China wants to be the first to build a solar road that wirelessly charges electric cars.
The world is in a race to solve the final challenge for electric vehicles (EVs) — fast and simple charging. That would eliminate any concern buyers might have that their cars won’t have the range for a long drive or will run out of juice in the middle of nowhere.
When that problem is solved, EVs will be superior to gasoline-powered vehicles in every single respect.
Last month, the semiconductor and telecom giant Qualcomm “demonstrated dynamic electric vehicle charging (DEVC), which allows vehicles to charge while driving.” It uses technology similar to the wireless charging you can now use for your phone and other gadgets.
Significantly, Qualcomm designed, built, and tested a wireless system that can charge an EV “at highway speeds” — and can simultaneously charge multiple vehicles in both directions. Many other companies are pursuing such wireless systems, since it would make EV charging vastly simpler and more convenient.
Meanwhile, the Chinese are testing roads that are paved with solar panels. The stunning drop in panel prices and improvement in durability means that in the near future, it could be competitive to replace asphalt with solar panels.
Indeed, “road builders in China even want to design solar roads that can wirelessly recharge electric cars running on them,” using technology like Qualcomm’s, the New York Times reported Monday. That would solve the range and charging problem entirely.
The ultimate prize is domination of a market that is rising exponentially. Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s Electric Vehicle Outlook 2018 projects that “Electric cars may be cheaper than their petroleum counterparts by 2025,” and that EVs will come to dominate new-car sales.
EVs are already superior to gasoline cars in many key respects: They have faster acceleration, much lower maintenance costs, zero tail-pipe emissions, and a much lower per-mile fueling cost than petrol cars — even when running on carbon-free fuel.
So the lifecycle cost of owning an EV is already competitive. That’s a key reason sales are soaring, and many European and Asian countries have announced they plan to ultimately ban gasoline cars as part of their effort to avert catastrophic global warming.
The price of EV’s major component — batteries — is dropping in price almost as rapidly as solar panels are. That’s why once the fast-charging and range problems are solved, electric cars will beat gasoline cars in every respect, ensuring the century-long dominance of vehicles powered by liquid fossil fuel comes to an end.
At this point, the remaining questions are how big a role wireless charging will play, will it make sense to wirelessly charge vehicles while people are driving, or will stationary charging become so fast that dynamic charging is unnecessary?
And there’s one more question: Will the U.S. under President Trump cede the lead in clean energy and EVs to China? Right now, we appear to be moving in that direction.