Electric vehicles may have first appeared over 100 years ago but it is only now, in the 21st century, that the auto industry is accelerating development and production of electric road vehicles.
The internal combustion engine has dominated road travel and created a highly mobile society – the status quo though is likely to change as external drivers such as climate change and the need to reduce emissions begin to slowly change the mindset of the everyday motorist.
Forecasts for electric vehicles, or EVs, suggest that around 3.1% of global auto sales by 2017 will be hybrid or plug-in hybrid EVs, which means that EV penetration of new vehicle sales will still be in the single digits for some years. Analysts often cite issues such as so-called ‘range anxiety’ (the fear of running low on battery miles from the nearest charging station) as a key barrier to adoption, but emerging technologies such as Wireless EV Charging or WEVC, could transform those forecasts.
The EV industry today is at a similar point to where the mobile phone industry was in 1985. The first forecasts for the mobile phone market were wildly underestimated and no one considered it possible that by 2011, there would be over five billion mobile subscriptions worldwide. The real growth came when that industry met the three critical success factors of ubiquity of service, ease of use and cost effectiveness.
It will be no different in the EV industry. Drivers want surety that they can charge their car at any charging point without having to search for a ‘compatible’ charging bay. This can only happen though with standardisation.
Ease of use is the most critical of the adoption criteria. It is very difficult to get people to adopt a new habit – it is far easier to get them to adapt an existing habit.
With the phone, we took away the cord so that people were no longer tethered to where the device was. Making or receiving a call was more or less the same behavior. Charging your EV has to be the same – simple, easy and uncomplicated.
WEVC uses inductive wireless energy transfer to elegantly eliminate the plug-in cord used in most EVs and Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV) today. Simply drive over a Base Unit Charger (BCU) pad or zone and park as you normally park – no specific alignment is needed. Charging starts automatically and drivers can leave their car securely and safely during the process.
From a cost perspective, wireless charging has the potential to reduce the size and cost of the battery, a major component in EVs today. With wireless charging being so simple, drivers will charge more often, for instance at home, at work or at the supermarket, so the need for a large costly battery will be reduced.
So-called ‘Dynamic Wireless Charging’ or charging on the move, also has the potential to extend the range of EVs. Dynamic Wireless Charging technology could become embedded in the road or highway and drivers charge as they drive. It may take 20 years for dynamic charging to become widespread, but based on experience from mobile phones, things can happen a great deal faster than anyone forecasts once momentum and belief in a technology takes hold.
The vision of dynamic charging lanes on major roads may sound like a costly exercise, but the prospect of providing charging places along residential streets where drivers normally park on the road could become equally expensive. In most cities, residents don’t have dedicated parking bays and too often it is a first come first served, ‘park where you can’ mentality. This parking roulette is unsustainable unless every spot in every street is charging enabled.
This will not work for EV charging. Residents would balk at the idea of dedicated EV charging bays in areas where parking spots are at a premium, and EV only charging bays would be very difficult to enforce. Simplicity is key.
Initially it is likely that most wireless charging bays will be at the workplace, in city car parks and at supermarkets or other convenient locations. There will also be home charging kits available to people that have off-road parking, using a portable wireless charging pad.
If and when dynamic charging is deployed, it would fill the gaps between these charging locations ensuring that range no longer becomes a barrier to the adoption of EVs. A WEVC enabled highway or motorway would enable EV drivers to have virtually unlimited range and so travel between distant cities remains a driving reality.
In the same way that mobile phones have not totally replaced fixed line phones, EVs will not totally replace current road vehicles anytime soon. The migration to an EV society is about more than the vehicle. There is also a health and happiness factor to consider. Combustion engines pump millions of tons of toxic particulate matter into the air that we breathe and it’s at its worst in urban areas. Studies show that there is a huge cost to our health and the treatment of respiratory illnesses.
Creating a healthier environment then is a key benefit of the migration towards electrically powered road vehicles and innovations like wireless charging, that can accelerate that process, must therefore be a positive thing.
In 100 years time, our children’s children’s children will likely look back and wonder how we failed to predict the speed of innovation and change.