The Fuse

The Battle for Convenience: Wireless Charging for EVs

by R. Kress | August 31, 2015

Wireless charging is more than an ultra-convenient way to refuel an electric vehicle. Although some would argue that recharging and electric vehicle at home is already more convenient than travelling to the gas station, wireless charging is about more than removing steps inside your garage: It also enables vehicles to charge while in-use, creating added value that would be impossible for conventional vehicles.

“If we can add enough convenience to the system or take away enough doubt, I think that over time that we’ll have more people tipping over the edge and taking the plunge with that new technology [of electric vehicles],” Rebecca Hough, the co-founder and CEO of Evatran, the company that makes Plugless, a wireless EV charging technology that users can install in their home garage, tells The Fuse.

With a wireless charger, customers can mount a control panel on the wall that uses a 240-volt outlet and then communicates with a pad on the floor of the garage. Once the user returns home from a day’s ride, the driver can simply park with the rear bumper over the pad. The Plugless system then charges the car using a magnetic field to reach an adapter on the vehicle.

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“Our aspiration was to encourage the widespread adoption of EVs, and we’re starting to see signs of that…every single piece that makes [EVs] easier for the consumer to use is a step in the right direction,” Hough says.

The notion of wireless or inductive charging technology is nothing new—the first pioneer of the innovation is most widely agreed to be Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla. In 1894, he used a form of what’s called resonant inductive coupling to wirelessly illuminate lamps. But in recent years, harnessing this technology has become more valuable, but also more complicated. With EVs, innovators have been working to make wireless charging more efficient and faster. Now, Hough says that her company’s Plugless technology can charge an electric vehicle just as quickly as plugging the car directly into an outlet.

Currently, Evatran only makes Plugless technology for the Chevy Volt, the Nissan Leaf and the Cadillac ELR—and prices range between $1,260 and $1,540. Models that work for the Tesla and BMW i3 are on the way in the next few months.

But as Hough sees it, creating convenient charging technology is not just about capturing new EV drivers; it’s also vital to keeping them as customers.

“The thing about forgetting to plug in—you forget to do it just once and you wake up in the morning and you have no way to get to work, if the car isn’t a hybrid. This happens just one or two times and you start thinking ‘This is such a hassle if I forget to plug it in, maybe I want my next vehicle to be gas [powered] again,’” Hough says. “What [wireless EV charging] enables is getting people to make the shift without any drawback. And that’s key to adoption and keeping people on the adoption curve.”

City drivers and wireless charging

Drivers that don’t have access to a private home garage where they can install a wireless charging system face additional issues. For city-dwelling EV drivers, it’s a question of accessibility and compatibility—not just convenience.

 Drivers that don’t have access to a private home garage where they can install a wireless charging system face additional issues. For city-dwelling EV drivers, it’s a question of accessibility and compatibility—not just convenience.

Jeremy McCool, the founder and CEO of HEVO Power, a wireless charging company with a focus on creating stations in urban areas, says that the need for wireless charging is about overcoming the fact that not all plug-in stations are compatible with every type of EV. If the only parking space available at a public station happens to not be compatible with the car, the driver will then be out of luck—enter HEVO Power’s wireless charging.

“Wireless power is such compelling technology because it alleviates all these pressures that exist in the market with plug-in stations,” McCool tells The Fuse.

“Try to find a plug in station in New York. I dare you to. They’re in these back streets, alleys—they’re very hard to find. Or they’re in expensive garages. That doesn’t compel the average Joe to say ‘[EVs are] the way that we need to go.’”

McCool’s company works primarily with cities or organizations and companies with fleets of vehicles. New York University is one major example.

“The biggest market for EVs doesn’t exist in places where people go home. It exists in big urban areas where people don’t have private garages,” McCool says, explaining that EVs are best suited for cities where drivers do not travel long distances on any given day by car. Convenience and ease of access will be keys to adoption, whether in a city or the suburbs. “I got into wireless power because it was just too difficult to convince people pay 20 dollars to park and then pay an additional 10 dollars an hour to charge.”

While building wireless charging infrastructure for parked cars is currently a major component of HEVO Power’s business, McCool acknowledges that the future of the technology is in dynamic charging, or wirelessly powering up an EV while it is actively driving on a roadway.

A key technology in the future will be dynamic charging, or wirelessly powering up an EV while it is actively driving on a roadway.

As McCool explains it, an EV driver would slow his or her speed slightly on a side road or in a designated lane. That lane would be equipped with wireless charging technology embedded in the roadway so the driver could refill his battery without needing to stop the car. Within 20 minutes of driving on one of these roadways, McCool estimates that a car battery at between 20 and 40 percent could fully top itself off. Furthermore, McCool envisions these charging lanes being fully powered by renewable energy—using highway medians or unused shoulders of the road to capture solar or wind power.

Hough of Evatran is currently working on a project funded in part by the Department of Energy centered on dynamic charging.

“From a technological feasibility standpoint, it’s certainly possible,” Hough says. “The questions are centered around industrial engineering…how customers are charged, how utilities monetize the opportunity.”

McCool agrees and cites Oregon’s current pay-by-mile fee structure as a strong start for laying the groundwork for an eventual dynamic charging model.

“That’s one of the biggest hurdles that cities and municipalities would have to overcome: how are they going to charge people for this new method of charging their vehicles,” McCool says. A public utility providing dynamic charging could, someday in the future, piggyback on the current pay-by-mile system for its pay structure.

While pilot programs for dynamic charging roadways are already underway in the UK, McCool and Hough both agree that the next logical step for the technology will be to pair it with autonomous vehicles.

“It’s the convergence of two types of technology: Dynamic charging and autonomous vehicle technology. Those things naturally pair up very well together,” McCool explains. “Because then you don’t need to think ‘Do I need to exit off this roadway to go charge?’ Your vehicle will already have that route planned…It’s not going to happen in the next 5 years. But it’s a stretch that you start seeing in the 10- to 20-year period.”