Sweden is constructing the world’s first everlasting e-road for charging electrical autos whereas driving

As countries across Europe ramp up their efforts towards fossil-free mobility, Sweden is working on the world’s first permanent electric road, allowing electric cars and trucks to charge while driving.

The project is led by the Swedish transport authority Trafikverket, which has chosen the E20 motorway. Specifically, the electric road system (ERS) will be built on the 21 km long route from Hallsberg to Örebro, located between the country’s two largest cities, Stockholm and Gothenburg.

The E-road is currently in the procurement and final planning phase, while Trafikverket expects to complete it and present it to the public in 2025/2026.

How will it work?

Trafikverket has yet to decide what technology it will use for the ERS. There are currently three types available: overhead conductive charging, ground conductive charging and ground inductive charging.

With the first type of charging, the current is transferred from overhead lines to a vehicle via a pantograph – similar to the operation of trams. However, this technology is only suitable for heavy-duty vehicles that are high enough to reach the power lines.

The other two ground-based options work in a similar way. With conductive charging, the electricity is transmitted via special rails or tracks that are installed under or on the road. The vehicles are charged using a mechanical arm or stick that touches the rails. With the inductive system, the energy is transferred between coils embedded in the road and the vehicles.

Sweden’s bet on electric roads

The ambitious electrification of the E20 follows a series of successful ERS pilot projects in the country. From 2016 to date, Trafikverket has tested all three road fee technologies in different parts of the country, including Lund, Gotland and Sandviken.

The focus was on trucks and buses, and for good reason. Research estimates that electrifying the road network connecting the country’s largest cities would reduce emissions from heavy-duty vehicles by 1.2 million tons in 2030.

But in 2018, Sweden began testing road tolls for both commercial and passenger electric vehicles on a 2 km stretch between Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport and a logistics area in Rosenberg.

The government’s plan is to deploy 2,000km of ERS on public roads by 2030 – the same year it proposed to ban new fossil fuel cars. But whether betting on e-roads is a fruitful strategy remains debatable.

On the one hand, electric road systems will make it possible to travel longer distances between charging station visits, increasing the adoption rate of electric vehicles and in turn reducing CO2 emissions.

A recent study by Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg has also shown that e-roads would reduce the load on the power grid even at peak times and offer an alternative to charging at home. The team also suggested that combining charging at home (static) and charging on the go (dynamic) can reduce battery size by up to 70%.

“This would reduce the need for raw materials for batteries, and an electric car could also become cheaper for the consumer,” said Sten Karlsson, co-author of the study.

However, there is an important counter-argument: the high investment and maintenance costs for a nascent type of infrastructure that could prove obsolete in the long run as battery development progresses.

According to the findings of the study, however, the risk does not appear to be that high. The team estimates that only 25% of national and European roads would need to be electrified for the system to work.

Sweden isn’t the only one developing e-roads: Italy, France, Germany and the UK are also testing the technology. In fact, connecting Europe could actually be an opportunity for an electric road network.

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