Lightbulb moment: UK streetlights get innovative green makeover

Streetlights connected to electricity networks in Kensington and Chelsea will now act as charge points for electric vehicles (EVs), while a Lanarkshire-based IT specialist has agreed to fund development of wind-harvesting lampposts in the UK.

UK Power Networks, the biggest electricity distributor in the country, has partnered with charging specialists Ubitricity to trial three EV-charing streetlights to be used by local residents in Onslow Gardens, in a first for Central London.

The trials, which started in November, allow vehicles to charge from street lights near domestic buildings, before being billed via a smartphone or computer. Smart-charging cables are used to accurately determine the price of the electricity generated.

The trial will last a year and UK Power will monitor how much energy the charge points use and assess any potential impact on our electricity network. The firm has confirmed that there is “interest from other London boroughs” in using similar technology and the trials might be expanded as a result. For example, Westminster City Council is considering piloting a similar scheme and is currently in talks with a provider.

UK Power Network’s Mark Burton said: “We are delighted to work with the Royal Borough and Ubitricity on a trial to allow more EVs to charge via street lighting columns connected to our network. This technology avoids the need to build new electricity network and makes better use of the cables, particularly in the daytime when the lights are switched off.

“This solution means we can monitor how much electricity is being used in order to maintain reliable electricity supplies as more EVs connect to our networks. It should also release more parking spaces currently set aside as dedicated EV charging bays, result in less street furniture and fewer excavations to install new charging points. It is another example of how our business is supporting the transition to a low carbon future.”

Figures from London’s successful Go Ultra Low City bid last year revealed that 33% of outer-London residents have no access to off-street parking in order to charge EVs; in Central London this figure rises to 46%. The new trials give residents metered-access to charging infrastructure by their doors. Previously Kensington residents would have to travel to large shopping centres to access charging equipment.

Local authorities can apply for funding for charging points in residential areas through the Department for Transport’s On Street Residential Grant Scheme, which consists of a £2.5m funding pot.

Windswept streets

The announcement of the successful trial period arrives as Lanarkshire-based IT company NVT Group agreed to enter a £3.5m strategic partnership to enhance the development of lampposts that use small wind turbines to harness energy.

The deal will see NVT work with innovative technology firm Own Energy for the next 15 years, creating 300 extra jobs by 2020. NVT will use its outsourced Managed Services team to provide a fully-integrated technology platform and connectivity solutions advice for the tech firm.

The lampposts are connected to the turbine via a bespoke inverter, which feeds metered clean energy directly to the grid. Own Energy claims that each lamppost will save half a tonne of carbon as a result.

Own Energy’s chief executive David Gordon said: “Our business is likely to scale up quickly and we know that NVT Group will be able to accommodate such growth based on its past experience. There are around ten million lampposts in the UK and upwards of 20% of these are suitable for conversion which makes this a very scalable business opportunity with huge export potential.

“We have already had positive preliminary discussions with UK public and private bodies and have had indications of interest from the USA, Canada, Mexico, Ireland and South Africa.  We believe this business has the potential to achieve an annual UK turnover of over £400m within five years.”

Previously streetlight retrofits had been limited to new LED fittings. A change of bulbs in 20,000 streetlamps in Bristol has seen the council save £1m a year on energy bills, reducing C02 emissions by 4,000 tonnes in the process.

In fact, The Climate Group believes that a global switch to LED lamps in all sectors would reduce global electricity consumption for lighting by more than half (52%), with 735 million tons of CO2 emissions avoided each year.

Matt Mace

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