Will Tesla’s Battery-Swap Encourage A Shift To Electric Cars?

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Tesla Battery SwapAfter revealing free and fast nationwide electric car charging stations in early 2013, Tesla recently uncovered its new, automated battery-swap system. The Model S battery swap took place in about 95 seconds throughout a live Tesla event in Los Angeles and each of these battery pack replacements will cost around $60 to $80 for Model S owners. Zintro experts discuss whether this new strategy will improve the Tesla experience.

Systems engineer, Gerald McAlwee calls attention to the liabilities the battery pack swap or any other energy storage system could bring upon implementation. “Those with the means might simply accept taking on the risk of paying for any litigation involving an accident or mishap created by a battery pack that has experienced multi-ownership experience that might have exposed the battery to routine high temperature events or long storage periods where the state of charge remained low or technically less than zero.  Ultimately, the burden of proof is on Tesla to architect the insurance legalities and further certify an acceptance process that can not only screen packs for issues, but also provide a 100% use-case history of each pack,” McAlwee explains. “A pack that discharged too low or remained there too long would disqualify a vehicle for the Supercharger swap service.” McAlwee also thinks this new application could be turned into an opportunity by financing additional pack production on the backs of existing customers rather than shareholders. “Each Model-S would have more than one pack supporting its operation and if each Model-S received a Supercharger pack swap instead of in-vehicle charging, there could be up to five pack swaps a day assuming a 50mph average speed and 85kWh battery size. While this is a highly unlikely scenario and unless a Model-S is in a ride-share between LA and SF continuously, it brings up the obvious question of how large each Supercharger service station will have to be,” he notes. “Even with a generous use-rate of 10% or an additional pack for every 10 Model-S vehicles, the pure business case is thin for investing in such large facilities with all the associated requirements.” From McAlwee’s point of view, the Supercharger concept is a hybrid idea in order to take advantage of infrastructure incentives in solar, wind and smart-grid initiatives. “Keep in mind that Musk is also the chairman of Solar-City and the Supercharger concept is more about business than real-value to US taxpayer,” McAlwee adds. “Since the government approves the metrics, let’s keep an open-mind and see if the battery technology and Panasonic cells are up for the challenge.”

Electric vehicle consultant, Puneet Jain expresses concerns over the introduction of this new technology. “The cost of swapping platforms is around half a million. Thus, a high number of vehicles to break even the cost of establishing infrastructure across the length and breath of nation which can support EV operations and take away range anxiety,” notes Jain. “The other factor is the pricing model of the service. You don’t expect your customer to always visit you again to take a battery pack. The price difference, which users will have to pay otherwise may demotivate them to use this service.”

By Idil Kan

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