A number of automakers are aiming to enhance the appeal of electric vehicles to consumers by introducing wireless charging devices. Currently, most charging relies on cords with special plugs, which according to IHS Automotive analyst Phil Gott are “a pain in the neck,” based on feedback garnered from existing Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf customers.
It is a growing belief that wireless charging devices – which eliminate the need for bulky cords – could be installed in a wider variety of locations, thus broadening the appeal of EVs.
One such example was shown when Nissan revealed such a setup for its Infiniti LE Concept at the New York International Auto Show earlier this year, which used inductive energy flow via a coil encased in a mat mounted on the ground. Audi, General Motors, Mitsubishi and Toyota are other automakers currently in the process of developing or utilizing wireless charging devices for vehicles.
In GM’s case it has invested in Powermat, a privately held company that has developed its own wireless charging device, though so far, no announcement of a GM-specific vehicle application has released (currently the company is only using it to power in-car devices such as smart phones).
However, despite dispensing with clumsy cords, wireless chargers also still have their drawbacks. Inductive charging doesn’t allow for much margin of error, thus the vehicle has to be almost perfectly aligned with the floor-mounted device.
Magnetic field chargers, such as those being developed by Delphi Corp in conjunction with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, require less alignment precision than Inductive chargers to operate, though in both cases, wireless chargers are currently less efficient than cord type units. In these, around 10 percent of energy is lost during the charging process and they will likely be even more expensive when first introduced to market (current cost estimates are around $2,000 per device).
However, as electric vehicle offerings proliferate, along with the charging infrastructure required to support them, that cost will likely decrease significantly. A Bloomberg Energy Finance Report, released on April 27, revealed that the number of global EV charging stations is expected to triple by the end of 2012, from 28,479 last year, to 98,503.
In London, UK, a pilot scheme is currently being developed that would see wireless mats mounted in streets and enclosed parking facilities. The mats are being provided by Qualcomm, which is looking to license its technology to charger manufacturers and automakers.
Andrew Gilbert, executive vice president with Qualcomm, says up to 50 vehicles are being equipped for the pilot project. “Plug-in, is not a bad solution,” he said. “We just see this [wireless] as a great opportunity to improve the experience.”