EV market context
For several years, the automotive industry has invested a lot in the development of electric vehicles. Some manufacturers have chosen to focus on full electric cars whereas others have decided to work on hybrid and plug-in hybrid models. For instance, the French car manufacturer Renault has invested EUR 4 billion in research and development to develop a range of full electric cars.
This represents a major business opportunity for the electrotechnology industry because all these new cars will need to charge their batteries. Basically, we can imagine that the scheme is very simple: you can put an electric charging cable between the socket and the car and it should work. Unfortunately, we are here at the interface of two different worlds – automotive and electrical distribution
The chicken or the egg?
With EV charging systems a complicating factor is that there are diverging views on the process and timing. Some believe that we first need to have the cars before providing a widespread charging infrastructure i.e. a network of charging points that ensures car drivers that they will always find a charging solution on the road. Others believe the electric vehicle market cannot grow quickly unless a real charging infrastructure is already in place.
In this article I will share some insights about a specific charging system: the Wireless Charging system, which could be an enabler of EV market growth.
From cable to wireless charging systems
The current EV charging systems are all based on a cable that connects the EV to the grid. The charger can be embedded in the car or positioned externally, but the cable is mandatory. For the user, this represents a constraint, because the cable can be dirty or difficult to handle.
To provide a more convenient charging system ICPT (Inductive Coupling Power Transfer) technology can be used to transfer energy to charge a vehicle without any cable to handle. In a nutshell, this technology consists of a charger which is split in two parts. There is an emitter (on the ground) which is connected to the grid through a converter. This device generates a magnetic field, which is used by a receiver (underneath the car) that transforms the magnetic field into current that is used to charge the battery. With such a system, the driver can just park and charge, without having to think about plugging in the cable.
Complex standardization landscape
In TC 69, the IEC Technical Committee that is responsible for EV charging system-related standards, a project team has been set up to address the ICPT charging systems. Ideally, the objective is to agree on one International Standard so that manufacturers have a reference system. But there are several points that augment the difficulty with regard to cable-based systems. First of all, the market for wireless charging is not yet developed. There are trials and many manufacturers have demonstration models, some even have products, but the Standard is still in advance of the market.
The technical aspect of the system is very difficult and not so obvious to standardize. As it involves a magnetic field, the project team has to take care about public fear of electromagnetic waves. This context is not unusual in standardization, but the combination of difficult technical questions and the framework of electric vehicle leads to a complex situation where consensus is difficult.
IEC Young Professionals - 2014 workshop, Tokyo
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* Since 2010 Dimitrios Ladas has been the project leader of the EV (Electric Vehicle) Inductive Charging project at Schneider Electric, Grenoble, France.