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Duke Energy Investigates Wireless Electric Vehicle Charging Technology

The folks at Duke Energy DUK -1.28% see change coming quickly to the electric industry, and they intend to be involved in that process of evolution. They are actively working to discern how the evolving eco-system of new technologies – solar, wind, electric vehicles (EVs), and other devices – will affect their electricity business. Among other things, they are testing the interaction of storage solutions with wind turbines, combining solar arrays with batteries to charge EVs, and observing customer interactions to see how things may evolve. They are also testing (along with about a dozen other participants) a new wireless electric vehicle charging system.

Mike Rowand Source: Duke Energy

Mike Rowand, Director of Technology Development at Duke Energy in Charlotte, N.C., gets to try out the fun stuff and evaluate the new technologies as part of his job. I recently had a chance to ask Mike about his experience with a new and potentially transformative product in the world of electric vehicles: a “Plugless Power” EV charging system made by Evatran. With this system, you simply park your electric car over the target and the charging starts automatically. Duke Energy is trying to determine the implications of this technology.

Q: I understand you are evaluating a wireless EV charging system. What’s the goal here?

“With plug-in vehicles, there are still a lot of questions with respect to the utility’s role, and we are specifically trying to understand infrastructure requirements. At Duke Energy, we still haven’t determined our long-term business model. We are a fuel provider and therefore its part of our business model, but do we want to offer infrastructure? We have pilot programs to install charging stations in people’s homes to understand patterns.”

“As we are trying to understand infrastructure needs, it’s important to understand the trends. It would be nice to know if what is installed today will be obsolete in a few years. We need to know whether wireless will work, and whether it could be the next generation for charging. It’s good to understand the various infrastructure technologies so we can make more informed decisions about our investments.”

Q: You have noted that EVs have parallels with the general concept of the smart grid.

“One of most interesting things I’ve found is the catalytic nature of the technology around electric vehicles. The vehicles themselves have interesting technologies and are kind of a microcosm of the smart grid in general. We are trying to determine what the technologies being developed for EVs will mean for the rest of the grid. For example, EV R&D is driving battery technology development that can be applied to the electric grid. What about end-use communications, specifically two-way customer to asset devices? With vehicles you have Onstar and Fordsync and others, and you have sub-metering and embedded metering in both vehicles and infrastructure. You have regulation allowing retail power sales in some states, and third parties using EVs as gateway to offering other services to customers. So EVs will be a catalyst for technology in customer-focused innovation. Wireless power transfer/charging itself could be a technology that is going to impact other parts of the business.“

Q: Is there something about the nature of the wireless energy transfer itself that merits attention?

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