We were thrilled to learn last month that the government was set to test out electric highways for the first time, to see whether they could become a viable solution for installation on British motorways and A-roads. With the feasibility studies now done, the government is inviting companies to tender bids to conduct a series of off-road tests to help us learn more about whether this kind of project is viable.
But just how does a wireless charging highway work – and could we soon see them lining Britain’s motorways?
The premise of an electric highway is fairly straightforward. A series of electric cables and electromagnetic transmitters buried underneath the surface of the road generate electromagnetic fields. This energy is picked up by a coil inside the vehicle, inducing voltage which can then be used to charge the battery, which could extend the car’s range.
Currently, a fully-charged BMW i3 lasts for 81 miles, while a Nissan Leaf can last for 84 miles on a full battery. Most daily commutes are covered by this distance, which makes them great for salary sacrifice schemes – but the introduction of electric highways could turn efficient cars into much more than a commuting vehicle.
The power transfer could potentially work for any vehicle fitted with the right equipment. With the cables all buried underneath the road, there’s also no risk of collisions or electric shocks.
There are numerous other pioneering schemes around the world to create efficient highways. Los Angeles is currently working on a prototype zero-emission highway that uses overhead cables, much like a tram or city train. In 2013 in the South Korean town of Gumi, a 7.5m electrified route was launched, but it was only for buses installed with the compatible equipment.
Milton Keynes has also forged ahead with a unique twist on the electric highway – the city has recently been tested a stretch of road fitted with charging plates for buses. However, this option means that buses need to stop over the charging plates for a few minutes to get an energy boost, rather than simply driving over it.
Roads that can charge vehicles can also benefit from other developing technology that is currently being tested. In Holland, the SolaRoad bike path generates power with solar panels on the road, and in the US, similar technology is being tested on sidewalks and in parking lots. If solar energy can be harnessed, the ‘electric’ element of the highways could be bypassed entirely for an even more eco-friendly solution.