It began as a “whacky idea” but now Dundee has become the first city in the world to have pop-up commercial electric vehicle chargers installed thanks to a ground-breaking project.
Buried less than a metre beneath the ground, the new pop-up chargers are not noticeable to the naked eye, as they sit flush with the pavement. However, once activated by the user via a smartphone app, the hi-tech charging point slowly emerges from the ground – complete with blue lights – and resembling something from a Star Trek episode!
It’s the brainchild of Urban Electric, a London based innovation company that set out to solve the current problems in electric vehicle uptake in urban areas.
Olivier Freeling-Wilkinson – co-founder at Urban Electric, who runs the business with Keith Johnston – explained why those living in towns and cities have struggled, saying: “About 90% of all electric vehicle charging takes place at home, because people use a home charger so it’s super convenient, but a big proportion of households in urban areas don’t have a driveway or a garage.
“They don’t have the convenience of plugging in to wake up to a fully charged car in the morning.
“Urban Electric was set up to address that problem.”
But the usual on-street chargers face a lot of resistance from locals because of “street clutter”. They are also prone to vandalism, so Urban Electric came up with an innovative solution – a charging bollard that is hidden in the ground, which have become known as “pop-up charging hubs”.
Operated by an app, the underground charging devices are fast-charging and can be upgraded in the future as technology advances. And where best to install the world’s first public pop-up charger project? Dundee, of course, as the city has already taken forward many other electric vehicles schemes and is considered to be one of the most “electric cities” in the UK.
The city’s council has the ambitious goal of converting 20% of all vehicles in Dundee to electric by 2027, which would see the city sit at the forefront of EV technology in the UK and Europe. And it’s already proving a success – a switch to electric vehicles has seen the council travel more than 5.6 million miles on pure electric, saving an estimated 250,000 tons of CO2. This project in partnership with Urban Electric further contributes towards this goal.
Three years in the making, and following a successful trial of a “rough prototype” hub in Oxford, the pop-up chargers have been installed beneath the streets of Dundee, while a similar scheme in Plymouth will follow.
Mr Freeling-Wilkinson explained: “Once they are installed they can power lots of cars down the road, we estimate three dual-socket chargers will be enough to power up to 60 electric vehicles, based on average mobility miles (7,500 miles a year). So you don’t need roads cluttered, you just need a dependable hub to service that street.
“It’s a robust piece of machinery. You don’t need any special equipment to use it, just the standard charging cable, and you don’t have to press a button – you just use the app and when finished, unplug, and it will automatically retract into the ground.”
The total cost of the scheme, which is being driven forward by Urban Foresight, is £3.8 million and has been joint funded by the Office of Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) and Innovate UK, without whom it would not have been possible, insists Mr Freeling-Wilkinson.
It means that local authorities, such as Dundee City Council, can adopt the scheme for no cost. He added: “It wouldn’t have happened without these partners, and a number of others. We are forever indebted to them for providing the funding to get innovation projects like this off the ground. Of course, to have forward-thinking partners like Dundee City Council take this whacky idea and show that it can work, makes it a really exciting time.”
The launch of the pop-up chargers in Dundee, the first of which was installed on in front of the V&A, and is the culmination of three intense years of research and development, manufacturing and trialling, something which is finally paying off.
Mr Freeling-Wilkinson, himself an electric car driver, added: “It was amazing to see an idea – a wacky idea at that – operating which was a great milestone moment.
“And now it is in Dundee, we’ve taken it much further, it’s a really nice piece of infrastructure bringing convenient charging to urban households in a way that hasn’t been possible up to now.”
Drivers can use app map to locate chargepoints
Here is how it works:
- The chargepoints are a rectangular bollard shape.
- They light up blue to show the unit is available to use, turn green when charging and light up red to indicate that there is a fault.
- The chargepoints are buried 70cm into the ground.
- Each chargepoint has a name – for example “ANNAELIS”. Drivers can use the map in the app to zoom into their location to select the chargepoint and socket they want to use – there are two sockets per chargepoint.
- You can locate the chargepoints either via the app or by simply looking for a blue light on the ground.
How Dundee is leading the way with EV travel
Dundee City Council is now the proud owner of two new fully electric bin lorries and they need a name!
Dundee City Council’s Facebook and Twitter pages ran an online competition to name the vehicles and the winner (and chosen name) will be announced in January 2021.
Meanwhile, Ember, the first fully electric inter-city coach service from Dundee to Edinburgh has been going strong since its launch in October.
Ember will be running every-day, but with a slightly different timetable on Christmas eve/day, Hogmanay and New Year’s Day.
The Ember website has real time availability and the tickets are flexible and you can cancel or change your ticket for free!
Remember there are local incentives for EV owners. If you have a pure electric vehicle you can join the free parking scheme- just send the vehicle details and a contact name to: firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on the Dundee residents discount scheme go to the Drive Dundee Electric website or email for more information.