As countries across Europe scale up efforts towards fossil fuel-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 Administration, Trafikverket, which has selected the E20 highway. Specifically, it will build the electric road system (ERS) on the 21km route from Hallsberg to Örebro, located between the country’s two largest cities, Stockholm and Gothenburg.
The e-road is now at the procurement and final planning stage, while Trafikverket expects to complete and introduce it to the public in 2025/2026.
How will it work?
Trafikverket has yet to determine which technology it will use for the ERS. Currently, there are three types available: overhead conductive, ground-based conductive, and ground-based inductive charging.
In the first type of charging, power is transferred from overhead wires to a vehicle through a pantograph — much like how trams operate. This technology, however, is only suitable for heavy-duty vehicles that are high enough to reach the electric lines.
The other two ground-based options work in a similar way. In conductive charging, power is transferred from special rails or tracks placed below or on the road. The vehicles charge with the help of a mechanical arm or stick that touches the rails. In the inductive system, the power transfer takes place between coils embedded in the road and the vehicles.
Sweden’s bet on electric roads
The ambitious electrification of E20 follows a series of successful ERS pilot projects in the country. From 2016 to date, Trafikverket has tested all three road charging technologies in various parts of the country, including Lund, Gotland, and Sandviken.
Most of the focus has been on trucks and buses and for a good reason. Electrifying the road network that connects the country’s biggest cities would reduce emissions of heavy duty vehicles by 1.2m tonnes in 2030, research estimates.
But, in 2018, Sweden began testing road charging for both commercial and passenger EVs as well on a 2km route 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 has proposed to ban new fossil fuel-powered cars. But whether betting on e-roads constitutes a fruitful strategy remains a controversial topic.
On the one hand, electric road systems will enable longer distances to be traveled between charging station visits, increasing the adoption rate of EVs and, in turn, reducing carbon emissions.
A recent study by the Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg has further found that e-roads would also lower the demand on the grid during peak times, working as an alternative to home charging. The team also suggested that combining home (static) and on-the-go (dynamic) charging can reduce the 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.
There is, however, an important counterargument: the lofty investment and maintenance costs for a nascent type of infrastructure that, in the long run, may prove obsolete as battery development accelerates.
But according to the study’s findings, the risk doesn’t seem that high. The team estimates that only 25% of the national and European roads would need to be electrified for the system to work.
Sweden is not alone in developing e-roads, with Italy, France, Germany, and the UK testing the technology as well. In fact, Europe’s interconnectivity might indeed give a winning chance to an electric road network.