Electric car technology is going from strength to strength and it seems like almost every day something new comes along. It is to be expected that the science of EV’s will continue and, as long as those advances are relevant and make our lives as motorists easier, then we should welcome them.
EV cable charging: The standard now.
Right now, electric vehicle owners tether their cars to electricity points using the latest electric charging cables. It’s an easy enough job and for most drivers an over night fill up does the trick; but what if we could do more? What if we could charge our car without connections? Why not take it further? It’s coming, the world of wireless electric car charging and trials of under-the-road systems for charging on the go have been going for some time in Sweden and elsewhere. All the signs are that 2020 is the year when this technology will take off.
Wireless EV charging: The standard of the future.
This new technology in concept has already been shown at motor shows and the like. It’s all designed to help make cars increasingly part of our connected world.
1. So what is wireless electric car charging?
Wireless, aka inductive charging, is a means of power transfer by way of electromagnetic induction to provide electricity to power-up devices. The most common automotive application is the charging pad many use in our car dashboards to top up smartphones and tablets.
2. How does wireless electric vehicle charging work?
As mentioned above, wireless uses inductive charging whereby power is transferred over the air from one magnetic coil in the charger, usually a ground-mounted plate, to a second magnetic coil fitted to a plate on the underside of the car. In theory, all that is necessary is to drive over and align the two plates and charging commences. The plates don’t have to touch; very near proximity is sufficient.
3. Where will wireless EV charging stations be installed?
In fact, there are already some plug-less systems commercially available now, at a price, which owners can have installed at their homes and on their cars but the crucial point here is the standard. Wireless charging needs cross-compatibility whereby, essentially, one size fits all. That’s the key: a single charge plate fitted to the vehicle would need to fully function with whatever system is available at any given location.
BMW, for example, will shortly be selling one of their prestige saloons with a plate fitted. Homes garages can have a charging plate fitted in the same way as a cable fitment now, so as the technology matures so, in principle, every home can have one because every home already has electricity.
4. Wireless is here now with all the advantages
Also, one slightly negative aspect of EV charging is the many visible public charging points which will soon be as ubiquitous as parking meters at our roadside. Wireless eliminates this aspect: This year sees the commencement of trials of induction pads, which will take place on residential streets, car parks and taxi ranks across various parts of the UK. The pads, which will be sunk into the ground, will simply require a vehicle to park right over them. Expect to see our towns and cities transformed as this science begins to be installed along our streets.
Basically, any car park in the land can accommodate these plates, as can any suburban kerb-side. Out in the countryside though things will have to be different and for longer trips EV owners will continue to have to ensure that their vehicles have enough juice on board for the job in hand.
In time though, as the trials in Sweden are already demonstrating, it will be possible to drive along especially adapted roads charging as the car passes over charging points in tandem. This will be a vital aspect should we ever eventually encounter the reality of truly autonomous vehicles. Taken as a whole the advantages of inductive charging are many. More convenient, less unsightly and easily, comparatively, installed. Image the benefits for taxi drivers, for example.
5. Which cars can be charged wirelessly today?
Some taxis can be so charged and it is known that some wealthier owners have bought into commercial systems but we are only just now on the cusp of the technology appearing in mainstream cars.
That said, it is the usual suspects who lead the field. A couple of years ago Volvo announced they had bought into a technology company developing wireless charging. Tesla, inevitably, will be quick to market with such a vehicle and, as mentioned above, BMW have a prestige electric car on the way right now. Audi are on the move and Nissan have announced this will form part of their ‘Intelligent Driving System’ although there’s no timeline yet. Buyers of the Nissan Leaf, in the USA at least, have been able to buy a wireless car charging option and this car is though to be the first of the ‘plug-less’ EV’s.
It doesn’t end there though: Hyundai and sister company Kia have announced a concept of EV wireless charging called, rather grandly, the ‘Automated Valet Parking System’. The idea is that in over-crowded, traffic choked cities, by commanding the car to charge using a smartphone, the vehicle will automatically cruise to a vacant wireless charging station.
When fully charged, it will relocate itself to another vacant parking space using the Automated Valet Parking System, thus freeing up charging space for other motors. Don’t worry, there will be none of that wandering about multi-story car parks bleeping the key in an effort to remember where the car is, because, naturally, the car will come to you. Who said connected cars weren’t useful?
6. Wireless Charging or Charging Cables?
Buyers of electric charging cables need not worry. This current technology will be with us for a long time to come yet. Indeed, at this stage there is no reason to have any issues with tethered charging which is hardly inconvenient. Most owners are used to it and it is the work of a few moments to set up. Certainly, a few years down the electric avenue, especially as governments are intent on phasing out fossil fuelled cars, the world will adapt to wireless.
7. Is Wireless Charging Dangerous?
No, Elsewhere here, we explained that the safety aspect of EV charging is very well managed and nobody should be put off by thoughts of danger. We all learn from an early age to be respectful of electricity; that rule maintains. There is no evidence to suggest that wireless charging is somehow leaving a ‘residue’ in the air, affecting human health, but of course, that’s why we have health and safety rules.
In the same way that it is entirely safe to charge a tethered electric vehicle outside in all weathers, so the same will be true for exterior charging plates in our roads and drives. There will be no need to touch anything either. Outside, as long as the car is over the charging pad the procedure will commence. At home pin-point parking accuracy is desirable but not essential as a hard-wired electronic wall box will power the floor-mounted charging pad and even the most flustered parent or tired worker will know that as long as the car is sort-of over the pad, all will be well.
The Benefits of Wireless Car Charging
Consider this: battery packs are heavy things; if wireless charging is more convenient and literally available on every street corner than, for a certain class of vehicles, smaller packs may be suitable. That saves weight and increases range.
Motorists won’t need to locate dedicated charging areas because plates will line the streets. If a top-up is needed then simply park and go and have a coffee or do some shopping. And in the future, with under-road charging there may never be a need to stop the autonomous cars of the future to add fuel. Charge as you go is a viable prospect.
Is Wireless EV Charging the future?
It’s easy to get excited about innovation which is why it is crucial to take the occasional step back and take a hard look at what’s just up the road. This technology is impressive, but it is not quite yet perfect. It is known for example that there is some minor level of energy loss with over the air charging. This means that the car does not get 100% of the good stuff like its tethered siblings. That means slightly bigger bills and motorists don’t like big bills. Work must continue for this science to be truly viable.
The other rather negative vibe that raises its head is the prospect of roadworks, as if drivers were not already blighted by road improvements and repairs. We will have to face facts though and tough it out. There will inevitably some disruption to our lives in the short term if we are to reap the benefits long term. That has always been the case.
So get ready for wireless EV charging; it’s on the march. In the meantime though owners should still enjoy all the fruits of existing technology with the latest in ev charging cables and smart home charging stations.