Is The Wait For Wireless EV Charging Over?

The next leg of the journey towards mass electric vehicle adoption

Wireless electric vehicle charging (WEVC) has been on manufacturers’ minds for as long as EVs themselves. This year a number of systems are expected to come to market, disrupting the emerging EV infrastructure and giving EV users more charging choice… And the market is not limited to existing automakers and startups like WiTricity and Plugless. Chip maker Qualcomm also unveiled their answer to WEVC.

The development of wireless charging is part of the transformation necessary for EV expansion. The goal is to make electric vehicles work for as many people as possible, at the highest level of efficiency. What does wireless offer that existing options don’t, and will it accelerate the EV adoption curve?

Why wireless?

Instead of physically plugging an electric vehicle into a charging port, wireless alternatives work via inductive charging. Sending a current through one coil creates an electromagnetic field that wirelessly transfers energy to the second coil. From a consumer perspective, there is no effort required. BMW recently joined the list of Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) who are creating their own wireless systems. But what makes wireless a worthwhile investment?

Jonathan Carrier, D/SRUPTION guest contributor and former director of RocketSpace, a technology campus and provider of structured programmes for corporates and startups, explains that the primary driver is convenience.

“Ultimately, customers want something that’s hassle free and easy,” he says. “Drive into your garage, and effectively the vehicle will take care of the charging itself. If a car has the autonomous parking feature, the car can position itself perfectly.”

Further advantages include protecting battery health, and reducing wear and tear from physically plugging in a connector. Even so, convincing consumers to adopt an innovative product or service is not easy. This is especially the case when it requires behavioural change. Unlike charging ports, WEVC charging solutions have the potential to completely remove human effort. But, of course, there are setbacks. The main reason that wireless charging has seemed slow on the uptake, says Carrier, is cost. Another issue is reliability. An OEM needs to be certain that a system can consistently deliver a high standard before they introduce it to their customers. Another problem surrounds lengthy charge times. Manufacturers are working to reduce this, but if a vehicle needs a fast charge (for example, a taxi or delivery vehicle) then current wireless tech is not the best option.

“At the moment you’ve got traditional cars, new and previous EVs, and hybrids that all require different levels of charging at different rates. I don’t necessarily think that wireless charging is a replacement for the existing power network being implemented,” says Carrier.

Ultimately, wireless charging will join a list of EV power solutions including super charge plug in options from the likes of Tesla. Location, journey type, and vehicle will influence which option users choose.

Disruption before development

It looks like WEVC will disrupt the EV infrastructure before it has even matured. Much like plug in points, wireless pads will gradually become a new physical fixture in parking places, whether that’s outside a home or a shopping precinct. According to Carrier, the majority of EV owners charge their vehicles overnight, at home. As such, he expects wireless systems to thrive in the domestic sphere. It is likely, though, that there will also be demand for wireless systems in communal settings. Imagine parking your electric car in a multi storey car park that charged your battery while you watched a film or went out for dinner. That’s assuming, of course, that you own the car. As autonomous technology matures, it might make more sense to subscribe to an on demand car service and use a car that has already been fully charged at a company facility. When wireless systems are inevitably integrated with roads, what changes will this demand (if any) in terms of user behaviour and highway management? Either way, wireless charging has a few speed bumps to overcome before the service becomes widely available. As well as a need for standardisation, Carrier identifies a level of confusion on the part of consumers.

“There needs to be more work done to allow people to understand what they can charge, how long they can charge for and how much power it will give them. There are just too many variables and unknowns at the moment. Plus you’ve got the challenge of actually being able to find a charge point that’s working and is compatible with your vehicle.”

Coming up with relevant regulations will be equally important in detailing how systems should be manufactured and installed. Last year, the Society of Automotive Engineers released the J2954 Recommended Practice, which offered the first criteria for the interoperability of wireless systems with power levels up to 11 kilowatts. When wireless systems move to the motorway, compatibility will be a fundamental requirement.

Worldwide wireless

WEVC has implications for electricity provision beyond the automotive sector. If you can wirelessly charge your car, then why not your laptop, your tablet, or your phone? Wireless charging has already been developed for mobile phones, but is yet to entice mass usership. Regardless of what the reasons might be, Carrier is confident that wireless systems will become the norm.

“Perhaps that notion of ‘plugging something in’, whether it’s your car or your phone or whatever, will become a relic of the past,” he suggests. “I’m sure, over time, the ability to have greater convenience when charging on the go will be something that customers expect.”

WEVC development is charging forward, with startups and major manufacturers alike literally laying the foundations for an electric infrastructure. The aim is clear: address the criticisms that surround EV charging by offering an efficient, frictionless way to boost batteries. Functional wireless systems exist today, but it could be a while before you’re installing a charge pad in your garage. BMW’s system, for instance, will only be available in Europe as a leasing option, and is confined to a Californian pilot programme in the US. Nonetheless, the development of WEVC options serves as a reminder of how quickly things can change. Perhaps auto companies should be wary of investing heavily in an infrastructure based on plug in charging when something more convenient is just around the bend. The future isn’t just electric – it’s wireless, too.

Will WEVC replace plug in charging points? Where else could wireless charging pads be installed? Does wireless electric vehicle charging signal mass wireless power? Share your thoughts and opinions.

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