EVs: what’s light got to do with it?

Climate change is the pre-eminent issue of our present and our future. And figures suggest that our attempts at staving it off so far are falling well short. If we are to achieve a cleaner, greener future, one of the most significant overhauls will be a shift to electric vehicles (EVs). Unsurprisingly, lining our roads with gas-guzzling, fossil-fuel-burning vehicles for the past century has had a less than ideal environmental impact.

In point of fact, transportation accounts for 20-25% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions worldwide, with road transport accounting for three-quarters of that total. Clearly, EVs need to move from being the exception to the norm – and soon.

EVs and the automotive industry

Fortunately for the possibility of a liveable human future, the automotive sector has begun taking steps to counter and ultimately eliminate its contributions to GHG emissions. Tesla sales have gone a long way to normalising electric vehicle ownership, despite the high price tag. Maybe you don’t own a Tesla, but you probably know someone who does. Tesla has granted EVs a certain degree of cultural currency, thanks in no small part to the company’s controversial CEO, Elon Musk, and the cult of personality that has developed around him. A broad segment of the public has accepted that EVs are the future.

Other automobile manufacturers have, too. Most leading automotive companies have set dates for when they will transition entirely to “electrified” cars (batteries and hybrids) and/or pure EVs. The list includes Bentley by 2030 and Ford, BMW, Honda, Toyota, Volkswagen, and others by 2050.

Some legislatures are also fuelling the transition. Starting in 2035, the EU is banning the sale of petrol- and diesel-fuelled cars in order to meet its promise of carbon neutrality by 2050. In the US, California is following suit

If everyone agrees, what’s the holdup?

The automotive industry is only moving in one direction, but from afar it can seem as if it’s doing so at an unhurried pace.

The primary issue, as ever, is cost. Electric vehicles cost more to make and so cost more to buy. Currently that pricing makes EVs prohibitively expensive for most of the car-buying public. That will change with time, as EV technology develops, demand spikes, and production scales.

Then there are politics and preferences. Some people simply don’t like driving electric cars. Others don’t want to be told that they have todrive one. Mandates will help fix this, but it won’t be pretty so long as people insist on fiddling with the radio while the planet burns.

Another issue is charging stations, or the lack thereof. If the US is to properly match its forecasted sales demand, the number of EV chargers will need to quadruple between 2022 and 2025, and grow by more than eight-fold by 2030. The UK’s Climate Change Committee posits that every 100 kilometres of road will need up to 1,170 charging stations by 2030. At the current growth rate, only a quarter of that number will be in place by 2032.

All of this seems to indicate that the EV revolution’s reach threatens to exceed its grasp. Except there already exists a quick, convenient, durable, and cost-effective solution that promises to help the “auto EVolution” achieve its short-term aims.

Enter connected lighting

Connected public lighting can help bring about the EV overhaul the planet badly needs. Better still, it can do so in a sustainable, speedy, and efficient way, with minimal disruption to public spaces. The solution exists and is available for implementation today, but so far it has been underutilised.

There are two key areas in which connected lighting can prove pivotal. First, by freeing up capacity in the electrical grid to meet the growing need for EV charging. Second, by offering the opportunity to deploy charging points in existing street lighting architecture. Smart poles in a city or municipality lighting network serve as public digital assets, adding to basic illumination a broad range of potentialities, including environmental sensing, public broadband access, and — vitally — EV charging.

Freeing up the grid

When connected and properly managed, monitored, and controlled, LED lighting systems can produce energy savings of as much as 80% over conventional alternatives. Given that two-thirds of professional light points around the world are still non-LED and non-connected, the potential savings of transitioning to a connected lighting system are enormous.

In the EU’s residential sector alone, upgrading the 1.7 billion conventional light points to ultra-efficient LEDs could effectively generate electricity savings of 34.1 TWh annually—enough to charge a whopping 10 million EVs. Consider those numbers on a global scale and connected lighting’s potential to make a positive impact on EV implementation becomes obvious.

Using the existing infrastructure

As noted, one of the EV industry’s worst pain points is how to deploy the necessary number of charging points, both in terms of choosing where to place them and how to do so in a way that doesn’t drastically disrupt public life — which constructing the required numbers of new charging points from scratch almost certainly would.

Connected LED lighting addresses each of these problems. First, and most obviously, there’s no need to run additional underground wiring as light points are already electrified. There’s also no need to construct additional fixtures, as streetlights are already widely distributed across urban areas. This lets cities avoid the cost and inconvenience of greenlighting a slate of new citywide construction projects. It’s also aesthetically beneficial, avoiding additional street furniture in already cluttered areas.

In these ways, connected LED street lighting can help solve the EV infrastructure problem—while at the same making the energy available to power millions of EVs without overwhelming the power grid.

No time to waste

While solutions to the climate emergency are caught up in seemingly intractable policy discussions, its effects are already being felt worldwide, and will only worsen. The number of floods worldwide has increased by a factor of fifteen since 1950, and the number of wildfires by a factor of eight. This is not a problem reserved for future generations: it is here now. All of us, and especially those with the power to enact change, must face this reality head on.

EVs are the obvious next step when it comes to transport, with clear and significant benefits. By freeing up electricity through energy savings and making use of existing city infrastructure, connected lighting can help knock down some of the obstacles slowing adoption and speed up the movement toward the sustainable state the planet so badly needs to attain.

To find out how to start taking action now click here.

Car Tech, Cars, Electric Cars, Technology Industry