“I’m always very interested in electromobility and where it’s going,” he said, as he steered the Scania through a narrow valley that leads from Schanz headquarters to the A5 highway. The truck, a hybrid that has a diesel engine, an electric motor and a small battery, passed a sign pointing to Frankenstein Castle, said to have inspired the fictional monster.
Soon after Mr. Schmieder drove up a ramp onto the A5, the pylons supporting the overhead cables of the eHighway came into view. Inside the cab, the transition was barely perceptible as Mr. Schmieder deployed the pantograph that connects to the overhead cables, a so-called catenary system.
The cables also recharged the Scania’s battery, which stores enough power to drive short distances emission-free in urban traffic. That is another advantage of the catenary system: The eHighway could eliminate the need for charging stops, important in the trucking industry where time is money.
“The infrastructure requires a lot of resources,” Manfred Boltze, a professor at the Technical University of Darmstadt, which is providing advice and analysis, said by email. “On the other hand it provides very high energy efficiency and only small batteries are needed for the journeys beyond the overhead cables.”
Mr. Schmieder rested his hands lightly on the steering wheel as autonomous driving software held the truck directly under the cables. He and other drivers underwent a one-day training program to learn how to use the system and deal with problems, such as an accident blocking the lane ahead. That has happened to Mr. Schmieder, he said. He simply steered out from under the overhead cables into another lane using the truck’s diesel engine.
There have been occasional technical glitches. A few times sensors have failed. “But big problems? No,” Mr. Schmieder said.
Technology, pretty much everyone agrees, is not the biggest obstacle to a global network of electric roads.