NextEnergy: Developing Charging and Power Systems for Tomorrow’s Cars, Homes, and Businesses

29 September 2014 Dashboard Insights Blog

This post continues Dashboard Insight’s look at NextEnergy, and the technologies it is incubating, as demonstrated at ITS World Congress.

In addition to the networking technologies that NextEnergy is developing with its partners, NextEnergy is also developing vehicle charging and power systems that look to trim energy bills for both homes and businesses.

Cars That Make Efficiency Easier

One issue with the current crop of electric vehicles on the market is the need to charge them on a regular basis, a process that usually involves a corded charging system that must be manually connected by the driver. Another technology Qualcomm has demonstrated at NextEnergy is the use of a wireless vehicle charger, which may remove this part of an electric car operator’s daily routine.

Qualcomm’s demonstrated technology involves a charging plate that a car can park over. The charging plate does not contact the car directly, and does not need to be plugged into the car. Instead, by being in close proximity to a corresponding charging pad placed on the bottom of the car, the charging system wirelessly replenishes the car’s batteries at the same rate that a corded connection would, eliminating the need for a separate charging cable. As the technology progresses and, hopefully, gains greater acceptance, this could lead to embedded wireless chargers in parking lots or garages, further simplifying

The trick to making this work as a practical matter is to increase the margin of error for parking the car over the charging pad. Requiring drivers to always place their car within a millimeter of the same spot every time they park does not create any conveniences, so developing a system that will charge when the car is “close enough” to on-center has been an important part of the process for Qualcomm. Qualcomm has also developed a display that shows drivers when they are adequately lined up to permit charging, to take the guesswork out of the process—a development that future electric car owners will likely be thankful for.

Cars That Make Their Homes and Businesses More Efficient

NextEnergy’s partners, including Chrysler and Coritech Services, Inc., are also developing electric cars that not only draw power from the grid, but can augment the grid as well. For markets that price electricity based on when it is used, so that peak-time electricity costs more than off-peak electricity, these cars can discharge their battery to the house or business it is connected to during on-peak hours, and recharge during off-peak hours. This allows utility consumers to shift their grid power usage from times where electricity is most expensive to the times when it is least expensive, and has the benefit of helping smooth demand from the power provider (a benefit whose importance is highlighted by recent spikes in electric demand during extreme weather, either cold or hot). This technology is scalable, meaning that it can benefit both homeowners and a business with a fleet of dozens of electric cars.

NextEnergy also has partners, including Nextek Power Systems and Wayne State University, working on demonstrating the use of DC power in the home and in a business environment, as opposed to the AC power that is generally used in American buildings. While this would represent a major change in how electricity is used in homes and businesses, there are potential benefits for energy efficiency—and it would make integrating vehicle power systems with home power systems more seamless.

Looking Ahead

Ultimately, the technologies being developed at NextEnergy are likely to find their way into people’s garages in the years to come. The lab space and the collaborative environment provided at NextEnergy’s Detroit facility seem likely to bring those technologies to market more quickly than would otherwise be the case.

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