Considering Greener Roadways: The Sweden Electric Road

Steve Russell - February 10, 2023

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With recent innovations, environmental engineers are becoming more outside the box. A startup in 2014 woke the internet up to the potential of solar roadways, but unfortunately, there is little to show for it years later. Sweden is still considering how roadways could become more sustainable on a more attainable level, named Sweden’s electric road. This could be the first step into a series of worldwide innovations in eco-friendly transportation.

How Electric Roads Happened in Sweden

The initiative started in 2018 with a pilot project. On a seemingly insignificant stretch of road outside the country’s capital Stockholm, 1.2 miles of electric rail melded into an existing public road. Trafikverket is the agency in Sweden that monitors the highways, and it was them who springboarded this progress.

In action, the rails could connect to movable arms deployed underneath the car, compatible with any make and model. These arms would charge the vehicle along the stretch of the highway as it moved. This solution is multifaceted. As the ability to continually charge instead of stopping to charge at a station reduces manufacturing costs for large electric vehicle (EV) batteries. It also assists stretches of road with little to no access to EV charging.

Sweden should complete the first installation of an electric road by 2025 — a route between Hallsberg and Örebro that’s 13 miles long. The hurdle comes in deciding what technologies to implement — are the movable arms the best option? Green transportation, especially self-charging electric transport, can take multiple forms.

Next Steps for Sweden’s Electric Road

Alongside movable arm attachments to charge on electric rails — also called ground-level power — there are overhead wires and wireless inductive charging. Overhead lines are inexpensive, but only all tall commercial vehicles take advantage of them, so a move toward ground-level power occurred.

Now the road is under construction, the Trafikvertket’s Programme for Electrification will test multiple electric road methods and analyze data on their effectiveness based on these attributes:

  • Environmental impact
  • Power supply 
  • Operational effectiveness
  • Maintenance and regulation

The Hallsberg-Örebro section will provide needed information to inform the process for future highways in the country based on traffic volume and transportation types, like if a road is used more for individual commutes versus industry transport like trucks. Örebro county expects trucks transporting goods to increase by 46% by 2040, making this stretch of road an excellent trial for heavy-duty traffic.

Regardless of what medley of technologies gets incorporated in the next several decades, it is sure to kickstart further interest in implementing green transportation technologies to decrease the 21% impact the transportation sector’s impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

Considerations for Electric Road Functionality

Though Sweden’s electric road is providing an avenue to test multiple technologies, it isn’t as if one entity has sole control over what technology is most beneficial. For this system to be sustainable in the future, every facet of the electric road process has to be sustainable. As adjustments are made to their everyday operations, businesses must make decisions and analyze decisions for efficiency cooperatively.

It is a series of countless influences which could affect the effectiveness of electric roads — all having little research at this point as the Sweden electric road is one of the first of its kind. In exploration to obtain benefits like decreased manufacturing costs for smaller batteries, it also needs to consider the following:

  • Lower vehicle weights affect road durability
  • Ranges cars will be able to travel with no range anxiety
  • Operational capabilities off electric roads
  • Benefits and drawbacks of shared charging infrastructure
  • Synergy with other green transportation solutions

There is also the issue of payment responsibilities, as overhauling an entire country’s highway system isn’t a cheap endeavor. Sources state it won’t be as much of an investment since most technologies do not require whole roads to be replaced. According to Lund, a tech startup involved in the electric road initiative, you would only pay for one kilometer of installation for every three kilometers of driving.

Sweden Modernizes Individualized Transportation

For countries to achieve their goals set forth by the Paris Agreement, transportation must be a top priority because it relies on fossil fuels. Though creating electric roads won’t solve the emissions from all transportation types, it could make a dent in the millions of routes worldwide. The Sweden electric road is a powerful start to a global conversation on electric road capabilities for long-term sustainability.

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About the author

Steve Russell

Steve is the Managing Editor of Environment.co and regularly contributes articles related to wildlife, biodiversity, and recycling. His passions include wildlife photography and bird watching.