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Tesla About To Start Battery-Swap Pilot Program 133

cartechboy writes: Remember 18 months ago when Tesla promised it was going to launch battery-swap stations? Well, it's finally happening, sort of. It seems Tesla's about to announce a battery-swap pilot program that will launch next week. The swap site will be located across the street from a Tesla Supercharger site in Harris Ranch, California — 184 miles south of San Francisco and about 200 miles north of Los Angeles. The pilot program will involve an unspecified number of Model S electric-car owners, who will be invited to take part in the test. For now, the battery-swap service will be offered by appointment only, at a cost of roughly a tank of gas in a premium sedan. Tesla's using words to describe this pilot program like "exploratory work" and "intended to test technology and assess demand" for a swapping service. While originally pitched that the battery swap would take less time than it would to take to refill the gas tank of a comparable luxury sedan, the company says now that "for this specific iteration" the swap process will take "approximately 3 minutes" — though it adds Tesla has "the ability to improve that time with future iterations." Is this test going to show that battery swapping is or isn't a realistic initiative?
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Tesla About To Start Battery-Swap Pilot Program

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  • 3 minutes is slow? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by X-Ray Artist ( 1784416 ) on Friday December 19, 2014 @05:51PM (#48638073)

    Are we really in such a hurry that a 3 minute swap needs improvement? It takes longer than that to use the restroom and buy a coffee.

    • by Guspaz ( 556486 ) on Friday December 19, 2014 @05:56PM (#48638125)

      It seems like they're going to be doing part or all of the battery swap manually, so the improvement from 3 minutes down back to the target of 90 seconds is more about getting everything automated again rather than simply improving the process. It's not practical to roll out large numbers of battery swap stations all over the world if they need a pit crew at each one.

      From their press release, it sounds like the culprit is the additional armour that was added to the car to avoid damage to the battery packs from road debris. The original swap demonstration was fully automated, but then they went and stuck a bunch of other stuff on the underbody, invalidating their existing automation work for it.

      • really, 3 minutes or ten, it doesn't matter. I might spend more than three minutes at rush hour to get gasoline; anything under five minutes is damned impressive and good enough

        • i thought the model s batteries were integrated with the frame, not just plugged in on the trunk.

          • by TWX ( 665546 )
            Well, it used to be common for gas stations to also have vehicle service bays for back when cars were a lot more finicky and in need of regular tuning, and part of that was the oil-change pit. Maybe those remaining stations with that setup will find that it's a good market to do electric car battery swaps with the old pits.
          • by Guspaz ( 556486 )

            Sort of: they're in a flat pack (kind of like a big skateboard) that is bolted to the bottom of the car. The battery pack does give the car a good deal of structural support and rigidity, but it can be removed relatively quickly and swapped out with another.

      • Would it solve the problem if they made the armour plating part of the battery pack?

        • by Guspaz ( 556486 )

          I'm not sure. The additional armour that they added consisted of three components, some of which aren't located under the battery.

    • There might be 1440 minutes in a day, but people who want their battery full-charge want it to happen probably only in a small portion of those minutes.

      The faster you can do it, the more effective you can be.

      It's not about getting it done in 3 minutes, it's about being 3rd in line at 7:20am with 35 minutes left on your drive to work.

      • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Friday December 19, 2014 @06:38PM (#48638401) Homepage

        It's not about getting it done in 3 minutes, it's about being 3rd in line at 7:20am with 35 minutes left on your drive to work.

        If your commute involves a battery swap for a Tesla you should really consider changing jobs. I'm guessing it's more about the weekend rush, Friday afternoon lots of cars will be going on long range trips and return Sunday evening, I'm guessing a battery swap pad is a lot more involved than a gas station pump so they won't have very many of them. They did run a test here recently driving a Tesla ~1000 miles and they said it all worked well but there was a lot of waiting, for every 2-3 hours of driving there's was one hour of charging. I know that when we drive to the capital it takes ~7 hours and we have one 30-45 minute stop, if they could swap batteries on at least one stop they'd be down to one hour charging per 4-6 hours of driving which would roughly be the break time we'd want with an ICE car too. But Friday afternoon I'm one of a thousand lemmings trying to get out of the city, it better go fast.

        • by TWX ( 665546 )
          Gas stations used to have service bays with oil change pits. Places like Jiffy Lube still operate that way. I can see those pits being repurposed for this function too, since easy access to the underside of the car and a drive-through bay may really help to keep the time down.
          • Gas stations used to have service bays with oil change pits. Places like Jiffy Lube still operate that way. I can see those pits being repurposed for this function too, since easy access to the underside of the car and a drive-through bay may really help to keep the time down.

            This is more akin to filling your tank with gas than it is to getting your car serviced.

            • by TWX ( 665546 )
              Yes, but if the underside of the car needs to be accessed to make a battery swapout easy, then being able to drive over the swap pit, so the tech underneath can do the job, then drive out and continue on one's trip will be similar to fueling up, or possibly even faster.
              • Yes, but if the underside of the car needs to be accessed to make a battery swapout easy, then being able to drive over the swap pit, so the tech underneath can do the job, then drive out and continue on one's trip will be similar to fueling up, or possibly even faster.

                Yeah. The battery access seems to be a bit of a design flaw. They have been talking about battery swaps for a long time, so I wonder why it's on the bottom.

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      Many people that have nothing important to do in their lives are always in a hurry. That servers to project the image of "success". It is a beginner's mistake, but one frequently made.

    • For comparison, 3 minutes is about how long it takes to fill a tank of gas (including stuff like removing the gas cap, inserting the hose, swiping your credit card, and putting the hose back on the hook). It's a good time to reference against.
    • I drive long trips all the time.
      put the nozzle in, get it running, us the rest room.
      That actually takes about 5 minutes, though my trip timer may be including driving into the gas station.
      When I was married, any stop took far longer. (That's not why I'm not married now)
      why do people seem to want Tesla to fail?
    • the opportunity cost is that you're taking 90 seconds to fill up with gas anyway, so you're just waiting another 90 seconds.

      this is what journalism has come to: Tesla has everything else worked out with such finesse and perfection that this is the only thing the writer can come up with to complain about.

      And it's the only thing that can generate slashdot comments.

  • Stuff like this makes me want to be their customer all the more. They promised they'd do something and are following through, and that something targets some of the big concerns about owning a battery-powered car. And no surprise that at first it's going to be less than ideal; the fact that they're moving forward is great and over time the technology and the processes will of course improve.

  • even better (Score:4, Interesting)

    by slashmydots ( 2189826 ) on Friday December 19, 2014 @05:53PM (#48638091)
    My take on this is if they put up wind or solar arrays, it would work better than trying to charge people's cars live off it. They could have more of a flexible margin of when they charge the batteries because as long as they have full ones to give out, they're in the clear. So if the wind isn't blowing, they just wait to charge the empty ones later. So technically all their electricity could be free if they played their cards right.
    • My take on this is if they put up wind or solar arrays, it would work better than trying to charge people's cars live off it.

      Have you ever calculated how big a solar array it would take to charge a Tesla battery?

      Solar constant on the ground at U.S. latitudes is about 750 Watts/m^2.
      High-efficiency panels are about 22% efficient. Commercially, 18% is more realistic, but let's go with 22%.
      Solar capacity factor for the desert Southwest U.S. is about 0.18. Multiply by 2 to account for night.
      The big Tesl

      • If one Tesla shows up every couple days, you can charge it at 1000W and a 1000W array is very cheap. You could fit that on the roof of a 1500 sq ft building. If a Tesla doesn't show up, sell it back to the grid. Btw your numbers are far off.
  • I keep being told by Tesla owners that this idea was dropped.

    3 minutes for a swap is reasonable since it isn't worst than the current process (except for the fact that an employee is now needed for the process)

    • by Guspaz ( 556486 )

      Why would Tesla owners know anything more about Tesla's future plans than anyone else?

      • Because they get direct communication with their dealers. If you owned a Tesla you would understand how close a relationship they keep with their customers. Lots of communication via mail and many yearly appointments at the shop for maintenance. I work with 1 Tesla owner and player hockey with 2 others. I hear the same story from all 3.

        • by Guspaz ( 556486 )

          And if Tesla said something about battery swaps to their customers that was credible, the news would spread, starting most likely with their own discussion forums. Besides that, I'd dispute that Tesla owners are really getting any sort of inside info, particularly since all the Tesla owners that you know appear to be wrong on this subject.

          • Actually, don't take their word, take the submitter of the article posted a few months ago on /. I searched but there are so many topic including Tesla. It was an article talking about the rapid charging stations (30 minute charge time if I recall) and in that same article there was a statement from someone (not sure who) that Tesla would rather focus it's effort on charging stations due to the complexity in create an exchange network.

            I also just spoke to my co-worker and he said that this information cam

            • by Guspaz ( 556486 )

              Gas stations currently have no involvement in Tesla's charging infrastructure. I believe the prototype battery swap station is inside a converted gas station carwash, but that's probably more because it's a prototype that isn't fully automated than any indication of what a final fully automated station would look like. Further, I highly doubt that the gas station next to the prototype swap station has any involvement in it beyond providing the land and/or structure.

              The space required for battery storage wou

    • you must not live in Oregon....

      Side note, here in the people's republic of oregon, can you even recharge your own Tesla? :)

  • n.b. The cars in our house are currently a Leaf and an Energi.

    When I first scanned the title, I assumed Tesla was providing a battery replacement type swap for degradation. A few lines in, I realized I was looking at a Tesla quick-fill "gas station."

    I have to assume that Tesla, should they go wide with a service like this, would be refurbishing batteries as they rotated into and out of the quick-change locations. They'd have a dozen or so, "in stock," charged and charging, and some percentage of those tak

    • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
      And if everyone used these stations, the state of the batteries wouldn't matter. You'd get a better one one time, and a worse one the next, then back to a better one. The range may varry 5% or so, but more than that and the cost of the charge would cover replacing the bad cells. People get more variability than that now with fuels, but don't care or pay attention because range and usage statistics are so poor for gasoline cars.

      Personally, when I ran the numbers on these, they should be charging people a
    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      From what they've said before they expect you to eventually return to pick up your original batteries on your way home, though they haven't said how long you can keep driving on your loaners. If you don't they'll create some kind of fee to offset the condition between the battery pack you had and the one you got. If you're permanently relocating and make arrangements I'm sure they'll offer some kind of system to choose a battery in roughly the condition you had if you want it to be free or to swap for a bra

    • a better question is can you afford to take your pristine battery, which has 100 charge cycles, and exchange it for a battery that has 1000 charge cycles? who pays for the money that you're losing?

  • You need to drive up to 200 miles to reach the nearest battery station? Sheesh... I thought driving to Costco for cheap gas was a PITA.
    • Difference is you can charge it pretty much anywhere where people will give you/sell you electricity. There's no point in swapping a battery if recharge time isn't critical or if it's a significant detour.

    • by Guspaz ( 556486 )

      The battery stations and superchargers are meant to charge in between cities when driving between them. The assumption is that your normal charging happens at home or at your destination.

    • by AaronW ( 33736 )

      That's the idea. Basically the idea is that you do most charging at home. When I'm planning to go on a long trip I'll set up my Tesla to charge to 100% before I leave home so I spend less time at the supercharger on the way to my destination. Battery swapping doesn't make a lot of sense except for long trips, for example between SF and LA.

  • by NReitzel ( 77941 ) on Friday December 19, 2014 @06:09PM (#48638215) Homepage

    You want to prejudge a test before it's run?

    They're running a test to figure out if it is a practical consideration or not.

    That's why people run tests. If you knew the answer beforehand, you wouldn't have to run a test then, would you?

    Doh...

  • by NEDHead ( 1651195 ) on Friday December 19, 2014 @06:20PM (#48638277)

    What happens when one of the little cells gets put in with the pointy part the wrong way? I mean, like, there must be a zillion in each car! Chances are good someone will goof it up, especially in the dark at night. And are all the AAA guys going to keep a bunch next to their gas can?

  • As needing to get the same one back at each stop is unworkable in the long run and over time as more station for swapping are added people on a long trip will take the one that is nearest to them at the time they need more range.

    • How feasible would it be to tow an aerodynamic battery 'trailer' for extended range?
      • >How feasible would it be to tow an aerodynamic battery 'trailer' for extended range?
        Battery would be 1000 pounds, more than the towing capacity of most cars (Tesla has no towing capacity listed.)
        Towing a 5kW generator and 3 gallons of fuel ( 3 gallon of gas is equivalent to 100 kwhr battery.) would be more like 50 pounds, easily in the range of what a car could carry. Now, if you can get the car to charge while moving...

      • by haruchai ( 17472 )

        There may be better options soon if something like Phinergy's aluminium-air fuel cell pans out - this would be more practical for only ~50 - 60kg additional weight.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Will the cost of the swap be variable based on the price of gas each day? According to gasbuddy.com the lowest price of gas near Harris Ranch today (12/19) is $2.45/gal which is 0.55 less than that referred to in the article on greencarreports. Even 91 octane is going at $2.65/gal, so assuming a Tesla is a high-end luxe vehicle comparable to BMW, it would require 91 octane equivalent electricity and the cost of swapping is $53. Otherwise the thrifty owner would choose to pay $49. Perhaps Tesla will conjure
    • at a cost of roughly a tank of gas in a premium sedan.

      Roughly, not exactly. Pegging the price of a battery switch to the price of gas really wouldn't make any sense, although it might make sense to make it based on the cost of electricity in the area, assuming that that varies.

      • at a cost of roughly a tank of gas in a premium sedan.

        Roughly, not exactly. Pegging the price of a battery switch to the price of gas really wouldn't make any sense, although it might make sense to make it based on the cost of electricity in the area, assuming that that varies.

        If I were to price it I would use the following formula once there were enough stations to make simply swapping a battery without needing to return to the same station to get the original back a viable option:

        Price = Cost of electricity for a full charge from current battery state + prorated (operations and maintenance cost to swap + cost to amortize investment in station + cost of station depreciation) + allowance for replacement of bad batteries received in swap + desired profit per swap

  • by FredGauss ( 3087275 ) on Friday December 19, 2014 @06:37PM (#48638389)
    Is this test going to show that battery swapping is or isn't a realistic initiative? Yes. (Surely battery swapping is or isn't a realistic initiative)
    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      False dichotomy, the test may be inconclusive. /pedantry

  • by jklovanc ( 1603149 ) on Friday December 19, 2014 @06:42PM (#48638439)

    Say it takes 3 minutes to swap a battery and 30 minutes to recharge a battery. To service a continuous stream of vehicles at each battery swap station one would need to have 30/3=10 batteries charging per station. A Tesla Model S battery stores 85 kWh. To charge that in half an hour take at least 170KW. Now multiply that by the number of batteries charging would be 1.7MW draw on the grid. If you decrease the swap time the draw increases. Multiply that by the number of swap stations and the draw is even larger.

    Swap stations don't work very well if you can not charge batteries at the rate they are swapped.

    • Re:Some math (Score:5, Insightful)

      by 404 Clue Not Found ( 763556 ) * on Friday December 19, 2014 @06:52PM (#48638517)

      That's as silly as expecting gas stations to pump the gas out of the ground and refine it right then and there as each customer pulls up. No, you just have the fuel ready to use in a big storage tank that you refill in bulk.

      Similarly, in this scenario you'd just have enough spare battery packs lying around to service all your potential customers, and charge the rest when it's not so busy. It's not like there's going to be a steady line of customers every 3 minutes waiting to swap. Charge your battery banks during the day with wind and solar, and keep doing it in the dead of night when electricity prices are lower, and have them ready when customers pull in the next day.

      • The difference is that storing a tank's worth of gas does not require $12,000 in equipment.. How many batteries do you think will be used in a day? Even 100 batteries would mean $1.2M in batteries. The more batteries you have to keep "lying around" the higher the costs.

      • It's not like there's going to be a steady line of customers every 3 minutes waiting to swap.

        Because ... that doesn't happen at some real gas stations? Or because this is going to remain a boutique technology for showing off how rich and earth-friendly you are, so there won't be many customers?

        • by Jeremi ( 14640 )

          Because ... that doesn't happen at some real gas stations?

          Of course, real gas stations don't give away free gas to customers who are willing to wait half an hour. If they did, that might cut down considerably on the number of people who were willing to pay $50 to fill up their tank in 3 minutes, and make the "steady line of customers" scenario less likely.

          Apples, oranges.

          • Of course, real gas stations don't give away free gas to customers who are willing to wait half an hour. If they did, that might cut down considerably on the number of people who were willing to pay $50 to fill up their tank in 3 minutes, and make the "steady line of customers" scenario less likely.

            Free transportation fuel is going to make the line of customers less steady?

            • by Jeremi ( 14640 )

              Free transportation fuel is going to make the line of customers less steady?

              The line of customers to the $50 battery-swap option will definitely become less steady, yes. Unless you think that there aren't any people who, given the option, would choose to keep the $50 rather than spend it? Granted, these are Tesla drivers we're talking about here, but still ;^)

  • There is no National Automobile Battery Changers Association. If there was one, Republican governors would have prohibited Tesla from changing the battery like this.
  • by F34nor ( 321515 ) on Friday December 19, 2014 @06:57PM (#48638551)

    This is the only realistic approach to over coming the issues of charging speed, temperature, and time. You can also then have economy, regular ,and premium grades of batteries based on formulation or size. It also removes any concerns about battery longevity as once premium packs and be moved into economy as they age. This allows the batteries to be pampered when charging as well. Once you know the optimum rate of charge for longevity you now longer have to force feed the battery because of humans needs or time scales, just have a large enough buffer of batteries in the system.

    • And once the batteries reach end-of-life for automotive uses, they can be automatically repurposed for off-grid storage.

      Once battery capacity falls below a certain level (60% perhaps?) it becomes unsuitable for automotive use, but could be used for other purposes such as offline-grid storage. A factory floor filled with older batteries still has quite a bit of capacity - so long as you aren't overly concerned about space or weight efficiencies.

      Battery arrays could be installed at wind and solar installation

    • I'll do you one better (this is a topic that I've put a fair amount of thought into for years):

      Instead of people owning the batteries, standardize them and make them federally owned and paid for by a yearly tax (like an extra fee on your yearly vehicle registration if you drive a compatible EV). Since nobody owns the batteries themselves, nobody has to worry about them other then when they're in your car. Once one starts to go bad (which should be relatively easy to test for during the charging process
      • by F34nor ( 321515 )

        That will never happen in the US. You know it and I know it. When battery swapping has been discussed before by Detroit the consensus was "go fuck yourselves, you can't tell us what to do." I am paraphrasing. Also 50% for believes that the government is incapable of building the federal highway system, putting men on the moon, or anything without fucking it up. It has to be private in the US due to our self reinforcing bullshit machine. Anyway it doesn't matter because this would work just on pure price cos

  • Battery swapping sounds awesome if they can get the program to work.
  • by NEDHead ( 1651195 ) on Friday December 19, 2014 @07:27PM (#48638709)

    Be the first to contribute to the latest Tesla accessory project - The Tag-a-Long battery trailer/camper. It extends your mileage 4 fold, while providing a comfortable living environment when stranded alongside the road.

  • Tesla already has a fast charger at the Harris Ranch location. Which, if you are driving Sili Valley to LA, is a good place to stop for a lunch break. If I had a Tesla, the thought of a battery swap would not be compelling, since I'd be thinking of making the lunch/recharge stop anyway. OTOH, this is a good test -- when at the same location you have the choice between a battery swap verus a rapid charge plus good lunch, do people still go for the battery swap? It is an interesting marketing test precise

    • There's plenty of reason to spend as little time as possible at Harris Ranch.

    • That's a narrow-minded view. In the real world, most people need to get places on time and can't jack around for 30 minutes waiting for their car to recharge. Unless they can make some serious advancements in charging times, some sort of battery or electrolyte swapping solution is going to be mandatory for EVs to reach broad appeal (especially for long commuters and road-trippers).
      • by dbc ( 135354 )

        Narrow minded? Wha??? All I said was that this is a great test precisely because there is a very good alternative to the battery swap. Have you ever designed a meaningful experiment for *anything*? Have you looked at how quickly the Tesla super charger can bring a Tesla up to 80%? Knee jerk much?

    • where do you want to spend your money? On food or on energy?
  • If they're using the existing Tesla Model S with the intention to have them pull over open bays in the ground and have robots remove battery packs built into the undercarriage, then it will fail. On the other hand if they were to make a new EV that had multiple bays from which you can pull out and swap rails of cells, then they'd have a good chance.

    The only future for EVs is to go battery-swapping and to make swapping possible with human muscle.

  • Sounds like I can have a Telsa battery for myself with a jack and a screwgun...
  • I actually did read the article which seemed to think this was all a ploy to get additional green credits. While I'm sure this is a factor, here's my theory. Some day they'll want to release a cheaper model (which isn't even a secret) but with a lower battery capacity, say 100mi. More than enough for most people on their daily commutes. But, give the option for a battery swap to the 2-300 mile battery for the big trips. They get to trim a few K off the cost of their most entry level edition, and the buyer c

    • by haruchai ( 17472 )

      I can't see Tesla making the Gen3 only with a 100 mile range at $35k in 2017 or later - they'll be behind the curve. The Leaf, i3, Spark EV, etc are all in that ballpark right now and will have more range at lower cost by the time the Gen3 is ready.

      • by WoTG ( 610710 )

        But, my point is that a 100mi range car, that I can temporarily upgrade to 2-300mi range, is a FAR better value than a 100mi range car that has no such option (if they're about the same price). In fact, I wouldn't even consider a strictly short range vehicle over a gas car, if I only had the budget for 1 car. In addition, Tesla will probably continue to have the best charging network for these vehicles. I'm not saying that all Gen3 would be medium range, I think they've stated 200mi range for the launch edi

    • the reason for the longer range is that you move across cells. It is the number of charges (combined with heat) that is detrimental to cells. As such, they will likely always have about 160-250 MPC.
      BUT, you are right about rentals for true long distance driving.
  • There's a restaurant/coffee shop and hotel. They have their own brand of beef, and a beef feed lot just up the road. You can buy steaks at a butcher shop to take with you.

    This makes a lot of sense as a pilot project location for Tesla. A lot of people already make it a stop going between Southern and Northern California and there are a lot of Tesla owners in the state. I think that many Tesla drivers will just stop to take a break anyway and that would give the swap facility more flexibility to schedule th

  • You drive your new Tesla into a swap-station and they take your brand spanking new battery pack and give you the beat up grungy recharged battery pack of the guy before you?
  • and assess demand" for a swapping service.

    Not sure how you can "assess demand" for something like this with a limited trial. The "demand" would be for a substantial network of swap stations that allowed people to treat EVs like gas cars and not have to plan long trips around meal breaks at superchargers. They might expand the market to customers who have currently rejected EVs because of the charging problem: if you already have a Tesla you probably looked into the charging situation and decided that it fits your motoring needs, so you're not going

  • For this to work (and it has to for EVs to reach broad appeal) they need to standardize the batteries across all vendors such they can be installed/uninstalled quickly by standard equipment.

    In addition to this, it would also make sense to have the battery packs federally-owned and maintained (possibly paid for by an annual tax, similar to a registration tax for those that drive compatible vehicles, or surcharges at the time of a battery swap). In addition to the benefit of no longer having to worry abou
  • These should ONLY be in the service centers and the batteries should be for say 400 MPC. IOW, this is not to be used to fill up for local driving, but instead used for putting in long distance batteries so that you can take a vacation. With a battery that has say over 120 KWH, that first 30 min will still bring you up over 250-300 MPC, which is plenty long for extended driving.

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