Sweden launches first electric road in the world
The two-kilometre section has been installed on the road linking Arlanda Airport to the Rosenberg Logistics Centre in Stockholm and uses technology similar to that used in Scalextric.
For the truck belonging to the company Post Nord, the first vehicle to use the world’s first electric road, two thousand metres is just a small section of its journey, but this represents a big step on the road to sustainable mobility. Roads capable of Icharging cars as they drive along them represent the future of road transport – and perhaps in a more immediate and essential way than we could imagine.
While car manufacturers try to come up with a sufficiently light and compact battery to give electric vehicles true autonomy, roads will be responsible for guaranteeing a safe and stable supply of energy.
“Charging vehicles as they move, instead of when they are stationary, has many advantages,” says Hans Säll, the director of the eRoadArlanda consortium, which has launched the world’s first electric road between Arlanda Airport and Rosenberg Logistics Centre in Stockholm. “It allows cars to have smaller, lighter batteries, which lowers the cost of the cars and makes them more sustainable. In addition, it will reduce the parking space required at petrol stations for lcharging vehicles using motorways ”
The system launched in Sweden resembles a Scalextric, and according to its promoters, is the most efficient method in terms of cost and performance. The installation is simple. All that is needed is to cut into the conventional road surface to insert an electrified rail, so it is not necessary to widen the carriageway or to set up elevated posts like those of the catenary of a train.
The vehicles are equipped with a connector under their chassis with a magnet that causes it to lower when it is over the rail, and that is automatically raised when it moves away from it, for example, when overtaking or leaving the road. When the car comes into contact with the electrical cable inserted in the tarmac, the road makes available 200Kw of power, ten times more than a conventional charger, and enough to power the engines of several cars and even 18-tonne trucks advancing simultaneously along the rail.
The road connects to the existing electrical infrastructure, and only sends power to the rail sections that have a car on top of them, thus increasing efficiency and saving power, as well as avoiding possible electrocutions.
The concern about safety is in fact one of the questions that the developers of this technology are regularly asked about: Is it safe for people and animals to have a high voltage cable beneath them? What happens when it rains and the road is flooded?
The eRoadArlanda consortium insists that the risk of electrocution is minimal. On the one hand, the power cable is six centimetres underground and is not accessible from the exterior. In addition, electricity is only connected when a car passes along the rail, so the risk of a collision would exceed that of an electrical discharge. The rails are also earthed and have a water evacuation system to prevent flooding. Even in the case of flooding, say the promoters, the voltage on the surface of the water would be only 1 volt.
The Post Nord Truck is – for now – the only vehicle equipped with this connector, and will for the next 12 months drive along the currently installed two-kilometre section of the road that separates the airport from its logistics centre. Soon, however, more vehicles and more roads will operate this system.
The Swedish Transport Administration (TRAFIKVERTEK) plans a more extensive pilot scheme – up to 30 kilometres in length – over the next three years, and the ambition is to electrify the 1,365 km triangle that links Stockholm, Malmö and Gothenburg, which is responsible for 70 percent of the heavy goods traffic in the country.
“There is a type of road traffic, such as that of goods vehicles, which has few alternatives compared to passenger transport. The Swedish road network is 15 times longer than the rail network. Therefore, we concluded that the electrification of roads was possible with relatively small improvements compared to the construction of new infrastructures, Lena Erixon, the director of Trafikvertek, explains to consultants McKinsey.
Ultimately, the idea is not to install electricity on all routes, but to create a network of electrified roads that will allow vehicles using small batteries similar to those currently in existence to transfer from one road to another.. In the case of Sweden, “it would be necessary to install some 20,000 kilometres of electrical power”, the inventor of the system, Gunnar Asplund, told the press. “So we would have a network with about 40 kilometres of distance between the big roads that are electrified, so that we could drive across 40-kilometre stretches with a battery, and then connect up with the electrified road if we travel longer distances.”
“I think this technology, or a similar system, will be in commercial use in five or ten years,” he said. “Every government that wants to have a fossil fuel-free transport system must know that it is really difficult without electric roads.”
At present there are about ten projects for electric roads using three different technologies: a system powered by cables – similar to trams; a system powered by rails – like the one used by ERoadArlanda; and induction, which is more expensive, although this method does not require contact with cables.