Highways England is currently testing an innovative system that could encourage more commuters to switch to electric vehicles. The plan: create special lanes on the highway that wirelessly charge electric cars as they drive. This would remove the need to find a charging point on the way for long-distance drives – still perceived by many people to be one of the major downsides of electric vehicles.
Traffic is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. According to the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Climate Action, one fifth of the European Union’s CO2 emissions originate from road transport. Electric cars (plug-in electric vehicles and hybrid electric vehicles) could help curb these emissions, but they are still far from taking over the automobile market. Price is a well-known deterrent. In addition, an IBM survey revealed that many consumers are also worried about the distance they can drive on a single battery charge.
But now Highways England is testing an innovative solution that would help bypass this problem: installing systems that wirelessly charge electric vehicles of all sizes. This is possible through a technique known as Dynamic Wireless Power Transfer (DWPT).
In a feasibility study, Highways England reviewed seventeen different wireless power systems, which have been developed by teams from all around the globe. Eight of them were deemed fit for DWPT (i.e. they can be used with the vehicle in motion on the road). They all have the same basic elements: power stations on the side of the road, charging coils under the road and secondary coils that are installed under the electric car. The electricity from the power stations is transferred to the charging coils via cable, and a wireless transfer occurs between the underground loops and the car. One of the key advantages of this setup is that the infrastructure is installed under and next to the road, avoiding safety issues that could arise from infrastructure being on the road itself.
The next steps for Highways England are off-road and on-road trials. If it’s successful, the technology would be gradually integrated into their network over the course of a decade. The new eco-friendly highways would not only help decrease Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions, but also reduce noise pollution and improve air quality. In the best case scenario, the electricity itself would also come from a renewable source.
DWPT is a technology that could dramatically change road transportation for the better. Though Great Britain is the first with a project of this scale, small DWTP projects have flourished in other countries. The city of Gumi, in South Korea, has an electric bus line that is powered using this kind of technology, and Heidelberg, Germany, has also tested a similar system.