Sun, Sep 09, 2018 - Page 15 News List

The plug-free way to fill the world with e-vehicles

By Anna Hirtenstein, Brian Eckhouse and Elisabeth Behrmann  /  Bloomberg

A Nissan Motor Co Leaf electric car charges at the Hevo Inc facility in Brooklyn, New York, on Aug. 29.

Photo: Bloomberg

Umer Anwer stops on the street near Tesla Inc’s Brooklyn showroom and grabs his smartphone. He is looking for a spot to charge his electric car and the Tesla charging plugs do not work with the Nissan Leaf he is driving.

In fact, he would prefer not to bother with a plug at all.

Hevo Inc, the wireless-charging start-up where Anwer is chief technology officer, aims to overturn the burgeoning industry that is busy building out a global infrastructure to provide power to electric cars through public plugs.

There were about 582,000 public charging outlets worldwide at the end of last year, according to a report by Bloomberg NEF (BNEF), and that number is forecast to grow by nearly 30 percent this year.

Virtually every one of these charging locations uses plugs.

Anwer eventually maneuvers his electric car over a device that looks like a white plastic panel, then presses a button on a smartphone app.

After pulling into the parking space, blue dots flash under the windshield to indicate that power is flowing into his battery.

There is about 15cm of empty space between the charger and the car, which has been modified to receive power through an electromagnetic field.

This could represent the future of car charging. Suburban driveways, public spaces, parking lots and highway rest stops could all be tricked out with wireless ports to serve the tens of millions of electric cars expected to be on the roads over the next two decades.

Wireless charging, if it catches on, might provide a solution for one of the main questions hanging over electric cars: How can cities accommodate the infrastructure needed without cluttering up streets with posts and wires?

In cities like New York, London and Hong Kong, where parking is scarce, it is difficult to imagine where extra space can be made to accommodate idle cars while they recharge.

Hevo has raised US$4.5 million to date in a bid to solve that problem, with funding evenly split between venture capital and government grants.

After wrapping up 10 pilot projects across four countries and four US states, the seven-year-old start-up is now moving into manufacturing.

The company has set up shop in a factory in New York, where it plans to soon crank out its first 25 wireless chargers.

Hevo founder Jeremy McCool, a former US Army captain, spent 14 months in Iraq witnessing the consequences of energy geopolitics before enrolling in Columbia University to study sustainable development.

Hevo grew out of a school project.

“I started the company with no team, no technology and US$800,” McCool said in an interview. “Probably the worst and more naive way to start a company, by all means.”

The company plans to make thousands of devices in the next 18 months, the volume necessary to make good on the supply agreements he has signed with automakers and utilities.

Electric vehicles are projected to undergo explosive growth in the coming years.

The International Energy Agency has projected that the number of plug-in and hybrid cars on the roads would triple to 13 million by the end of the decade.

More than a quarter of all new cars sold annually would be electric by 2030, according to forecasts by BNEF, with the global ranks of electric cars reaching 30 million by then.

Of course, as things stand today, virtually all of these cars would need to be plugged into a socket before they could be charged. Before the world can adopt wireless charging, cars already on the road would need a retrofit and automakers would ultimately need to tweak their designs.

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