The technology has been tested in Germany © Florian Gaertner/Photothek via Getty Images
The technology has been tested in Germany © Florian Gaertner/Photothek via Getty Images

Road freight should switch to overhead power lines to hit net zero

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
27 July 2020

Road freight in the UK could cut its CO2 emissions by 13.4m tonnes a year by switching to a system of overhead electrification, according to a think tank.

In a report the Centre for Sustainable Road Freight said building such a system of overhead power lines, similar to that used by the railways, would cost £19.3bn and electrify 65% of road freight movements.

“An Electric Road System (ERS) is the primary candidate to deliver the energy needed by the UK’s long-distance HGV fleet,” said the report.

“ERS deploys roadside infrastructure that allows the most efficient direct use of zero-carbon electricity and hence the lowest societal cost.”

Under the plan lorries would be modified to include a pantograph on the roof that automatically connects and disconnects from a catenary power line to allow overtaking or moving onto a different route, when an onboard battery or hybrid diesel engine would take over.

The report suggested a pilot project in South Yorkshire costing £80m needed to be completed by 2025 to allow the system to be rolled out in the 2030s, in order to meet the government’s 2050 net zero target.

Researchers said the plan would be more cost effective if the work was combined with other road infrastructure projects such as car charging, systems for connected and autonomous vehicles, and 5G networks.

“The investments in pantograph electric vehicles would pay back the vehicle operators in 18 months (through lower energy costs) and the electrification infrastructure could pay back its investors in 15 years (through electricity sales),” said the report.

“This makes the infrastructure investment a unique opportunity for private finance. The improved energy efficiency of the freight system will also create sufficient headroom in the economics for substantial government revenues through an electricity excise tax, road user charge or some other form of tax.”

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