Pure electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids and fuel cell electric vehicles, are already playing an increasing role in the way we travel. But electric vehicles face a significant challenge: “range anxiety”, meaning that potential owners worry about the lack of sufficient power, and the inability to travel long distances.
One solution to this problem could be, of course, installing more charging stations; the UK, for instance, as part of its Road Investment strategy, is committed in the long-term to installing plug-in charging points every 20 miles on the motorway network. But Highways England and the British Government have announced on Tuesday that they’ll test a more futuristic approach as well.
Later this year, following the completion of an ongoing procurement process, they’ll start trialling (off road) a new technology called Dynamic Wireless Power Transfer (DWPT) which would allow drivers to wirelessly charge their electric vehicles while the on the move. The trials will involve fitting vehicles with wireless technology and testing a special equipment, installed underneath the road, to replicate motorway conditions.
“The off road trials of wireless power technology will help to create a more sustainable road network for England and open up new opportunities for businesses that transport goods across the country,” Highways England Chief Highways Engineer Mike Wilson said in a statement.
Over the next five years, the UK Government will allocate £500 million ($781 million) to fund the research in this field, as part of its strategy to boost the number of low carbon vehicles circulating. In 2013, 25% of all CO2 emissions in the UK originated from transport. Since the UK government committed itself to reducing CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050, exploring new options, like wireless vehicle charging, does seem to make sense.
The trials are expected to last for approximately 18 months and, subject to the results, could be followed by on road trials.
Whether DWPT charging will become reality or not, it will depend on factors that are still to be properly investigated. The first and foremost being probably affordability.
As a feasibility study commissioned by the Government maintains, “the cost implications of rolling out wireless power transfer on the SRN (Strategic Road Network) are considerable, and will be balanced against considerations such as emissions targets, customer demands and developing the UK’s skills in this area, to become a world leading centre of expertise.”
It would not only a matter of preparing the road network with the DWPT technology. Questions also linger about the fitting of DWPT equipment into vehicles, especially for what regards the aftermarket.
Given that third party fitting without manufacturer support is not considered viable, for vehicle manufacturers to approve use of a DWPT system with their vehicles, the systems would need to be extensively tested and validated.
Psychological barriers could also remain an issue. The authors of the feasibility report administered an online questionnaire survey, asking their opinion on the DWPT technology to 200 passenger car consumers who previously had experience of driving an electric vehicle.
While only a minority had concerns about the safety of the system, a large proportion said they would still be worried about running out of charge and not being able to travel long distances.
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