Tel Aviv-Yafo is paving the way for electric roads of tomorrow
By David E. Kaplan
Electric vehicles can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but it was previously tried in Israel and literally didn’t “get us far”. The challenges were daunting – high cost of batteries, charging stations were too few and far between, and recharging took far more time than a fill-up at the pump. Israelis are hardly endowed with much savlanut (Hebrew for “patience”), so the electric car ended up going down the proverbial cul de sac!
So it was back to the drawing board whereby reaching higher meant researching lower, resulting in an ‘electric road’ rather than the ‘electric car’.
This is the idea of Israeli start-up ElectReon, which is to electrify the roads to recharge vehicles as they are driven.
An ‘electric road’, ‘eroad’, or ‘electric road system’ (ERS) is a road which supplies electric power to vehicles travelling on it but today, in 2020, it is far more than just an idea!
In partnership with the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality and Dan Bus Company, ElectReon have launched a pilot project to install wireless electric roads for charging public transportation in the city.
The initiative, which aims to reduce pollution and advance urban electric transportation uses wireless technology and requires no charging stations in public spaces.
The first of its kind in Israel, the pilot will be carried out between Tel Aviv University Railway Station and Klatzkin Terminal in Ramat Aviv – a two-kilometer route including 600 meters of electric road.
The Chosen Path
Along this select road of the pilot project, specially-equipped electric buses will travel while being charged directly from an under-road electric infrastructure.
Down the road, following the tests expected to be completed within two months, a Dan Bus Company electric bus will commence regular journeys on the route, serving passengers traveling to Tel Aviv University.
This pilot project is integral in Tel Aviv-Yafo’s municipal policy of attaching monumental importance to electric vehicles and reducing air pollution in the city. Stated in a press release, the City will move forward on “constructing electric roads to encourage energy independent public transportation.”
To this end, Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality signed a recent collaboration agreement with Israeli company ElectReon – the developer and installer of electric road systems – for charging electric vehicles while traveling.
The construction of an electric road to charge public transportation vehicles will make,“Tel Aviv-Yafo the first city worldwide to roll out the technology for charging buses on a wide scale. In doing so, the city will evaluate the possibility of additional electric transportation, including public transportation, distribution trucks, and private and autonomous vehicles.” asserts the Municipality
Says Tel Aviv-Yafo’s upbeat Mayor, Ron Huldai:
“We are constantly working to reduce air pollution in the city, and our strategic action plan to prepare for climate change has placed the fight against pollution at the top of the municipality’s environmental agenda. If the pilot is successful, we will evaluate – together with the Ministry of Transportation – its expansion to additional locations in the city.”
Adds the City’s Deputy Mayor, Meital Lehavi:
“We welcome that Tel Aviv-Yafo is a groundbreaking experimental laboratory for Israeli technologies, including electric roads. Transforming a road into an electrified surface and a means for charging, through advanced and effective infrastructure, will enable the acceleration of the transition to electric buses. Relying on direct charging of vehicles from the road itself will remove the need to establish charging stations or be operationally bound to terminals.”
With electric transportation assisting municipal efforts to reduce air pollution and noise and assist the transition to green modes of transport, the trend will undoubtedly contribute to improving the quality of life and the environment for residents and visitors to the city. “We have no doubt,” continues Lehavi, “that, if the wide-scale experiment is successful, it will not only benefit the public, but also save resources, improve the operational efficiency of public transportation, and maybe even a new world-class method of electrification will emanate from Tel Aviv-Yafo. This is another milestone in advancing municipal policy on sustainable transportation.”
ElectReon CEO and founding partner Oren Ezer, says “we are delighted” that the first electrified public route is being established in Tel Aviv – a global leader in the field of innovation and smart transportation.
“The pilot will be a display window to the world, showcasing the ability to charge urban public transportation.”
And the world is watching.
Noting the challenges – technological and financial – Dan Becker, Director of the Safe Climate Campaign in Washington, says “If it works it could be a real game-changer for electric vehicles.” A strong advocate for lower emission vehicles, Becker adds “It would free the vehicle from the plug. It would allow smaller batteries, the most expensive component of the vehicle. And it would reduce their weight so there would be less weight for the vehicle to schlep along.”
Over time, ElectReon executives aim to go global and make “all-electric city transport” the wave of the future.
“This project has the potential to move the electrification revolution to mass implementation,” said Noam Ilan, a company co-founder and vice president for business development.
While the ElectReon system will still require vehicles to carry batteries, these batteries however will be far smaller and lighter because the vehicles will constantly recharge and therefore will need minimal storage capacity.
Executives assure that roads can be easily retrofitted, and nearly two-thirds of a mile or one kilometre of road can be outfitted during a night construction shift.
An asphalt scraper machine can dig a shallow trench in the road, while a second vehicle installs the charging strips and covers them with fresh asphalt. Power is delivered to the road from the electricity grid by power inverters installed on the sides of the road.
Once the strips are deployed, “roads would rarely if ever need to be dug up for repairs,” says Ilan.
And on the question of economic sustainability, Ilan insists that ElectReon has an almost limitless potential revenue stream from tolls on its roads and systems to bill registered vehicle customers for the electricity they use. “Revenues would likely be shared with local utilities,” he said.
Today a pioneer in developing electric road technology, ElectReon has come a long way since it was founded in 2013 by a few engineers from Elbit Systems, a prominent Israeli aerospace company with global operations.
With roughly 20 employees, their lab is “decidedly makeshift”, with the look, as Clifford Krauss of The New York Times described in an October 2019 article “of a high school electronics lab.” He noted amusingly that the charging apparatus for the test track was rigged to the back of a car using a Thule bike rack and metal rods, while “surf boards leaned against the walls for breaks” at a nearby Mediterranean beach.
Is this not typically Israeli and quintessential Tel Avivian – being super ‘charged’ while simultaneously casual in lifestyle? Assures company co-founder, Noam Ilan, “such breaks SPARK creativity.”
Whether from surfing waves today to the ‘wave of the future’ of electric roads of tomorrow, Israel’s city of Tel Aviv-Yafo ignites the way forward.
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