The WAVE wireless charging system requires no driver intervention and eliminates the time-consuming manual activity associated with diesel fueling and plug-in chargers, providing high-power charging opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable when time-consuming manual labor is required. By making high-power charging fast, and easily accessible, WAVE enables electric buses and trucks to charge during normal operations, extending range to more easily match that of fossil fuel vehicles. It is currently being used at several transit agencies around the nation, including at the Antelope Valley Transit Authority (AVTA) in Lancaster, Calif., where 12 wireless WAVE charging systems have helped the agency become the first in the nation to have a fully-electrified fleet.
WAVE was recently purchased by Ideanomics — a global group with a simple mission: to accelerate the commercial adoption of electric vehicles. We spoke to WAVE’s CEO Aaron Gillmore about what the sale means for WAVE, the benefits of the charging system, and much more.
WAVE recently had a change of ownership. Can you talk a bit about that?
Ideanomics purchased the company in January 2021, and I've been on board for about eight months. Being part of the Ideanomics family has allowed us to grow our team, scale manufacturing, and reduce costs. We’re still developing new products while adapting our current ones to new markets to meet growing demand outside of the transit sector. Our CTO, Mike Masquelier has been running this business for the last 10 years, making something that will work well and is reliable. Now we’re scaling commercially with the goal of reducing both cost and weight while producing at a higher volume.
Are you talking about possibly shrinking the product or making the implementation process simpler?
By making charging fast and easily accessible, electric trucks and buses can complete routes with smaller batteries. The weight we save enabling smaller, lighter batteries offsets by a large margin the weight of the receiver on the vehicle. That said, we continue to look at ways to make the product lighter and more affordable.
As far as upgrades, are you considering increasing the kilowatts and minimizing the time spent charging the vehicles?
The smallest system we have now is the 125-kilowatt system. We also have the 250-kilowatt system, which is being used by AVTA as well as a few other places around the nation. The 250-kilowatt system is the ideal size for the transit industry, but we also now have a 500-kilowatt system that we have successfully demonstrated in association with a couple of suppliers. With that, yes, there is a push for higher power, in certain duty cycles.
So the sweet spot for the WAVE system is the 250-kilowatt system the AVTA is using, is that correct?
Yes, the key to me is utilization. That’s where the economics really pays off to go wireless. Aside from the operational benefits, which are numerous, there are two benefits that really stand out. The first, obviously, is the WAVE system eliminates the need for cables. Especially, the large and cumbersome heavy-duty copper cables that have been a bit of hinderance even on the consumer side. The second, though, is utilization. The WAVE system enables agencies and our customers to put these chargers in more places than you can put plug-in chargers, which typically are housed in bus depots and warehouse distribution centers. For instance, you wouldn't be able to fit a charger up against the wall and have it at a loading dock where all these trucks are in line because the cable would have to be too long. Or, if you put it in between the trucks, it would take up too much space. Going wireless enables you to put a charger somewhere that is on your regular duty cycle. For instance, somewhere where you are loading and unloading products.
For transit, it’s about looking for those opportunities along routes or where several routes end or meet up at a transfer center. If we choose the right spot where many vehicles pass through throughout the day, then each of those vehicles can pass over the charger during their typical duty cycle, and the economics are fantastic for transit agencies in many ways. So the more utilization you have and the more kilowatt-hours you push through, the faster that wireless charger is going to pay for itself. In California, where there are items like LCFS credits, there is a massive difference economically — that is charging eight buses using one charger on-route versus eight chargers needed to charge eight buses in a depot. That’s what we are really looking for. So when we sit down with the customer, whether it’s a transit agency or truck fleet, we work to fully understand their business because that's how you can optimize their economics and time spent charging vehicles. With the WAVE system, we can turn charging into an opportunity that takes less time to charge than to fuel a vehicle with diesel fuel.
I’d like to get back to having new ownership in place…what new opportunities will WAVE be looking at both in the short- and long-term future?
As I mentioned, Ideanomics’ acquisition has given us the capital to ramp-up commercialization. We are continually hiring, specifically in engineering and production. We are also looking more strategically at our vendors to create more resiliency in our supply chain while leveraging higher volumes into lower costs. We are also looking at ways to tweak the design to manufacturing at scale. For 10 years now, we’ve been focused on developing a product that’s reliable and efficient. Now, it's about retaining those qualities at a lower cost with higher volumes.
And at this point, is transit your main market, or are there other markets where you are seeing more growth or opportunities?
Transit is still a huge market for us for sure and, it’s one that works well for wireless charging. I think we can push it even further, though. In the case of AVTA, our chargers are sitting out there along the route offering opportunity charging. And instead of having a 100-bus fleet where you run your buses all day and drive them back to the depot and plug them in all night, I’ve started to talk to some transit agencies about the idea of having a fast lane of wireless chargers in the depot in lieu of plug-in charging altogether. There, the concept of higher utilization and lower overall cost comes in. If instead of one plug-in charger for every vehicle in the depot you alternatively had five to 10 wireless chargers in a “Fast Lane,” buses could get a fast charge when they return to the depot for routine procedures such as inspection, maintenance, or cleaning. It is essentially a quick, high-powered charge upon returning to the depot, then parking overnight until the next day rather than needing an overnight plug-in charge. Combining this fast lane concept with wireless chargers out on the road where buses are performing their regular duty cycles, you can create a near-perpetual operation. Then an agency won’t need 100 chargers for 100 buses. Also, the amount of power required from the utility at any one location will decrease with this spreading of the electric load over time and space, versus incurring peak demand charges in a depot when all are charged at the same time. So, there’s a lot of opportunity for transit because there’s so much more to electrify, making it a key market for us. But, if you look at the truck market, the number of vehicles to transition away from diesel is much larger, and it's just beginning, right? Transit is way ahead of trucks when it comes to electrification in North America just because of the grant money available and regulations — the impetus was there first. But the truck market is going to be enormous. Now, it's a little more challenging for us because there are currently so many kinds of trucks running out on the market today. By working with individual fleet operators and getting a better understanding of their duty cycles, we can do the analysis and show them how to optimize their fleets to get the right amount of power to charge with fewer chargers, at the right price, with little or no impact to what they are doing with diesel vehicles today.