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Climate change and energy

How Gogoro’s swap-and-go scooter batteries can strengthen the grid

An interview with Gogoro’s CEO gives insight into how the battery-swapping company is planning for the future.

June 12, 2024
Gogoro CEO Horace Luke
Gogoro

This story first appeared in China Report, MIT Technology Review’s newsletter about technology in China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.

If you’ve ever been to Taiwan, you’ve likely run into Gogoro’s green-and-white battery-swap stations in one city or another. With 12,500 stations around the island, Gogoro has built a sweeping network that allows users of electric scooters to drop off an empty battery and get a fully charged one immediately. Gogoro is also found in China, India, and a few other countries.
 
This morning, I published a story on how Gogoro’s battery-swap network in Taiwan reacted to emergency blackouts after the 7.4 magnitude earthquake there this April. I talked to Horace Luke, Gogoro’s cofounder and CEO, to understand how in three seconds, over 500 Gogoro battery-swap locations stopped drawing electricity from the grid, helping stabilize the power frequency.
 
Gogoro’s battery stations acted like something called a virtual power plant (VPP), a new idea that’s becoming adopted around the world as a way to stitch renewable energy into the grid. The system draws energy from distributed sources like battery storage or small rooftop solar panels and coordinates those sources to increase supply when electricity demand peaks. As a result, it reduces the reliance on traditional coal or gas power plants.
 
There’s actually a natural synergy between technologies like battery swapping and virtual power plants (VPP). Not only can battery-swap stations coordinate charging times with the needs of the grid, but the idle batteries sitting in Gogoro’s stations can also become an energy reserve in times of emergency, potentially feeding energy back to the grid. If you want to learn more about how this system works, you can read the full story here.

Two graphs showing how Gogoro's battery-swap charging stopped consuming electricity when the power frequency dropped below normal levels in April.
Statistics shared by Gogoro and Enel X show how its battery-swap stations automatically stopped charging batteries on April 3 and April 15, when there were power outages caused by the earthquake.
GOGORO

When I talked to Gogoro's Luke for this story, I asked him: “At what point in the company’s history did you come up with the idea to use these batteries for VPP networks?”
 
To my surprise, Luke answered: “Day one.”
 
As he explains, Gogoro was actually not founded to be an electric-scooter company; it was founded to be a “smart energy” company. 

“We started with the thesis of how smart energy, through portability and connectivity, can enable many use case scenarios,” Luke says. “Transportation happens to be accounting for something like 27% or 28% of your energy use in your daily life.” And that’s why the company first designed the batteries for two-wheeled vehicles, a popular transportation option in Taiwan and across Asia.
 
Having succeeded in promoting its scooters and the battery-swap charging method in Taiwan, it is now able to explore other possible uses of these modular, portable batteries—more than 1.4 million of which are in circulation at this point. 
 
“Think of smart, portable, connected energy like a propane tank,” Luke says. Depending on their size,  propane tanks can be used to cook in the wild or to heat a patio. If lithium batteries can be modular and portable in a similar way, they can also serve many different purposes.

Using them in VPP programs that protect the grid from blackouts is one; beyond that, in Taipei City, Gogoro has worked with the local government to build energy backup stations for traffic lights, using the same batteries to keep the lights running in future blackouts. The batteries can also be used as backup power storage for critical facilities like hospitals. When a blackout happens, battery storage can release electricity much faster than diesel generators, keeping the impact at a minimum.

None of this would be possible without the recent advances that have made batteries more powerful and efficient. And it was clear from our conversation that Luke is obsessed with batteries—the long way the technology has come, and their potential to address a lot more energy use cases in the future.

“I still remember getting my first flashlight when I was a little kid. That button just turned the little lightbulb on and off. And that was what was amazing about batteries at the time,” says Luke. “Never did people think that AA batteries were going to power calculators or the Walkman. The guy that invented the alkaline battery never thought that. We’ll continue to take that creativity and apply it to portable energy, and that’s what inspires us every day.”

What other purposes do you think portable lithium batteries like the ones made by Gogoro could have? Let me know your ideas by writing to zeyi@technologyreview.com.


Now read the rest of China Report

Catch up with China

1. Far-right parties won big in the latest European Parliament elections, which could push the EU further toward a trade war with China. (Nikkei Asia $)
 
2. Volvo has started moving some of its manufacturing capacity from China to Belgium in order to avoid the European Union tariffs on Chinese imports. (The Times $)
 
3. Some major crypto exchanges have withdrawn from applying for business licenses in Hong Kong after the city government clarified that it doesn’t welcome businesses that offer crypto services to mainland China. (South China Morning Post $)
 
4. NewsBreak, the most downloaded news app in the US, does most of its engineering work in China. The app has also been found to use AI tools to make up local news that never happened. (Reuters $)
 
5. The Australian government ordered a China-linked fund to reduce its investment in an Australian rare-earth-mining company. (A/symmetric)
 
6. China just installed the largest offshore wind turbine in the world. It’s designed to generate enough power in a year for around 36,000 households. (Electrek)
 
7. Four college instructors from Iowa were stabbed on a visit to northern China. While the motive and identity of the assailant are still unknown, the incident has been quickly censored on the Chinese internet. (BBC)

Lost in translation

Qian Zhimin, a Chinese businesswoman who fled the country in 2017 after raising billions of dollars from Chinese investors in the name of bitcoin investments, was arrested in London and is facing a trial in October this year, according to the Chinese publication Caijing. In the early 2010s, when the cryptocurrency first became known in China, Qian’s company lured over 128,000 retail investors, predominantly elderly people, to buy fraudulent investment products that bet on the price of bitcoins and gadgets like smart bracelets that allegedly could also mine bitcoins. 
 
After the scam was exposed, Qian escaped to the UK with a fake passport. She controls over 61,000 bitcoins, now worth nearly $4 billion, and has been trying to liquidate them by buying properties in London. But those attempts caught the attention of anti-money-laundering authorities in the UK. With her trial date approaching, the victims in China are hoping to work with the UK jurisdiction to recover their assets.

One more thing

I know one day we will see self-driving vehicles racing each other and cutting each other off, but I didn’t expect it to happen so soon with two package delivery robots in China. Maybe it’s just their look, but it seems cuter than when human drivers do the same thing?

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