Better Place did with Renault. Greenway bought some diesel Citroen vans and had them converted to an electric drive by EVC. This is the Czech company which converted the Skoda which I test-drove earlier this year. Batteries are LiFeYPo4; range is 75 to 100 miles; the motor makes 100 kW; and like the Skoda, the manual transmission has been kept. Because it was easier.

The big thing then, is the battery-swapping tech, but who needs automation? The Slovaks are doing it with rollers, a modified trolley and the driver. That's manual work, but the whole process takes only seven minutes, which makes it very cost-effective. The automatic battery-swapping station Better Place has built in Denmark probably cost around $1 million, and that's more than what a delivery route will generate in its entire lifetime in Slovakia.

An electric van with switchable battery by Greenway, in Slovakia

An electric van with switchable battery by Greenway, in Slovakia

So the whole thing is low key, but it works. It didn't take millions to begin with, and it would not need much more investment to turn into a profitable business, which is another big difference with the Better Place venture. Greenway's plan is to rent electric vans, with users paying for actual miles driven in one single fee which includes everything from insurance to electricity, maintenance and online fleet monitoring as well. The plan is to use cheap night-time electricity, and the swap station is designed to accommodate six batteries. But for those who can't handle a long lead time, there's a fast 60-kW charger available.

Two battery swap stations are already operational, and they should have five electric vans on the road by the end of this year. Greenway already thinks about enlarging its network of battery swapping stations in neighboring countries like Austria and Hungary. Greenway's ambition is to be the leading electro mobility company in Central Europe, but it looks like their business model could also work in Western Europe. And who knows? Maybe even in America.

Comments

· · 2 years ago

Oh boy, am I ashamed, electric car enthusiast from Slovakia and I hear about this promising project from an American :) Anyway, nice article

· · 2 years ago

One more thing Laurent, the car in your pictures has Czech license plates and the text ("Jezedim na elektrinu" which means I drive by using electricity)

· · 2 years ago

The only thing these guys need to be afraid of is such rapid progress in battery technology they become redundant. Even then, short of something like 'liquid batteries' - maybe also instant recharge but I'm guessing the grid won't be able to handle that for a long time - they are going to be around for a while if they can provide a fully charged battery in the time it takes to pump a tank of gas.

· · 2 years ago

That was the kind of video I like to see, simple easy swaps, put the old battery on the charger, and grab a previously charged one in the car.. This takes care of any demand problem / strain on the electrical grid. Low cost and easily manageable, Future technology advances will make this approach even more attractive. If batteries in the future have greater range, then there will be less need for swap locations and they may be spaced more distantly. Great Blog Laurent!

· · 2 years ago

This looks quite reasonable for trucks, however, there are a few places where you can see that this approach isn't applicable to automobiles.
1) There is plenty of space in a cargo van for a simple, block of batteries and slide rails for the pack to easily slip in and out of the battery compartment. Passenger automobiles are generally quite space-constrained. I can't imagine this simple of an approach working given any of the place one might want to put a battery in any sedan.
2) The operator needs to be trained to operate the forklift and have sufficient skill to align it with the rails on the vehicle and the storage rack. Good luck getting the dumbest American to be able to do this successfully. A lot of safeties and automation would be required to ensure that the dumbest American doesn't drop a 1 ton battery on his/her toes and sue the manufacturer for product liability.
3) This station can only handle 6 batteries. Scaling it to handle more would likely mean it would have to move batteries around instead of having them conveniently stored right next to the driveway.

All of the issues above are clearly solvable, however, the price would increase greatly, probably approaching the Better Place design's cost.

Personally, I figure that fast-charging a commercial vehicle can easily fit within standard work breaks mandated by most labor laws. Airport ground-support and forklift fleets do this regularly today.

· Brian of London (not verified) · 2 years ago

You don't need many batteries for such a system if you can fast charge them. This is even easier when they're not in the vehicle as heat is much easier to deal with. Better Place today have as few as 4 batteries in their switch stations. Some stations also have one or two spare cars (which are kept with topped up full batteries).

If labour is cheap, then manual is fine. I agree, doing this in a passenger car is probably impractical. The more remote Better Place stations in the dessert on the way to Eilat are already unmanned and I haven't heard of problems yet. It's running cost vs capital cost and in the end needing no manual labour will probably be cheaper.

· · 2 years ago

I understand fast charging is nice but it may bring additional battery wear, and it may be difficult to manage for the grid, in some places of Europe. So right now, with today's tech, big battery swap like this makes a lot of sense.

@ex-EV1 driver
I'm surprised by your second point. Most drivers and delivery men (at least in Europe) know how to operate a forklift, and this isn't an issue at all. It's no more difficult than changing a wheel, and every driver is supposed to know how to do that.

@Teq
I'm not American, I'm French! And I really like this project. I hope it will be successful.

· · 2 years ago

@Laurent,
I'm agreeing that this could work for trained, professional drivers. It is the general (assumed to be totally stupid) populace that I see issues with. I'd bet that at least half of the amateur drivers in the US (I can't speak for the rest of the world) don't know how to change a tire.
I think that if scaled above only 6 batteries on hand, this could have merit for delivery vehicles and, perhaps companies such as Ryder that provide leasing and maintenance plans for commercial vehicle operators.
Fast charging doesn't add additional wear to the battery if the batteries and charging system are designed for it. I think that the ability to use off-peak energy could be a stronger drive for this kind of swapping system.

· Peter Badik´, GW co-founder (not verified) · 1 year ago

Gentlemen,
First of all thank you for interest in our project. Some quick remarks: the battery swap station on the video can handle 12 batteries. We call it master and adding the slaves would add 24 batteries each. Although it looks simple we focused on something else then handling. For example the station is online connected to central system. IT intelligence and/or operator monitors the process of charging, could decide which battery will be used (sometime it make sense to use even the one which is not fully charged if the final destination of the car is close enough), central management pair the status of swap station with the cars approaching the station etc.
But in fact it is not a battery swap which makes GreenWay unique. It is rather the business model which is strictly focused on the cost effectiveness of using electric vehicle. At least one fresh battery during the working day could give us the sufficient driving range. And only adequate utilization could make EV really a reasonable economic choice. And there is no way our clients will waste their precious time in the mid of working day by waiting for “quick” charge.
Once again thank you for following us and please keep doing so. We work hard every day to make EV really economical choice.

· Peter Badik´, GW co-founder (not verified) · 1 year ago

Gentlemen,
First of all thank you for interest in our project. Some quick remarks: the battery swap station on the video can handle 12 batteries. We call it master and adding the slaves would add 24 batteries each. Although it looks simple we focused on something else then handling. For example the station is online connected to central system. IT intelligence and/or operator monitors the process of charging, could decide which battery will be used (sometime it make sense to use even the one which is not fully charged if the final destination of the car is close enough), central management pair the status of swap station with the cars approaching the station etc.
But in fact it is not a battery swap which makes GreenWay unique. It is rather the business model which is strictly focused on the cost effectiveness of using electric vehicle. At least one fresh battery during the working day could give us the sufficient driving range. And only adequate utilization could make EV really a reasonable economic choice. And there is no way our clients will waste their precious time in the mid of working day by waiting for “quick” charge.
Once again thank you for following us and please keep doing so. We work hard every day to make EV really economical choice.

· Peter Badik, GW co-founder (not verified) · 1 year ago

Gentlemen,
First of all thank you for interest in our project. Some quick remarks: the battery swap station on the video can handle 12 batteries. We call it master and adding the slaves would add 24 batteries each. Although it looks simple we focused on something else then handling. For example the station is online connected to central system. IT intelligence and/or operator monitors the process of charging, could decide which battery will be used (sometime it make sense to use even the one which is not fully charged if the final destination of the car is close enough), central management pair the status of swap station with the cars approaching the station etc.
But in fact it is not a battery swap which makes GreenWay unique. It is rather the business model which is strictly focused on the cost effectiveness of using electric vehicle. At least one fresh battery during the working day could give us the sufficient driving range. And only adequate utilization could make EV really a reasonable economic choice. And there is no way our clients will waste their precious time in the mid of working day by waiting for “quick” charge.
Once again thank you for following us and please keep doing so. We work hard every day to make EV really economical choice.

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