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Electric buses that charge themselves on the road, an unlikely future

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Could the future of our public transport rely on electric vehicles?

Electric vehicle development has mainly focused on the individual user, but now German bus operator Rhein-Neckar-Verkehr GmbH (RNV) is looking at how the technology could help cut costs in the public transport sector.

Dubbed the "Primove Mannheim" research project, the operator is trialing two electric buses in Mannheim, where the vehicles will charge wirelessly at various bus stops along route 63. The EVs are equipped with Primove charging technology -- installed under the road surface and under the floor of the buses -- and will allow inductive energy transfers to take place "as soon as the vehicle completely covers the charging segment."

Those involved in the pilot program hope that the technology will allow "electric buses to serve routes originally designed for conventional buses operating to tight timetables," and the RNV believes it will serve to "determine a framework for infrastructure, batteries, inductive energy transfer and daily operation by testing the new technology on a real-life route."

Secretary of State Rainer Bomba commented:

"The Government considers the promotion of alternative propulsion technologies a high priority. We want to turn Germany into a leading e-mobility supplier and market. It is particularly important to harness the benefits of e-mobility in public transport, where new technologies are tested in an integrated system of vehicles, transport infrastructure and maintenance sites."

However, the emergence of electric vehicles (EVs) have resulted in trials, canned projects, research and a heated debate as to whether city infrastructures can currently cope with adding them to our roads. If EVs are going to become commonplace, then investment and city builds have to be kept at a reasonable level, and so hybrids have also made an appearance -- which cuts down on our fossil fuel reliance but doesn't come saddled with problems including range anxiety or a lack of charging stations on our journeys.

This does not mean that EVs are completely out of the equation, but whole-scale implementation of electric vehicle public transport is highly unlikely. Already budget-stretched governments and local councils do not have the funds to create city-wide charging stations. One route is an interesting test-bed, but in reality, it may be little more than create a spectacle which seeks to prove that a government is keen on renewable energy. In addition, the long-term potential savings on fossil fuel may not outweigh the cost in having to tamper with transport and energy infrastructure city-wide.

The 12-month project is being funded by the Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development, and has been granted 3.3 million euros.

Image credit: Flickr

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— By on March 12, 2013, 10:06 PM PST

Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure