We often read in the news about electric car charging solutions being improved again and again. The usual story is that charging is getting faster and easier than ever before. Social media is also awash with other EV stories, though, especially on the subject of emerging technology that will allow electric vehicles to become either self-charging or at least passively charged without us, the drivers, having to do any plugging in.
As common as those stories are and as widely circulated on social media as they are, they do not reflect the current picture in the world of electric cars. The fact is that at this current moment in time, we don’t have either the technology or infrastructure to ensure cars can either self-charge or passively charge. In this article, we will seek to answer the burning question in many people’s minds: why can’t electric cars charge themselves?
Part 1: On EV Self-Charging – What’s out there?
When answering the question on why can’t electric cars recharge themselves, we must consider the question of technology the most. If you are the owner of an all-electric or hybrid car, you may be wondering why we’re talking on this subject, because your car can already self-charge, right?
It’s true that many electric and hybrid cars have clever and innovative systems that can recoup energy as you’re driving along. It’s an ingenious system that converts kinetic energy into electrical energy which is transferred and stored in the car’s battery. It works by the driver pressing on the brake pedal, which prompts the electric motor to instantly switch to “generator mode.” Once in this mode, the wheels transfer energy via the drivetrain to the generator through their rotation. Some of this kinetic energy is captured and stored.
The operative word with regenerative braking is “some” of the energy is captured, not all. It is a great way to keep your car going, especially when driving in the city where you use your brakes a lot. It’s not yet, however, a viable technology to allow the car to fully recharge.
Another idea that’s already out there is the concept of solar panels on the surface of a car continuously collecting energy and maintaining charge as you go about your daily driving. A team of Dutch developers released the Lightyear, which was based on a model they had previously used in various competitions to create a viable solar-powered car. The Lightyear is nothing short of remarkable, and the Netherlands company has moved from its competition concept to a street-ready car. It contains numerous solar panels all contained under safety glass and can self-charge about 7 miles of distance per hour while the cells are working. This is certainly sufficient if you only use your car to commute or for daily errands, but it’s no good if you plan longer journeys or greater use beyond that scope.
So, when it comes to self-charging, we have great ideas and we are already on the road to that goal, but we have some way to go yet.
Part 2: On EV Passive Charging – What’s out there?
Besides self-charging, the concept of passive charging is also one for which many electric car fans continue to eagerly await. A number of interesting solutions are in the pipeline, two of the most interesting of which are explained below:
Volkswagen Autonomous Charging Robots
No, this isn’t the name of a Volkswagen-sponsored video game, but rather an inspiring and creative solution to the need for EV charging. Volkswagen’s concept is that of a small army of autonomous robots that can be prompted via an app or V2X communication. Once activated, they would drive themselves to the car’s location to charge it up. They could be installed in parking garages and other locations where they can easily reach cars within minutes and offer to charge while you are at work or even just out for a day of shopping.
If the robots don’t grab you, then perhaps this possibility will. The concept of wireless charging has already taken hold in the world of smartphones and digital products, and there are now even products that can offer the same thing to your EV. The idea is to charge your car via electromagnetic induction, which works by having a pair of coils, one in the charging unit (transmitter) and one on your car (receiver). Between them is passed an electric current which is captured and stored in the battery. It already works for your smartphone, so why can’t we just do the same with your car?
A problem of infrastructure
With these two options, the problem of infrastructure comes as more important. The technology does indeed exist, but the question is how can we apply it to our aging national infrastructure? It will have to happen in stages, and will undoubtedly take many years to come to fruition. To use the induction technology as an example, here’s how it might look:
Stage 1 – apply the technology on the individual home level, where some products are already available, so you could say we are already at this stage.
Stage 2 – roll the devices out to be installed in parking garages across the country, which won’t require any road closures or major disruptions to the road network.
Stage 3 – extend the rollout to the highway network, where roads could have an entire lane or multiple lanes fitted with the devices, allowing cars to be continuously charging while traveling down the highway.
To sum up, the answer to the question in our title comes in several parts:
- The technology isn’t there yet – the best minds in automotive circles are working on it, but there’s still some time to go.
- Not enough political support – until governments are firmly behind the idea, it is unlikely we will see any policy changes that will get us to the stage of self-charging
- Lack of infrastructure – the above point on politics is directly linked to infrastructure since little political support means no money for infrastructure changes
Perhaps it will happen the other way around. As technology improves, perhaps EVs will win greater support from the public and governments. Until then, however, self-charging continues to be a pipe dream.
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