An hour’s drive south of Stuttgart is a modest road that may represent the future of electric vehicle charging.
The world’s first public trial of “wireless charging” will take place later this year on this kilometer-long strip in Balingen, Germany. Its goal is to demonstrate that technology that was once considered ambitious and futuristic can now be used in the real world.
Several car manufacturers, including BMW, already offer cars with pads that allow them to be charged while parked. But the ability to recharge batteries while driving—known as “dynamic charging”—has far-reaching implications for the industry.
Chief among these is reducing the size of batteries needed in vehicles to avoid the dreaded “range anxiety,” which remains one of the biggest obstacles to the widespread adoption of electric vehicles
Car manufacturers and industry stakeholders have warned that too few charging points are being built to serve the expected number of electric vehicles on the road. They also expressed concern about a possible shortage of battery materials in the middle of the decade or shortly thereafter.
Analysts, however, believe that dynamic charging, which allows vehicles to carry much smaller batteries, would allow limited resources to be used in more vehicles.
“The goal of this project is not only to open up wireless charging to the public in Germany,” says Andreas Wendt, CEO of Germany’s Electreon, the Israeli group that provides the charging system. “Other important aspects include the development and use of a tool to help public transport planners install induction infrastructure in a given location or region.”
Early tests show “how efficient, safe, and easy to use wireless dynamic charging is,” adds Wendt. “We hope that this will be the start of many other projects on public and private roads in Germany.”
Vehicle manufacturers are ramping up production of battery models to meet stricter emissions regulations, so dynamic charging, once proven to work at scale and cost-effectively, offers a solution to the lack of static charging points.
“The wireless roadside charging system is revolutionary for electric cars because it can extend the battery charge of the car without having to stop and plug in,” says Michele Mueller of the Michigan Department of Transportation, which is also testing the technology. in the year.
Those first road tests will mostly involve buses, which follow fixed routes, making them easier to manage, and some taxis, which can be loaded from blocks placed under queues at airports or train stations.
“Deployment of this technology is initially fleet or internal because it becomes exponentially more difficult as you move to private cars,” explains Michael Hurwitz, future mobility expert at professional services firm PA Consulting. Hurwitz was previously head of innovation at Transport for London, the local government body responsible for most of the UK capital’s transport network.
If you have a working battery and are not at the end of the route, the required battery size is critical because it can save your life.
However, the technology has significant hurdles that must be eliminated before a demonstration.
To avoid technology duplication, the parts must be interoperable so that competing vehicle models can charge in the same system. In turn, installing underfloor charging pads can be prohibitive and expensive.
Then there is the wider challenge of getting road operators to operate energy networks. and the wider automotive industry.
Hurwitz suggests that the technology’s best chance is that it “pins down to the way roads are built and maintained, both commercially and operationally—wwhere highways make it work, it’s heavily used freight corridors.”
However, the need for a fast electrical connection can make spreading a load on the road too difficult.
When FirstBus, the UK’s second-largest regional bus operator, which electrified its fleet, looked at wireless charging, it found the project too expensive due to the need for its many rural bus stops.
“It’s all about the power supply,” says Garry Birmingham, FirstBus’ head of carbon emissions. “Some bus stops don’t even have lights.” The company has been offered £70,000 for every charging station in the country.
However, the technology is expected to continue to advance this decade. Technology research group IDTechEx predicts that premium car drivers will have around 700,000 wirelessly charged vehicles by 2032 “due to the added convenience of not having to plug in.”
It is estimated that around 180,000 of these will be electric vans, as “space-constrained warehouses require discrete wireless solutions to enable charging and recharging of vans.”