Volvo C30 Electric

Volvo will start testing inductive charging, which transfers power over the air to charge electric devices without requiring any wires, on its next series of electric cars in Europe later this year.

A report from Pike Research suggested wireless charging for electric vehicles will be a $272 million business by 2015. That could include creating long strips of inductive charging plates on roads and highways that charge vehicles as they drive over them, or placing charging plates under parking spots that charge the cars while drivers are out shopping or eating lunch. The technology is familiar in consumer electronics, where companies like PowerMat are pushing tech-savvy individuals to “cut the cables.”

But the technology is still in its infancy and can only transfer small amounts of power over very short distances. An iPhone, for example, has to literally lie on top of a PowerMat to receive an electric charge. It’s an application of magnetic induction, which uses a changing magnetic flux to pushes electrons and create a current that transfers electricity from an energy source to a battery. There are a few companies working on improving that range, like WiTricity, but no company has shown it can cover large distances at scale yet.

Most electric car companies are relying on other companies to deploy a network of electric car charging stations that let drivers park their car and plug it into a charger. Companies like EcoTality and Coloumb have been rolling out networks of chargers across the country. In Houston, power plant company NRG Energy launched its first privately funded network of charging stations last month, which uses a set of flat-rate monthly charging packages.

That includes the city of San Francisco, Calif., which will deploy a network of electric car charging stations to promote electric car adoption. Those electric car charging stations will be free to use for a year — and will rely on traditional plug-in charging technology. But those plug-in electric car charging stations can take a long time to charge a drained electric car battery, usually two to five hours.

Volvo said inductive charging can charge an empty 24 kilowatt-hour electric car battery in about an hour and twenty minutes, which would be a significant advantage over traditional plug-in electric charging. Most electric car buyers are concerned about how far the car can drive and how long it takes to charge a car after the battery runs dry, according to a report by Accenture. Inductive charging plates still won’t match the three or four minutes it takes to fill a traditional car with gasoline, but it could make plug-in electric cars and electric hybrids more appealing to mainstream car buyers.

[Photo: Volvo]

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