The most interesting electric vehicle concept product we saw at the AltCar expo in Santa Monica this weekend was the automatic battery charger and changer from NuTech Energy Solutions. Since the idea is a new one from Peter Capizzo and his business partner Glenda Dubak, all they had to show was a small-scale model made with an RC MINI and a homemade battery swap trailer. Yes, there is a trailer involved.
The NuTech idea goes like this: putting a bunch of electric car batteries into a trailer allows businesses a low-cost, low-risk way to offer EV drivers battery swaps. One could even rent the trailer to see if it makes sense to have one installed long-term. The only infrastructure needed would be a 440V, three-phase outlet and a 400 amp box to provide the energy needed for quick charging the batteries in the trailer. For EV drivers, getting on the ramp, paying via credit card from the driver-side window and leaving would take less than 60 seconds.
So, what are the problems? We list a few after the jump.
Photos copyright ©2009 Sebastian Blanco / Weblogs, Inc.
First, NuTech is talking about charging customers about $20 for a freshly-charged battery. That's a whole lot more than anyone is saying it will cost to charge at home overnight, but the obvious benefit is that swapping is fast and available on the go. Capizzo pointed out that $20 is less than an average gasoline fill-up today, and we agree that it could be seen as a good deal if the batteries provide a decent amount of range. But, if these are 100-mile packs like what the Leaf and iMiEV will have, then the twenty-cent-per-mile cost of these swaps is pretty outrageous for an electric vehicle.
Secondly, NuTech is facing the same problem(s) that Better Place is dealing with: how do you get the OEMs to sign on to a single battery standard? With many automakers using the battery packs as a structural component of the vehicle, finding ways to make them removable isn't going to be easy. NuTech's Capizzo told AutoblogGreen that he sees OEMs coming on board with his system if the Nissan-Renault alliance shows that the Better Place swap idea works.
Capizzo said that he can imagine an alarm system to deal with the potential of someone stealing the expensive batteries; having them on a trailer makes them much easier to take than if they're buried underground a la Better Place. Lastly, Capizzo didn't have a clear answer about how NuTech will be able to make money. He said that if 20 percent of EV drivers in an area where about 30 percent of all vehicles there are plug-ins used his system, then NuTech would be profitable. Considering how far out a day like that it, all we can say now is that we wish him luck. At the very least, a battery swap trailer is a fresh idea, and perhaps Better Place would like to add this idea to their portfolio someday.