We've all heard of solar roads that swept the internet in 2014 to much criticism—particularly that while great in theory, it'd be laughably unfeasible and costly in practice. The idea was to create a road that could collect power to enable self-sustaining smart features and divert excess to the
local power grid.
While solar roads have yet to pan out, what if there was an option for a road that charged your
electric vehicle—a Fiat, for example—while you drove on it? One multinational automaker is attempting to do just that.
Stellantis tests charging roads
Stellantis, whose brands include Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Chrysler and Jeep, announced in early June 2022 that it had demonstrated a practical application of a road that used inductive charging technology to recharge an electric vehicle without wires or some other direct connection.
Called "Arena del Futuro" (or "Arena of the Future"), Stellantis and its partners built the circuit to show how incorporating a wireless induction charging (called "Dynamic Wireless Power Transfer" by Stellantis) into a road surface can help power electric vehicles to highway speeds while at the same time charging their batteries.
In this example, they're using an electric
Fiat New 500to test the system, showing that the charging road performs as efficiently as a DC fast charger.
What could charging roads mean for the future of EVs?
A wider incorporation of the technology could also lead to lighter vehicle-to-battery ratios, as charging while driving would theoretically require less initial range off the assembly line. It's a technology the automaker said could ease range anxiety if adopted.
"We have proven that inductive recharging technology can power our electrified future," said Stellantis Global e-Mobility head Anne-Lise Richard in a
company press release. They continue:
"These joint projects are exciting steps as we work to achieve longer battery lifespan, lower range anxiety, greater energy efficiency, smaller battery size, outstanding performance and lower weight and cost.”
Will charging while you drive ever happen?
In an ideal world, yes, this is possible. But this isn't an ideal world we're living in. North Americans living in climates with seasonal freeze-thaw cycles would tell you that it'll never happen, as local road departments have a hard enough time keeping
potholespatched as it is.
Given that the Dynamic Wireless Power Transfer system consists of coils under the asphalt that transfer electricity to the vehicles above it, road crews would likely scoff at the amount of work they'd have to put into maintaining the things at a functional level.
Stellantis doesn't explicitly explain how much maintenance these roads would need, but again, it's a proof of concept more than anything.
We've already talked about how pothole damage cost American drivers $26.5 billion in 2021 alone, which ought to tell you something about the state of
Americanroads. How can we expect to add more complexity to our infrastructure if we can barely take care of what we have now?
So we probably won't be getting electric roads anytime soon?
If asking for inductive roads was like begging your parents for a puppy, then our current
infrastructureis the goldfish your parents gave you as a test of responsibility. And that goldfish is not in good shape—indicating we may not be ready for the additional required maintenance of a more involved pet.
We could see this tech showing up in warmer locations outside of the U.S. and Canada where road maintenance doesn't suck up so much of the annual budget. Even then, it would only be in pilot applications on short stretches of road, in parking lots or at charging stations.
But widespread? Probably not anytime soon.
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