Siemens and Ubitricity installing electric car charging points in lamp posts

Some 300 lamp post charging points are already in London, but sadly no Irish plans yet

Some 300 lamp posts and low-lying bollard have been turned  into EV charging points in London

Some 300 lamp posts and low-lying bollard have been turned into EV charging points in London

 

One of the oft-questioned aspects of the great changeover to electric cars is how those of us who don’t have a driveway, or any other form of access to an off-street space, will be able to charge at night. Are our paths and pavements about to become a viper’s nest of coils of cables and the odd reflective warning sign, telling us of trip hazards? And what of those living in apartments? Streamers of plugged-in wires tumbling down stairwells and gable walls?

Actually, there’s a pretty simple solution to all of this, one which exists already, works, and has been approved of by no less than Transport For London. Plugging cars into lamp posts.

“We’re not in Ireland yet,” Alexe Thiele, head of marketing and communications for German firm Ubitricity told The Irish Times. “But we have already started working in London, with some of the major boroughs, and have been there for three years.”

Such points could be a potential money-spinner for local authorities and councils

In fact, Ubitricity along with Siemens, has just been named an official Electric Vehicle (EV) charging systems provider for London as a whole. The company has already converted some 300 lamp posts (plus a couple of low-lying bollards, in locations where a lamp post is too far away from the kerb) into EV charging points.

“That number will now start to grow rapidly” said Ms Thiele. “It’s a pretty simple system. The structure you’re putting the plug into simply has to be connected to the grid, or easily hooked up, and with electric cables passing under most streets already, that’s usually not a problem. Our concept is that if you see it, you see nothing – the plugs are very subtle, almost hidden, and you find their locations using an app.”

Simpler version

Those positions have been, thus far, selected by the borough councils with which Ubitricity has been working, according to EV demand levels. Ubitricity currently supplies two systems to allow drivers to pay for their charging. One, designed for infrequent users, involves faffing around with a smartphone app and a QR code that must be scanned each time.

The simpler version involves a charging cable with a built-in meter, that also contains a SIM card which can fix the car’s location, count the time spent on charge, and issue a monthly bill accordingly.

The cost? About €1,500 per installed plug point, which can take as little as 30 minutes to install assuming that all the necessary cabling is in place and you don’t need to dig up the road or pavement to get at anything. That compares well with the “big box” public chargers currently in use, which can cost more than €10,000 to install, and which come with significant maintenance costs.

Such points could be a potential money-spinner for local authorities and councils. Thus far, in the London pilot scheme, the councils have paid for the capital cost of the installation, and then allowed users to simply buy the electricity direct from the usual utility suppliers.

It doesn’t take a huge leap, though, to see councils eventually acting as an intermediary for the power supply, potentially recouping the installation cost, maybe even turning a profit on the whole thing.

At €2 to €3 per overnight charge, if enough electric vehicles can be sold, that money wouldn’t be long coming back in

There’s got to be a catch, right? Indeed, there are a few. The supplied current is generally only 3.7kW, or about the same as a domestic three-pin socket.

So they’re not for quick charging, but as Thiele put it to The Irish Times: “People are usually parking and charging overnight, and that’s much better for the battery life. In Germany the average car drives for 40km a day, and then is parked up for the rest of the time, so this is an ideal charging solution for that kind of user.”

There are parking issues, though. So far, the borough councils have been agnostic about marking out EV-parking bays next to the converted lamp posts, and those on residential streets have been less than keen on doing so (well, those who have not yet bought into the whole EV thing at any rate), fearing that they will lose parking space to EV users coming to the street just to charge.

Clearly, then, some parking management systems will have to be introduced if lamp post chargers are to become widespread.

Charging time

One suggestion is that parking time could be limited to charging time. Once your battery is charged to, say, 80 per cent, you could get a text reminder that you should move your car, or start paying an excess parking charge on top of your electricity cost.

The system would also be ideal for park-and-ride sites, where perhaps the cost of a day-long charge during working hours could be included in the price of the bus journey.

Whatever about running battles with the residents’ association’s parking enforcers, the lamp post solution has a pleasing simplicity to it, not to mention cheapness.

It could also be adapted to the parking garages of apartment blocks, sorting out that charging shortcoming, and is cheap enough to be rolled into the current Government plans to update public street lighting.

Under Denis Naughten, plans were put in place to spend some €750 million on public lighting upgrades, targeting mostly major public buildings such as hospitals, schools, and Government departments, switching them to more efficient lighting and bulbs.

Some €9 million has been set aside to upgrade lamp posts and street lights to LED bulbs, as the department is looking to save some €56 million a year in electricity costs for public lighting.

By comparison, fitting every one of the 480,000-odd public lighting fixtures in the State with an EV plug, at the nominal rate of €1,500 per fitting, would cost €720 million – far, far more than has been spent on the entire electric vehicle project by the State in more than a decade. Still, at €2 to €3 per overnight charge, if enough electric vehicles can be sold, that money wouldn’t be long coming back in.