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Mr. Sebastian Webel

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Pictures of the Future
The Magazine for Research and Innovation
 

Electric Mobility

Converting Street Lamps into Charging Stations

At the core of the Ubitricity solution is a mobile electricity meter. Integrated into an intelligent charging cable with secure mobile communication, it automatically activates charging processes, records the consumption data for each specific vehicle, and sends these for billing to an energy data platform. The basis for this is an electricity contract that is concluded for the cable.

A Berlin-based startup has developed technology that enables street lamps to be easily converted into charging stations for electric vehicles. Siemens has invested in this promising, new technology.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) would like to see 100 million electric cars on the road worldwide by 2030. The idea is to stay on course to achieving the goals of the Paris climate accord. In addition, the IEA wants one fifth of all road vehicles, including motorcycles, buses and trucks, to run on batteries by then. The Paris city council might even ban vehicles with combustion engines from entering the city from 2030 on. In addition, also by 2030, the European Union is planning to have 30 percent of all new vehicles equipped with electric or other alternative drive systems.

Clearly, electric mobility is on a roll. However, to make the vision of greenhouse-gas-free transportation a reality, we need not only enough renewably-generated electricity in the grid but also charging stations in the right places — especially where vehicles park for long periods – in other words, at work and at home. People who turn parking times into charging times will drive off with fully charged batteries and help spread the use of renewable energies, because their cars will become energy storage devices. Unless they are making a long trip, drivers will then rarely have to stop at quick charging stations to rapidly recharge their vehicles’ batteries.

In contrast to other charging cables, a mobile, calibrated electricity meter and SIM card is integrated into the SmartCable. Thanks to it an electricity contract can be closed for the cable, which would only be possible for the whole household otherwise.

Ubitricity, a young company based in Berlin, Germany,  has developed a technology that enables drivers to obtain electricity generated from renewable resources from the grid at almost any location. What’s more, it could turn vehicles into smart storage devices while they are connected to the grid. In view of this, Siemens has now bought an interest in Ubitricity, because the startup’s technology plugs into a number of Siemens’ business activities at the interface between electrification, digital systems, and smart grids.

A Smart Technology with a Mobile Electricity Contract

At its heart, Ubitricity’s technology encompasses three elements: a smart electric meter that is incorporated into the charging cable and handles battery charging billing, a mobile electricity contract that is linked to the charging cable, and power sockets that can be installed anywhere — essentially creating docking stations to the grid. Known as SimpleSockets, these outlets can be inexpensively installed in parking garages, residential and commercial buildings, and existing infrastructure systems such as street lamps.

Drivers merely need to park next to such street lamps and use the mobile “tap” to purchase electricity that is then directly billed.

In a pilot project, SimpleSockets were installed in dozens of street lamps in several London boroughs. Drivers merely need to park next to such street lamps and use the mobile “tap” to purchase electricity that is then directly billed. It takes only half an hour and around €1,000 to convert a street lamp — a fraction of what it costs in time and money to install a separate charging station.

After a smart cable is inserted into the socket, it identifies the charging point and turns on the power. Once the charging process has been completed, the associated data is transmitted to Ubitricity via a secure mobile communications link. The company then forwards the data to mobile power suppliers, who bill the users each month for the electricity they have consumed. “Ideally, the smart charging cable will make the charging of electric cars as easy as using a smartphone,” explains Frank Pawlitschek, CEO and co-founder of Ubitricity.

Since part of the technology that is usually installed in charging stations is already integrated into the charging cable, the charging points are correspondingly cheap and small. The latter fact allows, for example, affordable installations in real estate.

Because power sockets can be inexpensively installed in walls and street lamps and produce almost no ongoing costs, they are ideal for large structures such as lampposts. “At least one to two percent of the ten million street lamps in Germany could be converted immediately,” says Pawlitschek. “Thus we could enable the drivers who recharge at street lamps to quickly and easily get what they urgently need when they purchase an electric vehicle: an inexpensive way to recharge batteries right outside their front doors.” The technology could also provide other benefits in the future, because the cables can control the charging processes in line with grid loads and integrate vehicles into the smart grid for use as decentralized storage devices. The basis for this is provided by the data generated by the smart charging cables themselves.

Moving Electric Meters into Cars

Because of these considerations, Siemens’ Energy Management Division decided to get involved in Ubitricity — financially and in other ways. The company plans to contribute its know-how regarding digital grids and other technologies to the partnership so that large-scale charging infrastructures can be created. “We are not particularly interested in single charging stations,” says Moritz Ingerfeld from Siemens Energy Management. “Instead, we’re interested in offering scalable solution packages and digital services to our customers, including energy utilities, industrial companies, logistics firms, and real estate businesses. These packages and services are needed for installing charging infrastructures in parking garages, large company parking lots, building complexes, and entire streets. In this way we can work together with our customers to enhance their business models.” Ubitricity also augments Siemens’ portfolio of wall-mounted and quick charging stations, as well as the company’s existing involvement in ChargePoint, a U.S. startup that is already very successful in the United States.

However, the smart charging cable is by no means the last word in mobile electricity for automobiles. In the next step, Siemens will further optimize the smart meter inside the cable and eventually transfer it into vehicles, because most of the electronics that are installed in the smart cable today are already available inside automobiles. “We want the technology to ultimately develop in the same way the satnav system did,” says Pawlitschek. “Initially it was a piece of supplementary equipment, but later it became part of the vehicle. We are convinced that in the future cars will be sold together with vehicle-related green power contracts. That way, cars will play their proper role as major electric consumers within the grid.”

Hubertus Breuer
Picture credits: Ubitricity