TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Imagine being asked to design and build totally new, green energy infrastructure for an entire country — from scratch.
This was the goal given to Gogoro Network (GN) General Manager Alan Pan (潘璟倫) by Gogoro founder and CEO Horace Luke (陸學森). Sitting down for an interview with Taiwan News, Pan described some of the issues electric scooters faced before Gogoro, including limited charging solutions due to lack of space in Taiwan and high battery and maintenance costs.
The battery alone accounted for as much as a third to half of an electric scooter’s price tag, which when combined with the cost of replacing the battery every two to three years presented a significant hurdle to the widespread adoption of e-scooters. This led Gogoro to come up with a rather ingenious solution: the swappable battery station, or GoStation.
After developing the GoStation, Gogoro ran into another issue: how to sell battery-powered electric scooters without an energy system in place. So Pan was transferred to the energy services department and tasked with building GN.
With safety, reliability, scalability, and replicability in mind, Pan and his colleagues designed an open, wireless platform applicable to any city or country looking for innovative energy and transportation solutions.
Ready, set, Gogoro
Gogoro Network started with 110 GoStations installed throughout cities in northern Taiwan in 2015, and by the end of the following year it had added Taichung, Tainan, and Kaohsiung to the list. By the end of 2017, 470 GoStations — or "vending machines," as they are called internally — were in place along the west coast, allowing riders to go on environmentally friendly cruises from Keelung all the way down to Kaohsiung.
In 2018, the eastern cities of Yilan and Hualien were connected, and with 1,484 GoStations in place by December of 2019, it became possible to take a lap around Taiwan. Fast forward to today, and 1,959 stations are in place, with 80 more set to come online soon.
Not only have the number of charging stations been increasing but they have also been growing in size. Called Super GoStations, these beefed-up stations have over 120 charging slots each and can serve over 1,000 riders. There are currently 66 up and running in Taiwan’s six major cities, with more expected to be plugged in this year.
Those are some pretty impressive numbers considering all the legwork that goes into setting up a single GoStation, which can take anywhere from three to six months, while Super GoStations require as long as six months to a year. Getting a “vending machine” up and running requires dealing with local governments to obtain a construction permit, negotiating with the real estate owner, and then working with the power company (Taipower) to connect the station to the grid.
Charging stations can now be found around the country at shopping centers, big box retailers, convenience stores, parking lots, gas stations, and coffee shops. In Taiwan’s six major cities, GoStations have been strategically placed every 340 meters on average.
And then there are the individual 9-kilogram smart battery packs themselves, of which GN currently has over 764,000, according to Pan. Gogoro’s first generation of batteries, released in 2015, was designed to use Panasonic 18650 cells and had a 1,374 watt-hour capacity, while the third-generation ones introduced in 2019 took advantage of Panasonic 21700 cells, boosting capacity by 27 percent to 1,742 Wh.
GN keeps track of all 764,000-plus packs by using the cloud. The network also relies on artificial intelligence and machine learning to study rider behavior in order to better optimize the whole system. Using accumulated rider data, the company can predict demand and adjust its charging algorithm so it knows which GoStations require more or less capacity and when.
Another advantage of GN is that it’s an open platform, which allows other companies to tap into the already established green energy infrastructure while at the same time designing their own form factors. Yamaha was the first to partner with the network in 2018, followed by Aeon, PGO, eReady, and eMoving, while logistics company Awayspeed is currently working on an electric three-wheeler that will launch this year.
To date, there have been over 151 million battery swaps, which average out to around 245,264 swaps a day, or 2.8 every second, by the Gogoro Network's over 368,000 subscribers. Riders have racked up an accumulated 2.81 billion-plus kilometers — the equivalent to 70,133 trips around the globe — saving over 119 million liters of gasoline and reducing carbon dioxide by more than 231 million kg.
Full speed ahead
Looking forward, GN is currently working with Taipower on developing bidirectional charging. Bidirectional charging refers to electric vehicle (EV) charging that goes both ways — in contrast to unidirectional charging, where electricity only flows from the grid to the EV.
Using vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology, bidirectional charging allows energy to be transferred from EV batteries to the power grid to help smooth out temporary spikes in electricity demand. But in this case, rather than take power from e-scooters, the energy will come from GoStations in what Pan calls “station-to-grid.”
Another project in the pipeline involves giving a second life to older battery packs that no longer hold enough charge for electric scooters before they are recycled. Recharging batteries again and again wears them out over time, resulting in reduced capacity.
One idea is to use these older packs to power smart light poles. Smart poles integrate smart lighting systems, cameras, sensors, wireless connectivity, and other functions into a single unit.
According to Pan, it would work something like this: During the night, when energy demand is lower, Taipower would supply these smart poles with electricity. However, during the day they could be powered by used GN battery packs inserted into compartments at the bases of the poles, thus creating a circular battery economy.
And for those wondering if Gogoro has any new models on the horizon, Pan answered, “We will tell you when we can tell you.”