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Electric vehicles: five ways they could change our roads

In November last year the Government announced that it was pulling forward the date when the last petrol and diesel cars and vans could be sold by ten years to 20301. As a company which is committed to reducing carbon emissions with green technology, this is a move that Thermal Road Repairs (TRR) welcomes. The Government’s goal is also to boost technological innovation in this sector, so that we can then export our expertise around the world.

Changes to infrastructure are already underway, with £1.3 billion committed to accelerating the roll-out of charging points for electric vehicles (EVs). There will be other changes on our road networks too, as EVs take over from their dirtier cousins. Here are some possibilities:

1. New asphalt specifications

Some EVs are heavier than their petrol or diesel counterparts due to the weight of their batteries. Could this mean more damage to road surfaces and hence a change in specifications to cope with the different loadings?

Opinion amongst experts is divided. Some say that since EVs are heavier, they will cause more wear on both roads and tyres. Others say that EV tyre design distributes loads differently and that the regenerative braking used by EVs – as opposed to friction braking – reduces the wear on both road surfaces and tyres.

Overall, the conclusion so far seems to be that there is not enough evidence yet2. However, looking longer term, it does seem likely that road wear will be somehow different. At the very least, the location of charging points will impact on the routes used by EV drivers, so that some roads will experience more traffic than others and will therefore need enhanced durability.

2. More pothole claims

With connected and autonomous vehicle (CAVs) technology advancing hand-in-hand with the development of EVs, cars will very soon be recording pothole locations as they pass over them. In fact, we are already doing this to some extent through apps like Waze and, as of February 2021, through Apple Maps. It won’t be long before some bright spark finds a way to turn that data into an automated claim, should damage be caused to the vehicle as a result of a pothole.

Tesla has already said that its Autopilot system will have pothole detectors which allow the vehicle to slow down or steer round them – and will also generate mini-maps so that they can be avoided next time3. Tesla has indicated that other Tesla drivers may be able to access this data.

Meanwhile, Ford has introduced its patented Pothole Detection Technology to the latest generation of Ford Focus4. According to Ford, the system senses when a wheel is falling into a pothole and adjusts the suspension to limit the damage.

The good news is that road authorities can deploy technology to find and repair potholes faster too. Some are already experimenting with photos or laser scans and artificial intelligence to identify potential defects. Kent County Council, for instance, working with Amey, is trialling cameras and sensors on buses and council vehicles to map out potholes5.

3. Dynamic charging

On 4 January 2021, Coventry announced a new study to investigate how and where dynamic charging could be used around the city. Set up by West Midlands electricity operator Western Power Distribution (WPD), the £417,000 DynaCoV (Dynamic Charging of Vehicles) initiative is a partnership between Coventry City Council, Coventry University, Toyota and Cenex6.

Sweden is ahead of us. In the same month, the city of Gotland opened a 1.65km-long section of dynamic charging road for passenger and commercial vehicles, with the help of Israeli wireless electric road start-up ElectReon7.

Highways England signalled its interest long ago. Back in 2015, it announced a research programme into dynamic wireless charging. However, three years later, it called the programme off, electing to wait for the results of a larger European study, FABRIC (Feasibility Analysis and development of on-road charging solutions for future electric vehicles), instead8.

The FABRIC study, which reported in 2019, concluded that the benefits of dynamic wireless power transfer – such as allowing smaller batteries – could only be gained if there was wide deployment of e-roads9. Hence it is most likely to be useful for vehicles with heavy batteries and regular routes, such as buses or cargo vehicles in the medium term – which is the focus for both Coventry and Gotland.

4. Smart roads

How smart is smart? Generally speaking, the definition of a smart road is one that uses a combination of physical devices, such as sensors and cameras, combined with software and AI to make transport more efficient. Traffic flows can be influenced accordingly via changes to traffic lights, signage or directly to vehicles.

With the rise of CAVs, drivers will be looking for more and more information delivered directly. The World Road Association, PIARC, thinks that roads should be reclassified so that drivers can easily understand how a stretch of road supports CAVs. These could range from HU (Humanway, not ready for CAVs) up to AU (Autonomousway, roads or lanes devoted to high-level CAVs)10.

For road owners, setting a smart road strategy and upgrade plan should go hand-in-hand with physical maintenance and upgrade planning, argues PIARC.

5. New revenue models

Since April 2020, the road tax for EVs has been zero. While this is a good way to encourage wider uptake, it isn’t a solution in the long term. New ways must be found to raise revenue to operate and maintain road networks.

It may be that electricity used to charge cars is recorded and taxed. An alternative proposal is that motorists are charged per mile they travel, with journeys at different times of days charged differently to lessen congestion at traditional rush hour times.

For local authorities, electric vehicle charging points offer the opportunity for a revenue stream, with a number of models under consideration. Greater Manchester, for example, set up a network of over 300 charging points which started as a free service and transitioned to a paid for one11.

Thermal Road Repairs is a green technology company which supplies systems to improve the quality, cost and time efficiency of road repairs and paving – at a far lower environmental cost than traditional methods. We invest significantly in R&D, to create new technologies and to continuously improve our existing ones.

High output. Low emission. Permanent solution.


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