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New York City to Test Lamp-Post Car Charging

New York City selected the company ubitricity to develop a pilot project to allow electric vehicles the ability to plug into a streetlamp for recharging.

Finding a spot to charge your car in New York City could eventually get easier — just look for a streetlight.

The city is experimenting with new technology that allows drivers of electric vehicles to plug them into streetlamps. The New York City departments of Transportation and Citywide Administrative Services are working with the German company ubitricity to develop a pilot project and make it happen. The technology, already present in several European cities, involves the car operator carrying their own ubitricity mobile charging cable — with a built-in meter — that connects to a power receptacle.

One of the challenges for the New York pilot’s design team will be upgrading the power supply to participating streetlamps from the standard 110 volts to 240 volts, which is needed for Level 2 electric vehicle charging, said Kathleen Clark, director of policy and communications in the Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer.

The project is not wide-ranging at the moment.

“This is strictly in a testing phase,” Clark stressed. “There is no number of chargers to give out. Ubitricity has provided one single device at the moment.”

Ubitricity was selected as the winner of the NYCx Climate Action Challenge, which called on the tech industry to develop innovative approaches to car charging as a means of growing EV adoption. There are currently some 4,829 EVs registered in New York City, according to Clark, which is only 0.2 percent of all autos.

Nearly three dozen companies and other organizations submitted ideas for the NYCx Climate Action Challenge. Six finalists were selected to run pilot projects.

“Ubitricity’s retrofit charging technology adapted for our streets is exactly what this NYCx challenge was all about, and is exactly the type of cutting-edge vehicle infrastructure we need right now to expand cleaner transportation options for all New Yorkers,” said Mark Chambers, director of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, in a statement.

It is widely accepted that EVs occupy much smaller carbon footprints than their gasoline counterparts, and growing their adoption has become a priority of local and state government organizations as they develop policies to combat climate change. In New England, driving an electric car translates to the greenhouse gas emissions of a gas-powered vehicle which achieves more than 100 mpg, according to a recent report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an international nonprofit environmental organization. Nearly a third of greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation, with private vehicles contributing 90 percent of emissions, according to a statement from the New York City Mayor’s Office.

Increasing the adoption of electric vehicles will largely be driven by expanded charging infrastructure, say researchers. New York City has a plan to develop “fast-charging stations” with 10 to 20 chargers per station. The city aims to have 20 percent of cars registered in New York to be electric-powered by 2025.

“The Mayor’s Office of Sustainability is working in collaboration with stakeholders including the Department of Transportations and Con Edison to develop a shortlist of potential sites for the fast-charging hubs,” said Clark.

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.