Investments we make today in urban EV infrastructure must take into account future requirements for ride sharing, transit and utilities
As the world’s population grows increasingly urban — it’s expected that by 2050, 70 per cent of individuals will live in urban areas — it’s critical for these regions to have the infrastructure in place to support quick, convenient and electric mobility. From autonomous vehicles, to electric urban transit, to effective energy management by utilities, successful deployment depends on cities investing in the proper accompanying charging infrastructure. To that end, there’s a good case to be made that investing in wireless charging is critical for the prosperity of urban areas.
Powering shared, autonomous vehicles
As city density increases, replacing masses of individually owned personal vehicles with shared, autonomous vehicles eliminates the need for expansive parking areas, which can clog urban areas already starved for space. Their successful implementation, however, relies on easy access to charging stations — ideally, wireless ones embedded throughout the city.
Because EVs in continual use need to be charged often, they are limited in their range if they have to expend sizeable quantities of energy on returning to designated charging depots to be plugged in. Beyond creating more traffic, the need to return to depots inherently contradicts the value of autonomous vehicles, as the whole point is to eliminate the need for expensive human intervention.
Because of these shortcomings, autonomous EVs that can charge themselves while in service using points securely embedded across parking and waiting areas are an appealing option. With an ability to charge automatically, EVs can remain in the areas they are servicing and operate 24/7 without having to pause to fully recharge. By removing the downtime needed for manual charging, wireless charging maximizes the EVs’ return on investment.
Charging for urban transit
Like vehicles, public transit is also becoming increasingly electrified, but — again — with more electrification comes the need for convenient charging infrastructure. For such large vehicles, though, safe and efficient charging can be challenging. EVs like people movers and buses require massive battery packs and heavy, unwieldy cabling, which can be difficult and expensive to manage, especially so since charging stations are open to the elements and can consequently be damaged by weather or vandalism. Further, typical transit EVs need to be taken offline in order to charge, requiring more vehicles per route and thus increasing cost.
With wireless charging, though, urban transit vehicles are able to charge while still in service, and without sensitive charging mechanics. By “power snacking,” vehicles can charge across their routes, thereby eliminating any pause in service and consequent increases in total cost of ownership. As the deployment of electric transit vehicles accelerates, wireless charging could be an essential enabler.
Energy management support
EVs can be of great value to utility companies that pull energy from renewable sources, like solar or wind. Because the output of these sources can fluctuate depending on weather and time of day, utilities need grid storage to buffer them — though these batteries can be a significant capital investment. EVs can be of use here as well.
Rather than invest in new storage, utilities can tap EVs’ immense battery capacity. Wireless bidirectional technology enables EVs to store and discharge energy back to the grid on demand. Wireless charging technology enables EVs to respond to the grid’s changing demands with a level of immediacy and availability that wouldn’t be possible if dependent on being plugged in for the utility companies to access their power. Whenever a wirelessly charged EV is parked at a charger, it can be available to the grid via vehicle-to-grid (V2G) power transfer. V2G infrastructure can be beneficial for EV operators as well, not just the utilities. For example, the operator of a fleet of autonomous vehicles could make a real-time decision that selling power back to the utility is more lucrative than providing rides.
From alleviating over-crowded roads to supporting the management of electrical power, EVs are the solution to the urban mobility challenge, but only if they have the right charging infrastructure to support them. Cities thinking critically about efficient transportation tomorrow need to start making infrastructure investments today that take into account the many advantages of wireless charging.
Alex Gruzen is Chief Executive Officer of WiTricity, a technology company which develops wireless power transfer solutions using patented technology.