As Australia works to get its wired infrastructure up to speed, the rest of the world is cutting the cord.
Why does it feel like the Scandinavians are always ahead of the curve? From Sweden’s forward-thinking paid parental leave scheme to Norway’s world-leading road safety policies, that part of the globe tends to provide a blueprint for the rest of us.
And now, the Scandis are at it again, with Norway’s capital city of Oslo becoming the first city in the world to implement a high-powered wireless electric taxi fleet.
Under the new plan, induction plates will be installed under taxi ranks around Oslo, allowing the cabs to charge in between customers, capitalising on their downtime and ensuring they’re never short of charge.
The taxis will be electric I-Pace cars supplied by Jaguar, while the induction plates will be manufactured by US-based company Momentum Dynamics and installed by Fortum Recharge, Scandinavia’s largest charge point operator.
While wireless charging is still a way off from being an everyday reality for electric car owners, we’re intrigued nonetheless. So, we took all of our questions to the experts – from electric car manufacturers, to charging suppliers and technology providers – to get them answered.
How does a wireless electric car charger work?
Typically, wireless charging, which is also called ‘inductive charging’, requires three key components.
These include a power source for wireless power transfer (this usually takes the form of a wall box or similar), a ground assembly element like an induction pad and the corresponding component fitted to the car to allow it to receive the charge.
This equipment can be scaled in size and construction depending on where the charger is – from underneath a taxi rank to inside someone’s private garage.
“In some cases, the charger itself looks like a large pad that cars can drive over on the ground, but some others can sit below layers of concrete,” explains Behyad Jafari, CEO of the Electric Vehicle Council.
Above: One of Lumen Freedom's wireless charging pads.
Mr Jafari says the technology has advanced rapidly in recent years, meaning – don’t worry – the chargers won’t cook your pet dog if it wanders onto the induction pad by accident.
“The ability to do wireless has been around for a while, but LiDar advances have meant that if a cat or a can of coke rolls under the car, the pad can sense that and switch off quickly,” he says.
“They’ve been able to give the charger the ability to melt through snow, but not something else that shouldn’t be melted.”
As for how these components all work together, Jaguar Land Rover’s global engineering and technical team offered up the following explanation for its Oslo project:
“A series of charging pads are installed under the street pavement at a strategic location. Each vehicle is fitted with a matching power receiving pad.
"When the pads align, a magnetic field from the ground pad induces an electrical current in the vehicle pad which then adds charge to the vehicle battery.
"You can think of this as being very similar to a DC Fast Charger, but with no cables and the ability to charge the vehicle automatically.”
What’s the difference between static and dynamic wireless charging?
These are the two types of wireless charging on the horizon. ‘Static’ refers to a car sitting stationary on a designated charging zone, while dynamic means you can recharge as you drive, like along an electric wireless highway.
“The static technology is a lot further along, while dynamic is in very early trials in places like China,” Mr Jafari explains.
Why bother with something as complex and wide-ranging as an electric charging highway? Rod Wilson, general manager of Australian charging provider Lumen Freedom, says it’s all about removing range anxiety.
“When we get a wider spread of charging, we take away range anxiety. We call it ‘snack charging’ – you can top your car up at the traffic lights, because there will be a blanket area for the first 20 cars with inductive charging,” he explains.
Are all electric cars compatible with public wireless charging?
In 2018, BMW became the first manufacturer to offer factory-backed wireless charging for one of its electrified vehicles in 2018, when it launched an inductive charge pad for the 530e iPerformance plug-in hybrid.
However, that product never made its way to Australia and the wider rollout of wireless charging across BMW’s other electifired models has since stalled.
When asked, a BMW Australia spokesperson issued the following statement: “There are no plans for introduction in the short term, but we are considering it for the future.”
CarAdvice understands several other brands are working in tandem with various wireless charging providers to incorporate a corresponding component in their cars to receive induction charging, with announcements expected over the coming months.
“All of the major manufacturers are working on [adding wireless charging to cars],” says Tim Washington, CEO of JET Charge, Australia's largest electric car charging infrastructure specialist.
“The question is – are they comfortable there are enough providers out there to take advantage of the technology and are they comfortable with the price point?”
Another challenge will be standardising the technology once it’s available. “It’s going to require consistency between manufacturer standards and that’s still up in the air right now,” Mr Washington says.
Are there any wireless electric car chargers in Australia?
“There are no wireless chargers available publicly in Australia," Mr Jafari says. “However, a few Australian companies are working on wireless charging technology and doing great business overseas.”
Momentum Dynamics, the wireless charging provider involved in the Oslo project, says its operations are predominantly based in the United States, but that it will soon be expanding to “several countries in Europe”.
What are the benefits of wireless charging?
Convenience is by far the biggest benefit of wireless charging. “With wireless charging, you can drive into your garage and start charging straight away, that’s ideal for people who can’t be bothered plugging the cable,” Mr Washington contends.
Michael McHale, Head of Communications for Momentum Dynamics, says the benefit of the Oslo taxi project is “four fold”.
“It keeps high utilisation vehicles in service without ‘down time’ for charging which means no lost revenue,” Mr McHale explains.
“It extends range so that fewer vehicles are needed in a fleet situation to fulfill duty cycle. It keeps batteries in mid-range through regular, partial charging which extends battery life.
“And for fleets, it reduces overnight load on the grid at a depot because the vehicles return to the depot in a high state of charge.”
He adds: “Another significant point is that we don’t have to give up our cities to streets lined with cable chargers. We can provide invisible charging and keep our streets beautiful.”
One benefit that’s less commonly discussed but just as important, says Mr Washington, is the accessibility of wireless charging for people with disabilities.
“One of the issues we have with wired charging is making sure the cord is at the right height for people with disabilities. With wireless charging that’s not a problem,” he explains.
Can you have a wireless electric car charger at home?
Absolutely – although there aren’t any options currently available in Australia.
“The system operates on the same principle as an induction cooktop and it is possible to install in a private home,” Mr McHale from Momentum explains.
However, Mr Washington says: “Wireless charging is in its infancy and while commercial products are available globally, for a vehicle manufacturer perspective, it’s all aftermarket products or for trials. There are no native options you can purchase right now.”
How do you add a wireless charging receiver to your car?
For Jaguar, the incorporation of wireless charging into its I-Pace involved a joint effort between the Jaguar Land Rover engineering and technical teams and wireless charging provider Momentum Dynamics.
“The vehicle has an adjustable ride height to allow for installation of the infrastructure. It also has embedded alignment technology which assists with lining up the wireless pads to initiate charging,” Jaguar Land Rover’s engineering team explains.
Customers may one day be able to retrofit a wireless charger without requiring “an entire rewiring” of the car or its corresponding wired charger, Mr Jafari says.
The question remains, however, whether warranty and servicing will be affected for electric owners who choose to add an aftermarket wireless charger to their vehicles.
“It may affect the warranty – for some people who have added an inductor or receiver to cars, the result doesn’t come out as standard,” Mr Jafari says.
Above: The Jaguar I-Pace.
Is wireless charging faster, slower or the same as regular electric car chargers?
At the moment, the majority of wireless chargers in development tend to between 11kW and 75kW, which is more suitable for overnight charging.
However, as the technology progresses, Mr Wilson from Lumen Freedom explains “rapid chargers will soon be wireless and wireless chargers will allow for vehicle-to-grid power transfer as well”.
Momentum Dynamics in the United States, however, has developed rapid DC wireless charging up to 450kW, which can typically charge a car to 80 per cent capacity in as little as 15 minutes.
The project in Oslo, however, allows for wireless charging up to 75kW, which can fully charge a battery in around an hour or less.
When will wireless charging be available in Australia?
“I’d say it’s about five to 10 years off being widely available [in Australia],” says Mr Wilson.
“But it’s coming so quickly that we really can’t put a cap on it. It’s ballistic, the development and the uptake.”
Mr Washington concurs: “Autonomous vehicles are coming with a rush and they can’t operate without wireless charging - they can’t have autonomy when someone has to plug them in.”
“If you want every single car space in the future to have an electric vehicle charging station I think a lot of that will have to be wireless.”