Psh. Plugs. They’re, like, so 2008.
There’s been a surge of attention over the last year towards products that that can charge your smartphone wirelessly, like the devices PowerMat makes. Just set it down on the charging mat and let your phone juice up.
But according to a new report from Pike Research, the technology that makes your plug-free iPhone charging possible is also showing promise for uses in other products — other consumer electronics, military and industrial applications and — yes, electric vehicles. In fact, the report predicts that that wireless charging for electric vehicles will be a $272 million business by 2015.
As electric cars prepare to go to market in the next year or so, charging infrastructure is working overtime to keep up. Companies like EcoTality and Coloumb have been rolling out networks of chargers across the country, fueled in part by government money. In Houston, power plant company NRG Energy recently unveiled its own privately-financed network of charging stations, complete with a set of flat-rate monthly charging packages.
The technology could make charging electric cars more convenient — say, embedding a wireless charger under a parking spot. One company trying to do this is called Plugless Power. If their solution works and is affordable, maybe behavioral changes required of electric vehicle drivers — like remembering to plug in your Leaf or Volt after bringing in the groceries — isn’t such a big deal after all.
Another application for wireless charging is done by electric bus-maker Proterra, which already has a FastFill bus charging station (pictured, below)that uses wireless controls to charge docked vehicles.
“Buses would be a perfect application,” said John Gartner, analyst for Pike Research, because buses have to make stops at bus shelters, so they could get incremental charge-ups at each stop.
As the technology develops, there could be more range, too. One company, WiTricity, is working on a family of wireless electrical components that, when embedded in devices like laptops or flat-screen TVs, will allow them to be powered without plugs over “room-scale distances,” so no need for charging mats or close proximity. The company’s technology originated at MIT.
If technology along that vein could be adapted for electric cars, a whole host of possibilities could open up. I immediately thought of strips of highway that could charge cars as they whiz by, but Gartner tells me it’s been tried in South Korea and found to be way too expensive.
Still, the question of making charging convenient and accessible is an important one as electric cars look to hit the roads in growing numbers over the next few years. It could make sense for fleets of electric vehicles, Gartner pointed out, where a fleet owner could just buy a few wireless chargers for several electric cars.
“Theoretically, it would be cheaper to implement than retrofitting and (installing) new plugs,” Gartner said.
He cautioned some skepticism on the market for plugless electric car power (I still think it’d be supercool if there was so much range that you could just charge as you drive) — but at any rate, it’s another interesting possibility in the world of electric car charging.
[Top image via Flickr/jlz]