The world’s first stretch of electrified road has officially been unveiled in Sweden, but are cabled roads really the future of fossil fuel-free transportation?
The 1.2 mile stretch of electrified rail, installed in a public road outside of Stockholm allows electric vehicles to recharge as they drive.
Electric cars are a big growth market and their use is growing rapidly in the UK and abroad.
Figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) reveals that electric and hybrid vehicles saw a 5.7% sales boost in March of this year, compared with March 2017.
The market share for electric and hybrid vehicles is now 5%.
Although battery technology is improving rapidly, some motorists are still put off by ‘range anxiety’ and the uncertainty aspect of when you might find yourself in the middle of nowhere, miles away from the nearest charging port.
Planners in Sweden hoped to correct this problem, amongst others, with the world’s first electric road.
Their electric road works a bit like a tram or a giant Scalextric, with cars collecting energy through a movable arm fixed to the bottom of the vehicle.
As an electric vehicle moves over the electric road, the arm detects where the rail is and moves over to it. It moves out of the way automatically when a vehicle overtakes.
Split into 50-metre sections, the road is only powered up when an electric vehicle travels over it.
The road can also track a vehicle’s energy consumption and bill users for their use.
“One of the most important issues of our time is the question of how to make fossil-free road transportation a reality,” said Hans Säll, chairman of the eRoadArlanda consortium, which runs the project.
“We now have a solution that will make this possible, which is amazing. Sweden is at the cutting edge of this technology, which we now hope to introduce in other areas of the country and the world.”
But are electric roads the future of transport?
Before authorities around the world go turning thousands of miles of motorway into a giant Scalextric track, however, it is worth asking whether electric roads are really the future of fossil fuel free transport.
There are a few drawbacks to roads that are electrified in this way.
Ripping up sections of road and relaying them with electric sections is expensive. And vehicles that want to use the system have to be fitted with special charging arms.
Some people would argue that the ‘tram tracks’ look unsightly.
One solution to this final problem is wireless induction charging. This uses the same technology as wireless smartphone chargers and electric toothbrush chargers to recharge cars wirelessly.
This is much tougher with large objects like a car. But chip manufacturer Qualcomm announced that it made a 100 metre test track near Paris and successfully charged vehicles at highway speeds.
Induction charging roads are likely to be even more expensive, however, and probably not suitable for charging private passenger cars.
Battery powered cars charged through special ports at home or in other public places, meanwhile, are becoming more popular.
And the technology and infrastructure that underpins them is improving all the time.
Lithium-ion batteries are getting better day after day, capable of holding more charge and enabling drivers to go further.
The UK’s charging infrastructure is also improving at an alarming rate.
According to Zap Map, there are now more than 16,000 connectors in more than 5,500 locations across the UK.
London is the area with the most charging connections, accounting for more than one in five (21%), followed by Scotland (15%) and the south east (13%).
Time will tell whether electrified roads, battery-powered cars or some other technology will replace petrol and diesel-powered vehicles.