Electric Car Charging Stations are About to Get a Lot Better

From more reliable to easy-to-use plugs everywhere you go, electric car charging stations are about to get a lot better, and a lot more plentiful. We peeked at the future at Move America

Witricity Oufitted This Mustang Mach E For Wireless Charging
WiTricity oufitted this Mustang Mach E for wireless charging. Photo: Scotty Reiss

We went to Move America for a peek at the future.

If you are “electric car curious” but holding back from buying an electric car because of the lack of electric car charging stations, you won’t have to wait long. Technology companies are working on new solutions that offer some cool ways to make car charging easy, fast and painless, and even, smart and potentially free.

Even more curious now? 

I just attended the Move America conference, an international meeting of technology solution providers for the of electric car and mobility sector. I  saw a lot of cool things. And got a lot of answers.

Related: Discounts, Incentives and Bargains: Time to Buy An Electric Car? 

Electric Chargers - On Lamp Poles

Electric chargers – on lamp posts! Photo: Scotty Reiss

Electric Car Charging Stations Will Be Everywhere

This was one of the more surprising things I learned: Tech companies thing the solution is for you to charge all the time, everywhere, and keep your car’s battery as close to 80% charged as possible. I expected to see all sorts of fast charging solutions, but instead, company after company said no, you should continually top off your battery. At least for now. 

Fast charging, as it’s currently delivered, is difficult and expensive to provide and it can degrade the life of a car’s battery. It’ll most likely get better, but for now, more regular, slower, easier-on-your-battery charging is the preferred. 

Why not make electric car charging easy, accessible and pleasant instead? That was the idea behind a presentation by BMW Designworks and design consultant Gentler: create charging spaces that also provide other services, such as wellness, work spaces or shopping.

And then, put electric car chargers everywhere. We saw many providers offering units that can be installed anywhere: gas stations, curbside, parking lots, anywhere a car might drive or park. That’s not so unusual; but that there are more and more companies offering more solutions is encouraging. Hopefully we’ll see more and more of these popping up in places we like to go.

Related: 8 Reasons an Electric Car Can Fit Your Lifestyle

A Flo Electric Car Charging Unit.

A Flo electric car charging unit. Photo: Scotty Reiss

No More Broken Chargers

This is a huge issue and the focus of a company called Flo, the largest provider of electric chargers in Canada. Flo is rolling out charging in the United States, with locations in California and New York and others to come soon.

You know the story: you get to a Walmart parking lot with a number of chargers only to find out half of them are broken And the other half are “trickle” chargers, the slowest kind. So, you’re either forced to use the remaining portion of your battery looking for another charger or sit there for a while to add a few miles so you can continue your quest.

This is what people are afraid of, and why they are reluctant to take the plunge into driving electric. Flo’s answer is a fully managed end-to-end charging network (though, they do partner with other charge networks so you’re never stuck without charging on the road). 

The reason the charging experience is so uneven is that these charge networks are piecemeal: one company makes the chargers, another builds the network and yet another supplies the electricity. Another may provide payment systems and yet another may manage the experience, such as the phone app or the “Brand.” And then, there’s the car maker, which may offer free charging, in-app features and more. 

It can be hard to tell who is responsible for repairing a broken charger, and it may be even more difficult to get a broken charger fixed. Not all partners in the business have incentive for that to happen or the ability to make the repair.

That’s the solution Flo is focused on. They promise more than 98% of their charger will be working, as well as a new approach to terminal design and addressing issues that consumers have: heavy cords, clunky charge handles and for some consumers, accessibility. This is one of the biggest issues for some people, especially those with limited abilities, such as wheelchair users or those with limited mobility. 

If the terminal is not easy to reach, if the handles are not easy to use, those consumers basically can’t charge their car at a public charging station. And if a charging station is in a lonely, desolate or dangerous looking location, consumers don’t want to get out of the car. Flo is working to change that.

Related: Can an Electric Car Work as a Family Car? 

This Piece Of Equipment Allows Wireless Charging

This piece of equipment allows wireless charging. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Wireless Electric Car Charging 

And then, imaging charging your car without heavy cables and clunky charge handles. Without wires at all. And being able to charge in places that you might not expect to find chargers, such as a camp site or a historic district with old buildings and cobblestone streets. Just pull your car over the wireless charge pad and your car starts to charge. That is the mission of WiTricity (pronounced sort of like ‘Electricity’), a wireless charging company. 

It will be about three years before we start to see this feature in electric cars, but just think of the possibilities: portable electric chargers that can fit in garages, on city streets, in parking lots, anywhere charging is needed. 

Here’s how it works: A electromagnetic charging unit is installed as part of the car’s battery system; it connects with a very safe charge pad, sort of like the charge pad you may use for a phone. Once the charge unit senses the pad, charging will start. The charge pad, just like our wireless phone charge pads, is completely safe for humans and animals because it only releases a charge to the unit under the car. They are waterproof, weight and shock proof; if they are accidentally run over by another vehicle or if they get rained on they’ll be fine. 

WiTricity’s wireless system provides level 2 charging; this should deliver about 25 miles of range per hour of charging on average, the same as a plug in level 2 charger. 

Before we see these in our driveways and on our streets, there are some things that have to fall into place first: car manufacturers have to install the technology (which they are doing) and then, charging stations need to be built and installed. But, being a plug-and-play charging solution is a huge incentive to both car makers and cities that want to offer charging everywhere. 

To get the ball rolling, WiTricity is installing its technology in the fleets such as small delivery vans, municipal fleets and the like — vehicles that are owned by organizations interested in using this technology. 

Reverse Charging: Use Your Car to Power Your House

WiTricity is just one of the companies offering technology that allows users to “reverse charge.” Electric car owners will be able to use their car as a source of electricity, for the house, for small appliances or to sell back to the power company.

Think about it this way: there’s a storm, your power goes out and you need a generator. Most electric cars should be able to power the average house for 2 to 3 days, so you have the power if you need it.

Or, use your car’s power for your home when power rates are highest. Peak rates tend to be late afternoon to mid-evening; instead, use your car’s battery to cook dinner, do the laundry and watch TV. Then schedule your car’s battery to charge for when rates are low, typically the middle of the night, and your’e ready for the morning commute.

Your car can also be a mini-money maker, too: owners with the right set up will be able to sell the battery’s power back to the grid when rates are highest, and recharge the car when rates are low. 

Elysias Diagnostic Capabilitys

Elysia’s diagnostic capabilities. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Take the Worry Out of Battery Ownership

Batteries are dense, unseen equipment that can create anxiety. How do you know they are working properly? Are they charging they way they should? Can they be repaired? And, how much will they cost to replace? All that makes you just shake your head and think, maybe it’s not worth it. 

But it’s sort of mismatching the problem and solution, sort of like trying to feed your horse’s oats to a gas-powered car. 

A company called Elysia, which makes batteries for Formula E electric car racing, showed off diagnostic technology that not only will help car makers and eventually, owners, better understand how their batteries are functioning, but allow them to adjust their habits to extend a battery’s life.

Elysias Diagnostics Show What Impacts Battery Life

Elysias diagnostics show what impacts battery life

Reduce the Unknowns, Increase Your Confidence 

Among the benefits: Elysia can diagnose which cells in a battery are not working properly so only those cells need to be replaced; the system can estimate how driving habits, climate temperature and charge type (level 2 or level 3) are impacting a battery’s life; and it can generate a warning when a battery is malfunctioning and at risk of catching on fire.

This means that car makers can identify exactly which cars need to be repaired rather than issuing a bulletin or recall, and they can address the problems efficiently. 

Imagine being able to assess the health of a battery before buying a used electric car. Or being able to get a quick over the air diagnostic without going to a dealership. Or being able to adjust your driving and charging habits to make your battery last a few years longer than intended? 

Those were just some of the many cool exhibitors at Move America. And, this is just one of many cool conferences with solutions for the industry and the consumer. It’s Moore’s Law at work: the faster technology moves the easier, more efficient and more succinct its solutions are. It can’t get here soon enough.

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Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss