Implementing central-London’s biggest lamp column charging network

We know that concerns about ‘range anxiety’ can put people off buying electric vehicles. However, EV technology is changing and local authorities must change with it. New cars travel further on each charge, charging is becoming quicker and charging points are more plentiful.

There is growing demand for electric vehicles in Kensington and Chelsea, however most residents do not have access to off-street parking.

This is why Kensington and Chelsea Council is investing in central-London’s largest network of lamp post electric vehicle chargers as part of our strategy to help reduce air pollution across London.

We announced in November that we were expanding the network with 50 new charge points in addition to the seven charge points already installed as part of the pilot.

Delivering the project

Unlike standalone ‘turn up and charge’ technology, lamp posts use unmetered electricity supply, so the meter is built in to the charging cable itself.

Residents who purchase a cable can plug into any of the lamp post chargers, located right across the borough from Chelsea to Notting Hill, giving them flexibility about when and where they charge.

The cable measures the electricity used while plugged in and charges residents accordingly. The cables are secure, locked in both to the lamp column and the vehicle itself, so residents can leave their car charging while they go about their day or night.

Our commercial partner ubitricity has a free app which identifies the location of each operational charging point.

We know that more than half of Kensington and Chelsea residents do not have access to off-street parking, so it was important that the electric vehicle network was designed with residents in mind.

Council officers contacted and surveyed both owners of electric vehicles and residents who were considering making the switch. We also work with and talk to EV manufacturers to understand future demands in the borough.

The survey found that residents welcomed the possible expansion of electric vehicle charge points. However, with so many residents not having access to off-street parking, the primary concern was how to reliably access on-street charging on demand.

With residents’ feedback front of mind, the Council set about designing the network to allow residents across the borough to access charging points close to where they live.

Not without its challenges

While the lamp post charging network provides a great opportunity for both residents and the Council, we knew before we began rolling out the network that it wouldn’t be without its practical challenges.

Chief among them is fitting the charging technology inside the lamp columns. Taller columns of 8-12 metres have enough space within the columns, however the shorter columns of 4-6 metres present a technical challenge. We work with ubitricity to miniaturise the system, including by utilising the column shaft to house part of the equipment.

Another challenge is finding the right lamp columns to use. The columns need to be kerbside, not at the back of the footway to avoid the cords creating a trip hazard for pedestrians.

All locations require a pre-survey before the column doors are drilled for the charging socket. This does have the added advantage of not affecting the structural integrity of the lamp post itself.

Other challenges include ensuring the columns adhere to a prescribed standard of earthing, increasing the fuse size to cope with the extra energy usage, and metering an otherwise unmetered energy supply.

Weighing up the advantages

However, for all these challenges, the benefits to motorists and to council taxpayers are immense.

Retro-fitting lamp posts with charging technology allows drivers to conveniently charge their vehicles close to home, while helping tackle air pollution in London. Lamp post charging is also more cost-effective and much less obtrusive as charging points do not require additional street furniture.

In addition, lamp column chargers offer considerably better value-for-money over traditional stand-alone charging points. Depending on design and specifications, the lamp column chargers can cost as little as 5% of the cost of standard roadside chargers.

There is no need for costly civil work and no disruption to traffic while fitting the charge points, while another advantage over stand-alone charging points is that it makes use of existing infrastructure, rather than installing separate pieces of street furniture.

The lamp column chargers give a 3kW charge, which is ideal for residents parking their vehicles overnight, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Overall energy demands on the grid are lower at night, so a slow overnight charge has the additional benefit of minimising the load on the power grid, something that will be vitally important as electric motoring becomes more widespread.

Residents who have joined the electric vehicle charging scheme are enjoying it, however the real benefits will be realised over time as more people make the switch to electric and plug-in hybrid motoring.

We were privileged to have actor and renewable energy advocate Robert Llewellyn – aka Kryten from Red Dwarf – recently in the borough to open one of our newest charge points. Robert rightly called for other councils to follow Kensington and Chelsea’s lead. After all, there’s no shortage of lamp posts on London streets, so why not make use of them!

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