Cleantech Market Intelligence
In London, EV Charging Loses the Wires
Sometime in the next few weeks the most significant trial to date of wireless EV charging will begin in London. Mobile software and chipmaker Qualcomm, which acquired New Zealand-based HaloIPT, a developer of wireless EV charging technology, in November, 2011, will be piloting wireless-enabled vehicles from Renault and racecar designer Delta Motorsport (maker of the E4 coupe EV) in various parts of the British capital. I interviewed Qualcomm’s London-based senior director for strategic marketing, Joe Barrett, for Pike Research’s just-published research brief, “Wireless Charging Systems for Electric Vehicles.”
Building on its long experience in microchips and software for mobile devices, Qualcomm has developed a customized architecture for its wireless EV charging system based on coils, made of a ferrite material that has very low resistance to magnetic fields, arranged in a double-D shape and embedded in a rectangular charging pad. This technology, Barrett claims, allows for higher degrees of misalignment between transmitter and receiver than other systems under development.
Qualcomm is also pushing a more ambitious business case for the technology. The standard line of companies developing wireless EV charging is that it will spread because it’s more convenient: drivers would rather simply pull the car over a charging pad, and have it connect automatically, than have to get out and plug in a charge cord. That makes sense, as far it goes – many people in this fledgling sector compare it to garage door openers, a simple convenience that fuels a sizable global market – Barrett offers a rationale for the technology that goes beyond convenience alone.
“The growth of EVs has been slow because of two things,” Barrett told me. “No. 1 is always range anxiety. But the real reason is cost: an EV is a lot more expensive than a comparable conventional vehicle, by $15,000 to $20,000. That’s a barrier. Wireless charging has the potential to address that.”
Briefly, Barrett’s argument is that EV charging must shift from once a day, usually overnight, to many brief top-offs throughout the day. That will allow automakers to install smaller, and thus cheaper, batteries. The battery accounts for most of the price premium for an EV over a conventional car. Seeding big cities, like London, with many wireless EV charging stations (which can be installed more easily and less expensively than conventional, wired charging facilities) would enable that shift.
Seen in this way, wireless EV charging is no longer simply a timesaving device; it’s a potential enabler for the entire EV market. That’s an intriguing notion, if still some years away. New forms of infrastructure can spread very rapidly, given sufficient demand – think of how fast WiFi hotspots sprang up – and big cities have a definite interest in enabling new forms of clean transportation, particular in Europe. Assuming the London trial is successful, Qualcomm plans to have systems available, most likely as a dealer option, by 2015 at the latest.