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First BT EV Car Charger from UK Broadband Cabinet Goes LIVE

Wednesday, May 1st, 2024 (7:37 am) - Score 5,040
BT-Etc-EV-UK-Car-Charger

Telecoms giant BT, specifically their awkwardly named UK digital incubation team, Etc., has today “powered up” their first Electric Vehicle (EV) charger under a 2-year pilot, which is one of potentially tens of thousands that could be established by repurposing Openreach’s old fixed broadband street cabinets.

The operator has been planning the pilot since mid-2023 (here), although the process of actually getting it underway didn’t officially start until January 2024 (here) – a few months later than the original plan. The core idea is for BT and Openreach to “convert or upgrade” up to 60,000 street cabinets (from a potential pool of 90,000). BT previously clarified to ISPreview that the focus here is on their FTTC (VDSL2) / DSLAM broadband cabinets, rather than older Primary Connection Points (PCP).

NOTE: Openreach’s FTTC cabinets tend to only serve their hybrid fibre broadband services, while PCPs were more focused on phone services (though some do carry G.fast broadband too).

The charging solution works by retrofitting the cabinets with a device that enables renewable energy to be shared to a charge point alongside the existing broadband service, with no need to create a new power connection. EV charging can be deployed to cabinets that are in-use for current copper broadband services, or in those due for retirement, depending on the space and power available to the unit.

Once the cabinet is no longer needed for broadband, as the nationwide deployment of full fibre (FTTP) lines progresses, the broadband equipment can then be recycled, and additional EV charge points added to replace what went before. Naturally, this isn’t going to work in every location, since not all cabinets are suitably positioned and there may be other obstacles too (e.g. issues of council approval, road access, physical location etc.).

BT-Etc-EV-Charger-Next-to-Openreach-Broadband-Cabinet

Likewise, street side chargers need to be kept as small as possible, which means that they’ll only be able to support slower charging speeds (up to 7.8kW). We should point out that a lot of Openreach’s existing cabinets typically use no more than a few hundred watts, but that power supply can be upgraded and often without needing major works.

First BT Trial EV Charger Goes Live

Fast-forward to today and the first EV charging point has, as previously expected, just gone live at an unspecified location in East Lothian, Scotland. The charger has been installed for use by local residents, who will be able to charge their EVs “at no cost” until 31st May 2024 as part of the pilot. The pilot will focus next on West Yorkshire, with ambitions to scale up to 600 trial sites across the UK.

EV drivers can use the charge point by downloading a trial app from Apple’s App Store or the Google Play Store (no links for these were provided). Customers who download the app at the location as part of the trial will naturally need to ensure they have a 4G or 5G (mobile broadband) capable handset and an active data plan or pay-as-you-go data services.

The app was developed by Etc. in conjunction with EV drivers and includes various features, such as visibility of EV chargers across the UK, alongside real-time pricing, availability and charge speed, the ability to start, stop and monitor charge sessions via the app and to filter by connector type, kW speed and charging network. EV owners can connect their car to the app to get live updates on battery levels, smart estimated costs and charge times, and access their charging history.

Throughout the pilots Etc. at BT will test elements ranging from the digital customer experience to engineering and technology choices, planning and local engagement, operational and commercial options. Interestingly, the project claims to have “identified up to4,800 street cabinets that could be used for potential upgrade in Scotland, which is almost double the 5,052 public EV chargers that already exist in Scotland (Zapmap’s data).

Tom Guy, MD of Etc. at BT Group, said:

“With our research showing that 78% of petrol and diesel drivers see not being able to conveniently charge an EV as a key a barrier to purchasing one, and the UK behind government-set sustainability targets, it’s critical that we start looking at existing infrastructure to drive innovation at speed. These trials present a unique opportunity to tap into existing assets to drive the important transition to electrification in the UK, and we’re proud to be working with local councils in East Lothian and more widely across the UK at this critical stage to play our part.”

Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Transport at Scottish Government, said:

“This is an exciting and innovative development in the provision of electric vehicle charging so I’m really pleased that the first trial in the UK is taking place in East Lothian.

This government is committed to supporting people to make the switch from petrol and diesel vehicles, and our vision for Scotland’s future public EV charging network highlights the need for private sector finance and delivery to build on our significant investment in the network to date.

I’m really looking forward to seeing more partnership working like this as we continue to help people in Scotland to make greener transport choices.”

The move supports the UK Government’s ambitions to increase the number of EV charge points from almost 60,000 today (Zapmap data) to 300,000 by 2030. Access to charging is currently creating a significant barrier to EV purchase for many. BT Group’s recent research found that 60% of people think the UK’s EV charging infrastructure is inadequate, with 78% of petrol and diesel drivers saying not being able to conveniently charge an EV is a barrier to adoption.

At the same time BT and Openreach’s own staff, particularly their engineers, may also benefit from being given preferential access to the chargers in the future, although it remains unclear precisely how this will be handled. Openreach is currently in the process of upgrading all of their c. 30,000 strong fleet of UK diesel vans and cars to EVs by March 2031 (4,000 have already been done).

However, at the time of writing it remains unclear how much BT will charge consumers to fill up their EVs, which is somewhat of a contentious issue given the high price of electricity and the tendency of some EV charging networks to charge astronomical sums (this does vary, some are much more affordable). The number of chargers they end up deploying may also depend, at least in part, on how much public subsidy they can access from key government schemes (around £1.6bn of public funding has been committed up to 2030).

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Mark-Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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Comments
37 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Rupert Walker says:

    I find it hard to believe that a street cab would have been originaly installed with that much spare capacity on the power supply

    1. Mark-Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      As the article says, the power supply can be upgraded.

    2. Avatar photo Bob says:

      Generally the supply is very limited as it usually comes from a local traffic sign or street light upgrading it is not really possible it would need a new supply which would be very expensive
      Most BT cabinet as well are poorly located for charging a car and will take several hours for a full charge

    3. Avatar photo The witcher says:

      There is a separate charging pod that can be placed a distance from the cabinet. Local practicalities may limit how far away that is

    4. Avatar photo Alex says:

      Bob – this is presumably why they’re running a trial. You know, to understand the challenges and whether it’s viable or not.

      Of course, they should’ve just come and asked you Bob – some guy from teh interwebs.

    5. Avatar photo XGS says:

      Bob,

      Worth remembering they tap a low voltage cable that also often serves street lamps and signs not wiring into the signs or lamps.

      That cable likely also serves many premises each with 50+ amp feeds so has tons of capacity with the limiting factor being the cable and kit on the input to the cabinet.

      The cabinets are where properties are and have a feed from the DNO same as the houses around them. I can’t see how Openreach would get permission to use the private local authority feed or why they would have to.

    6. Avatar photo - says:

      if it was on a metered supply then the minimum you can get is 100A/23Kva single phase (new)

    7. Avatar photo Anon says:

      Something to keep in mind is that these are not fast chargers. They’re meant to slowly charge a car overnight or while you’re shopping/at work.

      In London there are thousands of these things on street lights from companies like Shell Recharge and Chargy.

    8. Avatar photo MilesT says:

      Same power source, capabilities and limitations as lamp-post charger retrofits.

  2. Avatar photo Kris says:

    I had thought all new charging locations need to support contactless payment and not force you to use an app.

    Having said that I like the idea of doing this, anything that makes more chargers available is good.

    The power limit of 7kw is more than enough – I don’t see anyone plugging in and wanting to leave 20 mi later.

    1. Avatar photo Yatta says:

      Second photo shows the charger with a contactless reader.

      Cars would need to be parked for quite some time to receive a decent charge at 7kW, would add 10-15% per hour for typical BEVs. Perhaps intended for people to leave their car whilst at work or overnight.

    2. Avatar photo Anon says:

      Some these small chargers don’t require an app. They have a code you scan (or a short URL), it takes you to their website, and you pay either using Apple/Google pay or by inserting your payment details.

      Still requires you to something with internet access, but at least you don’t need an app and account on said app.

      And Yatta is right, these are slow chargers, for overnight charging or while at work or shopping. If you’re in a hurry, you’ll need to 50-300KW chargers (and your car also needs to support fast speeds).

    3. Avatar photo 125us says:

      People don’t charge from empty to full every night. When my partner stays at mine she granny charges from a 3 pin plug which adds 70-80 miles – which is more than her daily commute. Even using that slow charging method she ends up with more charge at the end of the week then she had at the start.

    4. Avatar photo steve says:

      >and not force you to use an app.

      Only for new connections above 8kW, which this isnt

  3. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

    If they are no longer needed, then why not just remove them? Oh silly me, BT want to grab more money.

    1. Avatar photo Peter says:

      Because using existing infrastructure for a new use is a good thing?

    2. Avatar photo XGS says:

      PLC in wanting to make more money shock.

    3. Avatar photo 125us says:

      Do you understand how businesses work? They use the equipment they have bought to sell services to people, intending to make a profit along the way.

    4. Avatar photo Fender says:

      Take off your hate goggles. Making money is allowed in a capitalist society. Feel free to join the Glorious Leaders utopia if it offends you.

  4. Avatar photo anonymous says:

    For reasons that other posters have said about how long you’d need to be at the charging station, I’d rather see removal of cabinets after FTTC has gone and tidier streets. Charging stations usually have their own feed from what I have seen, so relying on cabinets just adds to street clutter. Its probably charging EV units back to exchange connectivity that is part of the attraction (as well as BT making money).

    1. Avatar photo Cheesemp says:

      To be fair it:
      a) doesn’t say they won’t be smaller units post change.
      b) FTTC isn’t going away in most locations for a long time yet (my town of 10000+ isn’t even on openreach’s map for role out yet)

  5. Avatar photo Zed says:

    Using the existing power supply to the cabinet will save £3-5k connection charge. However, it will still require a meter to be installed (DSLAMs are mostly unmetered). To upgrade to fast charge will require a 3-phase connection, which will cost BT the same as anyone else. Bottom line, this solution is of limited benefit and other than a bit of PR, is a distraction for BT. Better they remain focussed on their core business.

    1. Avatar photo XGS says:

      Think most of them have meters. They obtained agreement to go unmetered only in 2020 and very few cabinets have gone in since then in the grand scheme.

    2. Avatar photo Zed says:

      @XGS You’re right that the early cabs were metered, so for those cabs there won’t be cost of installing a meter. However unmetered operation was agreed in 2013 https://www.elexon.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/SVG147_06B_Charge_Code_Application.pdf, so I’d estimate that over 1/2 of the DSLAMs are unmetered.

    3. Avatar photo XGS says:

      My error, it was coverting existing metered cabinets to unmetered that was denied in 2014 not new ones going unmetered. Thanks for the correction!

  6. Avatar photo Bob says:

    “some EV charging networks… charge astronomical sums”

    Can you source that? In particular any that are comparatively more expensive than an ICE vehicle to run?

    1. Avatar photo Paul says:

      It’s likely referencing the likes of BP Pulse and InstaVolt, the latter who often charge 85p per KwH.

      I’m an EV advocate and owner. At 85p per KwH it would cost me about £55 for an 80% charge, of which I would get around 220 miles weather dependant.

      My wife’s Fabia can do alot more miles for the same money in petrol. Obviously it’s much better to charge at home for circa 10p per KwH or with a provider such as PodPoint which are typically 35p.

      I only ever charge at home or on chargers less than 40p, however, I feel the articles comments are fair based on my own experience and maths!

    2. Avatar photo Anon says:

      It’s cheaper than petrol or diesel, but now some networks charge 80-90p per kWh (MFG, ESB, InstaVolt, fast Shell Recharge, BP, etc). Here in London, even slow chargers like these from Shell Recharge/Ubitricity or Chargy are in the 50-75p range depending on the time you charge (eg: Ubitricity charges more in the afternoon/evenings). It used to be cheaper.

      Still, cheaper than ICE cars to operate and those that can slow charge at home don’t have to worry about this.

    3. Avatar photo Nick Roberts says:

      Shell have a track record locally for soaking the rich.
      One Shell motorway service station local to NW London has been charging 15p a litre more for Vpower than other shell stations in surrounding district. You should read the dissing they get from ordinary car users on the Petrol Prices site.

  7. Avatar photo olicuk says:

    A bit of Googling and there’s a page about the service here: https://etcdigital.co/ev-charge/ with links to their app, called “evve charge” on the Google and Apple stores…

    Looks like the Android version has been proudly downloaded 10+ times so far, for those early adopters. Unfortunately, once logged into the app, whilst you can filter by providers including evve, the lookup only seems to work when zoomed into a location that doesn’t make it practical to search all of Lothian for the one evve charger. Also to note they’ve published the app through EE as opposed to BT Group.

  8. Avatar photo olicuk says:

    Actually an interesting (ish!) video on that webpage showing them working on the power supply within an FTTC cabinet, whilst the switch being rated at 125A doesn’t really tell you anything, the tails aren’t small.

    Also FAQ at the bottom of the page includes the address (I’ve removed the house number referenced!):

    The charge point is located in Monkmains Road, Haddington, East Lothian, EH41 4AE.

    Having then located the point on the app, both connectors are currently available, despite the offer of free charging. I wouldn’t be too surprised if there were not yet too many EVs in the particular street that said, so I don’t think they’ve giving much away.

    The FAQ also confirms the price as 35p/kWh once the free offer has ended.

    Maybe you can add more detail to the article Mark?

  9. Avatar photo Nick Roberts says:

    Fluff all revenue for fluff all power. UK commercialism at its best.

    Some might say . . . how about getting on with your real day job, providing a minimum standard FTTC to thems that haven’t even got that after 20 years of broadband.

    Expanding the electric car charging network fully can’t even begin properly until the bulk of new nucleur generation comes on stream, think 2035-2040

    1. Avatar photo 125us says:

      There is sufficient generation even if the entire uk car fleet went electric overnight.

    2. Avatar photo Bob says:

      No facts required here!

  10. Avatar photo Nick Roberts says:

    BT’s effort is niff naff and trivia, very little power for very little revenue . . I wonder what the payback period is for the works ? Sounds like a work creation programme for soon-to-be-released electrical engineers no longer needed at the exchanges.

    The infrastructure you need to power a full-bloodied extension of EV charging will not be available until the new modular nucleur becomes availble circa 2045-2050:-

    https://greatbritishnuclear.blog.gov.uk/2023/10/09/companies-selected-for-next-stage-of-nuclear-energy-competition/#:~:text=EDF%2C%20GE-Hitachi%20Nuclear%20Energy%20International%20LLC%2C%20Holtec%20Britain,selected%20to%20go%20forward%20to%20the%20next%20stage.

    They’ve only just selected the firms to be eligible for the Great British Nucleur programme.

    With HS2 demand coming on stream by 2027, its likely that a fair bit of the output of the new nucleur station on the Bristol Channel (Claimed to be 6%, when fully worked-up of UK demand) will be gobbled by the choo-choo and the anticipated rise in existing electrical demand.

    1. Avatar photo XGS says:

      I’m very much looking forward to when you post something remotely postive here, Victor.

    2. Avatar photo 125us says:

      Absolute nonsense. UK electricity consumption is over 20% below the peak about 16 years ago. LED lighting and EU rules on energy efficient appliances did their job.

      Even if the UK car fleet went 100% EV tomorrow, it would only add 10% to UK electricity demand.

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