THERE’S general consensus in the automotive industry that the future is electric. However, there’s not much agreement on what that future actually looks like.
I thought it would be interesting to dig into some of the existing proposals and plans to make a prediction on the future of EV charging. In this article, I look at three different points: battery-based chargers, wireless chargers and a fundamental energy generation problem.
More EV charging points
Back in 2011, there were fewer than 10,000 electric vehicles in the UK. With so little demand, there was equally few charging points — about 1,000.
Fast forward to 2018 and we’ve got close to 180,000 electric vehicles on the road but just 15,000 charging points. As you can see, the rate of growth in electric vehicles has massively outpaced the rate of growth of charging points. While this is slightly offset by the existence of residential charging points, public charging infrastructure needs to catch up — and fast!
According to a report from Emu Analytics, we need a sixfold increase to our current charging infrastructure to keep up with the skyrocketing demand. The report predicts that we’ll have one million electric vehicles on the road by 2020 and that will require an additional 83,500 charging points.
How we achieve that growth remains to be seen. It could mean retrofitting car parks with public charging points, building brand new electric-only fuel stations or something we’ve never seen before.
And on that note, let’s move onto point number two.
Wireless charging isn’t exactly new, although it’s commercial application has been limited to low power devices like smartphones.
But what if you could take that technology and install it into cars?
You’d end up with a car that you never had to plug in and automatically charged itself so long as it was parked in the correct place.
Well, that’s exactly what’s happening. Although we’re still in the early days, manufacturers are starting to experiment with wireless charging tech in cars and we’re seeing it applied in two different ways.
First, a more traditional application. You have a charging pad affixed to the floor and one fixed to the car. When you park over the pad, your car charges. These charging pads could be installed in residential garages or public car parks.
Second, there’s the more radical approach. You take charging pads and install them all along a road. So instead of parking a car over a pad and leaving it to charge, your drives along a road with your car charging all the while.
That sounds good but I can do one better. Imagine wire charging combined with autonomous technology. Say you drive to the movies. As soon as you step out of your car, it can go and find itself a free wireless charging spot, returning to pick you up with a full battery.
Unfortunately, the mass adoption of electric vehicles isn’t without its obstacles and the energy generation problem is one of the biggest.
Here’s the issue. Electric vehicles do not generate their own energy and it has to be created somewhere. That brings up two problems of its own.
First, at the moment, we couldn’t support the energy demands of tens of millions of electric cars. We simply do not generate enough energy.
Second, if we continue to generate energy through fossil fuel electricity generation, electric vehicles aren’t actually any cleaner than conventional combustion petrol and diesel vehicles.
The move from conventional combustions vehicles to electric vehicles is part of a wholesale energy transition we’ll see over our lifetime. Quite how it plays out, however, remains to be seen.