Batting for the battery

Prabhjot Kaur, CEO, Centre for Battery Engineering and Electric Vehicles, (C-BEEV), delves deep into batteries, discusses EVs, and the various aspects of building a standardised EV ecosystem

Apr 27, 2020 SHWETA BHANOT MEHROTRA No Comments Like

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Prabhjot Kaur, CEO, Centre for Battery Engineering and Electric Vehicles, (C-BEEV), believes that times like these call for innovations, and says that all efforts must be directed towards fighting this pandemic to save society in order to ensure a clean and safe environment for future generations. Besides delving deep into batteries, she also discusses EVs and various aspects of building a standardised EV ecosystem. Read on…

TOS: Will this pandemic slow down the transition process to EVs in the country? What are the learning's so far from this crisis?

PK: No transition is easy; however, it is people’s mindset. Usefulness of a product and the performance that it will exhibit, in due course of time, can scale or fail a product. ICE vehicles have been here on earth for almost a century now. Therefore, the transition from ICE to EVs is a huge thing. I think the impact shall be [felt]everywhere, and on everyone. 

Many sectors shall see worse impact as compared to EVs as almost all auto companies have already made a shift towards EVs globally, and had started production. India or global, the trend is same; [from] small to big, organisations, have already announced their shift. We would have to watch whether we would still reach the same envisaged scale in the stipulated time or [whether] it will be delayed. Most likely, we are going to see a delay due to the overall economic slowdown.  

Currently, everything is at a standstill, however R&D continues. We need more innovations at this point of time. I believe the priority of today is to join all efforts to fight this pandemic, and save our society and ensure a clean and safe environment for our future generations. The priority, today, is to abide by the situational demands. 

India is at the starting phase of EVs and we hope to see a fast and exponential growth of EVs. 

TOS: How would standardisation in the EV ecosystem help in faster adoption of the technology?

PK: The role of standardisation remains as significant in EVs as in any other area. One of the noteworthy benefits of EVs would be of bringing affordability at scale, and helping in interoperability in charging, and swapping infrastructure to aid in expansion of EVs and setting up pertinent infrastructure. 

TOS: Is battery swapping the logical way to approach EV sales than fully loaded vehicles? There are also talks about inclusion of battery swapping in the FAME II…

PK:Trends in the vehicles sales in India clearly show how affordability plays a key factor in a purchase decision. India is predominantly a two-wheeler market with 80% making of it along with three-wheelers. Therefore, low volume availability and imported sub-systems of EVs, in these categories, makes it too expensive for majority of the people. 

With swapping, batteries become energy, like any other fuel, and need not be bought while purchasing the EV. Besides bringing down the cost of a vehicle by at least a third, this will bring in a great value proposition to EV buyers, and in turn, may also add another business line of batteries swap stations. 

So far, swapping is not included in FAME II, we are hopeful that Department of Heavy Industries (DHI) will soon include the same in the scope of FAME II. 

TOS: There is no mandatory recall policy in India, however, we have seen voluntary recalls made by OEMs due to faulty parts. How is this aspect being looked at in EVs?

PK:Unlike developed markets EU, USA or Japan, there is no mandatory recall policy in India. Voluntary recalls by some OEMs is a great step. Not only does this helpin gaining confidence among consumers, but it also brings in more acceptance of newer products in the market. However, instead of firefighting, it is crucial to have better quality QA (Quality Assurance) and QC (Quality Control) processes.

TOS: Currently, OEMs sell EVs as kms per full charge. Do you think this is the right way to communicate to customers or must this be standardised with mention of various aspects that might compromise the performance?

PK:All vehicles are tested and certified for their performance before they are launched [and end up] on roads. The certified specifications of the vehicles can be used as a benchmark for communicating to customers. The maximum range specification per charge for an EV is similar to the mileage promised by an OEM for ICE vehicle that one obtains under certain given conditions only. 

TOS: Can you elaborate on the BPCL-IIT Madras tie-up? What is the model under which this association will work?

PK: Centre for Battery Engineering and Electric Vehicles (C-BEEV), IIT Madras has been working on indigenous batteries and EVs, and [have] developed an end-to-end model for swapping of batteries for BPCL as per an MoU between the two. Some trials were done for technology validation at IIT Madras, and based on the results obtained, BPCL took the model forward for their pilots. 

Prabhjot Kaur, CEO, C-BEEV with Piyush Goyal, Commerce & Industry Minister, during the inauguration of C-BEEV

TOS:What will be the cost of getting a swappable battery at BPCL and what happens to the existing battery on the vehicle? Would it be charged at a cost and given back? Please explain.

PK: For any business, fuel cannot be given free, there has to be some appropriate billing done to the consumers against the energy consumed by the customer, and BPCL based on their model, has to charge that billing amount from their consumers of the battery packs. 

For vehicles, there are two options that exist, either the consumer buys the vehicle without the battery and gets the battery from an Energy operator (BPCL in this case), or when his existing battery dies, he can enroll himself with BPLC for getting the battery, instead of buying new battery packs. 

TOS: Do you think differential pricing of batteries by providers and brands could be a hindrance in the swapping world?

PK:There should be no hindrance in selecting products from OEM 1 versus OEM 2, and that’s the role an energy operator needs to play. For the battery to be supplied to the customer, he needs to promise certain deliverables like range or energy to be delivered by the battery which will make it immaterial for the consumer to pick battery from any vendor.

Further, there are a number of other factors based on which the delivery of battery will depend upon. For instance, the age of the battery, or the state of charge of the battery. It is the energy operator, who through data monitoring and analytics will be able to understand what he can promise to deliver and that the consumer would otherwise would be unaware of. 

TOS: How do we deal with BIN (Battery Identification Number) in the swapping world and vehicle insurance related to it?

PK: BIN or Battery Identification Number is a unique identification number which is used to identify a particular battery. For swapping, BIN becomes an imperative parameter to be tracked for issuing to the customer, and for collecting the charged and discharged data from the battery. 

The insurance companies must come up with an innovative business model/insurance plan, wherein the EV and the battery are separately insured and the liability for the battery is shared by the swapping station and the energy operator. This model will ensure that EV owners get their dues in case of a battery failure due to mechanical or other reasons. It would also set a strong case for people to opt for EVs over ICE vehicles.

TOS: Do you think we need an exclusive authority to look into EVs other than ARAI?

PK: ARAI is doing great job, their R&D and testing facilities are wonderful with a dedicated team of engineers and technicians. Looking at the size and the requirements of our country, I believe, we need to have twenty such organisations to speed up the electrification work; or an ideal case could be at least one agency per state. That would be wishful thinking, but we require a great infrastructure and support system for bringing in indigenously developed technologies on Indian roads. 

Shweta Bhanot Mehrotra is an Independent Business Journalist.

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