How battery-swap networks are preventing emergency blackouts

Gogoro is not the only company working on battery-swapping for electric scooters (New York City recently launched a pilot program to give delivery drivers the option to charge this way), but it’s certainly one of the most successful. Founded in 2011, the firm has a network of over 12,500 stations across Taiwan and boasts over 600,000 monthly subscribers who pay to swap batteries in and out when required. Each station is roughly the size of two vending machines and can hold around 30 scooter batteries.

Now the company is putting the battery network to another use: Gogoro has been working with Enel X, an Italian company, to incorporate the stations into a virtual power plant (VPP) system that helps the Taiwanese grid stay more resilient in emergencies like April’s earthquake. 

Battery-swap stations work well for VPP programs because they offer so much more flexibility than charging at home, where an electric-bike owner usually has just one or two batteries and thus must charge immediately after one runs out. With dozens of batteries in a single station as a demand buffer, Gogoro can choose when it charges them—for instance, doing so at night when there’s less power demand and it’s cheaper. In the meantime, the batteries can give power back to the grid when it is stressed—hence the comparison to power plants.

“What is beautiful is that the stations’ economic interest is aligned with the grid—the [battery-swap companies] have the incentive to time their charges during the low utilization period, paying the low electricity price, while feeding electricity back to the grid during peak period, enjoying a higher price,” says S. Alex Yang, a professor of management science at London Business School. 

Gogoro is uniquely positioned to become a vital part of the VPP network because “there’s a constant load in energy, and then at the same time, we’re on standby that we can either stop taking or giving back [power] to the grid to provide stability,” Horace Luke, cofounder and CEO of Gogoro, tells MIT Technology Review

Luke estimates that only 10% of Gogoro batteries are actually on the road powering scooters at any given time, so the rest, sitting on the racks waiting for customers to pick up, become a valuable resource that can be utilized by the grid. 

Today, out of the 2,500 Gogoro locations, over 1,000 are part of the VPP program. Gogoro promises that the system will automatically detect emergencies and, in response, immediately lower its consumption by a certain total amount.

Which stations get included in the VPP depends on where they are and how much capacity they have. A smaller station right outside a metro stop—meaning high demand and low supply—probably can’t afford to stop charging during an emergency because riders could come looking for a battery soon. But a megastation with 120 batteries in a residential area is probably safe to stop charging batteries for a while.

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