Mr. Green Car: Charging without a cord

By Allen Penticoff
Columnist

We have owned a 2013 Chevy Volt for 19 months and have enjoyed it quite a bit. My wife and I are obsessed with driving it on electricity as much as possible and cringe whenever the engine runs. Our record best is 2,200 miles with only use of .10 gallons of gas (22,000 mpg). Due to the Volt’s somewhat limited electric range of 28 to 53 miles (the best and worst we’ve seen) we plug-in every time it is in our garage.

While plugging in is not much of a hassle, and is a fairly easy habit to get into. Recently my wife forgot to plug in for the evening and as a consequence had very limited range the next day, resulting in a short engine run to get home that used a tenth of a gallon. Still great mpg, but that hurts our quest to beat the previous electric only record – so this recording period beginning April 1, we’ve gone about 1,000 miles on .2 gallons of gas.

We have been charging with the standard 120-volt charger that came with the car – as do many other Volt owners. Upgrading to a 240-volt charger would cost us anywhere from $500 to $1,000 for the equipment, plus installation of new wiring in the garage (which I can mostly do myself). A 240-volt charger would quickly refill the batteries so that after a morning of errand running the batteries could be full again before a night out of entertainment or socializing. The high rate charger would also allow us to sign up for lower rate electricity charging at night since the onboard charger can be programmed to charge at certain times and still be full for morning commute. The 240-volt charger is roughly 3 times faster than the 120 volt charger. However, according to Plugless Power, their wireless charging system is, “12 percent less efficient than corded L2 30 amp 240V charging systems and about 7 percent less efficient than corded Level 1 charging systems.” So you will be paying a bit in your electric bill for the convenience of not messing with a cord.

Another option is to acquire an induction charger from Plugless Power. With this system, the Volt, Leaf or Cadillac ELR can charge without plugging in a cord. The system consists of a wall mounted control/indicator (a free standing version is available as well), a floor mounted “parking pad” and the “vehicle adapter.” All this equipment is rated to be used indoors or outdoors.

The parking pad creates a powerful electrical magnetic wave current that is picked up by the vehicle adapter receiver. And that’s simply how it works. With the wall mounted controller, it has indicators to guide the driver forward and back as well as left and right to be in just the right spot to park and for the induction current to begin flowing over a four inch gap to the car. Although one could probably hit the right parking spot in one stop after a bit of use. There is a safety feature to prevent someone trying to plug in a corded charger while the inductive charger is in use. The parking pad can withstand a 1,500 pound load on it in the event someone drives over it, and it is designed to prevent operation if someone leaves a metallic object on it (which would otherwise become very hot and/or disturb the charging).

For families with an electric vehicle, this can be a great convenience. No dirty cord to deal with, no forgetting to plug in, no forgetting to close the charge door or trying to open a frozen one, and the most practical advantage of always having the batteries topped off and ready to roll when the vehicle has been parked long enough – or at least more range added. A 240-volt charger at 30 amps like the Plugless Power with 3.3 Kwh of output will add about 10 miles of range per hour of charging.

Pricing for use with our Volt is $892 for the charger (pad and controller) and $1,048 for the vehicle adapter. These are priced separately as some owners may need two chargers for work and home but only one vehicle adapter. They can also be leased for $21 for the charger and $24 for the adapter per month for 36 months. Plugless Power says they offer a 45 day no questions refund and a 3 year warranty. The cost of the charger is in line with other 240-volt chargers I have seen advertised, while the adapter is something that would be the significant extra cost, although the price does include installation by a Chevrolet dealer who has a Volt certified service technician. Pricing for the Nissan Leaf is similar to the Volt, while the Cadillac ELR adapter is $500 more.

Will we get plugless charging for our Volt? Perhaps – it is very tempting since we need to upgrade our charger anyway. I also hope that plugless chargers become common at public charging locations. This would make quick charges and public charging more appealing – and thus electric vehicle ownership all the more attractive.

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