Electric Vehicles – why I think we need a battery standard

I have just written to my MP (who also happens to be the Minister for Transport) after I read the governments plans for an Electric Vehicle Infrastructure. While some have characterised the move away from “a chargepoint on every corner” as being a green U turn, I think the Government is missing a far bigger trick – standardised batteries that can be swapped in and out of electric vehicles at will.

Here is the letter (sent via the brilliant Writetothem.com):

Dear Philip Hammond,

As a constituent of yours with a keen interest in sustainable transport (I used to run the National Walk to School campaign, and have been a member of Sustrans and Friends of the Earth for many years), I was very interested to read “The Plug-In Vehicle Infrastructure Strategy” recently released by the Department of Transport.

I welcome the majority of the document – it seems very sensible that electric vehicles are charged overnight, (when they will naturally be “at home”) as this will balance the electricity demand – something that will also aid the adoption of sustainable electricity sources (currently it is very difficult to “turn off and on” wave and wind as a source of power to meet peak demand).

I completely welcome the move away from the “charge point on every corner” promise in the Conservative manifesto which would have been an enormous waste of money (in my opinion).

My concern is that there is a huge opportunity being missed around “battery swapping”. The Government should be working with car manufacturers (ideally on a Europe-wide basis) to try and iron out some of the hurdles to swapping, rather than watching “international pilot projects with interest”. This is not necessarily because of the battery swapping to extend journeys (I would suggest the majority of users would only battery swap a couple of times a year) but because of the wider benefits this could bring.

Specifically, I believe there should be a restricted number of designs of battery available, through the application of a “standard” of some sort.

A model like that of gas cylinders (where one buys the fuel, but the standardised container is rented) seems far more sensible to me than hundreds of different sizes and types of vehicle batteries.

Even putting aside battery swapping as a way to extend range, I believe the current proposals will not provide a competitive market place for the consumer. Currently, most electric vehicle manufacturers only guarantee the battery for 5 years – after which it is expected that there will be roughly a £2000 price tag on replacement.

What if the manufacturer of my car goes bust in that time, or they stop making my car or battery? By having a small number of standard battery shapes and sizes (with a standard current output) manufacturers could achieve far greater economies of scale, AND the cost of the batteries will be more competitive – a battery from one manufacturer could be used in a car from a different manufacturer. This has got to ultimately benefit the consumer – both in terms of more choice over batteries, but also reduced (or at least stabilised) depreciation (already there is a marked drop in second-hand prices of the Toyota Prius associated with the end of the manufacturers battery guarantee).

Can I ask you to work with electric vehicle manufacturers to quickly gain some agreement on standard battery specifications? and to get those standards adopted across the globe.

Yours sincerely,

Andrew Fielding.

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