Navigant Research Blog

Why Wireless Charging Could Change the Electric Vehicle Market

Dave Alexander — August 9, 2012

A number of factors may hinder the growth of the market for all-electric vehicles.  Surveys consistently show that people are interested in the concept of an electric vehicle, but do not want to pay a high cost premium and are concerned about the range and about getting stranded by a flat battery, as it were.  OEMs and government agencies are working to address these concerns by subsidizing advanced battery development work, encouraging the installation of new charging points, and offering financial (tax rebates) and convenience (free parking, HOV lane access) incentives.  The spread of wireless charging options could help extend the customer base for EVs, as well.

While plugging in a long cable might not be a huge inconvenience when parked at home overnight, the idea of leaving an expensive cable out in the street has understandably caused some people to express concern.  Theft and mischief are potential issues if the number of cars grows and seeing an EV recharging becomes commonplace.

All the major vehicle manufacturers have started work on wireless charging technology, although it’s seen as a practical reality for the future rather than a critical piece of the picture that’s needed now while the market is in its infancy.  BMW announced a partnership with Siemens in 2011.  Delphi has been working with WiTricity for about 2 years, and Qualcomm purchased HaloIPT in 2011.  In July 2012, Qualcomm updated progress with its plans for testing in London by announcing that Renault and Delta Motorsports had both agreed to participate.

The technology to charge batteries via induction loops and/or magnetic resonance has been around for years.  What’s needed now is some agreement and provisional standards for the hardware.  The last thing anyone needs is a unique charging system in every electric vehicle.  A few years ago each manufacturer had its own view on what the plug should look like, but now standards are emerging that means some charging stations can be used by different vehicle models.  Japan and the United States seem to have gotten their act together but Europe is still a work in progress.

In the short term, the wireless charging developers need to get together to hammer out some agreements about the basic technology so that everyone can focus on making it efficient, safe, and affordable.  Cooperation today will pay off for all in the future.  And wireless power also is relevant for many other devices in consumer electronics and industrial applications, as covered in our recent report, Wireless Power.

But the biggest payoff in the future will be the opportunity that wireless charging brings to the EV market.  The initial challenge is to develop a working system for static charging.  But Qualcomm in particular has a vision for the future of dynamic charging, in which batteries are topped up while the vehicle is moving or while waiting at traffic lights, as well as when parked.  Momentum Dynamics has developed a new business case for commercial fleets of electric vehicles based on its wireless charging technology.

This is where things get exciting.  If batteries can constantly be topped up, then the quantity of on-board energy storage can be reduced, making possible a big reduction in the initial purchase price of the vehicle as well as eliminating range anxiety.  Managing the incremental payment process for multiple short charging periods is ideally suited to a company such as Qualcomm, with its background in wireless communications.  And that also explains why Qualcomm is taking a leadership role in this aspect of the electric vehicle industry.

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