From the paved mud pathways during the early civilisation to today’s multi-lane highways, our roads have evolved and developed with us. But the journey doesn’t end here. The government has announced that we will soon have electric highways!
Roads have always been crucial to the development and progress of human civilization. Archaeological studies have found shreds of evidence of the existence of well-built, straight roads since the Indus civilisation. During the early times, roads were made up of mud and stones, but as we discovered new materials and gained knowledge of chemistry, the construction and quality of roads improved. Road construction was revolutionised during the Roman empire, with the introduction of concrete (volcanic ash and lime).
It is said that the infrastructure of roads speaks a lot about a nation. Good roads are central to the economic development of every nation. Road transport has been and is still, one of the most important modes of transport. Road transport is fast and cost-effective. Thus, good roads and infrastructure enhances the supply chain and boosts the economy. Apart from the commercial aspect, roads are also important in domestic transport. It connects cities and towns and helps the movement of people from one place to another.
The type/ infrastructure of the roads is dependent on the utility of the road, the types of vehicles, population density, and traffic scenario. People travel for various reasons such as business, education, medical, and pleasure. Good roads have made travel easy. However, it is harming our environment. With well-built roads, there are problems of traffic congestion, air pollution, noise pollution, accidents, etc. Road transport holds a maximum share in the emission of greenhouse gases. Therefore, there is an emphasis on the development of vehicles based on clean alternative fuels, such as electric vehicles (EVs). An electric vehicle is based on the principle of an electric motor for propulsion. The first ever crude electric vehicle was made by Scottish inventor, Robert Anderson. For some time during the 19th century, EVs were the most preferred ways of transport, but the advancements in gasoline and petroleum-based engines made EVs obsolete.
Electrical vehicles are in surge again with the increased awareness among the people regarding the ill effects of petroleum-based vehicles. Governments around the globe are encouraging the use of EVs through policies and incentives. There are different types of EVs, and among those, the ones that are based on solar or wind energy are the most eco-friendly choices. Electric vehicles have gained quite a hold in domestic transport now, but we are yet to adopt the technology for commercial vehicles. Automobile giants like Scania, Navistar, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, etc. are venturing into the production of commercial electric vehicles. The major concerns related to EVs are the driving range and the availability of the charging facility even at the most remote location possible. Although we do have charging stations for EVs on the highways and in the cities, we need something faster and sustainable. A system that can provide electricity at a massive level, as per our population demand, and would have zero or least carbon footprints. This calls for the transformation of our road infrastructure. As a result, many countries are now working on making their highways electric.
What is an Electric Highway?
An Electric highway is a road that allows vehicles to get charged while in motion. This system provides a direct supply of electric power to the vehicles on the road. The techniques available for dynamic charging system are as follow:
- Overboard power lines – These are power lines suspended by poles or towers and transmit high voltage electric current. It is the most primitive method of charging vehicles in motion. Such lines existed in Berlin in the 19th century for trolleybuses. This technique has mostly been implemented for commercial vehicles.
- Ground-level power through rail – In this technique, the power is supplied by the individual segment on the ground. The ground-level supply of power can come from sources such as solar, wind, and nuclear energy. The most popular use of this technique is in electric tramways.
- Ground-level power through induction – The system offers wireless power transfer using induction coils, installed on the ground. The Michigan Department of Transport has announced the project for the US’s first public wireless charging road.
After a thorough comparison and analysis of the three techniques, the ground-level power supply using conductive rails seems to be the most cost-effective among the three methods.
In 2013, Korea installed the first electric road with a shuttle service. And the revolution is underway in many countries. In 2019 Germany successfully built an electric highway with overboard supply lines south of Frankfurt. Similar projects are in progress in Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States, etc.
At present, India has successfully implemented its first electric road with stationary charging stations on the Delhi-Agra highway and the project to extend it to Jaipur is in the progress. Once completed it would be the longest electric highway which would be around 500 km. The road is based on the concept of a static charging system, which has its advantages and disadvantages.
The government of India has recently announced a project to build an electric highway (E-Highway) with on the go charging facility. It is quite an ambitious project where the main challenge would be coordination among multiple interfaces such as electricity suppliers, power grid companies, vehicle manufacturers, road owners, electric road operators, metering and billing agencies, and road users. Nevertheless, once materialised, the electric highways would transform our roadways system for good. It would help a great deal in reducing the travel time on the road. And more importantly, it would be the most important climate action which would take us closer to our goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.