BMW Develops The Thing We’ve All Been Wanting: Street Lights That Charge Electric Cars

It’s a question we’ve been asked time and time again by current and would-be plug-in car drivers. And if we’re honest, it’s one of those “well duh” moments that make us wonder why no-one has actually done it before: put electric car charging sockets at the bottom of each and every streetlamp.

BMW's Light and Charge does what we've all been thinking should be possible for years...

BMW’s Light and Charge does what we’ve all been thinking should be possible for years…

Historically, there’s always been a raft of reasons why this particular innovation hasn’t ever made it to market — some of them revolving around political rather than technical challenges — but now German Automaker BMW has put its might behind a new pilot project where street lights can be used to charge plug-in cars.

As Reuters reported over the weekend, BMW has developed two prototype Light and Charge street lights which combine the functionality of a street light with the convenience of an electric car charging station. Using LED light bulbs rather than halogen, CFL or incandescent light bulbs, the Light and Charge street lights can replace any conventional street light, but use a tiny fraction of the power of their predecessors to provide light.

Since these LED lights are far more energy efficient than their predecessors, this leaves a lot of spare power capacity in the street lighting circuit, power which can be used to charge an electric car.

The system is really simple: combine an energy-efficient LED street light with a BMW ChargeNow charging station.

The system is really simple: combine an energy-efficient LED street light with a BMW ChargeNow charging station.

At the moment, the two prototype Light and Charge street lights have been installed outside of BMW’s Munich headquarters, but eventually, BMW says its Light and Charge street lights could be installed in more locations, replacing existing street lights with the specially-designed units.

To access the charging stations, which BMW says will be accessible by any make and model of electric car, users will have to download BMW’s ChargePoint mobile phone app and create themselves a BMW ChargeNow account. Using the post will be identical to using any of BMW’s other ChargeNow charging stations.

Here at Transport Evolved, we’re glad to see someone finally utilising the spare electrical capacity released as cities and municipalities around the world switch their street lamps to energy-saving LED light bulbs in an attempt to be more energy-efficient. Instead of requiring separate, expensive infrastructure, BMW’s solution not only allows plug-in car owners to find more places to charge their cars in public, but it also allows for a much-needed revenue stream for cash-strapped councils.

Of course, not every street light is suited to the installation of a charging point in its base, but with enough side-streets and existing parking spaces converted to park and charge spaces, we can definitely see a bright future for city-centre electric car charging.


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  • lee colleton

    This can also be read: “BMW finds another way to collect information about EV drivers by requiring the disclosure of personally identifying information every time curbside charging is used.”nnnThere’s no option to pay cash or drop coins into the charger, nor to use any other anonymous payment option.

  • Not sure how popular slow-speed streetside parking will be considering demand for street parking in general. In areas where street parking is popular the EVs seeking streetlight spots will be competing with general demands for parking. In areas were street parking is wide open, will there be enough use of the charging locations to justify upgrade expense?nnAs energy storage costs ($/kWh) drop, I can foresee street-side a quick charger drawing power from streetlight circuits (particularly during daylight) to offer short session recharging. The advantage of quick charging in urban environment is that PEVs are not forced to compete with ICE-Vs for longer-term charging / parking spots. After a brief quick charge, an EV is free to compete for any open parking space.

  • vdiv

    Bolting a public networked EVSE to a lamp post? Brilliant!!!nOnly if someone had thought of it before and done it in a city centre…n

    • That’s BRILLIANT! Moscow?

      • vdiv

        These are in Sofia and are at least a couple of years old. All were powered on and none were ICEd, however I did not see a single one in use. I suspect they are most likely a ~230V 16A or possibly 25A Schuko outlets behind the solenoid locking door. I did not have my US-issued ChargePoint card to try them and quite possibly it wouldn’t have worked since the stations are on the EU network.

  • Matt Beard

    I don’t understand some of the claims made for this system. You cannot fit one of these to every lamppost unless you either have tons of extra capacity, or the chargers are programmed to only allow a small percentage to be used at once.nnnThe amount of power freed by converting a single lamppost to LED is not enough to run an EV charger – so it cannot be a 1:1 relationship.nnnOther questions include:n* How much more expensive is this than an alternative post? (my guess is loads)n* Will EV drivers have to pay to charge? (my guess is yes)n* If the post is faulty or vandalised, what is the chance the lamp will go off? (probably small if designed right)n* The biggie – find a street with on-street parking and street-lamps. What is between the posts and each parking space? (Answer: the pavement)

    • I don’t think this is intended to convert every street lamp to a charging station. That would be impossible and impractical. But if you consider the strings of street lamps that are chained together, it makes sense to turn a few into charging posts. nnAs for parking and pavements? Not all street lamps are behind pavements or sidewalks 🙂

      • Matt Beard

        It may not be intended to convert every lamppost, but many of the stories about this (and some other schemes) have mentioned it being easy to charge “when every street lamp is also a charging point”.nnnI have found some street lamps on the parking side of the pavement, but they seem rare. I suspect there are two reasons for this, firstly having the posts on the road side hugely increases the chance they will be hit and damages, and secondly they tend to get in the way of opening car doors. One place they make more sense is in large car parks (such as supermarkets).