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Electric Road Systems

Mobility is central to our economies and essential for our way of life. Every day, billions of people and tons of goods move by road, rail, air and water. Yet our need for mobility brings consequences—pollution, CO2 emissions, congestion and a massive load on state budgets for maintaining and improving our transportation infrastructure. However, in response to a wave of new technologies, shifting mobility patterns, and funding pressures, we are experiencing the beginnings of major shifts in mobility. How the future will play out is uncertain but the implications for all stakeholders will be significant.

As part of its climate protection strategy, Sweden has committed to having a transport sector independent of fossil-fuel vehicles by 2030. One potential solution is to implement an electric road system (ERS). In 2013, Trafikverket together with the Swedish Energy Agency and the Swedish Innovation Agency launched what was, at the time, the largest pre-commercial procurement (PCP) project in Europe. The goal of the project is to generate knowledge, experience, and decision data that is conducive to the creation of a platform for the electrification of larger transport routes in Sweden.

Following a future of mobility GII Stockholm roundtable on September 13, the group of 35 infrastructure leaders from 11 countries visited Sweden’s two active electric road system pilot projects—one along the E16 in Sandviken with overhead electric lines and the other on Road 893 near Arlanda with a vehicle connecting to a rail in the road. The site visit demonstrated the low carbon solution of combining the efficiency of rail with the flexibility of trucks, and what it takes for a big innovation in transportation to be manifested. Key themes from the two days and related links follow:

  1. Adapt to the four global megatrends that are reshaping mobility. Autonomous driving, electrification, shared mobility, and connectivity are transforming mobility. These trends have the potential to positively impact many of the negative consequences of mobility, including congestion, carbon emissions, low vehicle utilization, and safety. With rapid urbanization and an dramatic increase in e-commerce, the world is in need of transformative solutions. Participants representing Hyperloop One, Einride, and the ERS are good examples of thinking big and innovating with new solutions.
  2. Embrace multi-modal electrification as a proven solution to a lower carbon mobility future. Electric vehicles (EVs) are tried and tested and gaining traction. In Norway, for example, thanks to economic incentives, 40 percent of new vehicles sold in 2017 are EVs. Trains have been electrified for a long time, and electric ferries are already in service in Norway. There are even estimates that the first hybrid electric airplane will be commercially viable by 2028. However, in each instance, government leadership, private sector innovation, and economic incentives are required to realize success.
  3. Collaborate to create the conditions for the new solutions to succeed. Government has a vital role to play in encouraging innovation by building trust in their long term vision, staying ahead of regulations, and providing economic incentives for new transport solutions. The private sector are far more likely to engage if they are invited to collaborate when these things are in place. Sweden’s ERS provides an excellent example of national and regional government creating the conditions for the private sector to engage in an innovative project of global importance. Autonomous vehicles provide another important challenge for the public sector to create the right conditions to enable the private sector to invest, innovate, and succeed.
  4. Simulate a crisis to drive innovation. A nation’s mobilization of defense or response to a natural disaster are good examples of a country’s ability to collaborate and drive innovation in a time of crisis. Viewed through one lens, we are moving into a mobility crisis with major market failures and limited appetite for the necessary collective action to fix the problem. To minimize the massive negative impacts of inaction, one solution might be to develop a communication plan that spurs urgency to act and innovate before it is too late.
  5. Remain flexible to new modes of transportation. With an abundance of innovation in mobility solutions, it is difficult to know what new solutions and business models will succeed. As an operator, the private sector needs to remain flexible and agnostic to new modes of transportation. Similarly, the public sector needs to invest in flexible plans and infrastructure that is able to accommodate new modes and new business models.
  6. Manage demand through urban planning and decentralization. With the inevitable increase in urbanization and congestion, city planners, the public and the private sector have a responsibility to focus on demand management, intentionally creating the conditions for decentralization. This ranges from creating multiple urban hubs, as opposed to one CBD, building effective mass transport corridors, and providing flexibility for employees to work from decentralized locations.
  7. Invite key stakeholders from across the value chain to prepare for a new future. A multi stakeholder approach is critical to find the solutions and facilitate the change. Many stakeholders will be significantly impacted, specifically traditional transport workers. Therefore, it is essential to get all stakeholders, including labor, to discuss the inevitable shifts and plan for retraining the workforce.
  8. Drive deployment of innovations from benefits to the end user and new business models. Rather than pushing new technology, government and industry should identify opportunities to improve the user experience and develop suitable eco-systems and business models. Government needs to decide on appropriate regulatory context (e.g. PPP setup) and let industry select and develop the best technologies to deliver the improved experience.
  9. Copy successful reference cases to create innovation deployment at scale. The development of mobile phone networks or rapid scaling of renewable energy generation are positive examples of massive change. To drive innovation deployment in mobility, similar bold moves need to be developed, with government defining the objectives and frameworks (e.g. in concession models).