The United Kingdom has been testing roads that can charge an electrically powered vehicle as it drives. The concept of a road that will do that could seem to be straight out of a science fiction movie.

The reality is that science fiction has become science fact. Successful tests of roads that can charge electric vehicles have now taken place in France, Israel, Sweden, and the UK, among others.

Why Electric Road Charging is Becoming Important

The UK has announced that it will outlaw the sale of new combustion engine vehicles in 2030 and the sale of hybrid vehicles in 2035. Initially, the government was going to stop the sale of petrol and diesel-engined vehicles in 2040. After further exploration, the UK government decided to bring the deadline forward to 2035, but due to public pressure, the government has changed the deadline again to 2030.

There is already a massive push in the UK for electric vehicle (EV) options as concerns over the environment’s future have increased dramatically. The UK aims to become carbon neutral. As Wikipedia puts it, “Carbon neutrality refers to achieving net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by balancing carbon dioxide emissions with removal or simply eliminating carbon dioxide emissions altogether.”

Investing in the Future

The UK is making a considerable investment in this electrical project. In 2015, under the government of David Cameron, the budget was set at £500 million funding over five years for an electric vehicle “supercharging network.” The 2020 UK budget continues this funding allocation.

The current government has announced several additional funding initiatives to further the goal of becoming carbon neutral. For example, they will provide nearly two million GBP to fund EV charging points across the country, including charging points in homes.

The Electric Vehicle Road Charging Project

Accordingly, a project began in 2015 to test the practicality of a road that charged electric cars by merely driving over it. The concept of roads that charge electric vehicles in this way is more straightforward than many people think.

However, to have a UK-wide network, Highways England, Transport Scotland, and the Welsh Government and Transport Northern Ireland local agencies would have to collaborate to get this done. They would install charging coils under the surface, which would then wirelessly supply a charge to EVs driven over the roads.

It is not possible to charge standard EVs in this way yet. For testing to take place, the EVs themselves had to have a particular receiver fitted by a mechanic to allow wireless charging from the roads.

The Results of the Project

The test was successful and indeed showed proof of concept. There was an estimated cost in the neighbourhood of about £1.6 million per kilometre for installation. One of the project’s positive developments is the reduction of clutter in the various landscapes with the “under the road” approach. Also, charging cables could be installed by the government during routine resurfacing of the road, which is undertaken regularly anyway.

Readers can view the government’s commissioned report as a PDF by clicking here: Preparing the Strategic Road Network for increased use by electric vehicles – PPR1978

It is not just the UK; however, that is showing an interest in road charging. Governments and corporations in France, Sweden, and the USA have undertaken similar trials.

Making a Meaningful Commitment

The government has also committed to installing charging points every 20 miles on major highways in the UK, according to a 2015 story in CBS news. Qualcomm and a company called VEDECOM have been working on this project for nearly a decade. A UK industry lobby group, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, suggested the UK would need to build more than a million public charging points by 2030, which is a massive endeavor with a price tag in the billions of pounds.

It is relatively quick to conduct road tests, but planning a nationwide application is slower and is still in its infancy in the UK. Continuing investment in the development and installation of these roads is the way of the future, and a commitment by governments everywhere is desperately needed.

Cost is always a factor in any undertaking, but the potential for long-term cost-effectiveness is there, and some benefits will not be immediately apparent. An example of this, according to Highways England’s report on the project, is that with the near-complete adoption of electric vehicles, some road signs could be removed entirely as in-vehicle notifications from the road itself would replace them.

The UK Government is also taking direct action to make electric vehicles more accessible. They have pledged £582 million to extend the Plug-in Car, Van, Taxi, and Motorcycle grants to 2022–23. However, the UK Government will no longer grant funding for vehicles that cost more than £50,000.

Conclusion

Our dependence on fossil fuels needs to change, and electrically powered vehicles are one way to do that. Even though traditionally powered vehicles are still available, many buyers are already choosing to buy electric.

Charging points will still be necessary for some time to come. Still, the successful UK testing of roads that will charge vehicles as they are driven shows that the concept can become a reality and eventually become the future.