‘UK Electric Motorway System’ for net-zero GHG emissions

The UK plans to transit to zero-GHG emissions from road freight by installing overhead charging cables for a full ‘Electric Motorway System’. 


The United Kingdom government decided in 2019 to act in the favor of climate change by mandating net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050. This means that it needs a full-range of robust and cost-effective, zero-GHG energy system technologies, covering electricity generation, heat, industry, transport and agriculture.

A report from the Centre for Sustainable Road Freight said that the UK could eliminate the majority of the carbon dioxide emissions from road freight by installing overhead charging cables for a fully ‘Electric Motorway System’ (UKEMS ) across the country.

Actually, road freight sector contribute to the climate crisis by 5% of the UK’s carbon dioxide total emissions, according to government figures in 2018. The Committee on Climate Change said that road transport was the sector with the largest increase in global greenhouse gas emissions over the last decade in UK.

Such a plan would cost £19.3 billion ( almost 25 billion dollars) according to the report, with the potential for the investment to pay for itself within 15 years.

What is an Electric Motorway System? 

There are several forms of Electric Motorway/Road System including conductive and inductive systems. The most mature and cost-effective technology is the overhead catenary system.

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The overhead catenary system is a mature and safe technology that consists of a supporting structure built outside the road boundary that holds two catenary cable systems. These wires supply the positive and negative electrical circuit that is picked up through a pantograph collector on the roof of the Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV).

The HGV is free to leave the wires to overtake or complete its journey away from the catenary using a separate on-board battery (approximately the size of an electric car battery), providing zero tailpipe emissions at all times. Any existing or future propulsion technology should then be compatible with the overhead catenary approach.


During the transition period it is anticipated that hybrid vehicles will combine catenary power with diesel, bio-gas or hydrogen fuel cells to ensure the necessary operational flexibility.

There are actually similar UKEMS  plans on public roads across Germany and Sweden that have demonstrated the feasibility of the approach, with a further demonstration being planned in Italy.

Delegates from UK’s Department for Transport plan to visit the test sites in Germany, which proves that the government really thinks about this project.

According to the report, the rollout of the proposed UKEMS network is planned to be carried out through three 2 to 3 year construction phases – that require additional time for planning, design and procurement. This would culminate in electrification of over 15,000 lane-km (7,500 km of road) of the UK’s major road network.

Once the first phase has been completed, hybrid HGVs will be able to immediately use the network and nearly 50% of all HGV-km in the UK will be electrified. The solution also extends the electricity grid infrastructure, playing a vital role in supporting the installation of charging points for smaller electric vehicles at motorway services and other locations across the UK.

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