opinion5 min read

Are lamp post EV chargers safe? Exploring in-column vs. on-column charging solutions

As the UK accelerates towards an all-electric future, the reliability and accessibility of its EV charging infrastructure becomes crucial for those considering an electric vehicle. However, while the convenience of home driveway chargers remains the ideal solution, a staggering 42% of UK households lack this luxury.  

With councils advising car owners not to run charging cables over the pavement between vehicles and our homes – even when using a cable protector – due to potential legal implications*, the responsibility shifts to local authorities to provide accessible AC charging options.  

In this article, we explore the safety, efficiency and ownership considerations of in-column and on-column lamp post ev chargers, and their pros and cons. 

In-column vs. On-column 

Public charging facilities, including on-street options which leverage existing lighting infrastructure and power supply, have become increasingly prevalent. However, recent events, such as the disconnection of all on-street charging points in Portsmouth due to safety concerns, discussed in this BBC article, highlight the critical importance of choosing the right charging solution.  

The Portsmouth incident, which utilised in-column charging points where the EV charging components are integrated into the column shaft, were disconnected following safety concerns raised by Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN). While the article does not detail why they were deemed unsafe, typically, the issue with this type of installation lies in the earthing arrangements. Many chargers boast an O-PEN device as standard, which will completely disconnect all phases and earth if a PME fault is detected. However, for some network operators, this is not deemed sufficient, and an approved device must be installed. This requirement can lead to extra costs and the challenge of accommodating additional space in the lighting column. 

The dilemma of trailing cables 

Any lamp post solution is primarily suited to front-of-path installation to prevent the risks associated with trailing cables.  Options such as secondary-fed bollard-mounted solutions or gully cable systems can also be explored.

Structural considerations for lamp post chargers

All lamp posts installed in the UK must be structurally designed to BS EN 40, a harmonised standard which requires the design process to be validated (typically annually) by an independent test house. This standard considers many factors, including location and loading, to determine the required diameter of the lighting column.  Where an in-column EV charger is being considered, a hole must be cut into the column. It is imperative that a structural engineer confirms this is acceptable before it is done.  If the structural engineer approves the additional hole in the column, the installer must ensure suitable protection for the cut surface, as the galvanised protection on steel columns will have been removed. 

This is not applicable if the charger solution is being mounted on the column door, as the door does not form part of the column’s structural integrity. 

Space constraints: A compromised fit 

Integrating EV charging components into existing columns poses spatial challenges. Attempting to fit charging equipment inside an often already crowded space can lead to a logistical nightmare. Contractors may find themselves rearranging internal components, such as isolators and cut outs, turning a seemingly simple task into a significant undertaking.  

Ownership ambiguity: Clarifying responsibilities 

The installation of in-column chargers also blurs the lines of ownership. Who is accountable for the equipment’s ongoing maintenance — the charger manufacturer, the installer, or the local authority’s EV teams or lighting departments? Comprehensive service contracts are often needed. 

New doors, added costs 

It’s important to note that many installations will require new column doors to accommodate the Radio Frequency Identity Cards (RFID) readers. These allow for contactless, encrypted data exchange and will not work on the columns’ metal surface, necessitating a plastic modification. This modification is required unless the RFID reader is integral in the surface-mounted charger. 

Time is money: Installation efficiency 

With all these extra modifications and reconfigurations, the biggest challenge with in-column chargers is installation time, which can directly translate into increased costs.  

On-column chargers: A safer alternative 

While in-column chargers have their merits, on-column chargers present a compelling case as a safer and more efficient solution for on-street EV charging infrastructure. 

Firstly, on-column chargers excel in maintaining the structural integrity of lighting columns. By mounting the charging unit onto the column door with minimal alterations, the core structure remains unaffected, adhering to industry standards. This approach ensures that safety is prioritised without compromising the structural integrity of the column over time, and no structural calculation is required. 

Unlike in-column chargers, which may encounter spatial constraints, on-column installations offer streamlined integration. With all necessary components within the unit, on-column chargers are a plug-and-play solution, simplifying the installation process. Contractors can avoid the logistical challenges associated with rearranging internal components, resulting in a smoother and more efficient installation experience. 

Considering this, on-column chargers often boast cost advantages over their in-column counterparts. With minimal modifications required to the column and fewer installation complexities, on-column installations take less time (our chargers take approximately 30 minutes to install and commission to the back office), resulting in fewer associated costs. Additionally, the long-term operational expenses are minimised, as the durable IP and IK-rated construction of on-column chargers ensures longevity and reliability, ultimately delivering greater cost-effectiveness over time. 

On-column chargers also offer clear delineation of ownership responsibilities. By housing all components within the unit, ownership boundaries are neatly defined, minimising ambiguity and potential disputes. This clarity facilitates seamless coordination between charger manufacturers, installers, and local authorities, ensuring effective maintenance and support throughout the lifespan of the charging infrastructure. 

For those prioritising structural integrity, and streamlined installation processes, we believe on-column chargers represent a forward-thinking approach to meet the growing demand for accessible and reliable EV charging solutions. 

Bollard chargers: an alternative solution 

In areas where there isn’t a lighting column on the kerb edge, bollard chargers provide a low-power, low-cost solution suitable for areas with long dwell times, offering an easy overnight charge. 

*It is illegal to cause an obstruction on roads, pavements, and footpaths, and those who do so may be liable for any resulting damage or injury