How Can Micromobility Operators Reduce Charging Costs?
Shared electric mobility, from electric bikes, mopeds, kick scooters to cars, is trending like never before. However, the cost of the battery and the associated operations around charging them constitutes a significant fraction of the investment and operational costs. At the same time, great measures are being taken to decrease the costs of recharging the vehicles. In this blog, we dig into how shared micromobility vehicles are recharged today and then we deep dive into two industry-specific charging trends.
A quick recap: How is recharging done today?
Electric carsharing mainly depends on conductive (cable-based) charging stations somewhere within the service area, though some operators have piloted inductive (cable-free) charging. In some cases, empty batteries might be recharged on the spot by mobile teams or service suppliers. Nevertheless, the typical solution is to recharge electric car batteries at a charging station.
Unlike electric cars, micromobility vehicles (kick scooters, bikes, mopeds) are usually not recharged at a charging station. They mainly rely on the (“field agent-run”) battery swap. This works by having a local employee or external service supplier navigate to the vehicles identified for battery swap with a set of fully charged batteries. After the swap of several vehicles’ batteries, the field agent returns the empty batteries to a central or decentral charging hub and starts the recharging process of the battery. Moped sharing operators for instance, often own at least 1.3 batteries per vehicle battery slot for that charging logistic cycle. Battery and field agent transport is most often done with cars or cargo bikes.
Of course, there are also different charging options across this huge sector. For instance, among the three micromobility modes, bike sharing has the highest share of station-based recharging. Kick scooters relied on full vehicle pick ups/swaps in the early days of the industry but most operators have switched to battery swaps since then. Shared electric mopeds have mainly always relied on battery swaps.
Overall, battery swaps represent a huge proportion of all recharging operations in the shared electric micromobility industry. And this is a strong recurring cost factor for operators.
Trends from the industry: What is happening on the innovation and R&D side?
Based on the above industry processes, the following section highlights two selected industry trends of how to tackle the operational cost of recharging shared micromobility vehicles: user-based swapping and battery standardization.
User-based swapping is not new, but highly innovative. The main idea is simple: if shared vehicle users are about to end their ride with a low charged battery status, they can choose to end the rental at a battery swapping station and conduct the battery swap themselves. This costs a little extra time, but users are incentivized with credits for their next ride. Sounds easy, right? The idea is indeed compelling, but requires some proper preparations. Users need to be trained, guided and enabled to safely access the empty and charged batteries. The battery kiosk also needs to be placed in reasonable density on public or private grounds across the service area.
However, the potential is huge. Taiwanese company Gogoro, for instance, is managing hundreds of thousands of battery swaps per week for their vehicle-ownership customers at its 2,000 country-wide swapping stations. The impact on the mobility system is immense: “One can now find more battery swapping stations than gas stations in the six major metropolitan areas of Taipei, New Taipei City, Taoyuan, Taichung, Tainan, and Kaohsiung, with a GoStation located every 400 meters”, as described by Taiwan News. Also, the sharing section of the company, GoShare, announced that 1 million battery swaps were conducted in 2020, of which 70% were done by users — a pretty impressive share.
In addition, moped sharing giant Bounce from India has set up a similar scheme that is using both centralized battery swapping stations and smaller kiosk-run swapping facilities (called Kirana). Bounce founded the subsidiary Zuink and runs over 1,000 charging points in Bangalore in hundreds of stores and charging stations. The battery swapping approach is thereby an integral part of the ongoing electrification strategy of the company.
In Europe, suppliers such as the German Swobee or the French Zeway are working on battery swapping infrastructure solutions and have piloted urban implementations in various contexts. Kick scooter and moped operator TIER also launched its first implementation of local battery swap kiosks in Finland and Germany (similar to the Kirana-based approach of Bounce).
Despite the critical voices on the user-based swapping approach, the potential is huge and has proven to work even in large implementations. Some hurdles to overcome are infrastructure costs, city support to establish stations at public grounds, and improved vehicle design to enable safe and easy battery swaps. However, no European or American system is currently even close to the Taiwanese or Indian examples.
Battery platform standardization
No matter which solution you prefer, from field agent-run to user-based battery swaps to conductive charging solutions, the missing interoperability of the systems is a growth blocker. At this point, the following two approaches of battery standardization are stepping in: standardization before and after infrastructure rollout.
Standardization before infrastructure rollout: Sweden-based Teleport Mobility, for instance, is working on bringing the shared mobility industry to one table to find a common ground on battery and infrastructure standardization. Imagine if kick scooter or moped users could use any battery swapping station throughout the city, without thinking about which shared mobility operator or vehicle manufacturer they are using or riding.
Standardization after infrastructure rollout: If we take a closer look again at Taiwan, Gogoro doesn’t force every rider to buy or use a Gogoro moped. The system has gradually opened to different vehicle manufacturers, which is another battery standardization approach in class. By the end of 2020, five of the seven big moped manufacturers in Taiwan were part of the network, including Yamaha and Aeon Motors as system partners. More recently, Honda, Yamaha, Piaggio and KTM announced the independent “establishment of a new consortium to oversee the swappable battery development program” starting in May 2021.
No matter which of the two above pathways are chosen, both can enable a more efficient battery swapping operation in shared mobility fleets.
Outlook & further trends
The above trends are not exclusive and are meant to showcase two major solution sets in the industry. The battery platform standardization is not a short term solution, as the example of conductive charging standardization approaches in the electric car industry has proven. User-based swapping has proven to work in an island market such as Taiwan where the moped industry has seen an outstanding level of domination by one company, but it might be harder to achieve in other contexts.
Of course, further trends might help to cut down the operational costs of recharging your shared micromobility vehicle, including smarter batteries (and status tracking), higher energy densities of batteries, reduced costs of the batteries, and more intelligent charging logistic algorithms, to name a few.