Electric roads are one of the studied techniques in the race to carbon offset heavy traffic and within a few years, the first commercial electric road can become a reality. This will probably happen in Sweden or Germany.
Traffic and transport account for more than a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, making it necessary to phase out fossil fuels. Today, the proportion of electric vehicles is increasing rapidly and charging networks such as Vattenfall InCharge is expanding at an ever faster pace.
When it comes to heavy transport with long transports, it may not be enough to charge the batteries in charging stations along the road. Instead, parts of the roads can be electrified so that vehicles can be charged while driving. In this way, the size of the battery can be reduced, which saves weight.
“Fixed charging points are likely to be used for local or regional transport. But for long-distance transport vehicles that in Sweden can weigh up to 60 tonnes, or in some specific cases up to 90 tonnes, electric road systems are considered by some players to be a key application, says Colin Stewart, specialist in e-mobility at Vattenfall Research & Development.
Vattenfall participates in a number of different projects to electrify road transport with the goal of enabling fossil-free life within a generation.
Outside Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland, the installation of the world’s first wireless electric road was completed in December 2020, where 1.5 meter long copper coils were installed under the asphalt on a public road between the airport and the city center. With the help of corresponding coils in the vehicle, the electric power is transmitted via so-called induction, a proven technology that is common in, for example, electric toothbrush chargers and is used in modern stoves. Vattenfall is one of the participants in the Smartroad Gotland project
and has, among other things, delivered energy storage through its Power-as-a-service solution. The large battery has an output of 240 kilowatts and is partly powered by solar cells.
– The purpose of energy storage is to shave the power peaks from the electric road and thereby avoid a permanent expansion of the network as a secondary transformer station. Instead, a smaller electrical connection can be used. This is a solution that saves both time and valuable resources, he says Kajsa Roxbergh, business developer at Vattenfall Network Solutions.
In Germany, a similar wireless electric road is also being built for one bus line in the city of Karlsruhe.
First in the world
It is in Sweden and Germany that most projects on public roads are carried out. In 2017, the countries entered into an innovation partnership, with electric roads as one of the areas of cooperation. Today, France is also part of this partnership.
Already 2016, the world very first electric road on a public road inaugurated in Sweden, on a stretch of the E16 motorway between Gävle and Sandviken. The e-road used an overhead line and the trucks were equipped with pantographs, like a tram.
Today, the same technology is used in several successful projects in Germany, including a project near Frankfurt Am Main. On a 60-kilometer-long stretch of motorway, a five-kilometer-long segment has been equipped with an overhead line that charges the trucks while driving and thus saves large amounts of fossil fuel. A number of logistics companies participate and use electric cars from Swedish truck manufacturer Scania.
80 percent of German transports
In total, about 15 km of electric roads with overhead lines have been built in the country. These may not be long distances, but estimates show that already by electrifying a third of the German motorways, as much as 80 percent of the country’s heavy road transport can be powered by electricity.
The rail is detected automatically
A third technique for driving the roads is to install a rail on the roadway, much like a tramway. In connection with Arlanda Airport in Stockholm, Vattenfall has supported a project eRoad Arlanda, where two kilometers of a ten-kilometer stretch were electrified and used for ordinary freight traffic.
The technology works with the help of a movable arm that finds the rail in the roadway. If the vehicle is directly above the rail, the contact is in the lowered position. When overtaking, the switch lifts automatically.
Standardization is needed
All of these techniques have advantages and disadvantages. But some form of standardized solution will be required for successful implementation in long-distance transport, says Colin Stewart
“Interoperability is the key to enabling an electric road network in different European countries. We need strong coordination when it comes to international transport corridors. For example, one solution in Sweden and another in Germany would be ineffective and would most likely end up with errors given the potential for very varying specifications.
The first commercial electric road may soon become a reality
So when will we see a first commercial application? In addition to the costs, several important legal and technical issues need to be investigated. In Germany, a study initiated by the Ministry of the Environment has suggested that 4,000 kilometers of motorways could be electrified. The cost, EUR 12 billion, is considered manageable compared to the country’s plans to invest close to EUR 100 billion in new construction and road construction over the next ten years.
In Sweden, the government has commissioned the Swedish Transport Administration to develop a plan for how 2,000 km of the country’s busiest roads can be electrified by 2030. This year, a special investigator will report on how electric roads can be regulated, such as existing road regulation, electrical installations. electricity networks and the electricity market.
“Change this year, we expect to see a further solution to both legal and business issues regarding electrical road systems for a first commercial pilot in Sweden, so there should be an announcement later this year about a larger installation. But it should be in the mid-2020s before I expect to see any significant distribution of commercial electrical road systems. Until then, it will be pilots and demonstrations that prove the technology, says Colin Stewart.