Could swappable car batteries accelerate UK’s transition to electric vehicles? (Guest blog from Shoosmiths)

Jonathan Smart, a Partner at Shoosmiths, explores whether BaaS can help meet the demand for charging from the EV transition.

The UK is approaching a crossroads when it comes to electric vehicle (EV) charging.

Despite the number of EV registrations increasing rapidly, with data from May 2022 showing a year-on-year increase of 171 per cent, the UK has a shortage of chargepoints.

On the current trajectory, up to 14m EV’s could be on the road nationally by 2030. A minimum of 300k public chargepoints will be needed to support these vehicles, however, the ratio of chargepoints to plug-in cars is deteriorating – down 31 per cent in 2020 alone.

Any shortfall in charging infrastructure risks stalling the UK’s EV transition and move to net zero.

The government’s UK Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Strategy is a step in the right direction when it comes to boosting supply, with new legislation and initiatives in the offing.

However, these measures are far from a silver bullet for EV infrastructure.

That’s why Shoosmiths is partnering with Cornwall Insight and investigating the role the Battery-as-a-Service (BaaS) model could play as part of the UK’s EV charging network.

The model enables electric vehicle owners and business fleets to swap out depleted batteries for fully charged ones at a service station via a subscription service. These batteries can still be charged using normal chargepoints, with BaaS complimenting existing EV infrastructure.

The technology is currently being used at scale in China where EV manufacturer, NIO, officially launched its BaaS offering in August 2020.

As of January 2022, NIO had installed 800 battery swap stations in China. These swap stations are able to replace batteries in three to five minutes, with the fully charged battery providing a 380-mile range and NIO stating that it has already carried out 5.3m swaps.

By analysing global case studies of the technology in use and interviewing industry experts, our report – Battery-as-a-Service: an underexplored opportunity? – puts forward several potential benefits of the BaaS model.

Potential of the Battery-as-a-Service (BaaS) model

  • Reducing issues around range anxiety, given the ability to swap a depleted battery in a matter of minutes.
  • Reducing the upfront cost of an EV by up to 30 per cent - granting greater consumer and business flexibility through the battery subscription approach.
  • Providing a solution for inner city charging where homes or businesses may not have access to plug-in charge points.
  • Offering flexibility for the electricity network by allowing unutilised batteries to be discharged onto the electricity network at swap stations during peak hours.
  • Creating potential solutions for the global shortage in the raw materials necessary for battery manufacture including battery recycling and reuse opportunities. This could include using second life swappable batteries in an onsite storage facility at swap stations.

The BaaS model is not without its challenges though.

One of the main barriers identified in the report is a lack of battery standardisation across vehicle manufacturers. This makes scaling swap stations difficult, with each station only able to service a specific make or model of car.

Other hurdles include shortages of the raw materials needed to manufacture batteries and uncertainty over battery ownership, especially when the EV is re-sold. Major investment is also needed to develop and service the technology and infrastructure the model requires.

Despite these challenges, the paper analyses how the BaaS model could work in the UK with the right investment, business collaboration and regulatory framework.

If the government is to aid the transition to electric vehicles and deliver on its plans to halt the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, technologies like BaaS must be considered. The model is not in opposition to traditional charging infrastructure, but, as the report shows, can bolster the existing system – meeting demand in areas where access to charging is limited.

We believe this report can spark the conversation needed to drive change and innovation, encouraging research into BaaS and the vital role it could play as part of the UK’s EV infrastructure.

Jonathan Smart is a partner and head of the mobility sector at Shoosmiths


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