We’re consistently reminded that we’re facing a future in modern cities that looks very different from the one we’re in now – perhaps not exactly hover-cars ala The Jetsons, but we can expect buildings that generate power for both their site and the grid, automated vehicles transporting heavy goods, and automated aerial taxis planned for the Paris Olympics.
Streetlights themselves are smarter than the ones we grew up with. The modern smart streetlight uses less power, generates its own power via solar and wind energy and even supplies the grid with excess, but there’s one more capacity that city lighting infrastructure offers that’s stirring up excitement for electric vehicle drivers around the globe – easy access to charging infrastructure.
At present, EV charging infrastructure is growing at a rapid pace. In the US, Electrify America is installing an EV charging station at a Walmart store once every three days, which are capable of charging multiple vehicles simultaneously, and the UK now boasts more charging points than fuel stations. Enel has mapped charging stations across most of Europe, but that has still not been enough to beat the number one concern for those contemplating crossing the divide and buying their first EV – range anxiety. Then, there are concerns around charging costs themselves, with few countries offering subsidised – let alone specific – EV charging costs.
The answer it appears has been on the street the whole time.
To London, where the streets are paved with EV-charging gold.
In 2016, Transport for London (Tfl), the Greater London Authority, and London Councils announced a partnership with EV charging solutions provider ubitricity, and Siemens, to convert hundreds of the city’s streetlights into on-street charging.
Ubitricity retrofitted the first London lamppost with charge points in 2016, and by 2018 had approximately 300 charging points across the city and around 13,000 electric vehicles.
Two-thirds of Londoners park on-street and parking in the UK capital is infamously difficult to find at best. Imagine then, inner-city traffic intended to consist of low emission cars, scooters, and other public traffic and the fact that at best, one-third of it is capable of being charged at home.
On-street charging, it appears, would be the most logical solution.
Siemens would provide the streetlight technology to enable the solution – a smart charging cable that reads which street-pole is used, and mobile metering technology to track the power consumed. The data is then sent to a mobile power provider for billing.
A solution perhaps, that’s simpler than many would imagine.
These “Smart City” EV charging points deployed in the boroughs of Wandsworth and Kensington and Chelsea come in the face of pressure on local councils, particularly after government ministers called on councils to “ensure that all their residents can take advantage of this [electric] revolution” in transport. The scheme was funded with £3.7 million of London’s £13 million Go Ultra Low funding and aims to deliver 1,150 charging points by the end of 2020.
Cllr Julian Bell, London Councils’ chair of the transport and environment committee, said: “We each recognise the importance of improving air quality for Londoners and London Councils are leading the way in rolling out electric vehicle infrastructure across London by taking innovative new technology, such as using the power from lighting columns to charge vehicles and scaling it up to provide safe charging solutions more accessible for Londoners.
“This is an exciting step in providing London boroughs the means to purchase and install electric vehicle charge points. Together, London Councils will continue to work with partners to improve our air quality and help clean up London’s air.”
A more recent example has started on the other side of the globe in Sydney, Australia, and differs in that instead of a cable, the entire streetlight pole is replaced.
The technology provides a more comprehensive solution, more closely resembling future infrastructure, featuring Wi-Fi connections, security cameras, and smart lighting that can be controlled remotely.
The Wi-Fi connection, when offered over a city-wide network, effectively creates a free public network, capable of gathering and transmitting traffic information, electricity consumption, In March 2019, Melbourne-based EV charging solutions provider Jet Charge announced the installation of the first light-pole as part of a two-suburb trial in the west-Sydney suburbs of Blacktown and Canada Bay.
The rollout is small, at just twenty streetlight poles, but includes Wi-Fi, providing connectivity for both utility and convenience’s sake.
Perhaps best of all, the infrastructure is free to use for now. Future rollouts may make charging free, or near-free, with smart streetlights generating and storing power, to be used for either grid balancing and demand management, long-term storage, or free EV charging services.
The poles are designed by ENE-HUB, and are estimated to cost in the region of AU$30,000 each, but produce the same amount of energy as a typical Australian home connection. This means that charging will take hours instead of minutes, with the idea being that vehicle owners would use the facilities to charge vehicles overnight.
“We’ve been working with a smart light pole company to deploy the first light-pole chargers in Australia, and the first one is being turned on right now,” said Jet Charge boss Tim Washington, in an interview with CarsGuide at the Nissan Future summit.
“They’re security cameras, they have LED lighting, and they have Wi-Fi hotspots and EV charging. And we helped them to design and build them.
“It’s really to demonstrate what street-side charging might look like. It’s a demonstration of what’s possible.” SEI