Germany tests its first ‘electric highway’ for trucks

From Engadget

Surprise: it’s on an Autobahn.

Jon Fingas, @jonfingas

05.12.19 in Transportation

Germany is joining the ranks of those countries betting on “electric highways” to foster eco-friendly trucking. The country has started real-world tests of an eHighway system on a 3.1-mile stretch of the Autobahn between Frankfurt and Darmstadt, with an electric-diesel hybrid truck merging into everyday traffic while it received power from overhead cables to keep it from using its combustion engine. Earlier tests in the country relied on either slow nighttime tests or the safety of an unused military airfield.

The very first eHighway launched in Sweden in 2016. The concept here is the same — the trucks use pantographs (the pickps on their roofs) to latch on to the overhead cables and draw electricity. Trucks can feed electricity into the grid when they brake, making the system particularly useful if there’s ever a jam.

The system won’t have a major impact for a while. Just five trucks will run the electrified stretch each day where roughly 10 percent of the road’s 135,000 daily vehicles are heavy trucks. That reduced emissions footprint could scale up as more trucks support the system, though, and could encourage trucking companies to go electric knowing that their cargo haulers could drive longer on a charge.

Germany is joining the ranks of those countries betting on “electric highways” to foster eco-friendly trucking. The country has started real-world tests of an eHighway system on a 3.1-mile stretch of the Autobahn between Frankfurt and Darmstadt, with an electric-diesel hybrid truck merging into everyday traffic while it received power from overhead cables to keep it from using its combustion engine. Earlier tests in the country relied on either slow nighttime tests or the safety of an unused military airfield.

The very first eHighway launched in Sweden in 2016. The concept here is the same — the trucks use pantographs (the pickps on their roofs) to latch on to the overhead cables and draw electricity. Trucks can feed electricity into the grid when they brake, making the system particularly useful if there’s ever a jam.

Read the full story here.


180 thoughts on “Germany tests its first ‘electric highway’ for trucks

    • Trolleybus it is from the 19th century so Germany is going back in time. Devolution is what this is.

      • How is it any more efficient than piggy-back trains are? It sure wouldn’t be practical here in the US.

        • Far less efficient than piggy-back trains. The real issue with piggy-back trains, particularly in the U.S., is the independence of trucking companies from railroads,and the huge number of independent owner-operators. It basically takes away their income and incentive to invest in capital.

          This whole electric-truck thing seems to be a real Rube Goldberg solution to the energy-inefficiency of freight hauling, but then any other kind of government intervention would probably be far worse

        • If I am interpreting their long-term plans correctly, I do not see their goal as efficiency, but rather lowered emissions, i.e. if they obtain the electricity from “emissions-free” renewable sources, e.g. solar & wind. (I am not suggesting any of that, just clarifying my interpretation of their position. While lower localized emissions is admirable, and I would strongly suggest nuclear instead, inefficiency almost always wins in the end.)

      • Yep. Trolley-buses, where I used to live in the UK. Great idea, better than trams but still with the major disadvantage: they couldn’t overtake.

          • The electric power is optional, the pantograph can be lifted and lowered, so outside from the electrified road it can run like a normal truck. The newest trolley-buses and trams have batteries to cross squares, thus preventing mentioned squares to be invaded by wires.

        • Are there load height limits in Germany? We seem to have truck drivers here in Oz getting stuck under bridges etc.

          Tearing down the electric infrastructure seems likely.

          • lee May 13, 2019 at 11:33 pm
            Are there load height limits in Germany?

            there’s underpasses, tunnels, under e.g. railways in the cities worldwide.

            If the truck driver forgets to lower the tipper of his dump truck in time, the vehicle gets stuck in the underpass and causes material damage.

            that would have to be IT- prevented.

    • Plus ca change plus c’est la meme chose!
      (Sorry I don’t know how to instruct my computer to add the appropriate accents.)

  1. The system won’t have a major impact for a while….

    …the system will have no impact at all…ever

    • Oh, It will have a major impact when:
      1) maintenance, accidents, or malevolence brings down a line onto traffic, should be a sporty time
      2) accidents that turn the truck into a 60 foot long 16,000 volt conductor.
      3) construction will take 50% longer as they need to move these lines, and we all know construction is never a problem on german autobahn

      On the other hand, at least it will force some of the trucks to stop over-taking each other at a 0.25 mph differential and thus block 2 lanes for miles.

      But really, don’t we already have trains. Here’s a thought, put your freight on trains!!!!

      • Why would the overhead supply lines be brought down by an accident … and even if that happened, why would be any different than any other accident that currently brings down overhead powerlines, which overhead lines constitute most of the powerlines in use in the world today?

        Electric trolleys and buses and trains have been in use in the US and Europe since the electrification of cities near the turn of the 19th century, and have not proven to be any particular problem or threat at all. They were in use in the city I grew up in – nobody gave it a thought as to safety or inconvenience. Still used a lot in Europe.

        • Hi Duane
          Ever been in Germany much? There is a “slight” difference in speed involved in inner city traffic and on The Autobahn. Do you imagine that can make a difference?
          That said – trains anyone?

          • The Germans operate an electric train system using overhead lines and pantograph which has been clocked at 222 mph – much faster than any car or truck drives on the autobahn.

            It is obviously not the electric power supply that is speed limiting.

        • Duane – May 13, 2019 at 9:30 am

          Why would the overhead supply lines be brought down by an accident …

          Duane, ….. because the “skyhooks” which are used for holding them stable are subject to failure during mild typhoons.

        • OH lines are off the road or just cross…and are not in contact with vehicles. Electric trains don’t share roads with cars. And we aren’t talking slow 19th century trolleys on downtown streets…this is the autobahn.

          • The trucks will be limited to a top speed of 56MPH to take advantage of the power lines. That *is* slow for the autobahn.

          • John Endicott, isn’t there an overall speed limit on the Autobahn for heavy trucks in Germany? In Belgium that is 80 km/h (about 50 mph)?
            Should mean that there is no loss of speed when driving electric on that section.

            I do see one practical problem: how to separate the two lines without shorting them when driving at much higher speeds than within a city, where it is already a problem for the trolley if you have to pass an unforeseen item in the main direction. For panthographs, the risks are worse…

          • The fastest electric train in Europe is the Siemens ES 64. It uses overhead lines and a pantograph. It has been clocked at 222 mph. Considerably faster than the 56 mph limit for trucks that you claim for these electric vehicles.

            Obviously it is NOT the overhead power line and pantograph which is speed limiting. It is almost certainly due to other factors such as limiting truck speeds in general regardless of the motive power.

          • Higher weights, higher speeds, multiple driving lanes … They only create the need for expensive solutions.

            Thus, you get a “social-engineering, government planner’s” renewable energy dream solution.

            And it does work. Maybe. For a while.
            But then the drivers and owners realize that this “golden train” can only go from “big city terminal” to “big city terminal”. You MUST have a hybrid truck (electric+battery+diesel generator) to go to the customers OUTSIDE the terminal.

            Where are the electric overhead wires for every road in Europe in front of every business and in back of every business in every alley and every grocery store terminal and in every parking lot that needs deliveries?

          • Dudes – ALL trucks in Germany over 3,500 kg GVWR are limited by law to 80 kmh/50 mph.

            Indeed, all trucks in Germany over 3,500 kg GVWR are required by law to have speed limiters that physically limit speeds to no higher than 90 kmhr/56 mph.

          • R Shearer May 13, 2019 at 10:43 am:

            A terrorist with simply a chain or cable could do a lot of damage.

            – anywhere, anytime.

            Take care of yourself!

        • Why would the overhead supply lines be brought down by an accident

          Because they’re hooked to moving vehicles: “the trucks use pantographs (the pickps on their roofs) to latch on to the overhead cables and draw electricity.”

          Electric trolleys and buses and trains have been in use in the US and Europe since the electrification of cities near the turn of the 19th century

          And yet, most of those places (at least in the US) have done away with the electric trolley long ago. Just like they did away with the horse and buggy and other obsolete technology.

          Electric trolleys and buses and trains have been in use in the US and Europe since the electrification of cities near the turn of the 19th century, and have not proven to be any particular problem or threat at all.

          A city trolley/bus does not travel at autobahn speeds. Just because something is “safe” at a relatively low speed does not make it so at relatively higher speeds. Drive your car into a tree at 0.5 MPH. You’ll get not much more than a dent for your trouble. Drive your car into a tree at 50 MPH, you likely won’t survive to personally tell anyone how safe it was.

          • The supposed operation described, where the trams “latch on to” the line could easily be a misuse (or misunderstanding) of language. I cannot see ‘latching’, but rather ‘pressing’, as the recommended circuit closure. In such a manner, the tram rails are regularly lifted and lowered, touching, then not touching. With latching, all sorts of other issues abound… Imagine the rails exciting waves in the overhead lines on every bump in the road (yes, this is reduced both in amplitude and spectral content when pressing rather than latching), or latching mechanisms getting caught somewhere during an obstacle-avoidance maneuver or by a low-hanging limb (granted, probably not an issue in the Autobahn).

            We have an electric bus system in my city, runs up to 35 mph, never had a line come down in an accident of which I am aware, though it is possible. Lines do come down occasionally during storms, and fast-response switching is credited with reduced chance of electrocution. The power on the lines often drops due to tree limb interference or maintenance, and each bus runs on internal storage (battery or natural gas) when not on overhead electric (intersections + some stretches where lines are not run).

          • You obviously have no freaking idea what you’re talking about.

            Accidents have always occurred with electric trolleys and trains .. and the electrical supply system was not a special risk factor at all.

            C’mon, name a terrible accident involving an electric trolley or train wherein the electric system was the principal culprit and killer of innocents.

            You cannot name even one.

          • The supposed operation described, where the trams “latch on to” the line could easily be a misuse (or misunderstanding) of language

            Indeed. After reading some other articles about it, it does seem that “latch on to” is an incorrect description of the system to be used.

        • I am old enough to remember going to school by tram in the 50s. I recall two occasions when the overhead supply broke. The reaction was immediate (apart from the tram stopping) the driver leapt from his seat and told everyone to stay seated and not to touch anything, especially the metal handles and rails, frightening for an eight year old! There we sat for an apparent age waiting for the supply to be turned off, scared silly, which is probably why I remember it so well. We watched the engineers arrive and big breakdown lorry tow the tram away and walked the rest of the way to school passing other stationary trams on the same circuit.
          Fortunately there was little traffic on the roads in those days, but the thought of something similar happening on a crowded motorway (and it will) where cars mingle with a convoy of lorries ….

      • But really, don’t we already have trains. Here’s a thought, put your freight on trains!!!!

        There is a novel idea, you should patent it!

        • The reason trucks are usually preferred to trains is that trains can’t go to all the places that a truck can go to. These hybrids allow the trucks to go electric when on the autobahn, but then return to diesel when they are off the autobahn.

          Of course, there is inefficiency in having two power systems on board. Diesel engines are not light, but you might be able to reduce fuel tank size. You’re adding electric motors to take electricity from the grid, with all the conversions (and efficiency losses that pertain).

          Not sure you gain anything. Definitely more expensive overall, especially when include subsidies.

      • I remember an article from years ago that said in the UK, if you doubled the number of goods trains – you wouldn’t even make a dent on the number of trucks taken off the road

        • Indeed. Trains are really only good for moving large amounts of goods from one “hub” to another. To get the goods from the “hubs” to their final destinations you need trucks. While more trains for transporting goods might make a slight dent in long haul trucking between the “hubs” serviced by trains, it can’t touch all the rest of the trucking that goes on (such as between “hubs” not serviced by trains, from the “hub” to the warehouse, from the warehouse to the store, from one store to another, from a store or warehouse to your house, etc.

      • Unlike the USA, where power lines seem not to have automatic switches and keep writhing and arcing on the ground, Europe prefers to protect lines with switches.
        My father worked around those, and they’re shall we say, thunderous, when tripping under load. In any case, they can cut power within fractions of a second in case of overload or short circuit.

        • This depends on your location; many (if not all) of the lines in my area of the Midwest are switched. One hears the thunderous switching that you describe both when the power is cut and when it returns, sometimes in succession down an array of switches.

          • That’s good to know. I suppose, the powered wire on the ground may be overrepresented in popular culture because it’s easy to produce tense scenes from this trope.

  2. As crazy as this sounds, it’s more realistic than heavy trucks using EV batteries.

    • Personally, I don’t think the whole “We could do stupider things- you should be glad we’re not” philosophy is particularly sound.

    • One way or the other, fossil fuels WILL have to go once it becomes viable to do so. Heavy reduction is perfectly possible right now. An Israeli company has made a battery that runs on water. Hybrids are functional and save fuel – especially when paired with a fuel saving driving technique (the best drivers get uo to 1000mpg). Coolest idea I saw was skipping the battery and powering AC motors directly with a generator (capacitors absorb voltage spikes) – 200mpg, IIRC.

      Plenty of good technology and is reaching the point of economic viability. This e-highway sounds like it is worth a try at least.

      • Jlad, the typical automobile lead/acid battery ‘runs on water’.

        I used to think hybrids had value, and they do look good on paper. But, eventually you must move the design from PowerPoint slide into actual hardware. That is where the disconnect between actual and theoretical performance values rears its ugly head. Rather than being a technological marvel of an offspring between IC and electrical, they end up being the worst of both worlds with underperformance and high maintenance costs.

        • Not true.

          Per an article on Forbes at

          “According to the automotive data compilation and analysis firm Vincentric, 42 of the 79 hybrids analyzed (broken down by model and trim level) have a lower total cost of ownership than their conventionally powered counterparts over a five-year period. That includes both fuel savings and other factors like depreciation, maintenance, financing, and insurance costs.”

          • 5 years is barely old. Most “conventionally powered” will last 10-20 years. Most electrics will need to spend 10k plus every 5-7 years for batteries. This looks to be a scam study that leaves out the biggest cost of many hybrids aka the battery replacement cost.

          • tem, my Prius replacement battery cost $2.2k (new, not remanufactured). It has a warranty that will outlast my remaining planned ownership of the car. It will retire at 12 yrs old and 260,000+ miles…the battery replacement in hybrids is not incidental but also is not make-or-break, especially over that timeframe and use.

            The article was about hybrids, not “electrics,” which have a higher battery replacement cost and ridiculous depreciation rates.

          • Does that include the thousands in savings from having the taxpayer pick up part of the purchase price, plus all the freebies that are given to hybrids, as well as to electrics?

          • “MarkW May 13, 2019 at 4:16 pm
            Does that include the thousands in savings from having the taxpayer pick up part of the purchase price, plus all the freebies that are given to hybrids, as well as to electrics?”

            Savings, yes!
            Duane’s claim is another levelized cost fallacy and fabrication to disguise the actual cost of ownership.

            Cancel subsidies!
            The electric car makers should reimburse citizens every dollar.

          • Dude – it isn’t MY claim.

            This is Forbes magazine, the world’s most respected source of financial news and and information, and they are citing a third party which conducted a highly detailed analysis of 79 different hybrid automobiles.

            More research and actual real world data than you guys are capable of putting up here at a website supposedly dedicated to real science and engineering .. not ideology.

          • Duane.

            More research and actual real world data than you guys are capable of putting up here at a website supposedly dedicated to real science and engineering .. not ideology.

            No, Forbes (and the Wall Street Journal) are as biased and as inaccurate in editorially selecting and publishing their many “Green Tantrum” diatribes as any other New York based bunch of self-called journalists. NONE are based on real engineering, economics, nor reality.

      • “An Israeli company has made a battery that runs on water. ”

        Link please. Unless that water offers significant elevation, there is no energy stored in water.

          • It’s just a typical hydrogen fuel cell which has been around for about since 1939, I fail to see what is new about it.

          • Yes, but with a high-density storage medium for the hydrogen. If it were me, I’d use ferrosilicon and water (plus some sodium hydroxide). That’s been the standard reaction for military hydrogen production (for inflating various military balloons) since WW-I. I suppose that, in principle, one could recycle the resultant sodium silicate and iron oxide into ferrosilicon. But I’m not sure how.

            BTW, I don’t advocate this. I just Googled it and found what the guy was probably talking about.

        • Another Paul – May 13, 2019 at 9:59 am

          “An Israeli company has made a battery that runs on water. ”

          Link please. Unless that water offers significant elevation, there is no energy stored in water.

          A “potassium” battery would “run on water”, ……. no problem at all.

          Metallic potassium, that is.

          Elemental potassium (K) reacts vigorously with water, generating sufficient heat to ignite hydrogen emitted in the reaction, …..

          • “A “potassium” battery would “run on water”, ……. no problem at all.”

            To charge this battery, all one needs to do is just add water? The Elemental potassium level is constant?

      • JLad, one way or another we WILL have to build coal-fired power stations at least at the same rate as communist China so we can keep up with them by having comparably low electricity prices. Otherwise their economy will continue to grow faster than ours and we will be the new 3rd world. And guess what, the carbon dioxide will still be produced whether we continue with stupid or not and the Earth will continue to green.

      • Yup! All the mass that is consumed in non-freight activities and capacity is money wasted making the whole transport system less efficient and costing more to the operator and consumer. Who will pay for the overhead power lines if only used by trucks?

  3. Electric cable cars and trolleys used this concept for a large part of the Twentieth Century.
    I can still remember the scents caused by the cars sparking.

    Shouldn’t be too expensive. Running long inexpensive copper cable arrays and maintaining the cables shouldn’t be a problem. Mining, refining, wire making, stringing wire over very large distances, maintenance,etc.

    One does wonder what voltage their running down those wires; and exactly what size cables they’re going to string to support thousands of heavy trucks?

    Ya think they really plan to supply these trucks and arrays with wind/solar?
    Then, when the grid goes down, all trucking in the area shuts down.

    Plus, it will make the highways so scenic.

    • Ever wonder what that smell is coming from arcing electrical lines (trolleys, and motors, and…)?
      It’s ozone. (plus any incidentally combusted coatings/lubricants/oils)

      This will be nice until an accident or other cause brings down these high voltage lines across freeway traffic and shuts the entire autobahn. Doesn’t Germany ever experience freezing rain or ice storms?

      • Yes, electrical arcing in Earth’s atmosphere produces ozone. Ozone has been identified as a greenhouse gas. Where are the CAGW zealots when you really need them?

      • More than just ozone, Rocketscientist.
        Ozone odors occur during a number of thunderstorms and still remind many of warm humid Spring or early summer afternoon storms.

        Given the flashes of colors during those sparks, I assume copper oxide and other oxides/sulfides are evaporated into the atmosphere along with coatings and lubricants.

        Germany is well known for freezing rain and ice storms. So, your point is on target.

      • Or, of course, one citizen who believes that all that copper would better swell her ( or his) bank account if stolen and scrapped, with no question asked.

        Auto – merely remarking on human nature . . . . .

        • Right after the end of the Soviet Union, the Russians were having a lot of problems launching rockets because people were stealing all the copper at the Baikonur launch site.

  4. I wonder what the speed limit is for trucks on the wire? Can’t be too fast or the contacts would burn up in a few minutes.
    What’s the aerodynamics of a truck with feelers up?
    The slower you go, the less efficient regenerative breaking is. Stop and go traffic is precisely were you get the least use out of them.

    • Many years ago I was designing a hybrid city transit bus (ATTB). We needed ‘foundation’ brakes because regenerative breaking only works above 5 mph or so. Slower than that you aren’t rotating the motors fast enough to generate magnetic drag to decelerate further.
      BTW the average speed for a city bus throughout the day is < 15 mph.

      • “We needed ‘foundation’ brakes because regenerative breaking only works above 5 mph or so”

        True regenerative [sic] breaking effectiveness decreases with speed. Controlled stops to zero speed can be obtained using a servo loop. Foundation brakes are required to meet regulations.

        • Foundation brakes also come in handy when you want to remain stationary while parked on non level roads or parking lots. 🙂

          • No need for that, just drop the sprag, an 18th century solution. But their hay carts didn’t weigh 50 tons.

        • “True regenerative [sic] breaking effectiveness decreases with speed. ”
          Very much applies to conventional braking as well. Excluding thinking distance (RAC figures):
          Braking distance to stationary from 60mph = 55 metres
          Braking distance to stationary from 30mph = 14 metres
          so the first half of the speed reduction takes nearly three times the distance of the second half – which is one reason people have accidents!
          I have not driven an electric vehicle and know only the basic engineering, but I assume the generator braking effect of the electric motor has the same difficulty recovering the vehicle’s kinetic energy (∝ velocity squared) as do conventional brakes.

          • The claim was that regenerative breaking is most efficient during stop and go traffic.
            That clearly is not the case.

          • Peter, iirc, the majority (>90%) of the energy converted during regenerative braking is lost to heat, as the charging mechanisms cannot hold / push that much to that battery at one time. Further engineering could potentially store more of it, but as always, one trades more / larger components for limited usage & capacity.

          • Thanks, RM, I had wondered about that. I saw that the new French TGVs (with the bogies overlapping two carriages) were able to brake regeneratively on all their axles. The kinetic energy involved at high speed is vast with consequent added requirements on conductors and control circuitry. But if only a portion of energy is converted during braking the problem is smaller. Does this also apply to RB in cars? If so, we’ve been sold a pup.

          • Peter, I did a little digging, and it would appear there are quite a few different approaches to the non-friction braking systems (many more ideas tgan operational, of course). I’m aware of several for non-transportation systems, e.g. roller coasters, then there are the commercial train and other large vehicles, then there are passenger cars. Some large trains (and amusement rides) use eddy currents, wasting the energy entirely; some systems transfer the energy to an onboard (or stationary) flywheel-like setup; while others generate current that is transferred to a large resistor bank (heat), but otherwise not really captured. Passenger cars, on the other hand, do not benefit from large available space and weight capacity, and they attempt to fight range anxiety by recapturing ‘some’ of the converted energy. I said >90% is wasted; ok, well, apparently the advertising gurus are all over the map, claiming 60-100% capture. Yeah… I’ll believe it when I see it… and test it myself.
            I can say, from research I did on the Tesla Model 3 about a year ago, that regen isn’t even available under certain conditions: cold & high state-of-charge, in either case, the battery cannot accept energy from the regen system.
            Hope this helps!

          • “Peter, iirc, the majority (>90%) of the energy converted during regenerative braking is lost to heat, as the charging mechanisms cannot hold / push that much to that battery at one time. ”

            Intelligent inverter design can regen energy back to the high voltage bus. If the battery is full, it needs to be wasted as heat. But these trucks are connected to the grid by the pantograph. the grid is pretty much an infinite energy sink at the vehicle level.

      • The slower the wheel is turning, the more excitation current has to be pumped into the stator in order to get the same amount of braking.

    • Trains and trams have been using the system since 1883, at speeds of 300+ km/h. So the kinks have been worked out. But just like with trolley cars, the problem is abruptly leaving your lane to avoid the other idiots.

    • The existing Japanese bullet train (Shinkansen) and the existing French TGV train have both demonstrated-in-service peak operating speeds of 200 mph with electrical energy supplied by overhead wires using sliding-contact conductors.

      • Trains are on a fixed path (their track) that they don’t deviate from. Trucks on the autobahn will have significantly more “sway” (to either side) in their path.

        • Then you’ve got degradation of the road surface, lumps and bumps.

          I could see a traffic jam where all the trucks are continuously connected while stopped might be an interesting problem too.

    • Electric trains using the same overhead lines have operated in the countryside of Europe for more than a century, and they don’t seem to have any particular speed limitation other than that applicable to the track and the rolling stock themselves.

      • Rode any of those electric trains?

        Most electric trains for transportation and shipping are mandated by city ordinances, not practicality.
        e.g. New York City bans non-electric trains within city boundaries.

        Causing all trains passing through NYC to stop, entering and exiting the city to swap out engines. Not a rapid process.

        Those same urban centers forbid “fast” electric trains as speeds within the urban areas are limited, often to 15MPH.

    • I’m a truck driver and on the very long shot chance that crap came here for big trucks I would find other work. But, I’m only 2 1/2 years from retirement.

  5. Well, such a system was working back in the 1950s when I was a child, only we called them (trackless) trolleys. I heard stories that car manufacturers bought them, and shut them down to sell buses as replacements.

    As far as the locals, we were glad to get rid of the mess of overhead wires. Oh, well, back to the future. Good luck to them.

    • There have always been “stories”. Another was that a tire manufacturer bought them out so that they could sell more tires.

      Anyone spends more than a second or two thinking about it would realize that as conspiracy theories go, these are even nuttier than average.

      A company spends the money to buy and entire, working system (why exactly did the city sell if the systems were so popular?) and then hopes to earn it back from just the profits on replacement buses.
      What happens if the city decides to buy buses from some company other than the one that bought up the tram system?

  6. Pantographs is the only realistic way to run electrical trucks. However they require very careful maintenance to work. The pantograph has a graphite layer on top to decrease friction and transmit the current. This erodes fairly quickly and must be replaced before it wears through, because the moment there is metal/metal contact the pantograph tears down the overhead line, stopping all traffic until the line is repaired.
    This is a chronic problem in Sweden where most railway lines are electrified, particularly in winter when frost on pantographs and lines cause arcing and fast erosion. It has proven quite difficult to avoid tear-downs on a railway-system with a few thousand locomotives owned by half a dozen large operators. It will probably not be easier for millions of trucks and many thousands of operators.

    Another thing, a torn down line is often still live with very high tension AC making evacuation of stopped trains impossible until the power has definitely been cut off.

    How about having a high-tension live wire coming down on a busy Interstate abruptly stopping a proportion of trucks until they can switch to diesels, while thousands of other cars swerve around them and try to avoid being electrocuted at the same time?

  7. As so many places have spent a fortune to bury electrical services for reliability and to clear up the visual landscape, this old idea is new again – including the old visual pollution. San Fran has had those overhead power grids for their electric busses for decades – I guess one gets used to the view.
    All the major train lines along the east coast have removed all the wires above the train tracks – I’m guessing maintenance is higher than running a diesel/electric locomotive.
    Oh well.

  8. Electrified buses have been used in Seattle since forever. Works quite well in an urban environment.

    For inter-city distances, why not electrify the rail lines and load the trailers onto rail cars.

  9. As a mechanical engineer this makes no sense to me! Better to make the power at the place needed rather than make it miles away and send it over expensive lines with losses and such, that is the beauty of the IC engine, no wires needed!

    • I agree, though to play devil’s advocate a bit. As Germany is heavily dependent on coal to produce its electricity, and this is hard to ramp up and down easily. What if these trucks only run a night on quiet autobahns using ‘off-peak’ electricity. The result might be a more balanced load on the grid, less heavily laden trucks on the highways during peak time, and less NOx and diesel particulate pollution.

    • “Better to make the power at the place needed rather than make it miles away and send it…”

      Yet your home, place of employment, and nearly every place you go is connected to the grid.

    • “I’m guessing maintenance is higher than running a diesel/electric locomotive.”
      I did not come to the same conclusion. Often the case regarding public / private divide is pushing the cost around, not necessarily reducing it. While the total cost of maintenance for many trucking companies may be higher than the cost of a centralized public electric supply, it is borne in smaller numbers by numerous private companies rather than a seemingly larger, voter-unfriendly big ticket item on a public balance sheet.

    • I cannot believe a mechanical engineer would ever utter such a phrase: “As a mechanical engineer this makes no sense to me! Better to make the power at the place needed rather than make it miles away and send it over expensive lines with losses and such, that is the beauty of the IC engine, no wires needed!”

      Aside from the freedom from wires, this is a ridiculous statement. Please tell me where you are an engineer so I can decline contracting with you.

  10. Question:
    Where does the electric power come from? (in France it would come from nuclear power plants).

    How does the cost of electric power compare with the cost of power generated by diesel fuel?

    • Oh you didn’t the NGD memo. By 2045 our limitless electricity will come from vast herds of unicorns farts and pixie dust. Carbon emissions will have taxes of $30,000/tonne.

      • Me and Eric Holthaus love Unicorn Farts (properly spelled with capitalized words, as it is now a trademarked brand identity, like Tokamak Corp. which is experiencing similar levels of success).

        Nine out of ten dentists agree that Unicorn Farts are the best way to power modernity! They’re new, they’re improved, they’re old-fashioned. You’ll love them in your home, too! Step right up!

  11. How do you say “taxpayer subsidy” in German? How do you say “what a politically correct but stupid idea” in English?

  12. There is already an extensive over head power system in use to day.
    It is called railway electrification.
    Oh well! EU will have funded it so it is a good idea?

    • As an earlier post pointed out the renewables industry is having a tough time at the moment with no one wanting to bid for replacing old windmills and not even wanting to install new ones where are they going to get the electricity to power these things from.
      The max speed for all commercial vehicles has been set by the EU which is why our motorways are clogged with lorries trying to overtake with about 0.5-3mph speed difference depending on how well tuned the speed governor is set.

      James Bull

  13. We had electric trolleys when I was a sprout. I thought they were pretty cool. Even as a kid I appreciated the quiet smooth ride. There was a transition period where new diesel buses were on the road at the same time as the old electrics and I always hoped I could catch the electric buses.

    I don’t recall why the electric trolleys were dropped; economics, aesthetics, or the PITA when one broke down on the line.

    Hybrid trucks should work just fine. Hook up to the wires to go the distance and then switch off to the diesel to navigate the side streets to the final destination. Also, consider that the trucks can go the length of the line, however long it may be, without refueling.

    What I don’t know are the economics, particularly line installation and maintenance. That’s over and above the cost of highway which is needed regardless of how the truck is powered. Anyhow my best guess off the cuff is that the dual system would cost more than either electric only or diesel only.

  14. So how does this hit the renewable scene then – huge amounts of concrete and steel let alone the regular maintenance and cable replacement costs, so that we can electrify the roads – this is brain dead nonsense along with wind and sun power. How many more windmills and power stations will be needed to electrify the road system and then run trucks on it – how ill they regulate the number of trucks on it – just how many trucks could run off a single run of pantograph cables. Utterly foolhardy and mor political virtue signalling. This money should be going into electricity supply alternatives that can take over from fossil fuels. Vast networks of electricity supply is impractical, environmentally disastrous, expensive, disruptive and badly conceived. How about nuclear/steam powered long road trains that power up individual units independently for local distribution or just lay a railtrack fgs!

    • Huge amounts of concrete, steel, mined aluminum, rare earth metals, and toxic chemicals are green when used to generate subsidies; but if the exact same things are used to make life better for people, suddenly it is bad for mother earth.

  15. This is yet another insane idea from the depths of Wackyland spurred on by the unproven unscientific belief in CO2 caused Global warming/Climate Change which so far has only benefitted colder areas of the Earth and stimulated plant growth.

  16. Lots of questions and comments. How does a faster truck pass a slower truck? How do any trucks pass a truck that has broken down? When a trolley pole (or both) slips and flies off the wire, will there be trolley rope retrievers to bring down the pole(s) before they swing up and damage the overhead wire system? Will the driver be able to swing the pole(s) back into contact quickly without backing up too much traffic? Will the driver be trained in how to handle the trolley rope so that his thumbs are not sucked back into the spring-loaded trolley rope retriever?
    An alternative to the carbon trolley shoe is the trolley wheel. An alternative to the overhead trolley wires is a road surface contact system, with hot plates or hot buttons that sliding or rolling contacts under the truck can contact. These have recently made a comeback for urban streetcars.
    Maybe they have solved the problems of more than a century ago that caused the street contact system to be discontinued. Horses stepping on contacts got electrocuted.

    • The truck will have to have a diesel engine that can be engaged for overtaking or getting past a stalled truck as well as when running on an unelectrified road. In a country like e. g. Sweden most roads where truck operate will always remain unelectrified simply because a large proportion of trucks carry timber. This diesel will either have to be very quick-starting or constantly idling, because otherwise the truck will lose power whenever it has to do a sudden swerve. Could be very nasty.

      No trolley poles. Pantographs simply slide along the wire with no locking action. They would have to be pulled down a bit when leaving the wires and then raised again to return to electrical power. They can’t be at a constant height because even with weights to keep the wires at constant tension the height will vary a bit.

      Feeding in power on or near ground you can forget about. It works for subways, but not in the countryside where there is ice and snow, not to mention salt and grit for road operations. There has been some speculation about feeding in power by induction from buried cables, but the losses would be enormous. They are bad enough for trains with linear induction engines.

  17. What a great idea ! Presumably the vehicle operator will be responsible for the upkeep of the pantograph? No problem there as they are all totally responsible with tyres, brakes and tachos, aren’t they? And when the inevitable happens with a live high voltage cable snaking across the road there will be an awful lot of other road users taking emergency avoiding action at 70mph. Me? I’ll be hogging the outside lane!

  18. This is going to work out poorly for Germany because they’ve already shut down most of their nuclear plants and have committed to killing off all their coal-fired power plants by 2038. When the Russians get cranky and turn off their natural gas spigot, they’ll have whatever windmills and solar panels can produce, which won’t be enough to power their existing grid PLUS a bunch of electric trucks.

  19. Leaving aside any other considerations, I once read that 48 tonne trucks cause 136,000 times more damage to the road surface than a car. I tried to research it but most of the information seems to come from green groups so whether this is true or not I don’t know.

    There is no doubt that trucks cause a fantastic amount of damage to a road that their licence/tax doesn’t cover and the damage is worse on more minor roads such as those that lead from the primary route to something like a supermarket.

    Anyone with actual engineering knowledge able to confirm or otherwise this road damage?


    • The usual rough estimate is that road surface damage/wear at tear is related to the 4th power of axle weight. So for example a 2 ton car compared to a 3 axle 30 ton truck. The damage caused by the truck is 10x10x10x10=10’000 times greater.

      A USA research study quoted by the UK Transport Reesearch Lab.

      “an extensive series of pavement tests were conducted by the American Association of State Highway Officials in 1959-60 2. Despite many limitations and much criticism they remain the most widely used and authoritative basis for assessing the pavement damage caused by commercial vehicles. The results of these tests provide the basis for the so called fourth power law which states that pavement damage is roughly proportional to the fourth power of axle weight: ”

      • Many thanks for that paper. I am not sure how those calculations would pan out for a common scenario these days of a one ton car, which have got lighter over the years, compared to the ever heavier trucks at say 48 tonnes.


    • Many years ago an engineer then involved in autobahn construction told me that pavement wear rises with the 4th power of the axle loading.

      Rainer Facius

      • Tony, “They also emit a huge amount of pollution by way of brake dust and debris from tyres.”

        It is actually for those reasons that I am FOR electrification of vehicles, but there sure are some difficult engineering roadblocks to overcome, many of which have been discussed in these comments and at length historically on WUWT.
        I have read, however, that an unfortunate side effect of regenerative braking is actually an increase in tire wear, specifically the axle operating the regen system — I assume this is due to that axle’s tires slowing at a different rate from the other axle(s), but I am open to studying this more.
        Still, the brake dust issue could be significantly reduced by regen converting kinetic energy to heat, even without capturing to extend range, etc.

    • Depends where you are.

      Here (AUS) axle loading limits are set according to tyre size and hence ground pressure. Therefore my old farm truck – over legal load at 12 tonne gross, , despite the fact that it has functioned happily (if slowly) at 16 – will cause significantly more damage that a fully loaded Semi.

  20. I was especially touched by this line –
    “Trucks can feed electricity into the grid when they brake, making the system particularly useful if there’s ever a jam.”

    The brakes can be sued to generate a small amount of electricity, WHEN THEY”RE SLOWING THE TRUCK DOWN”. They don’t add anything while sitting in a traffic jam, or creeping along, and while electric cars tout this as an energy recovery, I doubt they get very much from it, it’s a pretty inefficient thing, if I had to guess.

    • Brilliant idea from thereFormula Racing guys. They are always slowing on curves, have no lights, Engines replaced after the race.
      Maybe they tested an eTruck race?

  21. And the additional electricity for electrifying heavy transport comes from what generation energy source? Germany is still shunning nuclear.
    Right now it would be neglible at a few trucks. But in 25 years? So they are not only going to have to dramatically expand winds farms, but all those in service today will have to be re-furbished/replaced. No wonder the Green blob exists.

    The reality is these would be Brown Coal-powered trucks! With internal diesel back-up!! Nice.

  22. What a lost of public money. Some politicians were scammed into it and that’s what you end up with. Don’t they know about multimodal transport!?!

    It’s grotesque to come up with that kind of solution in order to mitigate CO2, even when you believe CO2 needs to be mitigated. Imagine when you do not agree…

    This is really going off the rails!

  23. perhaps this small scale test is just to show the eco nuts how stupid it is

    then they can spend a few more million d-marks on another stupid idea without having to spend billions of d-marks

  24. Load is load is load. Road beds flex under the weight of a passing vehicle. They are not rigid or they would be failing faster. You can observe this by watching a freight train pass. Watch the rails and ties flex beneath each passing wheel bogey. Of course the train cars are much heavier than road trucks, but this example serves to demonstrate the principle. Similarly the road beds flex and deform under passing tire loads. This is why many municipalities post “MAXIMUM AXLE WEIGHT LIMITS” in the attempt to restrict of prohibit tucks from damaging road beds. This is also the purpose of Truck Weight Stations.

    As to the relative magnitude of damage of trucks versus cars, that is dependent on the road and the traffic.

  25. The national security nightmare this would create should war ever come knocking… Imagine how easily the entire system would be stopped dead.

  26. “…Trucks can feed electricity into the grid when they brake, making the system particularly useful if there’s ever a jam.”

    No, that means they will use more electricity starting and stopping than they would otherwise use.

    • Oh, it works. A braking train can put quite a bit more Amps back into the wire than it takes out accelerating since braking is faster. Imagine what will happen when there is a jam and a couple of hundred trucks brake simultaneously. BANG! There went the transformer….

      • This is not my area, but this sounds like a perpetual motion machine. Just accelerate and brake, accelerate and brake, accelerate and brake, and soon your batteries will be charged for free.

        • Put some windmills and a bunch of solar panels on top of the train, and it is perpetual motion machine!

      • This is not my area, but this sounds like a perpetual motion machine. Just accelerate and brake many times, and soon your battery will be charged!

        • This:
          No it isn’t. You only get a smallish part of the energy back.

          contradicts this:
          quite a bit more Amps back into the wire than it takes out accelerating

          Please pick one position and stick to it. Thanks.

      • Oh, it works. A braking train can put quite a bit more Amps back into the wire than it takes out accelerating since braking is faster

        More energy breaking than accelerating? – egads man, you’ve just discovered perpetual motion. Quick patent it and you’ll be perpetually rich!

  27. Wellington, NZ, has a network of trolley busses. They used to be trams, but someone thought pulling the lines up was a good idea. Personally, I think trams and trolley busses are a good idea in a city. For major transport routes of hundreds of miles, not so much.

  28. One problem I haven’t seen discussed – have they sussed out how they lorries would overtake each other. Would there be some form of automatic switching of the pantograph from one set of wires to another. Or would the lorries just have to stay in line and go at the speed of the slowest. In that case I can see some pretty irate, frustrated lorry drivers. I remember the trolley bus drivers in London had to get a pole out and manually swop the pantograph from one set of wires to another if they wanted to change lanes. Hopefully they have progressed since then.

    • They have an onboard diesel engine, like any hybrid car. Change lanes, power changes from overhead electric to diesel engine electric drive, accelerate and pass (teeth-grindingly-slowly, as others have pointed out), then merge back over and switch back to overhead electric and shut off diesel powerplant. The drivetrain does not know or care from where the energy is supplied.

      [Again, I’m not supporting this idea, just providing engineering support to readers.]

  29. Now, meter the cost of that electricity according to the current grid price and make that cost available to the drivers / trucking companies in real time. For example, during a period of surplus power when the grid price goes negative and Germany is PAYING other countries to take power to stabilize their grid, make the road grid free. When there is a shortage of power and the grid operator is having to pay high prices to purchase power from other operators, the road grid price goes higher than average. What you will find is trucking operations that can do it operating more vehicles when power is abundant in order to keep their costs down and avoiding operations when costs are high. This helps stabilize the grid by allowing demand to more closely follow supply.

    • Er… ever heard of time tables and schedules? Trucking (and railway) companies could save a lot of money by only operating 9-5, five days a week. For some odd reason they don’t. Operating only when the wind blows is probably not a better idea.

      • The odd reason is surely that a ‘just in time’ philosophy has become embedded in everything from industrial production such as cars through to supermarket deliveries


      • Many things must run on a specific schedule, yes, but others do not. For example, doing runs between a distribution center to individual supermarkets could be moved to nighttime hours if the savings in energy costs are sufficient to justify it. If, for example, the cost of the electricity is 1/2 on average during late night hours, moving transport of some items to those hours would be profitable.

        The overall point here is that using regular market principles to make demand more closely follow supply based on the self-interest of the consumer works. We know it works. Same principle could be used in all areas having a widely variable source of electricity supply. For example, imagine if during periods when the grid operator must pay neighboring grids to take electricity (negative price), the local cost of electricity to customers goes to zero. Customers could pre-load their washing machines and dishwashers before they go to bed and if during the night the price becomes free, the appliances get started. This saves the grid operator money by finding a local source for the power. Every watt given to a customer for “free” saves the grid operator money by not having to bribe a neighboring grid operator to take it. It also potentially shifts load away from times when the grid operator might otherwise have to purchase power from neighboring grids.

        Same could be used for home and business owners to charge local storage batteries resulting in using market principles to cause the decentralized storage of power when it is abundant and a corresponding reduction of load when power is scarce.

        On a day when a grid operator is short on power, say a very hot day with no wind, the cost of the “electric highway” power could rise causing some operators to possibly delay a trip for a few hours in order to save money.

        Nobody seems to like the notion of supply-based pricing at the consumer level, though, because it removes the need to micromanage behaviors (behavior will self-manage based on cost) and that is what most of this is really all about.

        • It’s not simply a case of supply-based pricing or timing use for lowest demand. Off-peak hot water services have been a thing for decades.

          But to use your own example, supermarkets have to time their deliveries so that transports can be unloaded and the contents placed onto the shelves by opening time. Make it more expensive to do that, and the prices will be passed on to the customers, many of whom are in the lower income bracket.

          “Just in time” is not a philosophy. It’s a way of keeping costs down, so that you can keep prices down which typically means attracting more customers…… because customers are odd people who dislike paying more than necessary.

          Businesses that don’t have time constraints use overnight transport a lot. The nearest inter-capital freeway has a section that is notorious for truck accidents, because it is where so many trucks are at 2:00 AM after leaving g either capital on an over-nighter. Really handy for me, because I can phone my supplier and if he doesn’t have the spare part I need, one phone call and it is loaded on a truck at close of business (when the day’s order list is complete) and is on his doorstep at opening next morning.

        • Crosspatch, *applause*.
          My interpretation from these replies is not that they think you are necessarily incorrect, but that you are onto something… something complicated.
          Allow me to add a layer: semi-autonomous semis / IoT appliances / Powerwall / etc. that embark when the computer tells them the price is right. If a preset price-point is not reached by X:00am, depart anyway, and possibly even show preference to onboard diesel usage, rather than grid supply. All doable.

          How dare you, sir, imply we could avoid micromanagement of behavior by those who clearly know better than we.

  30. OK. Earlier comment is not posting. No idea what the delay is for.

    I just wanted to point out that trolley-lorries won’t be able to overtake.

    (Wonder how long this will take to post…)

  31. The reason why systems like this works for trains is that the driver cannot change the “lane” the vehicle is in.

  32. Why Trains in Europe Function So Badly
    The Antiplanner | February 7, 2017

    According to a Pew study, freight shipped by truck uses about ten times as much energy, and emits far more greenhouse gases, per ton-mile than freight shipped by rail (see page 2). Because rail cars weigh more, per passenger, than automobiles, rail’s comparative advantages for passengers are much smaller, and unlike trucks it will be very easy for cars to close the gap: a Prius with a average of 1.67 occupants, for example, is more energy efficient than almost any Amtrak train. Thus, to save energy, it is better to dedicate rail lines to freight rather than to passengers.

    This is what the United States has done, but it is exactly the opposite of what Europe has done. According to a report from the European Union, 46 percent of EU-27 freight goes by highway while only 10 percent goes by rail, while in the U.S. 43 percent goes by rail and only 30 percent by road.

    Trains are more efficient shipping freight than people. The Europeans are doing things exactly backward.

    • The efficiency of shipping by any means is dependent on how much, how far, how much time you have. Choosing the right method(s) is why logistics professionals are paid very generously. (Another profession that I should have looked into when I was younger. Sigh…)

      Amazon happens to be putting in a distribution center just down the road from me. I note that it is in a place that 1) has a rail spur already in place going right by it; 2) is only two miles from Interstate 10; 3) is less than five miles from Tucson International Airport. They’ll undoubtedly ship most high demand / high bulk things in by rail, less demand things by truck, a very few things by air – and ship out by whatever means is the most efficient (read “cheapest means that meets the quoted delivery time”).

  33. So what would happen if a truck had a tyre blowout, and swerved off-course? Would it bring the infrastructure down, or does it auto-disengage?

  34. I’ve got nothing against them trying something new.

    One of the major failings of rail systems is that they cannot offer door-to-door delivery in the same way that roads can. And one of the major failings of roads is inefficient handling of high density traffic that results in worse jams due to disperse individual drivers/decision makers, as seen in large cities.

    I don’t think the problems necessarily require an electrical-grid solution, but something must be attempted in the future if we are to retain a high degree of personal transportation freedom. At the moment cities like London are seemingly just approaching it by finding crude new ways to price poorer drivers off the roads entirely, which doesn’t strike me as the most honest solution for governments which often claim to be operating on ‘higher’ principles.

  35. Technical issues aside, this development seems to mean, in my view, that the German ruling class doesn’t have much faith in the all-electric concept, nor in hydrogen as fuel. Instead, they prefer to fall back onto an old and well-tested technology.

  36. Their renewables cannot supply the grid so they’ll be replacing diesel for coal PLUS A GODAWFUL EXPENSIVE DELIVERY SYSTEM.

    This only halfway works with Nuclear energy…which the fools in Germany are decommissioning.

    Maybe simply add a few hundred square miles of solar panels and run these trucks during the day.

    Do they have no engineers over there that can use a calculator?

    Renewable transportation fuels will only ever come with High Temperature Gen 4 Nuclear producing synthesized liquid fuels…maybe Nuclear produced H2 in 50 years.

  37. Those Germans. So ably led by Ms Merkel.
    I wouldn’t mind betting that they are close to reinventing the wheel.

  38. Trucks not being naturally connected to ground as trains, this is a potentially very dangerous system.

    • I guess that is why there are two pantographs, one is probably just for grounding. It would be insane to have non-grounded vehicles.

    • I am not seeing the issue you are describing, as I would think grounding would be easy in this case. One of the contacts to the supply lines can be a ground, no? On a smaller scale here in the Midwest, many work trucks have onboard generating capability (which serves nicely for tailgating outings), which they ground with a small wire that drags on the pavement. Sure, it requires periodic maintenance due to friction, but it gets the job done.

  39. This is loaded with irony, and tragedy.
    Germany could not manage the Transrapid maglev and instead went with wheel-theater fast trains. Cargo trains need that 400kmh speed on major trunks, but with the deadly “Black 0” , budget balancing, nothing is even being repaired.
    The Belt And Road long distance cargo tonnage is heading skyward, and still no investment.
    There was a political fiasco not long ago trying to add a Munich Airport maglev – cancelled.
    It is the end-game of EU monetarist accounting to even think of eTrucks on the autobahn.
    China will see 850 Fuxing high speed trains in service by year end.

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