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Finding a sustainable future for electric roads

In some form or another, the roads of tomorrow will be electrified. The necessary technology already exists; the challenge is to find ways to make it work in a holistic business ecosystem.
“We can see that electric roads offer longterm, socioeconomic profits,” confirms Håkan Sundelin, an electromobility researcher at RISE.

In Sweden, the goal is a climate-neutral transport sector by 2045. A wide range of solutions will be required in order to achieve this. One solution for which the technology is already well advanced is Electric Road Systems (ERS). The recent second international Electric Road Systems Conference saw 120 delegates from 12 countries discussing solutions.

“It is apparent that this discussion is maturing. People are taking note on an entirely different level than only a few years ago. Where previously only technical solutions were up for discussion, people now see the importance of financing models, how different systems may suit different markets and what the short and longterm benefits might be,” says Håkan Sundelin.

Since 2016, RISE has been leading the Research and Innovation Platform for Electric Roads. Among the collaborators are several Swedish regional authorities, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Chalmers University of Technology, Lund University, the Swedish Electromobility Centre, the Swedish Transport Administration and private-sector industry partners AB Volvo, Scania, Vattenfall, Fortum and Profu. The purpose of the Research and Innovation Platform for Electric Roads is to provide answers to the remaining questions: How do we identify a workable business ecosystem in which to place electric roads? Who will pay for the investment? How much will customers be willing to pay for the benefits? How will roads be maintained? How can the electrical grid be balanced? To name just a few of the outstanding issues.

“We have made financial calculations for a complete electric road system that demonstrate the longterm profitability of electrified roads. If we can show that this is viable in Sweden – with our relatively low transport flow – then profitability should be achievable almost anywhere.”

Overhead cables gives electricity to trucks

There are currently three main systems available; overhead cables, rails or wireless via the road surface. Overhead cables are a more established technique and are well-suited to heavy goods vehicles, with their high profiles. Ground-borne solutions offer the possibility of use with private cars. Any initial stage will primarily address the needs of HGVs, as private cars do not have the same need for charging during the journey; however, the technology obviously offers possibilities for smaller vehicles to use electric roads.

One thing that Conny Börjesson and Martin Gustavsson have looked at within the project is the various stakeholders in electric roads. Here, one thing has been made abundantly clear – electric roads must not be more expensive for the individual carrier or freight company or the risk is great that use will fail to take off.

“One difficulty then is the major capital expenditure required. Who will be in a position to make such an investment? We are looking at various possible models for this,” says Håkan Sundelin.

Cutting edge of electric roads

Sweden is at the cutting edge of electric roads. The world’s first demonstration facility for electric roads using overhead cables opened in Sandviken in 2016, while the first demonstration facilty with rails opened this year in Arlanda. When the Swedish Government unveiled its national plan for infrastructure this spring, it also announced an investment of SEK 300 million in an electric road pilot scheme.

RISE is also leading a collaboration with Germany. After Stefan Löfven’s summit with Angela Merkel in January 2017. electric roads were highlighted as one of three innovation partnerships. Through the CollERS collaboration, the two countries are now conducting joint research to identify harmonized solutions and future standardization for transnational electric road systems.

“These developments are at an early stage. It is important to find interfaces that allow different systems to work with one another. One concrete result is that we are studying how an electric road corridor between Sweden and Germany might look and work.”

No matter what form the roads of the future take, the knowledge currently being acquired will be invaluable.

“Electric roads are not the only solution; however, they are one solution among many for achieving the objective – and it is extremely exciting to study how all of these might work together,” concludes Håkan Sundelin.


The Research and Innovation Platform for Electric Roads

Participants in the project:

  • Chalmers University of Technology, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, the Swedish Transport Administration, Institute of Transport Economics, Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute, and RISE will conduct research and studies.
  • Fortum, Profu, Scania, Vattenfall and AB Volvo are participating industry partners..
  • Airport City Stockholm, Region Gävleborg and Kalmar Regional Association participate through their interest in future implementations.
  • The project is led and coordinated by RISE.