by Alex Gruzen, CEO, WiTricity
There was a time when those of us who work on technologies for electric vehicles didn’t know if, or how big, the EV market would be. Just think of all the technologies the new generation of vehicles encompass: charging technology, battery improvements, lidar, imaging, mapping … the list seems endless. However, there’s no doubt now that everything about EVs is accelerating. Some of the reasons for the acceleration aren’t all good news, of course – the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and concerns about the environment are driving much of the action. The market is real and happening now.
The EV charging experience needs to change
There are, of course, remaining questions. Will the naysayers and technology laggards accept EVs? Are there enough precious minerals for bigger batteries across ever more EVs? How will charging work for those who don’t have a private parking space? I’m sure you can add some of your own.
What I will add is that the overall charging experience today often still stinks. It can be clumsy, awkward, inaccessible, and subject to the weather in ways we all prefer it would not be. Wireless EV charging can improve the experience, and it also can help to address those remaining questions about EV adoption, minerals, and charging availability.
I spent much of my career in the consumer electronics and PC business. Climb in to the wayback machine with me to the time when we imagined a world of “pervasive computing.” We imagined a connected world where all kinds of devices could be connected without wires to bring information and access to you wherever you happened to be. The shift from dedicated connections and circuits to distributed packets of data radically lowered power, increased capacity, and reduced cost. It was good for the communications companies, the device makers, and especially consumers … the whole ecosystem benefitted.
We saw that jumble of cords and cables on our conference room tables literally disappear in a very short period of time. Coffee shops became workplaces with ubiquitous internet. Our phones talk to our cars, our watches, and our workout machines, and we can join a video meeting from almost any place in the world.
Wireless EV charging needs to be pervasive
The idea of “pervasiveness” is exactly what we need for EVs: we need to see wireless charging become pervasive, “ambient” if you will.
Why? Why not just put a corded charger on every corner?
Electric cars are not ICE vehicles, and there is no reason to drag over the fueling-at-the-gas-station paradigm into this new world. Frankly, even if there were a corded charger at every spot, would you plug in every time you parked, even if just for a quick errand? Would the urban landscape be acceptable with corded chargers and their bollards at every parking spot? When wireless EV charging is pervasive, charging stops being a discrete chore. Charging is something that just happens when I park, wherever I park, in the background with no intervention. Quick top-offs of my battery happen transparently whether I’m parked for minutes or hours. The chargers, themselves, disappear into the pavement and don’t clutter the environment.
Of course, we have to caveat that for long distance travel there is, and will be, a need for fast charging to keep vehicles moving. But the vast majority of car use is not for long distance travel, it’s for the day-to-day. The vast majority of cars travel less than 100 miles a day.
Creating the infinite range automotive solution
Today, people with EVs don’t take advantage of public chargers to top off unless they’re going to be parked for some time – an hour or more. If all you had to do was park (no hassling with the plug), people would be able to passively charge, getting “Power Snacks™” throughout the day as they go about. Think about it—that user experience will feel as if you had an infinite range vehicle.
That means city cars could have smaller, lighter batteries that are easier on the mineral supply. Because they are always “Power Snacking™,” the rate at which they charge could be lower, so there would be less stress on the grid. Pervasive, passive charging would also mean that EVs are always ready to be used for V2G applications, improving grid resiliency. Customer research shows that consumers who are least likely to buy an EV today would be almost 70% more likely to purchase an EV with wireless charging.
Back to all those adjacent technologies for EVs: a big one is the emerging field of autonomy. We just announced WiTricity’s collaboration with YuTong Bus in China, where they are using our solution to enable autonomous e-Buses to charge by themselves, just by parking back at the depot. No driver, no problem, the bus charges itself.
We had a good time this year showing off a few vehicles that WiTricity has upgraded to include wireless EV charging, demonstrating that it is real, that it works, and it is the future. Shown here is the Ford Mustang Mach-E that we enabled with wireless charging, and these crowds surrounded that vehicle throughout the North American International Auto Show in Detroit last September.
I call your attention, of course, to the character in the foreground. It’s time for the “filling station” notion for EVs to go the way of the dinosaur and build a world with pervasive wireless charging.
More with Alex Gruzen:
CEO Alex Gruzen’s Interview with McKinsey on Powering Mobility’s Future