If trials of e-highways are successful, traffic engineers have a unique opportunity to reinvent both city streets and interstate highways.
As we get closer to 2020, we are getting closer having 250 million autonomous vehicles on the road, according to the tech research firm Gartner. While self-driving cars, buses, and trucks will transform personal and commercial transportation, e-highways are also likely to have a significant impact on the way we move people and goods. What are these changes and how will they affect traffic engineering professionals?
The Dawn of the E-Highway in California
In a November 2017 joint press release, Siemens and California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District announced the initiation of the first e-highway demonstration project in the United States. Located in Carson, CA near the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, a one-mile portion of Alameda Street will test whether overhead catenary wires are a feasible means of powering a vehicle on an electric highway. While this is the first e-highway in the United States, the first e-highway system on a public road opened in June 2016 on a 1.25-mile section of highway north of Stockholm, Sweden. Siemens, also a partner in this demonstration project, anticipates this test e-highway will stay in operation through 2018. In addition, three e-highway tests are planned for Germany. What is driving the interests in e-highways?
The Anticipated Benefits of E-Highways
According to a recent post on the website Civil and Structural Engineering about the California public-private e-highway project, the number of trucks needed to carry goods across the US is likely going to double by 2050. This statistic takes into account the expansion of rail freight transportation. As a result, experts forecast the amount of carbon dioxide greenhouse emissions to double. Researchers and government officials hope that e-highways will offer an alternative to freight transportation due to doubling the energy efficiency of both electric and hybrid freight trucks. They hypothesize this will help make cutting greenhouse emissions economically feasible for those in the trucking industry.
The Vehicles, Design, and Technology
The test track in California uses three different types of vehicles:
- A battery-powered electric truck
- A clean LP electric hybrid truck
- A diesel-electric truck
The e-highway provides powers to the freight rigs via electrified overhead catenary wires similar to those used by trolleys and streetcars. The design differs from these means of electric transportation by using a sensor modulated pantograph that allows the truck to disconnect from the overhead power lines automatics. This technology permits the driver of the truck to change lanes and make turns onto traditional roads that do not have this innovative power source.
What is your opinion about e-highways? Do you think they will be feasible in the United States?