A Journey Along the UK's Smart Roads

by Panchali Mallik, Senior Writer, Transparency Market Research

Sure, dumping gas guzzlers for an ultra-low-emission electrically-powered vehicle, is good for the environment. But what happens when you are on a road trip and your electric vehicle runs out of battery and there is no outlet in the vicinity to plug in for a recharge?

Once full charged, a BMW’s i3, for instance, can last up to 81 miles; for Nissan Leaf it is 84 miles, and a Chevy Volt can run for 38 miles. These ranges may seem enough to cover daily commutes, but insufficient for travel along longer distances. Taking long breaks by the side of a highway to recharge your vehicle will not make you feel much better about saving the earth.

Eliminating such probabilities is at the heart of an effort announced a few weeks ago in the United Kingdom. Highways England, the agency that is responsible for maintaining major roads across the country, revealed its plans of conducting an 18-month trial of highways capable of wirelessly charging the electric vehicles as they travel along.

The effort follows a successful feasibility study conducted to examine whether what is touted by Highways England as a “dynamic wireless power transfer” system could actually charge cars while on the go. The project is a part of a five-year plan and US$780-million-endeavor by the government to encourage the manufacture and use of electric vehicles across the U.K.

Highways England in Association with UK Government Launches Roads with Jolt of Electricity

Globally, air pollution claims over 7 million lives a year, as reported in the World Health Organization’s fact-sheet. The particulate matter spewing out of vehicles leads to nearly 60,000 deaths every year in Britain alone, says the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants in the UK.

Oxford Street in London is reportedly among the worst polluted roads in the world. However, the problem of carbon emission is no longer limited to the capital but has drifted beyond it. Soaring levels of air pollution in the country have impelled the government to adopt ambitious countermeasures. The construction of smart roads being one of them.

The technology behind the initiative was deep-rooted in common sense. The electric vehicles used during trials by Highways England will be fitted with wireless sensors to pick up charge as they travel along a specially designed roadway. Deploying the technology, however, is not as simple as it may sound. Researchers will have to innovate ways to create roads capable of withstanding extreme temperature conditions and wear and tear.

UK at the Forefront of Testing Novel Technologies in Smart Roads

UK’s smart roads will have power lines connected to coils placed beneath its surface. The power lines will transmit electricity to wireless sensors fitted in the electric cars. A drive along a stretch of the smart road will power up batteries fitted in the hybrid vehicles or electric cars. The UK has already made headway with testing a bunch of novel approaches to this technology. Real-world versions of the technology, which are ready for manufacture, are also identified.

Such initiatives are essential to support the growth of the ultra-low emission vehicles in the country. The ongoing off-road trials of the wireless power technology will aid the creation of a more sustainable network of roads across England. This technological breakthrough could be a boon for businesses in England that run on transportation of goods across the country.  

Britain has been aggressively taking on projects of emissions-free transportations. Only a year ago two trials were launched in London, one that tested battery-powered subway cars and the other for hybrid buses that recharge batteries at each stop. British policymakers have already given their nod to the world’s largest off-shore wind farm in 2014, which is anticipated to produce approximately 1,200 MW off Suffolk Coast in England.

Other countries in Europe too, have been at the forefront of investigating new ways to deploy smart technologies on road. The Netherlands, for instance, is already home to the first solar road in the world, and could also be the first country to use recycled plastic as road-building material.

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