Liberty Global forms alliance to create UK electric car charging network

Liberty Global has struck a deal with a fund backed by the UK government and the Church of England to build a network of electric vehicle charging points in residential streets using the underground duct network of its Virgin Media business.

The US cable company has created a joint venture called Liberty Charge alongside Zouk Capital, a London-based private equity firm which manages the government’s Charging Infrastructure Investment Fund (CIIF), to roll out thousands of on-street charging points for electric vehicles it told the Financial Times.

The move is the latest example of convergence between the telecoms and automotive sectors as both industries look to tap the growth potential of electric vehicles. In October Vodafone struck a deal with EHang to supply the Chinese company with sim cards to connect electric one- or two-seat drones to its network in Germany, while in January BMW announced it would launch the first commercial telematic control unit using 5G technology in a car next year.

Deutsche Telekom has also adapted some of its roadside cabinets so that electric car users parked nearby can plug directly into them, with the German group planning to roll out 500 charging stations using its network.

Making extensive residential broadband networks available for use as charging points could speed up the development of the infrastructure required to support electric vehicles as well as creating a new revenue stream for telecoms companies.

“CIIF’s central objective is to scale open-access, public [electric vehicle] charging networks for the UK consumer and that is exactly what Liberty Charge will achieve for the thousands of car owners, who do not have access to off-street parking,” said Massimo Resta, partner at Zouk Capital.

Liberty Global, which has access to 40,000 powered street cabinets and 170,000km of ducts in the UK via Virgin Media, said 40 per cent of people living in urban areas did not have access to a driveway to charge an electric vehicle.

The US company, which plans to merge Virgin Media with mobile network O2, began testing the concept of using telecoms infrastructure for charging points early last year. In September it formed a consortium with several start-ups and Loughborough University to roll out more than 1,000 charging sockets across the country by 2021.

That project will now be backed by the CIIF fund, which is split between taxpayer and private capital and is expected to raise £400m. Last month Zouk said it had raised £80m from an investment by the Church Commissioners’ investment fund which was matched by the government.

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