What Is Regenerative Braking In Electric Cars: The Basics

Tesla Model X electric car

Electric Cars: The Basics

For those of you new to zero-emission electric driving, we recommend a read of the following articles:

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Finally A Driving Technology That Can Create Value From The Incessant Braking On Our Roads: Welcome To The World Of Electric Driving And Regenerative Braking!

I vividly recall my first experience of driving a battery-electric vehicle (BEV).  It was not the clean, modern, technology filled interior cabin I remember the most, nor was the absolute silence of an electric powertrain!  In fact, what I remember the most is the sensation of ‘regenerative braking’, also referred to as regen.  It was as if, there was another occupant sat in the car with me controlling the braking! 

  • Though regenerative braking is not a new concept, it has risen to prominence only in recent years.  In international markets, to include the United States and Europe, regenerative braking is better known due to the comprehensive adoption of non-plug in hybrid vehicles.  A good example is the Toyota Prius hybrid vehicle used by Uber drivers!  The Toyota Prius’s have graced international roads for over 20 years! 
  • In India, regenerative braking is a very new concept.  However, with the introduction of zero-emission electric vehicles like the all-electric Hyundai Kona SUV, the all-electric Tata Nexon SUV and the all-electric MG ZS SUV, we expect regen to become better known in India.  
all electric Tata Nexon SUV
The All-Electric Tata Nexon SUV (credit: Tata)
  • The bottom-line, moving vehicles have a significant amount of energy, ‘kinetic energy’, to be precise.  For a car to accelerate, energy is required.  However, every time the brakes are applied this energy is lost as heat. 
  • With internal combustion engine (ICE) cars, like petrol and diesel cars, every time the  brake is applied, all that energy is wasted i.e. not recaptured or reused.  It is hard to fathom the magnitude of energy wasted via the process of constant braking.  In India, we have 7 crore vehicles on our roads and we brake incessantly.  The cumulative wastage is simply colossal!  
  • The good news is that with the migration to electric driving in India, this wastage will be reduced, as with electric cars, this ‘wasted energy’ can be recaptured and reused via the process of regenerative braking.  Regenerative braking is an advanced braking system used in battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs).
MG ZS EV SUV electric car
The All-Electric MG ZS EV (credit: MG)
  • Electric driving has many benefits to include regenerative braking. The advantage of regenerative braking technology, is that, it recaptures the energy ‘lost’ during braking and stores it in the vehicle battery i.e. to be used to drive the electric vehicle further.  The process converts chemical energy to electric energy. Electric cars are powered by electric motors which are connected to the EV battery. In the case of regenerative braking the ‘kinetic energy’ from the process of braking is redirected to the electric motors, which turns the electric motor, making it a generator that creates electricity, instead of consuming it.  This electricity is then transferred to the EV battery
  • For those of you that have graduated from an IIT, the science is as follows: the kinetic energy stored in a moving vehicle is related to the mass and speed of the vehicle by the equation e=1/2mv2.  All else being equal, if your car is twice as heavy it has twice the kinetic energy and if it is moving twice as fast it has four times the kinetic energy.
  • It is important to note that regenerative braking does not significantly increase the zero-emission range.  However, what it does is reduce the inefficiencies of driving.  Hence the reason why Uber drivers globally opt for the ubiquitous Toyota Prius.  The increase in driving efficiency reduces costs per km of driving. 
Hyundai Kona Electric SUV
The All-Electric Hyundai Kona SUV (credit: Hyundai)
  • The latest electric vehicle models come in multiple modes (profiles) of regenerative braking, from most pronounced to least pronounced.  The EV driver can choose what is most appropriate for the specific journey.  We will continue to witness improvement and advancement in the regenerative braking technology and increase in efficiency. 
  • On a side note, we would encourage EV drivers to drive in a manner that reduces the need for braking.  Despite the advantages of regenerative driving, the process of braking is inefficient.  So a practical and common sense approach to driving is prudent. 
  • For those of you, yet to experience regenerative braking or driving an all-electric car, we would encourage you to walk into your local dealership and take a test drive.  Worth the experience! 

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Ashvin Suri

Ashvin has been involved with the renewables, energy efficiency and infrastructure sectors since 2006. He is passionate about the transition to a low-carbon economy and electric transportation. Ashvin commenced his career in 1994, working with US investment banks in New York. Post his MBA from the London Business School (1996-1998), he continued to work in investment banking at Flemings (London) and JPMorgan (London). His roles included corporate finance advisory, M&A and capital raising. He has been involved across diverse industry sectors, to include engineering, aerospace, oil & gas, airports and automotive across Asia and Europe. In 2010, he co-founded a solar development platform, for large scale ground and roof solar projects to include, the UK, Italy, Germany and France. He has also advised on various renewable energy (wind and solar) utility scale projects working with global institutional investors and independent power producers (IPP’s) in the renewable energy sector. He has also advised in key international markets like India, to include advising large-scale industrial and automotive group in India. Ashvin has also advised Indian Energy, an IPP backed by Guggenheim (a US$ 165 billion fund). He has also advised a US$ 2 billion, Singapore based group. Ashvin has also worked in the real estate and infrastructure sector, to including working with the Matrix Group (a US$ 4 billion property group in the UK) to launch one of the first few institutional real estate funds for the Indian real estate market. The fund was successfully launched with significant institutional support from the UK/ European markets. He has also advised on water infrastructure, to include advising a Swedish clean technology company in the water sector. He has also been involved with a number of early stage ventures.

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