UK plans ‘Scalextric’ road to charge electric vehicles

Coventry lined up as destination for the rollout of new charging technology

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN - SEPTEMBER 26: Prince Carl Philip of Sweden test drives a car converted to drive on an electrified road during a visit to eRoadArlanda on September 26, 2019 in Stockholm, Sweden. eRoadArlanda is a project by the Swedish Transport Administration for the study and development of electrified roads. (Photo by Michael Campanella/Getty Images)

The West Midlands city of Coventry could soon be the site of the UK’s first “Scalextric-style’’ road.

Research is being undertaken to see if it is possible to embed chargers beneath road surfaces which can power electric vehicles (EVs) on the move. Results of the research are expected in February 2022 and if they are positive, then the inaugural trial could be launched in as little as two years.

The concept of the electric road is redolent of the car racing game Scalextric - just on a much larger scale.

It wouldn’t be a world first, however. In 2018, Sweden launched eRoadArlanda, one of several projects in the country’s drive to electrify its transportation network.

Like Scalextric, the road uses small rails running down the middle of the lane to transfer energy to an adjustable arm affixed to the vehicles which traverse it. While the vehicle is on the road, the arm is automatically lowered to make contact, facilitating the charge.

This video shows the eRoadArlanda in action.

The eRoadArlanda project presents a utopian vision of future mobility but in the UK some critics believe that the technology will prove less heaven and more hell.

They question both its efficiency and cost-effectiveness, and doubt that the technology will be compatible with existing EVs.

The scheme is being led by Western Power Distribution which, in concert with UK energy regulator Ofgem, will inject nearly half a million pounds into the project. Coventry University and e-mobility trailblazers Toyota are also partners.

The trial will “help encourage the mass adoption of electric vehicles by overcoming significant barriers around charging and range anxiety,” said Western Power.

Highways England mulled a similar trial five years ago but plans were suspended. The Coventry proposal is better timed with electric vehicles sales in the UK having risen sharply in recent years. EVs accounted for nearly 10 per cent of new car registrations in the UK in 2020, up seven per cent from 2019.

Their exponential growth is only expected to continue, especially in the wake of Boris Johnson's announcement in November that the sale of new petrol and diesel cars will be banned from 2030.

The prospective Coventry road follows a Department for Transport announcement earlier in the year that it will spend £3.4 million ($4.6 million) on a trial of a wireless charging taxi rank in Nottingham.