Wireless Electricity in New Zealand: EV Development Down Under

By Eric Cohen, Marketing Manager

With offices in six countries around the world, WiTricity has its pulse on the burgeoning EV – and wireless charging – marketplace. Our development center in Auckland, New Zealand is headed by Michael Kissin, who joined WiTricity when we acquired the HaloIPT business from Qualcomm in 2019. Let’s take a look at what’s going on down under.

You’re based in Auckland, New Zealand. Tell us about the EV market there. Is it more or less advanced than the rest of the world?
Unfortunately, we’re behind the rest of the world. Initially, when the Nissan Leaf was released, it was not available as right-hand drive so it couldn’t be easily imported. When it did become available, the cost was in line with high-end luxury vehicles and the range was far too short to be practical. We then received a large influx of Nissan Leafs from Australia and the cost dropped dramatically, immediately depreciating the value of those that were in market. In addition, other vehicles, like the BMW i3 were purchased by commercial operators for their annual allocations so they were not available to the general public. Add to this an insufficient charging infrastructure and, well, It was a perfect storm!

To help improve our infrastructure, Vector, an electric line company, installed free chargers throughout the country, which impacted potential pay chargers. Although both are currently available, people are willing to spend time in line at a free charger, rather than pay to charge, so not as many new chargers are being installed. Last, but not least, the average age of a car in New Zealand is 14 years, so people aren’t quick to change their cars out. And you ask why we’re behind?!

I see you graduated from the University of Auckland. I understand that the University has the world’s largest academic program for wireless electricity. Why?

Wireless power originated at the University of Auckland. It all started with a Japanese factory automation project that grew out of the engineering school. The project was revenue positive so additional funding was provided, which allowed for more equipment and funding for students to do post-graduate work. At some point, the work segued to wireless vehicle charging.

What is HaloIPT?
When interest in wireless vehicle charging picked up, the University formed HaloIPT to commercialize the wireless power patent portfolio for the EV space. We did some pretty cool things in 18 months, like wireless charging for the Drayson electric racing car and the prototype Rolls Royce Phantom. You can check it out at the BMW Museum if you’re ever in Munich!

Qualcomm came along with an interest and purchased the group in 2011. They did a lot with Formula E and racing. They were really invested in dynamic charging and, ultimately, they sold the business to WiTricity. Lucky us!

How does HaloIPT technology help WiTricity?
In several ways. Having access to all the intellectual property broadens WiTricity’s options as it goes to market. It also makes the standardization effort less adversarial. Everyone knows what the standard is and can create efficient and elegant solutions that work for all vehicles, all models, in all countries. Charging should be easy and now it is.

You’re working on wireless charging for heavy duty vehicles. Are you focused on one type of vehicle?
No, we’re designing a system that’s compatible for all use cases, with a modular system that can grow from 75kW to 400kW.

How is wireless charging for these vehicles different from electric cars? What would surprise our readers that you have to consider when moving from electric cars to heavy duty vehicles?
Interestingly, the overall considerations are similar. However, in some respects, wireless charging for heavy duty vehicles is easier because the installations tend to be more controlled. The big consideration is the increase in power as the vehicle gets larger. Some other considerations are making sure we comply with EMC regulations and thermal performance of the system due to the higher power.