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The discussion surrounding electric vehicles has been about getting more wires out on the street for EVSE equipment, but slowly the trend is going for less wires and looking at wireless power transfer. The trend has come a long way since it first appeared at a TED in 2009.
Last week KAIST made some big splashes in the news again with their latest development. KAIST is now testing their wirelessly charged busses in an actual urban environment, in the South Korean city of Gumi. Previously test runs have been done at an amusement park and at KAIST's campus.
What is new about KAIST's project now is they are using wires instead of the conventional coils. Competitors have so far all used magnetic coils to transfer power from the surface of the road into the vehicle. Now KAIST can do the same, but with a set of cables. The main advantage is installation costs and time. The main benefits for cables has been explained to me about a year ago by professor Pavol Bauer from TU Delft; putting a large number of coils in the road requires you to break open a large area of road. Putting a cable in you can achieve by just milling a long slot to put the cable in; a lot cheaper and quicker!
- Can charge on the go
- No fiddling with cables at stops
- Can use smaller battery
- Lighter bus
- More room/capacity for passengers
- Cables are easier to install
- ables are cheaper to install
- Only 5-15% road surface required
- 85% transfer efficiency achieved
The concept of electric vehicles that can go on forever while being charged wirelessly is very appealing; instead of having to stop the race after the batteries are drained, you can drive a full Le Mans on electricity! It was to my amazement that back in 2011 the FIA had not fully considered inductive charging as an option to race with for their (then) upcoming Formula E Championship. I was even more delighted when I got the opportunity to come over to Paris and explain in person the pros and cons of such an inductive charged race to them. The inductive race did not make it (yet) for the Formula E Championship, but one team does look promising for this technology: Drayson Racing.
Drayson Racing was one of the first teams to sign on with the Formula E, they have made headlines with their World Record and they can charge their battery wirelessly with Qualcomm Halo technology. Their aim is to have a full inductive race.
While the Formula E is staged for city races and inductive technology is not that widely available yet, being able to get a race track ready by simply installing a few cables is much easier to accomplish than digging up the city and installing a lot of coils to get the same effect.
A bit strange in my opinion; Siemens announcing plans for the Highway of the Future for electric trucks, using overhead electrical wires. Why strange? Siemens has some excellent knowledge in inductive charging, a technology that is much more suitable for this application.
Trucks powered by overhead wires? Why not go induction right away?
Following is a short description on the two technologies and the reason why I think inductive is the better of the two for this highway application. The benefits of inductive are greater and the downsides of overhead wires will become too costly over time. Also, inductive technology would allow for far more users to use the same system and bring the benefits to much more vehicles than just trucks.
A trolleybus system in San Fransisco - Not really creating clear, blue skies - Wiki
This technology is better known in railway applications, either for trains or trams, in some cases trolley buses. It consists of overhead wires which cover the road sections where the vehicles are expected to drive. A mechanical pickup arm needs to be installed on top of the truck. Wile the overhead wires are a common technology and therefore relatively cheap to install, they have some limitations:
- The application is limited to trucks and similar large vehicles only; fitting such a mechanical arm on a normal passenger car and still reach the same height as the truck could cause the car to fall over.
- Due to the mechanical nature of the system, it comes with wear and tear and leads to higher maintenance costs. The benefit of the mechanical connection is a higher transfer efficiency of power, from the wire to the vehicle, but it comes at a price.
Inductive charging is in my opinion a much better solution to charge vehicles on the go. It can be adapted to fit both the large trucks Siemens is aiming at in their plans, but also the smaller cars. The technology is installed in the road and transfers the power wirelessly. Also inductive charging has some downsides:
- The technology is more expansive to install
- Inductive transfer of power comes with an additional loss, typically 70-90% of the power is transferred when compared to a wired connection.
Inductive charging allows both trucks and cars to share the same infrastructure - Link
The upsides make it very worthwhile to pursue this technology instead of the overhead wires though:
- Less maintenance, because of no wear and tear (no roadblocks due to maintenance)
- Allow other vehicles to also use this infrastructure
- No polluting of the horizon or city view as trolley buses are often seen
What is Siemens doing?
To be hones I have no idea, Siemens has a stake in both technologies, but I really think they should focus on the inductive technology in this application for the longer term. It will allow them to:
- Supply power to a larger number of users, both trucks and smaller cars
- It will allow for a cleaner place to live in, especially in cities where overhead power lines are generally considered as not pleasing to look at.
- Present something that is really futuristic and inspiring and not dredge up an old technology and present it as new and cutting edge.
I'm curious to find out why Siemens went this route. If you have any questions or comments to add to this discussion, feel free to share them.
I'm proud to announce that I've been asked to share with you my experience and insight into the inductive charging technology and what the opportunities are in the (near) future in Copenhagen this year during the World EV Summit 2012. Really looking forward to this event as there will be many key players around showing their projects all related to EVs. The event takes place in Copenhagen at the 12-14 June.
If you want to come and join in on the fun as well, there are still some discounts available. If you register by this Friday the 2nd of March you can still apply for the early bird fee. Using a special promo code I can provide you, an additional 25% discount can be achieved for my followers here. To get your code, you can use the contact form of my blog, contact me on Twitter @my_hev (code will be by DM, so be sure to follow me) or through Linked In.
If you have any questions regarding inductive charging you would like to see adressed at the WEVS, feel free to contact me as well. If you want them adressed earlier, let's get in touch and see what we can work out, I am available for consulting and/or projects in this field (and other EV related topics).
Inductive charging is gaining a lot of momentum lately and has attracted a lot of investors. There was news on the famous HaloIPT being acquired by QualComm in the UK, a lot of applicationsin small consumer electronics that are picking up pace and finally a follow up of the inductive charged bus from PROOV here in the Netherlands.
HaloIPT goes to QualComm
The news that HaloIPT was bought by QualComm should be no surprise given the activities and ambitions of QualComm. HaloIPT complemented that with their excellent knowhow in wireless charging. HaloIPT is originally from New Zealand, but they had a strong presence in the United Kingdom. Earlier on HaloIPT was working with Rolls Royce to provide wireless charging on luxury cars. Rolls has launched the prototype and test bed for their electric vehicle operation, though I'm not sure if the wireless charging is still part of the testing platform. Since the take-over, QualComm has announced an ambitious pilot plan for London to install wireless chargers in London and have a fleet of 50 vehicles that is able to utilise these chargers. A decent fleet and bigger than most other fleets out there in the wild using inductive charging.
Consumer Electronics losing Wires
After losing network cables and cable to transfer data between consumer electronics, a lot of effort now goes to get rid of the last cable: the power cords to charge your portable consumer electronics. Think of laptops, mobile phones and MP3 players. Where in the early days, a remote for your television was the way to transfer a signal (or data) wirelessly, nowadays a wireless network can be found at the corner of every street. The only thing that remained was the cord to recharge your device, but with the introduction of inductive charge pads for these mobile devices, those cords are slowly becoming a thing of the past. The idea is that your devices will be fitted with an inductive (internal) coil, which, when placed on the charging pad, can pass along the electricity wirelessly. No more looking for the right cable, or having a clutter of cables on your desk, just put the devices all on the pad and they will charge. It is not widespread yet, but expect your next phone in a year from now to have this as a standard feature. Also check out the talk of Eric Giller from WiTricity during TED.
Inductive buses in the Netherlands 2.0
For quite some time the city where I live, Utrecht, has done a test with an inductive bus. The bus was taken, or rather, borrowed from the Italian city of [name] and put into service on the smallest bus route in our city. It had one charging spot along the route where it would charge for a few minutes, before it would proceed for the next service. Despite being regarded as a success by the local government, the pilot was ended with no follow-up. The companies involved (PROOV, Conductix Wampfler and All Green Vehicles) however felt the urge to continue with this technology and will be launching the next generation induction bus by the end of this year in the Dutch city of Den Bosch. It is not sure how long this stage will take, but it seems another pilot of sorts before all our buses will be using this technology, in the mean time, PROOV will collect more usage data to make it a success.
Unplug & Drive!
So all in all exciting times in the inductive charging arena. Next year we'll see 50 charging stations using the inductive technology in London, your next mobile phone might get it an inductive coil by default and the future buses will also use it. Where the period after 1995 was the era of Windows 95 and Plug & Play (remember when USB was a unique selling point?), the next few years for the electric vehicle will be Unplug & Drive!