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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