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Lamp posts in London are being turned into charging points

Alphr logo Alphr 14-11-2017 Thomas McMullan
Lampposts in London are being turned into charging points © Lampposts in London are being turned into charging points

London’s lamp posts are being transformed into electric vehicle charging points, as Kensington and Chelsea Council announce a new initiative to let drivers plug their cars directly into streetlights.

The London borough is partnering with energy company, OVO, and Berlin-based tech firm, ubitricity, to install 50 new charging points into council lamp posts. These will use ubitricity’s SimpleSockets technology, which has already been trialed by Kensington and Chelsea earlier in the year.

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The project will draw on 100% renewable energy, with drivers pulling energy from the same source as the lamp post lights. As Alphr has noted before, a major problem facing the rollout of electric vehicles has been the lack of a cohesive charging network. While one London borough isn’t enough on its own to solve that, the project does show how pre-existing infrastructure can be leveraged for a new purpose.

“There's no additional powering or increase in the lamp post infrastructure in order to supply extra power,” Tom Pakenham, Head of Electric Vehicles at OVO told Alphr. He notes that this is made possible by the nationwide lamp post upgrade program, “where they're [replacing] halogen or incandescent bulbs up to LED, which has a lower power draw. This frees up a bunch of power on each lamp post to be used for charging.”

Gerard Hargreaves, Kensington and Chelsea Council Lead Member for Transport, says there is a growing demand for charging facilities in the borough: “Most residents do not have access to off-street parking to charge an electric vehicle. Retro-fitting street lamps with charging technology allows drivers to conveniently charge their vehicles closer to home, while helping to tackle air pollution in London.

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“Lamp post charging is also more cost-effective and much less obtrusive as the charging points require no additional street furniture,” he adds.

Is the scheme actually cost effective? From an installation perspective, using pre-existing lamp posts is much cheaper than going through the planning and permission process of adding new equipment to city streets. From a user perspective, however, there are a few costs that may seem burdensome.

OVO is giving drivers two options. Either they can purchase a cable for £199 and join ubitricity’s monthly subscription scheme for £7.99 per month (which charges 15 pence per kWh for electricity used), or they can buy a cable for £299 with no monthly subscription (and be charged 19 pence per kWh for electricity used).

You’ll notice that both options require drivers to purchase a cable from the company. Pakenham says that you’ll need this special cable, with an in-built meter, to access the power from the lamp posts. Try to juice up your car with a non-ubitricity cable and it won’t work. While the cable can apparently be used across other networks – such as Source London and Polar – you’ll need a separate account with those providers to use their charge points. Unless you’re planning on regularly charging in one London borough, you’ll be spreading costs across a number of networks.

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These difficulties aside, the broader aim of leveraging a pre-existing infrastructure for electric charging makes a lot of sense. OVO notes that a perceived lack of charging facilities is a major deterrent for buying an electric vehicle, so the scope to have more sockets lining city streets could be a big step into creating a more widespread network for the burgeoning industry.

“The way we think about lamp post charging is it's the equivalent of having off-street parking,” says Pakenham. “Come home, plug into a lamp post, go to bed and your car will be full when you wake up. If you need to instead drive somewhere and wait for your car to charge, it's going to be harder to get people to buy electric cars.”

Charging electric cars and keeping roads lit might not be the only things future lamp posts are capable of. Samsung has been working on converting street lights into “base stations” for a super-fast 5G network.  

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