Electric car charging roads that will refuel battery-powered motors as they drive along are to be tested in the UK. The pilot project, a first in Britain, has been set up by the government’s Highways England. The aim is to boost the number of low emission vehicles on the road by making them easier to live with.
Electric car sales in the UK increased by 167 per cent in 2014, according to data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. The government wants to ensure this trend for switching to low emission vehicles continues. It’s investing £500m in alternative fuel transport technology over the next five years. Part of this will be on roads that can charge electric vehicles. In July 2015, Highways England published a feasibility study: Powering electric vehicles on England’s major roads. The testing of electric car charging roads result from that.
Electric car charging roads: How they’ll operate
The government’s plan is for major roads such as motorways and A-roads to feature the new charging technology. Trials will take place at a special testing facility later this year. Pure electric vehicles will be fitted with wireless technology enabling them to receive a charge on the move. Equipment installed beneath the road will generate an electromagnetic field to charge the cars.
Electric car charging roads: Can they really work?
Highways England thinks so. It has already conducted a feasibility study into what it calls ‘dynamic wireless power transfer technologies’. This concluded that the benefits to the environment through reduced emissions, and individuals via lower fuel costs make it worth further investigation.
Electric car charging roads: What are the hurdles?
The government hasn’t decided who will conduct the test yet so the project really is in its infancy. Plans are to undertake trails at a private test track for around 18 months. Assuming these are successful, tests will then take place on public roads. However, making the technology work is only half the battle. Will a common in-car charging system be agreed with all the car makers? Or will the system have to be added as a potentially costly aftermarket feature? For example, the government’s feasibility study talks about cars possibly towing a trailer that incorporates the charging equipment.
Electric car charging roads: Who pays for it?
The project is at such an early stage, this has yet to be decided. No one knows if it’s even going to be cost-effective. Highways England’s Feasibility Study says the charging infrastructure alone will cost £3 million per kilometre over 20 years. Electricity charges from the supplier will cost £12m/km over 20 years. There’s also the issue of how or whether drivers will pay for the electricity used to charge their cars on the move. And the government has already worked out that the increasing number of electric cars on the road means a reduction in treasury revenue because less fuel duty is paid.
Electric car charging roads: Do electric cars need them?
You bet! The major problem with electric cars is that their range is very limited. Many, such as models from popular manufacturers like the Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe, claim a range of around 120 miles on a single charge. However, the reality is that in real-world driving with features such as air-conditioning in action, owners say they run out of power after less than 90 miles. In addition, driving at speed is one of the things that really saps electric cars’ batteries, diminishing their range. So charging on the move on fast roads would make a lot of sense.
Electric car charging roads: What the experts say
Chief Highways Engineer Mike Wilson said: “Vehicle technologies are advancing at an ever increasing pace and we’re committed to supporting the growth of ultra-low emissions vehicles on England’s motorways and major A roads. The off-road trials of wireless power technology will help to create a more sustainable road network for England and open up new opportunities for businesses that transport goods across the country.”
Electric car charging roads: What the future holds
There’s clearly a long way to go with a lot of questions needed to be answered. But for the government to be trying to tackle one of the big downsides to electric cars – their lack of range – is encouraging.