Coventry Council May Deploy Smart Sensors to Fine Fossil-Fuel Cars

12-01-2021 | By Robin Mitchell

Recently, Coventry Council announced that it is considering linking data from smart sensors to find cars that park in electric vehicle charging stations. What was the original use of the sensors, what challenges do car chargers face, and how will Coventry Council use this data to fine cars?

The Electric Vehicle Revolution

Electric vehicles are not new; electric vehicles are almost as old as the internal combustion engine itself. Motors have been around since the Victorian era, and it doesn't take much genius to connect a motor to a wheel, and then the motor to a battery.

However, what electric vehicles have always been challenged with is energy density. While a combustion engine is far more complex than an electric motor and power source, its ability to use petrol (which has a very high energy density), means that it can provide a vehicle with substantial range while keeping the overall weight of the vehicle minimised.

Thus, electric vehicle technology has always been tied to the energy density of batteries. The greater the battery's energy density, the smaller the battery can be, and the greater the distance the electric vehicle can travel. Recent technological improvements into Lithium-Ion batteries and the stepping up of manufacturing have led to a gradual decrease in cost for electric vehicles.

However, another challenge is faced by electric vehicles; charging points. The adoption of the internal combustion engine for the past 100 years has seen millions of petrol stations open up worldwide. This has resulted in most cars always being 10 minutes from a petrol station, and the speed at which a car can be refilled makes them incredibly practical. 

Electric vehicles, however, are often faced with long charging times due to the energy constraints that batteries face. Furthermore, charging points for electric vehicles are far and few due to the very low numbers of electric vehicles on the road.

Understanding Charging Point Usage

To incentivise electric vehicles' adoption, both the UK government and local councils have brought in legislation and projects. For example, electric vehicles do not carry any road tax, and councils' charging points create dedicated parking spots just for EVs.

The few charging bays that exist can make it hard for EV owners to find, and one solution, called ApplyParking, helps solve this. Not only does their app demonstrate where charging bays are located, the use of sensors on each charging bay indicates which bays are in use and which are free.

While this data is useful for EV owners, the Coventry council uses this data to compare electric vehicle bay occupancy with charging use. Such information allows councils to better plan our future charging ports, understand how often cars charge, and how much they charge their vehicles.

Coventry Council may Clamp Down on Wrongful Bay Use

Installing dedicated charging points costs money (far more than allocating space for a vehicle), and as such, EV bays are strictly for EVs only. However, some EV owners are finding the bays being occupied by non-EVs, meaning that not only is a space used up, but so is a precious charging point.

As a result of “ICEing” (meaning to use up an EV bay by a combustion engine car), Coventry City Council is considering utilising the sensors to identify abusers. Cars parked in bays and not charging will be flagged, but exactly how the fine would be issued has not been made clear.

One method would be to utilise cameras with number plate recognition, which is already in widespread use for other traffic violations. Another method would be to use a flagging system whereby a parking attendant can investigate the bay's vehicle. However, the use of staff to investigate vehicles is expensive compared to using automatic plate recognition.

According to Coventry City Council, the fine would be somewhere in the region of £70. The same technology can also be applied to disabled parking spots that often fall victim to illegal parking.

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By Robin Mitchell

Robin Mitchell is an electronic engineer who has been involved in electronics since the age of 13. After completing a BEng at the University of Warwick, Robin moved into the field of online content creation, developing articles, news pieces, and projects aimed at professionals and makers alike. Currently, Robin runs a small electronics business, MitchElectronics, which produces educational kits and resources.