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Published on September 28th, 2012 | by April Streeter


Green cars need green highways

What does it take to make low-carbon vehicles – electric, hydrogen and biofuel cars – popular and omnipresent? Three municipalities, two in Sweden and one in Norway, try building an interconnected ‘green highway’ to see if a tech mobility revolution will follow.  

These days, mused project manager Bjørne-Ove Berthelsen of Norway’s Trondheim Municipality, it’s really not enough to be an early adopter of technology innovations – one must, he said, be an early invader. Invaders, Berthelsen notes, rush in on promising technology, helping to push it out of the realm of fancy and into reality.

The quiet middle of the Scandinavian land mass is clearly not where you would expect these technology invaders to congregate. Pastoral and sparsely populated, the belt of land that forms the mid-section of Sweden and Norway is more popular for winter sports and forestry than incubating cleantech. Yet three municipalities – Trondheim in Norway, Östersund and Sundsvall in Sweden – running right through this midsection have linked more than a dozen different partners in order to invade and conquer the green mobility space. Together they are building what they call a ‘fossil-free’ transport corridor from coastal Trondheim, situated on a fjord of the North Sea, to Sundsvall, Sweden, on the shores of the Baltic.

This Green Highway, as it is called, is 450 kilometers long, and already boasts 235 electric-vehicle charging points, 94 slow-charging stations, and a few fast-charging stations. The Green Highway has been in the works for the past three years, funded in part by the eu’s Interreg project, and also with usd 3.7 million from a consortium of more than a dozen entities including energy companies Jämtkraft and Trondheim Energi, the Swedish traffic authority Trafikverket, engineering behemoth abb, and small innovators such as Chargestorm of Norrköping, Sweden, and ev Power of Verland, Norway.

Starting along the E-14 in Trondheim, the Green Highway runs east to west, passing through Östersund, the geographical heart of Sweden, and continuing to Sundsvall. Though the road itself doesn’t look any different than a regular Scandinavian highway, there’s a big goal for it: fossil-free traffic by 2020. The three municipalities have begun to benchmark the CO2 generated from traffic on this corridor, as well as (in Norway) putting out a fleet of ev taxis, and a testing program for ev performance in winter conditions (Sweden).

The Green Highway links many small-to-medium-sized towns, where long car commutes are the norm. As Berthelsen says, cars and trucks are not going to go away, so getting the cars driven to be as green and eco-friendly as possible seems a smart approach. Both Sweden and Norway have said road transport emissions must be reduced – they make up nearly three-quarters of transport’s greenhouse gas emissions as a whole – thus a highway fully outfitted with access to charging stations and alternative fuels seems prudent.

But fossil-free? That’s a rather challenging prospect, and Berthelsen admits it isn’t possible to exclude combustion-engine traffic. Gøril Andreasson, of Norwegian eco-organization zero (a partner in the Green Highway due to the Zero Rally it sponsors every year on E-14 to showcase green cars) said making zero-emissions vehicles as available and attractive as possible is integral to slowing transport’s climate-changing emissions. Andreasson says an environmental ngo (non-governmental organization) involved in an automobile rally might seem a little strange, but dispelling the notion that eco-vehicles are weird, difficult to drive, or less powerful than their internal-combustion cousins is important. This year the Rally has 60 car-and-driver teams (twice as many as the 2011 Rally) with 10 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, 10 bio-fuel vehicles, 10 plug-in hybrids, and 30 all-electric cars demonstrating their road-friendliness in a series of time trials.

While Andreasson notes the Rally is a fun way to show off the Green Highway, Berthelsen says the municipalities have a greater goal: bringing green business to this corridor. And, he says, while the Green Highway is really just in its infancy (a mobile mapping application of charging stations and biofuel locations is scheduled for next year, in addition to an ambitious plan to replace all current charging stations with fast-charging equivalents), already there is a hint that cleantech companies want to be a part of the business vision being offered. vtc (Vehicle Technical Centre), located in Östersund, is a good indicator of this, Berthelsen said.

VTC provided technical assistance to develop a prototype electric snowmobile (important in a region where snow is so prevalent) as a local business venture, as well as building a ‘competence center’ to design ev service stations. And engineering behemoth ABB is using this stretch of road to test how quick-charging posts will stand up to all-weather conditions, while EV Power’s roaming infrastructure for fast ev charging is also being piloted. Jenny Miltell, the product manager for abb’s charging posts, has said the Green Highway helps her company measure how users react and interact with these new technologies.

Clearly, the municipalities along the Green Highway might never reach the ‘fossil-free’ goal. Yet Berthelsen said having the goal is important – he believes that the 150,000 car owners living along the highway will be persuaded to drive greener.
“Strong restrictions and negativity aren’t going to get us where we want to go in terms of controlling climate change,” Berthelsen says. “A strong target, stimulating other companies to innovate, we think is the way to go.”

Norwegian Minister of Trade and Industry Trond Gike at the opening of new charging stations in Norway.

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