IEEE Talks Transportation Electrification: Grant Covic

IEEE Talks Transportation Electrification 

Grant Covic is a Senior Member of IEEE and IEEE TEC distinguished lecturer who heads inductive power research at the University of Auckland. He also co-leads the interoperability sub-team within the SAE J2954 wireless charging standard for electric vehicles (EVs). In 2010, he co-founded HaloIPT, a startup specializing in EV wireless charging technology and was joint head of research until the company’s acquisition in 2011. In this Q&A, Grant discusses why and how wireless charging will be common for EV owners, both consumers and fleets.


Question: How did the technology develop?


Grant Covic: Wireless power has been around since the late 19th Century when Tesla conducted spectacular experiments in wireless power transmission. The basic principle is relatively straightforward and involves driving one coil with an AC current which creates a magnetic field (Ampere’s Law). The field induces a voltage in a second coil (Faraday’s Law) which creates a current that can be used to drive a load. However, there is a lot more involved in designing a wireless electric vehicle charging (WEVC) system capable of handling the demands of an electric vehicle (EV). One also has to consider numerous sub-systems that all have to work together to create a safe and efficient system.


Question: How are you involved?

Covic: The University of Auckland has a history in wireless power stretching back to the late 1980s. Our early research led to the development of a wide range of different applications: from clean room equipment to production line materials handling with industrial partners Daifuku and IPT technology; and from electric buses to a spin-out company, HaloIPT. Building on all those years of development and innovation in wireless power with its commercialization company Auckland UniServices Ltd, in a relatively short period of time the team in HaloIPT established itself as a leading developer in WEVC, winning industry acclamation and awards.

Since acquiring HaloIPT, Qualcomm has adopted a full systems design approach to the technology, that includes the power electronics, communication, control and safety systems, known as Qualcomm Halo™ it is commercializing the technology via a licensing business model. In the EV charging space, The University of Auckland continues to work closely with Qualcomm to research new ideas that may be interesting for future deployment.


Question: When do you expect we will see WEVC enabled EVs on the roads and available to buy?

Covic: Talking with our industry partners it is clear that the number of development contracts, and requests for quotation from automotive manufacturers is on the increase and it is expected that production orders will be placed soon. So the public should start to see WEVC systems on production vehicles in the next 2-3 years.  


Question: Are there examples of how WEVC is being used already today?

Covic: Many, if not all, of the automotive manufacturers have spent the past several years working with their suppliers evaluating, developing and refining wireless charging technologies. These WEVC systems have been successfully integrated and tested on a number of different vehicle platforms.  Examples include: the Renault Fluence; Nissan Leaf; BMWi3; BMWi8 and the Honda Accord.

Moreover, the technology has been used and tested in the harsh environment of motorsports over the past 3 years. Qualcomm Halo WEVC 7.4 kW systems are integrated into the Official FIA Formula E Qualcomm Safety Cars enabling these key support vehicles to be charged wirelessly. This ensures they remain fully charged at all times, ready to be rapidly deployed in case of an emergency.


Question: Everybody likes convenience, but is it really that important in terms of convincing people to buy an EV?

Covic: Yes. For starters, wireless charging eliminates the common problem of forgetting to plug in. Suppose you’ve got several bags of groceries to bring in. By the time you’re done, you’ve forgotten to plug in your EV, or you may simply think you are not going to stop at home for long enough to warrant plugging in, yet get distracted and not go out again. So when it’s time to go to work the next morning, you realize that your battery is low. With WEVC the plug in simply happens wirelessly when you park.

When parking outdoors, WEVC eliminates having to deal with adverse weather conditions while trying to plug in. And if you own a fleet of EVs, you usually would employ someone to ensure the charging system is managed as there is the potential for a vehicle to become stranded due to a dead battery.  This management becomes a lot easier with WEVC.

With WEVC you simply park and charge at the press of a button – it really is that simple.


Question: What about dynamic charging?

Covic: Dynamic electric vehicle charging or charging on the move whilst driving ­­– is a potential future application of WEVC technology. This could be applicable in slow moving traffic, for instance at taxi ranks and also at higher speeds, such as lanes on a highway.

As an example, Qualcomm recently showcased such a demonstration that can provide 20 kW to one or more vehicles for charging while they are travelling at speeds up to and in excess of 100 km/h. The technology is an obvious fit with autonomous vehicles.


Question: Does the convenience of wireless charging come at the expense of efficiency?

Covic: Not at all. Today’s wireless systems are at least 90 percent efficient. That’s just a percent or two less than plug-in systems.  In fact the higher the power the more efficient they are. Furthermore, if by using WEVC the battery is kept in a better state of charge, the net effect is that the battery may well be operated around its best efficiency point most of the time and make the system more efficient and last longer.


Question: What about safety?

Covic: The wireless architecture is naturally isolated so there’s no risk of shock, and in operation fields are shaped and controlled, to both maximize power transfer efficiency and to minimize fields outside the vehicle footprint to minimize potential interference or exposure to humans. Additional Safety is incorporated in the ancillary systems covering foreign object detection (FOD) and living object protection (LOP).

Both the FOD and LOP systems are located in the pad on the ground, reducing complexity on the vehicle. Should either FOD or LOP safety system be triggered, power transfer will be suspended. The driver will be notified via a phone or email alert, and charging will reinitiate once the metallic or living object has been removed or moves on.


Question: A lot of your current work is focused on interoperability between different vendors’ wireless charging systems. How is that coming along?

Covic: Interoperability is the ability of any vehicle to charge from any ground pad irrespective of their design, manufacturer or vehicle to which they are fitted. This means EV drivers will be able to wirelessly charge at any WEVC bay independent of which supplier provides the hardware, or EV they drive.

The automotive industry has been working towards standardization of WEVC. As an example[GAC2] , “SAE TIR J2954 Wireless Power Transfer for Light-Duty Plug-In/ Electric Vehicles and Alignment Methodology,” was published in May 2016. Although still work-in-progress, when complete this standard will define criteria for safety and electromagnetic limits, testing, and efficiency and interoperability targets. 


Question: Will people be able to wirelessly charge their EVs in places other than their home or business?

Covic: Yes. In fact, there are several reasons why WEVC will be as publicly available as gas stations.

Making charging easily available and simple to use (without having to do anything other than park normally) means that people will take advantage of it more often. Without this many consumers will rely on plugging in at home. 

In developed countries, electric utilities use consumption history to assume that each household will use a certain amount of power—about 2 kW, on average—and they build their infrastructure accordingly. As EVs become more common, you’ll start to have households within a neighborhood with one or two EVs and these could each demand as much as 10 kW or more at night, which could overrate the street transformer. To accommodate that demand, utilities would have to upgrade their transformers and other infrastructure. That takes a lot of money and time.

Wireless charging on the other hand, can significantly reduce those upgrades by spreading demand over a larger amount of geography and time. For example, some businesses could equip their parking lots and garages with WEVC as a perk to help attract and retain workers and customers who value that capability. Some municipalities will offer WEVC in public parking spaces and at places of interest (such as at the beach and parks which are often weekend locations which if some distance away raises natural concerns over the range of the EV) as a way to incentivize consumers and fleet owners to switch to EVs, thus reducing air pollution. These vehicles can then be charged whenever they are parked. Their batteries would seldom need a full charge at home, so the wireless home charger may only need to operate to top up the battery and may be cheaper and smaller as a result.