Electric Vehicle Charge Points: Creating a Pan-London View
LOTI’s been working closely with London Councils, the GLA, and other partners to develop a dynamic dashboard showing the location and patterns of usage for electric vehicle (EV) charge points in London.
The dashboard is currently only accessible by London borough officers, but we’re looking into options for making some of its views accessible to the public.
We’ve been working on this project for a while and – in keeping with our ethos of iterative trial and improvement, its direction has evolved over time as our understanding of the problems and most useful solutions has evolved. In this article, I’d like to shed more light on why we changed course and share some thoughts on what’s made it possible.
Why LOTI chose to work in this area in the first place
London boroughs are increasingly making use of smart infrastructure to deliver better outcomes for their residents. Driven by this and the desire to collaborate on issues spanning borough boundaries, LOTI’s initial focus for this project was on prioritising the needs of Londoners who own electric vehicles. Our key assumption was that citizens would be less concerned about which borough a particular charge point was located in and more concerned about their ability to continue their journey around London as smoothly as possible.
To this end, our initial hypothesis was that creating a comprehensive map showing the location and availability (not usage) of EV points across the capital would enable Londoners to easily and freely find available charge points as they navigate London for work and social purposes. Charge Place Scotland is an example of where this idea has been successfully implemented.
We’re aware of private entities such as Zapmap that already provide some of this information, which is great for keeping citizens moving. The problem with this approach is that the raw data is not available as open data, inhibiting better, more innovative solutions in this sector. Linked to this, our other hypothesis was that by developing an open data solution for London, emulating TfL’s journey planner data and Unified API, we’d provide innovators in this space with the opportunity to develop novel solutions that improve and enhance user experiences.
Changing course to meet boroughs’ needs
In exploring practical next steps for developing a solution for citizens, we found that the new Office for Zero Emissions Vehicles (OZEV) was undertaking a series of activities to address systemic issues in the sector such as lack of consistency in the provision of real-time data in a common standard. An additional benefit of OZEV activities is that of solving the problem once at a national scale, thus negating the need for regional or London-centric approaches.
At this point, it would have been easy to step away from the project, given LOTI alone was unlikely to make the same level of impact as a national approach.
We didn’t. Instead, we pivoted to a different direction, one that we knew would be more helpful to the LOTI community. We changed our focus to addressing the needs of borough highway and transport officers, which we’d identified as another key group that may benefit from having access to pan-London EV charge point data. Rather than EV charge point availability data, their interest was primarily on usage and location, to enable more informed strategic infrastructure planning decisions on future EV deployments locally. With the provision of many EV charge points directed by each borough, we recognised that London would struggle to invest in this infrastructure in the places most needed by drivers without having more data from across the whole city to inform and coordinate their decisions.
Leveraging partnerships and good quality data to build a good solution
Our primary objective was to develop a prototype product that we could test and improve with our community of borough highway and transport officers.
Our starting point was data generated by EV points implemented via the TfL Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Framework, the Go Ultra Low Cities Scheme (GULCS), accounting for approximately two thirds of London’s EV infrastructure. Dynamic EV charge point usage data, as well as location, was already provided by GULCS charge point operators but there were two main barriers to a transparent pan-London picture:
- Varying data quality and different datasets provided by operators made pan-London analysis a time-consuming process; and
- Differing mechanisms used for providing data by different operators meant that analysis was largely a manual process, involving the combining of multiple spreadsheets every quarter.
What we did to fix the above was to implement some of the measures LOTI has advocated for making pan-London data sharing frictionless. Specifically, we focused on using the London Datastore as a central point for sharing all EV charge point data and developing common data and API standards to automate and improve this process. Those standards are a working draft, which we recommend all boroughs review and incorporate into their future procurements).
Thanks to Claudia Corrigan, London Councils’ Senior Lead for EV Infrastructure, charge point operators firstly agreed to provide automated data feeds via API directly to the London Datastore and secondly agreed to provide data in a common format in line with industry standards. The latter had the immediate benefits of enabling the consistent capturing of data over time and from different operators. The other, perhaps more long-term benefit we hope will be the additional clarity to suppliers on public sector expectations from this emerging market, particularly relevant to new entrants.
Using the London Datastore as a repository of these data sets not only improved the process of data analysis but more importantly created transparency by allowing all London boroughs to view detailed information about usage of EV points at ward level. This is particularly important for areas near borough boundaries where having a good understanding of existing infrastructure is vital for future planning purposes.
Thanks to Paul Hodgson and Yiran Wei from the GLA’s Intelligence unit the dashboard is both functional and easily accessible by London borough officers.
Challenges with sharing all usage data as open data
Our assumption at the start of this project was that if this data was shared openly, tech innovators could use it as a basis for improving the overall user experience. In reality, this was quite complex.
Firstly, usage data is something operators class as commercially sensitive information. An unintended outcome of sharing usage data publicly is the risk of EV infrastructure being heavily developed primarily in highly profitable areas.
Secondly, the security risks associated with these types of data are something to be carefully considered. Advice from the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure suggested that the danger of openly publishing and sharing aggregate data may not be as great for one dataset in isolation, but in combination with other open datasets could create potential national security weaknesses.
Lastly, feedback from borough officers was that openly publishing these data sets had limited, if any, benefits to them and their residents.
We’re now considering whether partial views of the dashboard might be helpful to citizens, members, and the wider public. Before publishing any data in the open, we’ll be undertaking a data privacy impact assessment and taking all the relevant information governance steps, to ensure any data we do release publicly has no unintended consequences.
What we’ve developed is an initial prototype that we know needs improvement. In the next iteration, we’ll be focusing on adding more details about demand in local areas.
Please visit the project page for further updates.