Sweden is to pave the world’s first permanent e-road for charging electric vehicles while driving

As countries across Europe step up efforts for fossil-free mobility, Sweden is building 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 chosen the E20 highway. Specifically, it will build the electric road network (ERS) on the 21 km route from Hallsberg to Örebro, located between the country’s two largest cities, Stockholm and Gothenburg.

The e-road is now in the tendering and final planning phase, while Trafikverket expects to complete and introduce it to the public in 2025/2026.

How will it work?

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

In the first type of charging, power is transferred from overhead wires to a vehicle via a pantograph – just as trams work. However, this technology is only suitable for heavy vehicles that are high enough to reach the power lines.

The other two ground-based options work in a similar way. In conductive charging, the current is transferred from special rails or tracks placed under or on the road. The vehicles charge using 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 is investing in electric roads

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

Most attention was paid to trucks and buses and for good reason. Electrifying the road network connecting the country’s largest cities would cut emissions from heavy-duty vehicles by 1.2 million tons by 2030, study finds estimates.

But in 2018, Sweden started road load testing for both commercial and passenger EVs and on a 2 km route between Arlanda Airport in Stockholm 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 banning new fossil fuel cars. But whether betting on e-roads is a fruitful strategy remains a controversial topic.

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 cars and in turn reducing CO2 emissions.

a recent research from Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg has further found that e-roads would also reduce demand on the electricity grid during peak times, as an alternative to home charging. The team also suggested that combining home (static) and on-the-go (dynamic) charging can reduce battery life by up to 70%.

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

However, there is an important counter argument: the sky-high investment and maintenance costs for a nascent type of infrastructure that may prove obsolete in the long run 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 national and European roads would need to be electrified for the system to work.

Sweden is not alone in developing e-roads: Italy, France, Germany and the UK are also testing the technology. Europe’s interconnectivity could indeed provide an opportunity for an electric road network.