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An electronic road network would reduce transport emissions – could be everyday reality already in the 2030s

An electronic road network would reduce transport emissions – could be everyday reality already in the 2030s

Published 22.6.2020

The electrification of the road network has impacts on the infrastructure, transport costs and climate. The electrification of lorries and long-distance buses in particular would reduce emissions. Electric roads would promote the achievement of the Government goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2035.

A car charging its battery

The vehicles using electrified roads receive the power they need for mobility from the road network and can charge their batteries on the move. The Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency has studied the implementation methods, costs and impacts of the electrification of the transport system.

Electrification would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport and is therefore closely linked to the Government's climate objectives: Finland wants to halve its transport emissions by 2030, achieve carbon neutrality by 2035 and reach zero transport emissions by 2045.

It has been estimated that a significant part of light-duty vehicle traffic will become electrified by 2030, whereas the heavy transport needs a low-emission alternative for fossil diesel in the 2030s, such as electrification of the road network.

“Battery technology development enables the electrification of light-duty vehicle traffic. Heavy transport equipment, on the other hand, consume more energy, which is why batteries are not a realistic solution, particularly in long-distance heavy transport,” says Deputy Director Tapio Ojanen from the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency.

Overhead power lines, rails or induction coils speeding up travel

On busy roads – such as Highway 3 between Helsinki and Tampere – electrification could be an economically feasible alternative if the investment costs per kilometre remained low and a sufficiently large share of transport were electrified.

“However, the electrification of the entire main traffic network is hardly realistic, since on roads with low traffic volumes the climate impacts would be insignificant compared to the costs,” says Ojanen.

Electrification would be profitable on those road sections where greenhouse gas emissions would be significantly reduced in proportion to the total cost of transport infrastructure maintenance. We still need to continue the search for the most suitable electrification technology for the Finnish weather conditions, and, when selecting the system, we need to take account of such factors as Finland's snowy winters.

“The road network can be electrified by using overhead power lines, rails embedded in the road or induction coils embedded under the road surface.

Vehicles could travel using the electrified trunk network for most of the journey. At the same time, the vehicle could probably use a battery or a combustion engine, which would also enable it to continue the journey outside the electrified road network.

Less emissions and better air quality

The electrification of lorries and long-distance buses in particular would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, over 30-year time span, the overall emissions of light-duty vehicle traffic are expected to decrease more than those of heavy transport.

“As battery-powered electric vehicles and low-emission fuels become more common, light-duty vehicle traffic in particular will produce less emissions,” says Ojanen.

Electrification will improve air quality especially in densely populated urban areas. The extent of climate impacts depends on the share of transport shifting to electricity and the length of the road sections being electrified.

Electrification might make some areas more easily accessible – particularly those located in the vicinity of electrified routes – by reducing transport costs for individuals and freight transport operators.

Rails or induction coils would not have much of an impact on the landscape of road connections, whereas an overhead power line above the road would significantly change the views.

“In areas with valuable landscapes, short sections could be left unelectrified.”

Pilots and investments needed

Factors causing challenges to electrification include slow charging, lack of public charging points and long-term commitment to developing technologies. Construction of charging infrastructure and recycling of batteries require money, and electrified traffic is more vulnerable to extensive disruptions than transport based on internal-combustion engine.

“In addition to electrification, there are also other future alternatives, such as biofuels and synthetic renewable fuels.”

The implementation of electric roads would require not only cooperation between various operators – vehicle manufacturers and logistics companies along with the State – but also major investments. Finland could cooperate with, for example, Germany and Sweden.

More pilots and experience are needed for the electrification of the road network. It would require advance data on the traffic volumes on specific road sections, so it might be better to target the pilots to established heavy transport routes than on sections with light-duty traffic.

“The future of electrification is determined by the level of ambitiousness of the climate objectives and the profitability of the electrification of roads in relation to other means of reducing emissions,” Ojanen says in summary.

More information:

Tapio Ojanen, Deputy Director, tel. +358 29 534 3209, firstname.lastname@vayla.fi