A significant energy innovation in recent years has been the emergence of electric vehicles (“EVs”), however one of the challenges inhibiting their mass deployment relates to the lack of charging points – 33% of households in outer London have no access to off-street parking to charge an EV, rising to 46% in inner London. Innovations in smart street lighting are emerging as a potential solution.

smart street lightingBMW  has been an early leader with its Light & Charge scheme, which it believes could  provide a cost-effective and simple way for local authorities to offer electric car charging without installing the cabling needed for separate charging stations. The company has partnered with eluminocity to develop the scheme, which is being trialled in Munich.

Now the technology is coming to the streets of London in the shape of a trial run by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, UK Power Networks, and Ubitricity which is converting three street lights into EV charge points. The installation allows two local residents to charge their vehicles from a street light near their front door, and receive accurate bills for their electricity use via their smart phone or home PC.

US-based Totem Power has developed a solar powered street light that contains storage capabilities, wifi and 4G capabilities as well as EV charging points. LightMotion of the Netherlands has a product which goes further, incorporating CCTV and weather and pollution monitoring.

smart street lightingThe benefits are wider than simply the enhanced functionality smart street lighting can provide…LED lights are more energy efficient than their sodium-vapour predecessors, so the energy saved on lighting can be used to efficiently charge EVs and run other applications.

The benefits are enhanced when the capability to capture and store solar power is added. Smart, networked street lights also offer the ability for remote switching, dimming and maintenance.

Cities across the developed world are experimenting with smart street lighting, and although, in common with the wider Internet of Things deployment, challenges exist around lack of standardisation, the potential is clear.

Smart street lighting is a great example of the integrated, localised solutions that are changing the shape of the energy markets.



Update on 24 March

onslow gardensAs promised, I went to Onslow Gardens to see this trial for myself. What I found was quite interesting, and risks turning me into a street lighting nerd!

onslow gardensFirst of all, Onslow Gardens isn’t a road, but a set of roads laid out round some rather fetching gardens. All of the lights on these roads are “heritage style” as shown with the exception of 9 lights at the top of Onslow Gardens which were of a more modern style. I found that 4 of these lights were fitted with charging points, although given the reference to only 3 in the press reports, it may be that one of them isn’t functional.

There is no evidence of any recent works to replace cabling in the area…the surrounding road and pavement are all in good condition with no signs that they have been excavated.

onslow gardens EV charging I was curious about the fact these 9 lights are so different in style from the surrounding streets, and initially assumed that they represented a trial of a new lighting style. I haven’t been able to find any planning documents relating to upgrades of street lighting in Kensington and Chelsea, but from various other sources, including this one, it seems that in the early 2000s existing “modern style” lighting was replaced by “heritage style” fittings, with more efficient lamps. This suggests that the 9 lights on Onslow Gardens may be the remains of a previous scheme rather than a new one. I have asked the lighting team at the council about this, but received no reply.

I also reached out to UK Power Networks to get their thoughts on the power rating questions raised by 1saveenergy, and a spokesperson reverted with the following comment, which I have their permission to publish:

“The trial is in its early stages and the data gathered will help us to understand whether the electricity network would need to be upgraded in future if this method was used more widely. The technology used to charge the electric vehicles limits how much electricity can be drawn from the street lighting cable, safely maximising the use of the existing electricity infrastructure.”

The other questions raised by 1saveenergy also bear some consideration. It would seem intuitively unlikely that charging points integrated with street lighting would be used to serve the charging needs of all the nearest properties since for space reasons as much as electrical loading reasons. Current EV sales in the UK are still under 5% of all car sales, suggesting that it will be some time before that becomes necessary.

It may be that at some point EV penetration will be 100%, but in this case a scalable solution for charging these vehicles will be needed. Any solution for this is likely to involve installation of significant new infrastructure, and will represent a major challenge for local planners. However it is not unreasonable to anticipate a transition period which may be measured in decades (the UK’s car fleet has an average life of 6 years, which is low by international standards)

The sweet spot for the concept of using street lighting to provide EV charging facilities is likely to be in this transition period. Nick commented on the BMW picture set in a car park, which indeed looks like an interim solution in a scenario where EVs are in the minority of all cars. As EV penetration grows it would make sense to install many more charging points in car parks, which would mean either finding some way of distributing them round lighting fixtures, or (which I think is more likely) installing separate infrastructure.

In any case, a high penetration of EVs will require significant new infrastructure to deliver adequate charging provision, and it seems unlikely that street lighting would be the solution for this. However, it does not seem unreasonable to consider leveraging existing electrical infrastructure to expand EV charging provision during the transition phase as EV penetration grows from its current low levels, particularly as lack of charging facilities is one of the main factors inhibiting the growth of EV use.

In fact, it’s a creative approach to a difficult problem, and the purpose of trials is to test whether it can work in practice. It will be interesting to see the conclusions from the Onslow Gardens study…



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9 thoughts on “Smart street lighting: a case study in integrated thinking

  1. Sounds wonderful & simple, the answer to all our prays …until you look at the detail.

    “so the energy saved on lighting can be used to efficiently charge EVs and run other applications”

    Rubbish !! Urban sodium-vapour streetlights tend to be 35w SOX, they are being replaced with 20w LED (so although that’s ~40% reduction) it’s only 15w; the real savings from LEDs are because of longer life & less maintenance, better visibility (except in fog) so fewer accidents & as a bonus less light pollution.

    The average EV requires an 8-10kWh charge;
    The cables supplying street lights are small & unable to carry the large currents required for charging cars – so that just requires digging up the road, ripping out the old cables & replacing with new, replacing the lampposts with ones that have charging points fitted with all the safety equipment.
    What do you think that’s going to cost in money, materials & energy just for the infrastructure ?

    1. I’m not sure anyone thinks smart-street lighting is the answer to all our prayers, but various cities have seen good results eg in LA where 4,500 miles of sodium vapour lamps were replaced over four years at a cost of US$57 million, and now generates US$9 million a year in energy savings. (https://www.wired.com/2016/06/las-using-energy-savings-led-streetlights-charge-electric-vehicles/)

      The point about the EV-charging street lighting schemes is that existing street lights are adapted for use as charging stations…this is what is happening in the London trial where 3 existing street lamps have been converted. I have seen no reports of the streets being dug up to install additional cabling for this, however UK Power Networks did upgrade the fuses at the 3 points to allow “more electricity to be safely drawn from the cable, making sure local electricity supplies remain safe and reliable”.

      If, on the other hand, a widespread upgrading of cabling and other infrastructure is needed, then this will need to be weighed against the cost of creating stand-alone EV charging points.

  2. Thanks Isaveenergy and Kathryn. So it all comes down to the cable rating to the lamp pole(s) and how the circuit is designed and supplied.
    I have no idea where to find this information at the moment. Even to supply one pole on a single cable with one charging point of say 10KWh (based on Isaveenergy data), overnight of say 10 hours requires a steady power level of 1KW.
    If the existing service supplies the earlier 35W (Isaveenergy data) then the current ratio is 1000 to 35 (assuming the voltage service is not changed). approx 30 times more current worst case. Other features will change this such as the mechanical needs and the load characteristics.
    I agree Kathryn that major infrastructure change would be needed.


  3. I must read comments more carefully.

    Kathryn, you said:-
    “If, on the other hand, a widespread upgrading of cabling and other infrastructure is needed, then this will need to be weighed against the cost of creating stand-alone EV charging points.”
    I missed the ” if”.
    I consider that Isaveenergy included this is his question:-
    “What do you think that’s going to cost in money, materials & energy just for the infrastructure ?”
    Looking at the Munich BMW posting (http://www.driving-obsession.com/index.php/bmw-i3-light-charge-project-munich/) I see at least two interesting features in the Photo:-
    1) The parking space is marked up for a charging point. Can no ordinary car use it?
    2) The paving seems relaid in a line from right of the photo to the pole. So infrastructure change just for the demo installation?


    1. Hi Nick – I’ve now done the promised field trip and updated my post if you’re interested in what I found…

  4. Just been out & checked locally, ~ 21dwellings per lamppost, assume 10 EVs per lamppost at 10kWh each =100kWh over 8hrs = 12.5kW load @ 230v = 54.3A. that requires an armored cable size of at least 35 mm2, as apposed to the existing cables of 4 or 6 mm2.

    Next, how will you organize charging 10 EVs per lamppost? All trickle charging together (try grouping 10 cars around 1 lamppost), or 1 hr fast charging 2 at a time (fancy getting up at 3am to move your car on a cold wet night…every night).

    I note from your LA figs 57/9 = 6.3yrs a breakeven point on energy;
    But you also have to factor in the cost of 100 new electric car charging stations.
    Then you have to factor in the batteries life & environmental impact cost.
    Suddenly things don’t look so ‘green’…..maybe that’s why nobody does the whole life cost/benefit calcs.

  5. You both make some interesting points so I’m going to make a field trip to see the lampposts in Kensington and try and find out more about the infrastructure impact.

    However, I don’t imagine city planners will look at this issue in isolation…if there is a need to install a network of EV charging stations, that will require a certain degree of infrastructure. If there is a cost effective means of leveraging existing infrastructure this makes sense, particularly where there is already an upgrade prospect via the conversion to LED lighting.

    My impression from the information provided was that using street lights as EV charging points would generate an overall reduction in deployment costs, and that the purpose of the trials was to test this in practice. If the scheme would involve an expensive upgrading of cables, fuses, switches and other equipment, and extensive roadworks/traffic disruption, then I assume the idea will be discarded. I accept that this assumption may be optimistic in light of poor economic choice made in relation to other energy projects though!

  6. “I don’t imagine city planners will look at this issue in isolation…”

    Why do you think they’ll change habits of a lifetime ?
    City planners rarely do joined up thinking…1,000s of examples.

    1. Fair enough…the track record around planned road works probably illustrates your point! In any case, I’ve been doing a bit more (metaphorical) digging and updated my post. I can’t obviously comment on the thinking processes behind this trial, but I do believe it has the potential to be a useful interim step in the transition to wider EV use, and given the often disjointed thinking by city planners, it’s good to see them trying to be creative. It’s hard to see what other solutions are available that don’t involve major cabling works….

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