Relatively small battery capacities and recharging times that can run into hours compound the problem. That is why Matra has come up with an ingenious battery swapping station, that they are calling Bat’Lib. The version they showed me is about the size of a refrigerator, but has 10 small doors on the front. The idea is that a driver simply swaps out a battery on an electric scooter for a fully charged one, as easily as you could swap the battery on your mobile phone.
“This swapping station allows us to charge …nine batteries at a time, because there is always one spare slot for charging a battery that is being swapped” says Chelard.
On most scooters the battery is located under the saddle. To swap it, a rider lifts up the seat, and pulls the battery out. He or she swipes an ID or touch card against a reader on the swapping station, to identify themselves; a door pops open and the rider dumps the empty battery. As soon as he closes the door, another one pops open revealing a fully charged battery to plug back into the scooter. The whole process takes just 10 seconds.
It is similar - in concept at least -to systems that are currently being tested for electric cars by Californian company Better Place. As batteries can account for a huge proportion of the weight of an electric car, its systems have to be much larger and automated. Its switch stations look like automated car washes. Drivers pull in, and then sit tight as their battery is replaced.
They are currently being tested in Israel. And, although they have huge potential benefits, widespread deployment is a long way off. The cars and the swapping stations have to be designed to work together, and if we are ever to see them replace the ubiquity of petrol stations, then car manufacturers will have to come together to agree a common battery design.
Scooters, on the other hand, are much easier - the small size of a scooter battery makes it a quick and easy swap, by hand.
The first places to use this new scooter swapping station are likely to be the fleet clients that Chelard mentioned, in particular delivery scooters. As and when that happens, the buzzing sound of the local pizza delivery bike at all hours of the day and night could be a thing of the past. Perhaps there is a silver lining to high gas prices after all?