Achieving lower total cost of ownership (TCO) has been a sine qua non for fleets worldwide. The question is, what happens to TCO when fleets transition to electrified vehicles? And what advantages does wireless charging technology offer over plug-in charging, if any?
Yielding Multiple Efficiencies
Earlier this year, global wireless charging company WiTricity’s report stated that last-mile electric vehicle (EV) fleets could slash their TCO by almost half using its magnetic resonance-based wireless charging technology.
This claim is still in the realm of theoretical possibility at the present juncture since most fleets today tend to be mixed and not fully electric. Indeed, until fleets become all-electric, it is unlikely that they will fully realize the resource and cost benefits of wireless power charging.
That said, the potential efficiencies yielded by wireless charging are worth contemplating. Currently, electric utility charges constitute a significant cost center for EVs. Notwithstanding variations, DC fast charging in most places requires the payment of demand charges to utilities. These charges reflect the utility’s supplementary fees on their commercial customers to maintain a constant electricity supply.
In this context, wireless charging is being touted for the resource, cost, and operational efficiencies that it enables. One of the significant advantages of wireless charging is that charging is brought into the vehicle workflow. This ensures that the workflow isn’t disrupted when the vehicle needs to go off to be recharged, as with plug-in charging. For instance, wireless charging can be installed at the dock, thereby charging the vehicles while they are loaded.
Wireless charging, therefore, appears to yield two major benefits. Firstly, although charging happens more slowly, it is offset by the fact that it becomes part of a seamless workflow. This also results in less stress on the battery, prolonging battery life. Secondly, demand charges stand to be slashed because not everything is being powered all at once; it is being carried out in parallel with ongoing activities.
Addressing Needs in Passenger and Commercial Vehicle Domains
This brings us to the question of which would be a better match for a wireless charging solution: passenger vehicles or commercial vehicles? In passenger vehicles, rising consumer receptivity and established technology standards indicate that it is only a matter of time before passenger vehicles are equipped with wireless charging capabilities. At the same time, in the commercial vehicles arena and, more particularly in last-mile delivery applications, wireless charging presents a desirable proposition.
Why so? Because it is likely to be more efficient for the batteries since it takes longer to charge. It is greener as vehicle panels can have smaller batteries. It is appropriate for use in regions with heavy snow, which often poses a challenge for wired charging. It is safer because it doesn’t have moving parts or pins that can break or spark. It is convenient because people don’t have to get out of the vehicle to start charging. And it will likely be necessary for autonomy since it implies that vehicles can automatically park themselves to be charged.
Wireless vs. Plug-in Charging: Safety, Reliability, and Cost-Effectiveness
New technologies are inevitably accompanied by questions related to safety, reliability, and cost. From a safety viewpoint, wireless charging solutions will undoubtedly need to have high safety standards. For instance, wireless systems could – much like WiTricity’s solution does – incorporate foreign object detection. When something gets between the charging mat and the receiver, the system detects it and shuts off, if necessary.
In terms of efficiency, wireless charging is expected to have the same degree of efficiency as Level Two charging. This answers any apprehensions that efficiency is lost in wireless charging compared to traditional plug-in charging. Moreover, due to in-built safety protections, a plug-in charger with Level Two charging is likely to have efficiency comparable to wireless charging solutions.
Wireless charging technology is nascent and yet to reach scale. So while the hardware is likely to be slightly more expensive than for plug-in alternatives, the overall cost of ownership for fleets is projected to reduce progressively and prove more cost-effective than plug-in charging over the long term.
Finally, installation is advertised as being relatively straightforward. Wireless also means that trip hazards like heavy cables and cords can be eliminated, thereby avoiding the burden of replacement costs.
Increasing Application Areas
The technology has already been proven in multiple settings, including factories with autonomous robots and autonomous droids. For example, WiTricity’s licensee Delta Electronics’ factory robots leverage wireless charging solutions to charge themselves automatically. This underlines the autonomy case. Another licensee, Australian Lumen Freedom, has built the charging for a fleet of taxis in Nottingham (England) that demonstrates the viability of charging taxis. In this case, the taxis charge while they’re sitting in the queue. This improves efficiency and allows the taxis to have longer working days.
Middle-Mile Commercial Vehicles to Lead the Way for Wireless Charging
We believe that middle-mile commercial vehicle applications will be the next step in the march of wireless charging. Meanwhile, DC fast charging and wireless charging will co-exist: with wireless charging being better suited to applications where vehicles are not driven more than 300 miles at a time.
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