BT is exploring an innovative way to support the transition to electric vehicles in the UK by converting their unsightly green street cabinets into EV charging points.
These cabinets, numbering around 90,000 across the country, currently provide copper-based broadband and telephone services. However, they are set to be decommissioned as BT shifts to full fibre optic networks. The company estimates 60,000 of the cabinets could potentially be retrofitted with EV charging capability.
To test the viability of this proposal, Etc, BT’s innovation arm, will run a series of pilots over the next two years. The first pilot will launch in Northern Ireland this fall, initially offering charging access to BT employees. It plans to later expand the trial to the general public and launch additional pilots in other parts of the UK.
If successful, BT’s cabinet charging project could significantly expand UK charging capacity. Tom Guy, Managing Director of Etc., noted the “massive upgrade” required to enable the EV revolution. Converting existing street cabinets into charging points provides a potential way to rapidly scale infrastructure in urban areas.
Not every UK home can get EV charger installation, so on-street chargers are critical to the adoption of electric vehicles in urban areas.
However, questions remain about the technical and commercial viability at scale. In the pilots, Etc. will need to evaluate power supply capacity, charging speeds, cabinet layouts, and more. There is also the choice of whether to operate alone or with an established charging partner. Local council engagement will be critical.
BT’s cabinet charging concept represents the kind of innovative thinking required to hit the country’s 2030 charging goals. If proven out, retrofitting existing street furniture could significantly complement the £1.6 billion in public funding allocated for new charge points.
While the scale is uncertain, the pilots will provide real-world data on the opportunity. Above all, BT’s exploration highlights the pivotal role private enterprises must play in enabling the mass EV transition.