London’s “Electric Avenue”: From light to movement 

In a conservation area in Maida Vale, lampposts are doubling up as EV charging points.

With currently over 2,000 registered electric vehicles and 8,000 expected by 2025, the City of Westminster is ramping up its public charging infrastructure. This move is backed by Transport for London’s scheme to encourage the switch to ultralow emission vehicles – a vital strategy to ensure the twin issues of fighting critical levels of air pollution and decarbonizing the bustling metropolis are met head-on.


By Ed Targett

Few things stymie electric vehicle (EV) uptake quite like the lack of private parking. The air might be cleaner with more electric cars and motorbikes; climate change might be alleviated. But as anyone living in London knows, parking is like gold dust: Indeed, parking spaces frequently change hands and are rented out for extortionate sums.


Without private parking, where do you charge up your EV? It is not a rhetorical question for Londoners, who are increasingly eyeing the benefits of going electric, but remain confronted by the impossibility of running a charging cable out of the window of a Victorian terraced home, across a busy pavement and into their car – good luck making that work.

Londoners remain confronted by the impossibility of running a charging cable out of the window of a Victorian terraced home, across a busy pavement and into their car.
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Electric Vehicle Adoption and Public Charging

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Myth vs reality

Needless to say, alternatives to this crude example are possible – and also in growing demand: 53 percent of Londoners say that improving air quality in their area is “very important” to them, and pressure is mounting on policy makers as a result.


Yet consumers mulling an EV still fear inconvenience: The consultancy Baringa Partners found that 46 percent were put off buying an EV because of a perception that there is not a public charge point near enough to their home. (Fun fact: Londoners on average assume that there are 80 percent less EV charging points available than there are in reality.)


And under an innovative Siemens and Ubitricity partnership, things have changed at impressive speed across London over the past twelve months.

Sutherland Avenue: Lighting the way

Sutherland Avenue in London’s Maida Vale is a broad, largely residential street lined with handsome Victorian and Edwardian properties and neatly pollarded trees.


The area is in the heart of London’s Westminster Borough, the busiest in the UK. It suffers from some of the country’s worst levels of air pollution, much stemming directly from traffic emissions. Like much of London, EV charging points had been few and far between.


Over the past twelve months that has changed dramatically, with each of 24 of Sutherland Avenue’s lampposts now offering EV charging via a discreet, vandal-resistant black plug, almost unnoticeably cut into the street furniture, betrayed only by a small, blue LED light.


The chargers are the result of a partnership between Siemens and Berlin-based start-up Ubitricity – an EV charging point specialist – that has seen the two deliver upwards of 1,400 lamppost-based EV charging points across London in just twelve months, under an Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV)-funded plan.

A Transport for London framework paves the way

The project came via a Transport for London (TfL) funding framework called the Go Ultra Low City Scheme (GULCS), designed to provide a central pot of funding to encourage EV charging build-out.


GULCS standardized terms and conditions for suppliers, allowing London’s many boroughs to have access to preaudited and prevetted suppliers, and providing TfL with funding to pass on to any of London’s local authorities that could match-fund to 25 percent and prove demand.


Siemens project manager, Gareth Marshall says: “The first obstacle to overcome in rolling out this project was getting various stakeholders on the council involved, including EV teams and street-lighting teams, who were initially concerned about installation in protected areas; we conducted a lot of technical demonstrations, which were well received.”

Westminster currently has over 2,000 electric vehicles registered – and it expects this figure to dramatically increase to nearly 8,000 by 2025.

Respectful solution

He adds: “Councils appreciate this solution from Ubitricity because it is very low-profile. Solutions from other vendors are boxes mounted to the lampposts. This solution is built in very discreetly. That’s important to avoid adding to street clutter: London’s councils have a lot of conservation areas and it’s important to respect them.”


How does the electricity metering work? The lampposts aren’t actually metered, he notes, with councils rather being charged at a fixed price point by local networks.


“Ubitricity work with distributed network operators (DNOs) to make billing very clear through a remote mobile metering concept that allows them to aggregate all the charging across the points, and net if off against gross lamppost demand.”


And by tapping existing electrical infrastructure, they provide little abrupt demand on the grid, as residents plug in to charge up primarily overnight.

From Electric Avenue to Electric City?

With a second funding round now in the procurement stage, London looks set to double-down on the plans. Westminster currently has over 2,000 electric vehicles registered, according to TfL’s latest estimates – and it expects this figure to dramatically increase to nearly 8,000 by 2025. Infrastructure like this will be crucial to avoiding charging bottlenecks.


It is also the kind of low-impact project that is more broadly crucial to the transition toward clean and smart mobility in the face of climate change, the needs of urban residents and imperatives to clean up air quality.


Examples of increasingly creative thinking abound: Budapest has worked a bike-sharing system into its public transport model; Munich has reallocated public space for pedestrians; others are testing more shared pedestrian-vehicle spaces.


With Britain set to ban the sale of new gas, diesel and hybrid vehicles from 2035 – Norway by 2025, Denmark and Sweden by 2030, France by 2040 – across the continent policy makers are working out how to incentivize EV uptake across their cities.


For many, it may not be an easy journey; entrenched, oil-powered pathways do not become electric avenues by magic.


But as the evening draws in over London and the streetlights begin to come on over neatly incorporated EV chargers, the hope is that cleaner mobility is coming to the nation’s capital faster than many expected. 

Over the past few years, Ubitricity has developed comprehensive and economic charging infrastructure “made in Germany” and brought it to maturity – supported by the German Federal Ministry for Economics and Technology. Thanks to the integration of smart mobile metering inside the car or charging cable, charge spots are reduced to special – and economic – sockets suitable for almost universal installation, e. g. on walls or inside public lampposts. 


Author: Ed Targett is the Editor of Computer Business Review, a London-based technology publication. He is an experienced journalist who has covered technology, energy and capital markets. He has a long-standing interest in sustainability and is considering buying an electric vehicle in the near future.

Picture credits: Olivier Hess


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