A Glimpse at the Future of Electric Vehicle Charging
In case you haven’t noticed, there’s been a minor revolution in electric vehicles in the past two years. Beginning with the Chevrolet Bolt EV debut in January 2015, 200+ miles of range at a reasonable price point ($37,500) is the new standard for an EV.
Meanwhile, Tesla continued improving its premium performance vehicles until it made the quickest production car on the auto market. Electric cars could no longer be knocked for being slow, boring, small, or inconvenient. They check all the boxes now, and nearly every automaker is scrambling to bring plug-ins to consumers.
As battery costs continue to drop, we’ll see more range at lower prices until “range anxiety” becomes a quaint concept of the past. Yet getting there will require more than cars – people need a way to charge them, and it needs to be quicker and more convenient than anything we’ve seen to date.
Good news: a revolution in electric vehicle charging is also coming. Here’s a look at the future.
While wireless charging may catch on soon, today’s solutions involve plugs, and they are about to get faster – much faster. Exhibit A is Porsche Mission E, an electric supercar in the works from Stuttgart. Massive power (600 horsepower) and generous range (300 miles) are on the spec sheet, but so is the capacity for 800v charging.
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Compared to the standard 240v chargers of today’s Level 2 plugs, Porsche is anticipating a better future in fueling as well as EV performance, style, and range. Rather than 80% charge in 30 minutes (considered too slow by many), Mission E will be designed to cut the time in half. In other words, it could add 240 miles of range in 15 minutes.
Porsche says it would be able to add about 60 miles in four minutes in case you just wanted to stop and buy a coffee. With this standard of fast charging in place, range anxiety (which is actually charge anxiety) would not exist. As the situation stands, it takes about 15 minutes to add 120 miles on a range-topping Tesla Model S.
Autonomous Park & Charge
Many car owners are skeptical about autonomous driving until the different benefits are broken down. How would you feel if your car could park, charge, and re-park itself while you shopped at your favorite store? If Volkswagen’s V-Charge concept comes to life, this robo-valet system would be another element of future charging solutions.
This concept depends on wireless charging pads installed in parking spots. After leaving your car by the entrance, it would take itself to the nearest available charging spot and begin filling the battery. When it is finished, it would move itself to another spot so the next car would have a place to charge.
V-Charge eliminates some of the big problems of today’s EV charging systems. You don’t have to worry about getting in line to charge, plugging in, or watching your battery fill up bit by bit. Of course, avoiding the time and energy drain of finding a spot adds several more layers of appeal.
Volkswagen’s autonomous park & charge concept depends on “inductive charging” using wireless pads. A unit supplies the power to a pad on the ground, which then transfers that power to another pad connected to the car. That pad sends the power to the battery, adding range quickly and wirelessly.
Qualcomm Technologies and other companies are already rolling out these products as aftermarket solutions for EV drivers. Think of it as WiFi compared to the formerly restrictive system of wired Internet service. Once people got used to WiFi, there was no turning back for consumers at every price point.
These wireless systems will follow the same pattern as every other development in the electric car industry. At first, they will be solutions for the high end, with cars like the Mercedes S Class plug-in hybrid sedan coming equipped with a pad for inductive charging in 2017. Once they are perfected and enter mass production, the price will drop accordingly.
Wireless Road Charging
Most people agree that home charging is not the problem for electric vehicles; it’s mostly an issue in public. To rectify that, companies are trying to deliver the same wireless concept for public roads. Without lifting a finger, EV drivers would be able to charge a vehicle while they zip down the road.
In this scenario, the power source would be under the road surface in order to avoid any impact (i.e., bumps in the road) for drivers. Highways England has been testing this concept since 2015 in the U.K. in order to see if it is feasible for public motorways. Electric buses have already been using the technology in trials around the world.
An example from Texas illustrates the potential for this technology. One bus in service only has the battery power to travel 120 miles on a full charge. However, the transportation service needs 160 miles out of the bus to complete its route. Rather than having to come off the road, inductive charging installed at bus stops provides the extra power boost.
The same concept could work for passenger cars. When pulling up to stoplights, EV drivers could charge while they wait for green. It’s hard to imagine a future with range anxiety using this system.
Back in 2014, Ford showed off the C-Max Solar Energi concept at CES. This vehicle’s solar roof panels hinted of an emissions-free utopia for electric car owners. While you drive down the road, the car would charge your battery (or at least its HVAC system and infotainment) using power from the sun.
The concept has proven difficult with current photovoltaic cell technology, but the updated Fisker Karma (now known as “Revero”) and overseas models of the second-generation Toyota Prius Plug-in (“Prime”) now have solar roofs. Within 10 years, we expect this technology to improve to the point where it can actually improve battery range.
In the near future, a fast-charger in every parking lot would go a long way to increasing electric vehicle adoption. By the time plug-ins reach the mainstream, charging solutions may be as impressive as the Tesla Model S and Porsche Mission E are today.