The proportion of trucks that are assumed to use the electric roads has decreased in a short time from 60–80 per cent to 10–25 per cent. Of course, it turns most things upside down. Data from Volvo and Scania is an important reason.
The state has invested hundreds of millions of kronor in driving the development of electric roads. Extensive reports have been written, social costs investigated and demonstration projects built. Four techniques are being tested or have been tested.
The idea was that a decision on a larger (20–30 kilometers) pilot plant would have been made before the turn of the year. The choice is between one of two sections: E20 between Örebro and Hallsberg or Road 73 between Nynäshamn and Västerhaninge. But in November, the Swedish Transport Administration announced that a decision will be made in 2021 instead.
“Now we stop testing, now we drive”
When Minister of Infrastructure Tomas Eneroth last autumn issued a directive to investigate the electrification of roads, it was with the words “Now we stop testing, now we drive”. Although he did not speak specifically about electric roads, it probably gave electrician advocates hope that things were about to happen. The target in the directive was 3,000 kilometers of electric road by 2030.
But the message that the Swedish Transport Administration is now delivering about the electric roads is rather: “Now we continue to test, now we wait”.
Instead, it is battery trucks that fall out significantly better in the analyzes made by the authority, thanks in part to the rapid battery development in recent years. The Swedish Transport Administration’s assessment was previously that 60–80 per cent of the lorries would use the electric roads for an extension of 3,000 kilometers. The same assessment is now 10–25 percent.
Fundamentally different conclusions
How is it even possible to reach such fundamentally different conclusions within a few years? The reason lies in new data that the authority has produced together with Volvo and Scania, says Magnus Lindgren, senior expert at the Swedish Transport Administration.
Previously, the authority used official statistics: its own traffic flow measurements and the Traffic Analysis’ truck survey. The disadvantage of these statistics, says Magnus Lindgren, is that they are not developed to determine how many vehicles are likely to use electric roads. The traffic flow measurements are used, for example, to assess the load on the road network.
– Then it is only interesting to know how many and how heavy the vehicles are. It says nothing about where the truck comes from or where it is going, he says.
Thanks to aggregated data from Volvo and Scania’s fleet management system, the Swedish Transport Administration now believes that many of the vehicles that drive on the major highways (which may become relevant as electric roads) are not there for a very long time. They drive on and off again quite frequently.
– Therefore, we have said that only trucks that have a fairly high annual mileage on the main road network will reasonably have an incentive to choose an electric road if an electric road is built there, says Magnus Lindgren.
Reduced potential for electric roads
This is the main reason why the potential of electric roads has decreased so drastically in the new analysis.
Therefore, the Swedish Transport Administration prefers the state to expand the stationary charging infrastructure in the short term in combination with a continued investment in biofuels to reduce emissions from heavy transport. A reduction of 85 percent is possible, at a much lower cost than the alternative electric roads.
The need for batteries is also not likely to be a problem, according to the authority. If all road vehicles were electrified, only ten percent would be needed for the heavy trucks.
– Just because a truck needs a lot of batteries does not mean that the fleet does. 85,000 trucks stand quite smoothly against 5 million cars.
But how the heavy long-distance transports will be solved is still unclear. Electric roads, batteries, fuel cells? That question postpones the investigation to the future.
The authority does not in any way close the door completely to electric roads. The technology can be socio-economically profitable if the reduction obligation (the requirement for a gradual increase in the mix of renewable raw materials in fossil diesel) is kept at a low level. But the level of ambition will be lowered, from 3,000 kilometers in 2035 to 2,400 kilometers in 2037.
What will be the consequences for the electric road companies?
The question is what consequences this will have for the companies that develop electric road technologies. Karin Ebbinghaus, CEO of Elon Road, believes that the Swedish Transport Administration’s investigation is a “desk product”.
The authority certainly believes that the acquisition of knowledge about electric roads should continue as before, and the pilot be built. But that it so clearly points to stationary charging as the most suitable solution in the near future should make the electric road companies worried.
When asked if the Swedish Transport Administration’s proposal for a way forward should be seen as an increased risk for the electric road companies, Magnus Lindgren answers that he does not want to go that far.
– Electric roads have been a solution for trucks with the greatest energy needs and the longest distances, ie long-distance traffic. What we see here and now is stationary charging of primarily trucks in local and regional operation. There is thus no direct opposite. If, on the other hand, charging infrastructure is expanded primarily for local and regional distribution, it can of course also be used for vehicles that travel longer distances. But we are seeing rapid technological development for vehicles with the highest energy needs. It is still difficult to say whether batteries, fuel cells, electric roads or perhaps renewable fuel in internal combustion engines will be the main solution in the future, he says.