There are many barriers to electric vehicle adoption that automakers and suppliers are working to break through. One major hurdle is the inconvenience of wired EV charging. Wireless inductive charging, which in the future may be combined with autonomous technology and solar power, is one of the possible solutions.
Some people don’t like getting their hands dirty to plug-in in an EV charger says Peter Harrop, Chairman of IDTechEx, a British technology research company.
“Often a mom may be unloading groceries and dealing with the kids, so she forgets to charge the vehicle. There can also be problems with EVSE (Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment) charging cords, that can be broken or stolen,” says Kristina O’Connell, Vice President of Marketing at WiTricity Inc., a leading US supplier of wireless charging technology for automakers.
“Wireless vehicle charging is idiot proof, you don’t have to wake up in the middle of the night worrying if you charged your car,” claims Harrop.
WiTricity technology enables wireless power transfer over a distance using magnetic resonance. A hard-wired electronic wall box powers the ground assembly resonator (charging pad) that creates the magnetic field which transmits energy to the receiver coils in the vehicle where it is converted into direct current to charge the batteries.
“Unlike smartphone charging the car doesn’t have to be exactly over the pad,” says O’Connell. The driver just has to park over the charging pad. For safety, the system detects foreign objects such as metals or animals and shuts off immediately when detected. The WiTricity system is as efficient as conventional plug-in charging. She says WiTricity is currently working with nine of the ten major automakers to deploy wireless charging.
BMW, in its marketing materials for the BMW 530e iPerformance, notes that wireless charging makes charging easier than refueling. BMW states that wireless charging is convenient and unaffected by rain, ice and snow. In March, at the Geneva Auto Show, Hyundai and WiTricity demonstrated how wireless charging works in the all-electric Kona CUV.
WiTricity is not the only player in this market. The smartphone chipmaker, Qualcomm, is developing a wireless charging system called Halo. It’s been tested at the highest level as part of Qualcomm’s sponsorship of the all electric Formula E championship.
The Next Steps for Wireless Charging
Harrop predicts that at first wireless charging coils will be in premium luxury cars then later deployed in mainstream models. But he says that the interoperability standard is very important for adoption in the industry.
Earlier this year, WiTricity and Honda R & D presented a paper showing that wireless transfer of power could be used to send energy back to the electric grid, in that way electric cars could be mobile electricity storage units.
“The killer application will be when fast wireless charging is combined with automated parking,” says Joachim G. Taiber PhD, Chief Technology Officer of the International Transportation Innovation Center (ITIC). When there are more electric vehicles on the road, there will be more need for charging. Currently, with plug-in chargers, EV owners have to wait for the owner to return to remove the car from charging parking spot. Taiber envisions a future scenario when cars have automated parking—- after a fast wireless charge; the charged-car is automatically moved to an adjacent spot while another vehicle is self-driven over the charging pad.
Taiber also sees in the future wireless charging stations may be solar-powered and won’t need a utility electric grid to supply power.
The most futuristic application of wireless charging may be in China where intelligent roads are being built such as 1,080-metre-long (3,540-foot-long) stretch of smart road in the eastern city of Jinan that has a layer of transparent concrete. The road is embedded with solar panels that generate electricity with room for sensors and wireless charging.
When the Chinese government sets out to accomplish something in the electric vehicle space – they usually get it done, says Harrop who predicts that wireless charging will be coming to roads in the next three years.
According to O’Connell, the ultimate use for wireless charging for electric cars will be when they become completely autonomous, as there’s no one there to plug in the cord.