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Electric roads – the future of vehicle traffic?

There is little doubt that electric vehicles are the future, but what about the roads? Well, large parts of our road network will likely be electric too. History is being made on Gotland right now as RISE, together with several other operators, has begun construction of the world’s first wireless electric road.
“What we’re doing now is building a demo section on a public road on which we will drive an electric bus and electric truck,” says Oscar Enerbäck, Project Manager at RISE.

Electric roads offer numerous advantages. Not least of all in terms of the climate. Electric roads represent a solution to the Achilles heel of electric trucks: range. An electric road enables vehicles to be charged while on the move. An important step for an industry aiming for carbon neutrality by 2045.

“Heavy vehicle transport accounts for around 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the transport industry. An advantage of electric roads is that energy can be transferred while vehicles are on the move. This will also save time since you don’t have to stand still and charge the vehicle. The ambition is for this to become the method we use to transfer energy to vehicles for long-distance hauling,” says Enerbäck.

Lighter, cheaper vehicles

En-route charging also means that vehicle batteries can be smaller than usual, which may allow for lighter vehicles and more space for goods. Down the line, it could also mean cheaper vehicles.

“If you are able to have a smaller battery on board and thus use fewer battery minerals, it could lead to cheaper vehicles,” says Enerbäck.

Another advantage is that electric roads facilitate more efficient energy transfer from the source to the wheels compared to fossil fuels.

Wireless technology

The stretch of road between the city of Visby and Visby Airport runs 4.1 kilometres, of which just over one kilometre is being electrified. Electric roads can be built with different technologies. The road being built on Gotland uses induction. This means that energy is transferred wirelessly by means of magnetic fields produced by coils underneath the roadway to a coil aboard each vehicle. The technology can be compared to other technologies requiring the vehicle to make physical contact with, for example, an overhead line or tracks on the road.

Oscar Enerbäck believes that inductive electric roads offer multiple advantages over other technologies:

“Firstly, it’s not really noticeable since the electricity infrastructure is underneath the road, plus, there are very few moving parts, which reduces maintenance. And there is no physical contact which can cause mechanical wear and tear.”

Yet another advantage of inductive electric roads is that most vehicles can be adapted to utilise the roads.

“You can fit this type of coil to a passenger car, but the focus will initially be on heavy vehicles since they are more difficult to electrify and they travel far distances,” explains Enerbäck.

If we want to have electric vehicles, we need to generate more electricity

SmartRoad Gotland

Sweden ideally suited to electric roads

RISE will primarily analyse and evaluate the functionality and benefits of the road, but will also calculate the costs and societal effects of a greater number of electric roads. More electric roads are a distinct possibility, since Sweden is ideally suited for this type of road.

“In Sweden we have a fairly reliable electrical grid along with eco-friendly electricity generation. This is not the case everywhere in the world,” says Enerbäck.

Today, the need for electricity is so great in some parts of the country that the capacity of electricity lines is inadequate; further expansion of the electrical grid is therefore a necessity in order to electrify a larger proportion of the vehicle fleet. 

“If we want to have electric vehicles, we need to generate more electricity and make sure it can reach our roads,” says Enerbäck.

Electric roads for public transport a potential first step

Oscar Enerbäck does not intend on speculating when we will see more electric roads on a large scale, but a potential first step could be electric roads for public transport or an electric road between two regions with very regular goods transport:

“The total economy of electric roads is easier to calculate on a stretch with regular and known vehicle traffic.  Such as transport between a mine and port. But precisely where electric roads are most appropriate has not yet been completely investigated.”

Oscar Enerbäck

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Oscar Enerbäck

Project Leader Senior Researcher

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