On March 16, 2009 LEV Conference was staged as part of Taipei Cycle Show. In the context of Taiwan's support programme for 160,000 electric scooters, public infrastructure was the major focus at the Conference. How will LEVs be charged in future? At home, at public charging stations, or will batteries be exchanged at vending machines?
Taiwan supports electric scooters
Taiwan is scooter country. The subtropical island is not only home to a strong scooter industry (Kymco, SYM, EVT...), but also has the highest scooter density in the world: 23 million people ride 11 million petrol scooters on an island which is not even 400 km long and 145 km wide. Rising oil prices and the financial crisis prompted the Taiwanese government to stimulate the scooter industry and fight air pollution. On the initiative of the Industrial Development Bureau, a support programme for electric scooters was launched at the beginning of the year. The Taiwanese government undertook to subsidize the sale of 160,000 electric scooters with between 8,000 and 11,000 TWD (173 to 240 EUR) per scooter between now and 2012. The regular selling prices of electric scooters lie between 40,000 and 60,000 TWD (870 and 1,300 EUR). Manufacturers are also supported by the state based on the volumes they sell.
The electric scooters of participating manufacturers – the biggest are Kymco, and SYM, Yamaha is expected to join soon – are divided into two categories, namely a category Small light and a category Light. The scooters must fulfil the preconditions set for the two categories and are subjected to extensive tests, among others, a street endurance test which runs over 5,000 kilometers. In addition, they must have removable lithium batteries and operate on a 48V system. Another precondition is that scooters must have an integrated Bus system, which can serve as basis for a later switch to EneryBus. With this requirement, the government wants to prepare the ground for the creation of public infrastructure, which the state will also support on application with up to 100,000 TWD (about 2,175 EUR) per station.
More “Juice” for electric scooters
Industrial designer Anke Scheiblhuber from Germany presented a concept for public charging infrastructure on the LEV Conference, which she developed in cooperation with the Taiwanese battery firm HiTech Energy Inc. and ExtraEnergy e.V.. Scheiblhuber has lots of experience of Taiwan. To fit in with the slogan “More juice in the battery”, she called the system ”+Juice“. The heart of the concept is a user-friendly, standard battery, which fits into all the usual battery positions of electric scooters.
Our experience with the mobile telephone has taught us that a product is only as good as its infrastructure. Apart from compatibility and safety, the other crucial factor is, therefore, a good service network. Free-standing, or wall-mounted vending machines with substitute batteries could, for instance, be installed at the roughly 4,700 7-Eleven shops in Taiwan, at petrol stations, train stations or in licensed shops. Instead of going to the petrol station, the scooter drivers will then pull up at the “juice bar”.
How public charing infrastructure can work
Locations already supplied with electricity, are most cost-effective. The experience with the Stuttgart project has taught battery exchange stations are too expensive when set up independent of other infrastructure. To supply and install electricity could alone cost up to 25,000 EUR per station in the German city of Stuttgart. Furthermore, it should be possible to set the installation up without a building authorization. To install a battery exchange station, should not cost more than 3,000 EUR, said Hannes Neupert of ExtraEnergy.
The Californian firm Coulomb Technologies has proved that this is possible. The young company sells charger stations for electric vehicles to, for instance, cities, public institutions and flat owners and operates the internet portal www.chargepoint.net. Here, clients (LEV drivers) can log in and locate available charger stations. The business model is the interesting part: 80% of the participation fee goes to the operator of the charger station to cover his energy costs, maintenance and profit, and the remaining 20% to Coulomb for operating the internet portal.
A user who switches from petrol to electricity, can expect to half his costs, estimates the company. In the meantime, pilot networks have been made accessible to the public in San Jose and San Francisco, where the user charges his vehicle at the charger station and pays the account with a key card. Fleet managers can even calculate how much CO2 and petrol they have saved and check which fleet vehicles charged at which charger stations.
The Coulomb business model is based on the knowledge that 80% of users want to charge more than once per day and that most scooters are parked for 23 hours every day, but that most parking spaces have no connection to electricity. That’s why there is a need for public charger stations, where the scooters can charge while the owner sleeps or works.
Mass market requires public charging systems
There was consensus among conference attendees that infrastructure which is fast and easily accessible, is a precondition for the long-term market success of electric scooters. Ed Benjamin estimated the global mass market for electric scooters at 130 million in the next 10 years, on the assumption that the 65 million petrol scooters currently in use are replaced with electric versions and e-bikers in many markets also switch to electric scooters, further adding to the existing 60,000 electric scooters in use worldwide.
The question who will invest in the public infrastructure was left unanswered. As shown by the Coulomb model, infrastructure can be absolutely profitable for all participants – in theory. The pilot networks will have to prove that it is also possible in practice.
During the podium discussion at the end of the long conference day, representatives of the industry distilled three alternative ways to charge. The essence: Quick-charging stations and battery exchange vending machines are desirable and the way of the future. Initially, the traditional way to charge at home, will probably be the most practical solution. Masao Ono of Tokyo R&D summarized as follows: The real world will show which method prevails.
Batteries took center stage
Big battery manufacturers of the world - HiTech Energy, Enax, AEE, NEC Tokin and Phylion - also presented their technologies at this year’s LEV Conference - with a special focus on the quick-charging abilities of batteries. At the hand of a quick-charge test of a scooter battery (2kWh), Masao Ono of Tokyo R&D showed that fast-charging heats up his batteries by less than 13ºC and that batteries react similarly – whether they discharge at higer or lower current. The EnergyBus plug and communication standard and BATSO tests were central themes. The firm All Cell from the USA introduced a tool for battery packs which regulates the heat balance to make batteries safer and stretch their life spans – especially at higher currents.
Future Conferences in Cologne
LEV Conference 2009 was organized by ExtraEnergy in cooperation with ITRI (Industrial Technology Research Institute) and TAITRA. From 2010 this annual Conference will alternate between Cologne, where it will be hosted as part of the Intermot, and the Taipei Cycle Show in Taiwan, where it was hosted until now.
By Susanne Bruesch
Translation: Christoffel Volschenk
Photo: Max Neupert
March 30, 2009