Electric Avenue: Infrastructures for Electric Vehicles

I love the idea of electric vehicles. I visit the local Tesla store on a regular basis just to marvel at the technology (yes, I know that the Chevrolet Volt, the Nissan Leaf, and the Smart Electric Drive also are out there but I am less familiar with them and few have captured the stylings of the Model S). I am every bit as fascinated by the folks who are doing their own EV conversions (Ben Graves’ awesome Volkswagen Bus, for example). While EVs are making their way into the mainstream, the batteries needed to power EVs and the infrastructure needed to support the batteries has not been making the same progress. This summer, however, gave some indications that the future of EVs get a lot more interesting over the next couple years.

The first indication that things were about to change was when Elon Musk announced the Supercharger at the beginning of the summer. Faster charging stations are clearly the beginning of the more robust infrastructure infrastructure needed to support EVs. Now while charging might not be as fast as a battery swap (as demonstrated in this Bloomberg video covering Tesla Motor’s jaw-dropping approach to battery swapping this past June), the Supercharger could reduce the time needed to recharge a battery to the point where it effectively becomes a non-issue. Time is, after all, something few of us have to spare. J.B. Straubel, Tesla’s Chief Technology Officer, told MIT Technology Review, that the Supercharger ultimately (ideally?) will be able to fully charge a battery within 5-10 minutes. He noted that this goal is “…not going to happen in a year from now. It’s going to be hard.” but, for a company that is only ten years old and is already garnering industry accolades, I am more than willing to think that they are going to get there.

Then I read about the small-scale test of KAIST’s road-powered electric bus over at ExtremeTech and, subsequently, Core77. While ExtremeTech notes that the costs of the system are hard to come by, Agence France Presse has an important one: the cost of the bus is $630,000…with no mention of the per kilometer cost of the laying the cable or the anticipated operating costs of the system. On the one hand, I assume most costs decline over time as the technology improves and production ramps up. On the other, all large-scale infrastructure projects are costly (as evidenced by the portion of my paycheck that I kindly give to the federal and state governments). The potential of having my EV recharge as I am driving is pretty amazing, even if that capability is limited to certain stretches of roads and is augmented (or complemented) by home and commercial charging stations.

The whole idea gets a little bit trippier when I start thinking about how the Shaped Magnetic Field in Resonance (SMFIR) technology used by KAIST might be integrated into the work of companies like Solar Roadways. What if the road itself provided some of the charge that needed to keep us moving?* Or what happens when SMFIR roadways are common enough that my future VW Van EV conversion has coils sitting under it? Exciting stuff.

* Except in countries that attempting to limit the use and utility of solar power (e.g., Spain). /facepalm

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