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Could EV battery swapping be a solution to charging station shortages?

Jul 28, 2023


As the electric vehicle (EV) revolution gains momentum, one of the primary challenges has been the scarcity of charging stations to cater to the rapidly increasing number of EV users. To ease the burden on battery charging infrastructure, a Northern California-based startup called Ample has been exploring battery swapping methods that have proved successful elsewhere in the world.

The Biden administration has funded financial initiatives aimed at spurring the growth of EV charging stations in the United States. However, experts are concerned that the build-out of charging stations might not keep up with the soaring demand from EV users.

The White House’s ambitious goal of having half of all vehicles sold in the U.S. be electric by 2030 necessitates over a million charging stations, which is approximately 20 times the current number available.

Consumers are already experiencing the impact of the charging station deficit, with a study by J.D. Power revealing that the rate of EV adoption is nearly double that of charger installation growth. The research also found that one-fifth of American EV drivers reported experiencing problems with public charging.

“Public charging is by far the least satisfying aspect of owning an electric vehicle,” said Brent Gruber, executive director of global automotive research for J.D. Power. 

Ample is aiming to revolutionize the charging process with its battery swapping technology.

Vehicles can drive into an Ample station where automated robots replace the depleted battery with a fully charged one. The entire process takes only five minutes, significantly faster than the half-hour required for even the fastest traditional EV chargers.

“We’re making a major transition, a third of human consumption of energy is moving from one form to another,” Ample co-founder and CEO Khaled Hassounah said. “And any time we make that kind of change, we have to step back and rethink things.”

The company has also said its stations can be set up within three days and consume less energy from the power grid compared to some conventional charging stations. Ample’s goal is to make its battery swapping system 20% cheaper than using gasoline.

Currently, Amply primarily serves vehicle-fleet owners and commercial operators, such as Uber drivers, at its 12 stations in the San Francisco Bay Area. Although this technology is not yet available for privately-owned vehicles, China, which boasts the most EVs in circulation worldwide, has already adopted similar battery swapping systems successfully.

“[Battery swapping] is too convenient, too economical and too logical for this not to happen at scale in Europe and the United States,” said Levi Tillemann, head of policy and international business at Ample. “It’s a sort of magical thinking to imagine that this is a uniquely Chinese phenomenon.”

A crucial factor contributing to China’s success is that its manufacturers have designed their EV models around a common battery pack format. In contrast, the U.S. lacks such a standardized approach, requiring Ample to collaborate with automakers to integrate its battery swapping system into various vehicle models.

“The economics of swapping don’t really work if you have to support a lot of different pack formats,” said Sam Abuelsamid, principal research analyst for Guidehouse Insights. “Without battery standardization, the market just isn’t there for swapping. Standardization isn’t going to happen while battery technology is still evolving.”

This is why Ample’s work has been focused on fleets of vehicles so far, as having a large number of the same vehicles with the same battery packs makes the company’s business model easier. However, the company has indicated that negotiations with more automotive partners are already underway, which suggests the potential for expanding its services in the future.

“We’ve worked on cementing some partnerships so that we’ll be able to scale it across the U.S., across Europe, across Asia, since we’re ready for prime time,” Hassounah said. “We can really get people to move to electric very quickly.”

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