Cast your mind back to the summer of 2013 when the ubiquitous Elon Musk presented a new piece of tech which was capable of swapping out the battery in a Tesla Model S in as little as ninety seconds. It was like watching a Kung Fu Master with the fluid movements as the battery swap process unfolded before our eyes. This new addition to the Tesla family surely is set to turn the heads of those still opting to drive petrol or diesel vehicles.
The original plan was for the supercharger stations to be rolled out in the latter half of 2013, but they didn’t appear on the horizon for one reason or another. There was speculation that the cause for the delay was due to the need for extra aluminum and titanium shielding which was required after the Model S had encountered a few battery fires.
Now, a supercharger station based in California’s Harris Ranch has been kitted out with the battery swapping tech, and Tesla has openly invited some Model S enthusiasts to give it a try. After this initial launch, it is expected that there will be an initial need for owners to make an appointment for the swap to be completed.
The concept of the battery swap is to provide a quicker process, despite the added cost, for Tesla Model S owners who are seeking a faster recharge. This is a matter of providing convenience as the current charging system takes around 80 minutes for many Model S owners to complete a full charge, and yes, that is the free option.
Even with the appeal of the charge being free, there is a strong push in our instant society for a quicker option, and Tesla has been able to cater for this quite nicely. The next stage will be to increase the number of supercharger stations capable of the battery swapping process in order to capture a larger part of the market and bridge the gap between electric and conventional vehicles.
Tesla has estimated that the cost of a battery swap will be somewhere in the vicinity of $60 to $80, which is comparable to filling up a conventional vehicle with either petrol or diesel. The anticipated flow of things with a battery swap will look something like; the Tesla Model S owner drives in, swaps their battery out for a fully charged one, the old battery is recharged and flagged for collection by the owner at a later date, or it is delivered back to their address.
From a process point of view, this sounds convenient until you consider human nature and the path of least resistance. If a swapped out battery was recharged and then sent to an owner’s home unless there was some method which provided a means to collect the current batter, an owner may potentially accumulate a garage full of $10,000 Model S batteries, and all at about 80 bucks a pop. This part doesn’t sound too well thought out to me.
On the flip side, if the supercharger stations were to hold and recycle the batteries in the Tesla Model S network, this would provide for a much more efficient operation, both from a material and a human resource perspective. The next challenge to plan for is the previous treatment of the battery that has been swapped out. If you are the unsuspecting recipient of a battery that has been poorly maintained, it may impact on your vehicle’s health, and no one wants that.
The solution may sound something like the battery swap being a cost that is bundled up into the cost of a vehicle or maybe based on a subscription system. So rather than actually ‘owning’ the battery, this is a resource that Tesla loans or hires out, which would support a higher quality experience. Just what Tesla has in mind as an answer for the logistical challenges wrapped up in this, we will have to wait and see.
The maintenance of the supercharger stations and the battery swap system will no doubt provide gainful employment for many as the system grows. With the construction of the Gigafactory, and the pending release of the Model 3 over the Tesla Model S, the system will surely be put to the test.