By Bill Moore
Say goodbye to klunky! Say hello to style.
Meet Elektrobay, a sleek piece of "street furniture" developed by Elektromotive, Ltd. in Brighton, England that is designed to provide the recharging infrastructure for fleets of both public and private electric vehicles in London and beyond.
What looks to be just a simple stainless steel pole is, in fact, an amazingly intelligent electronic device that wirelessly can read driver ID key fobs, allowing them alone to access the standard 230 volt outlet hidden behind an electronically locked door.
The power stanchion stands 1.4 meters tall, crowned with a ring of LED lights that indicated its operational status: blue when available, green when it is charging, red when a fault -- either in the system or onboard the vehicle -- is detected. The UK model operates at 50 hertz and 13 amps, while the on the continent its 16 amps. The actual battery charger, of course, is mounted on the car, itself. Elektrobays can be ordered in any color, appropriately, the ones in Westminster will be a conservative black.
Each station incorporates cellular phone technology that enables it to communicate with a central monitoring station that tracks the status and use of the devices, some 160 of which are now scheduled to be positioned around the central London boroughs of Westminster, Camden, Lambeth and Islington, as well as in Cambridge and Sheffield. Elektromotive will position 5-to-10 poles in each borough.
While the government is paying for the initial installations, Taylor-Haw is studying several different economic models that will provide his firm with a return on their investment in anticipation of growth. The one he currently favors is patterned after the Oyster pre-paid smart card used on London's public transport system. EV drivers would purchase their key fob in advance with a pre-paid amount of charging time. Presumably, the time on the fob, which resembles a small pawn chess piece, would be renewable.
Operation of the system is simplicity itself. You pull your electric car up to an available Elektrobay with glowing blue LEDs. You take your key fob and wave it close to the reader at the top of the pole. This releases the door and gives you access to the plug behind it. You take your cable, plug it into the car, then the outlet. Close the access door and the power starts to flow. If all's well, the LEDs turn green and you're good to go.
Given that there are now around 1,000 electric cars running around London -- some 950 of them G-Wiz EVs built by Reva in India -- the Elektrobay system will be a welcome addition and hopefully, will encourage other Londoners, as well as drivers in Sheffield and Cambridge to switch to electric.
Some of those drivers will have the opportunity to lease for 48 months one hundred Zytek-converted smart cars powered by 300-volt Z21 ZEBRA sodium nickel chloride batteries. The cars arrive as gliders from Daimler to Zytek's Lichfield facility where the company installs its own permanent magnet DC motor, and the Swiss-built ZEBRA "hot' battery. The conversion process takes 2 days.
Zytek's Neil Heslington explained that there is talk to make more Smart electrics available in Rome and Paris. At the moment the company, which builds its own "engines" -- the combination motor and control system featured above -- is capable at the moment of turning out just 100-150 units. This will increase to between 800-1000 in 2008, suggesting that Zytek -- and maybe Daimler -- are anticipating a larger market for electric cars in Europe.
Helping drive interest in electric cars in London is the £8 a day congestion charge for entering the central part of the city. Electric cars like the smart and G-Wiz are exempt from it. Other cities are considering introducing similar fees to help reduce both the frustration of traffic congestion and the pollution of petrol-fueled vehicles.
If they do, Elektromotive's Elektrobay will be an elegant way to build out the necessary infrastructure.
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