A lot has been written on the subject of extending the range of Electric Vehicles. Battery technologies are becoming more energy dense and able to charge faster; electric motors and powertrain technologies are becoming more efficient. While these improvements will go some way towards addressing the distance challenge, consumers are still waiting to see a broader consensus and gain confidence in a longer-term approach. No one wants to buy an EV with a limited range that could potentially leave them stranded. While Hybrid Vehicles offer an ‘acceptable-for-some’ compromise for now, they are more expensive to manufacture and tax, and continue to pollute the environment.
One of the solutions to address this distance challenge has been proposed many times over the years. It involves embedding an inductive charging loop in the road, so that EVs can receive additional power while moving. Inductive charging is not new, and recent technology innovations have shown how efficiencies have been driven up to nearly 90% using high frequency systems in ideal test conditions. However, there are some fundamental challenges that proponents of these in-road schemes tend to gloss over:
So what are the alternatives?
One option is for a driver who has a large store of energy in their EV being able to trade that with someone else whose battery is almost empty, by using a transfer cable when stationary. With fully autonomous vehicles there’s no reason why a fully charged vehicle couldn’t partially recharge an almost empty one “mid-flight” while both are moving at the same speed, either through a cable connection (similar to how airborne tankers refuel military aircraft) or via induction transfer between vehicles. There may prove to be a strong economic case for large battery trucks driving around able to charge other EVs. There is already an EV “Platoon” concept for several trucks all travelling in convoy that could be extended to provide this sort of capability: a fully peer-to-peer energy charging network “on-wheels”. A gig-economy proposition could evolve around the provision of mobile energy supply.
Many senior decision makers are still blinkered by their big infrastructure way of thinking – and frequently dependent on it for incremental revenue – which is one reason why novel concepts like P2P energy sharing for EVs are often ignored by policy makers (and subsequently in the media).
Another option is swap-out batteries. While it’s too unwieldy to swap out the main battery (as the car is often built around it), an EV could also have a modular swap-out battery that perhaps can store an additional 10-15% of main EV battery capacity. This battery could be swapped out very quickly – as it would be compact and designed for speedy exchange. This could be done at roadside drive-by swap-out stations, or in dire circumstances by top-up trucks similar to those suggested above but which physically exchange modular battery packs while on the move. There is precedent: we are all familiar with exchangeable gas bottles or cylinders for cooking and heating; or laptop computers that have two batteries, one built in and one that can be swapped for a freshly charged battery. At one point even Tesla was enthusiastic about swappable batteries, but is now focused its Supercharger platform.
Both of these options (P2P energy trading, or swap-out batteries) could deliver regular range extensions on long journeys:
In order to consider which approach makes most sense, we need to step back from the big infrastructure perspective and instead look at how approaches like peer-to-peer have disrupted other industries. While the swap-out battery approach might make sense to consumers, in the absence of sufficient collaboration between manufacturers the more user-centric P2P approach may prevail.
At Ness we are always learning from the latest thinking and best practices from other industries and bringing this to bear on a client’s sector, helping them to plan their operational platforms for the future.