We take a look at electric car charge point maker and operator, ubitricity, to see what they’ve been doing and where they’re heading

Before we explore the company’s focus on drivers it dubs the “street fleet”, let’s get one thing out of the way. That name.

In case you’re wondering, and also if you’re not, ubitricity is a portmanteau of ubiquitous and electricity. It sums up the founders’ thinking about how to drive towards a sustainable energy future:

- Advertisement -

Electricity is the only low carbon energy that is technically available everywhere.

So let’s make a system that makes it practically accessible for everyone.  

Now think back to the number of EVs around at the time of the company’s founding in 2008. At the high end, there was the Tesla Roadster. At budget end, the Gwiz. Not much in between those extremes. Then you realise how that vision – now distilled to a pithier “electricity everywhere for everyone” – was way ahead of its time.

Putting that vision into action saw ubitricity become the first company to miniaturise public charge points to fit inside the common lamppost. Why lampposts? Because lampposts are ubiquitous where many cars park already – the street. It’s a clever ”bring the amenity to the user” approach to solving the practical access challenge to electricity for charging EVs.  

And it’s paying off. The company is on a roll. In October 2020, it took the crown as the largest public EV charging network in the UK. It has continued to grow faster than any other network. This year ubitricity was acquired by Shell as part of the energy giant’s expansion into electric mobility.

That sounds promising but the lamppost charging model is not without its detractors. So what’s the big deal?

Well ubitricity believes it’s a game changer for accelerating the adoption of EVs in areas of towns and cities where the street is the driveway for residents. Lamppost chargers means instead of always having to drive somewhere to charge, the driveway-less driver can also enjoy the convenience of overnight, at-home charging. And the easier you make something, the quicker more people choose it.

Using lampposts for on-street charging has other benefits. It reduces the need for extra street furniture which is good for pedestrians. It cleverly uses an existing electricity supply which reduces installation costs. It enables councils to adopt a variety of deployment strategies: from blanket coverage of entire neighbourhoods to responding to individual requests from residents, to install charge points right outside the homes of EV drivers.

Little wonder lamppost charging is so popular with councils and drivers without driveways. ubitricity’s network of 3,500 public charge points already powers well over 1 million miles of zero emission driving every month. And both numbers are rising fast as more charge points and more EVs hit the streets.

So where next? How does ubitricity plan to use lamppost charging to enable even faster electrification of road transport?

Answer: helping fleets.

Companies with driving-dependent services – taxis, deliveries, utilities and trades – are in a race to electrify their fleets to reduce running costs and emissions, as well as to enhance their public image. Especially as low emission zones come to more towns and cities.

Fortunately, the supply of all-electric vehicles for all these applications is improving quickly. That answers one factor in the fleet electrification equation: vehicle availability.

The next factor to address is charging. In particular, off-duty charging.

Why off-duty charging? Because it’s the easiest, cheapest and greenest way to refuel electric vehicles. It also makes for happier, more productive drivers as they avoid a 30-40 minute extra chore either during or at the end of their shift.

And here’s the challenge: Off-duty charging has to happen where the car or van is left while the driver rests.

That’s relatively simple to solve for return-to-base vehicles. Install charge points in the depot. Job done.

It is much harder for home-based employees, especially those without private off-street parking – a group ubitricity fondly dubs the ‘Street Fleet’. For off-duty charging, these drivers are entirely reliant on public chargers in their streets. And for some companies, the Street Fleet accounts for well over 50% of their vehicles.

So ubitricity is using its relationships with councils and fleet operators to bring charge points to the streets where these drivers live.

One example is ubitricity’s work with Bolt, the ride hailing app. Their fleet – private hire vehicles drivers – is 100% home-based. Many drivers live in areas with little off-street parking, often in rented accommodation.

Bolt is spending £250,000 on a package of measures to help its drivers transition to EVs. A big part of that is improving electric vehicle charging infrastructure in London, especially in the streets close to the homes of its drivers.

Bolt’s own research into electric vehicle usage found 42 percent of its drivers feel confident switching to an electric car. The same study indicated that 81 percent of Bolt drivers were seriously considering an electric vehicle as their next car. This is because the combination of cheaper fuel and exemption from London’s ULEZ and the Congestion Charge makes financial sense. The Congestion Charge alone costs £15 a day or £75 for a five-day working week.

The partnership with ubitricity is designed to increase the number of charge points in areas where Bolt drivers live. Bolt and ubitricity are identifying neighbourhoods in London where private hire drivers would benefit the most from more charge points. They will then work with councils to speed up the installation of more public charge points.  

Daniel Bentham, ubitricity Managing Director, said: “When you compare driving patterns, a taxi covers five times more mileage per year than the average car. So helping taxi drivers switch to electric vehicles sooner by solving their charging worries around cost and convenience, delivers a large and quick gain against local authorities’ climate change and air quality goals.

“Our growing network of 3,500 public charge points brings easy, good value electric vehicle charging to the doorsteps of people who park in the street. By working together, ride hailers such as Bolt and ubitricity can join forces and help local authorities accelerate the roll-out of electric vehicle charging infrastructure for the taxi community. Our first project is now just a few weeks away from going live.

“And because these are public charge points that anyone can use, the neighbouring community also benefits. They’ll have an excellent local charging amenity when they are ready to switch to electric vehicles. This type of collaboration between the fleet operator, ubitricity and council is a great way to support the UK’s net zero 2050 targets.”

Ian Osborne
Ian Osborne
Editor-in-Chief at ElectricDrives

Related Articles