As cities plan for more EVs, advances in wireless charging will be worth watching

Fri, 2015-06-05 06:00 -- Doug Peeples

Already partners in Formula One racing, Council Lead Partners Mercedes-Benz and Qualcomm are now working together to push wireless electric vehicle charging into the mainstream. The companies are betting on Qualcomm's Halo charging technology rather than plug-in charging stations to provide power for Mercedes EVs. As cities plan for more EVs on their streets, advances in wireless charging will be worth watching.

While other companies are working on their own versions of plug-free EV charging, it's a very young technology even by today's standards. And skeptics point out that at this stage the technology is more expensive than a plug-in charging station to install, and that it loses 5-10% more electricity.

But the two companies are far from strangers to wireless charging. As Benz Insider.com reported, Qualcomm has been working on its Halo project for years. And Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, took on a joint venture with BMW to develop standardized wireless chargers last year.

Also, an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune points out that stationary wireless charging isn't the final goal for the Halo technology. Rather, the intent is to develop it to the point that cars can be charged when they're moving.

How does wireless charging work?
The basic idea isn’t new – it's akin to using a charging pad for your smart phone or tablet. With EVs, a ground-mounted pad contains wire coils that generate a magnetic field and through induction sends the electricity to a pad mounted on the car. And it isn't necessary to park in a way that the pads are perfectly aligned, just close enough to be within the charger's range.

And, as mentioned above, Mercedes-Benz and Qualcomm aren't alone in their attempts to bring wireless EV charging into the mainstream. The San Francisco Chronicle reported recently that WiTricity, a startup supported by Toyota and Council Associate Partner Intel, is working on wireless EV charging too -- as are Bosch and Evatran.

Navigant Research noted in a report released in early 2014 that what had looked like a market that wasn't going much of anywhere had changed a lot in the preceding 12 months. "It is now clear that several major automakers are planning to bring wireless systems to market within the next few years, and a significant portion of the industry believes that wireless technology represents the future of plug-in electric vehicle charging," Navigant said.

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Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.

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