Sprint Power is a small UK company with big ambitions for charging.
Working in a range of different consortiums, and with funding from the British government, Sprint Power is testing wireless charging in the city of Nottingham and fast-charging battery packs with the Advanced Propulsion Centre.
On this week’s Mobility Moments, we speak to Ben Russell, Sprint Power’s Commercial Director, to find out more.
Why did you think that wireless charging is right for taxis compared to other forms of charging?
Wireless charging is all about high utilization vehicles. It won’t be applicable for everybody to switch over to a plug-in charge vehicle that requires you to stop and plug your car in, however long that takes.
Taxis, in particular, are a really great example of the vehicles we’re looking to fit wireless charging to. They can pull up and move along a taxi rank while they’re waiting for customers, and charge at the same time.
It’s something that no one’s ever going to do with a plug – you’re not going to get cabbies getting out of their taxis and plugging them into individual charge points along a taxi rank.
Do you see wireless charging being applicable to any other type of vehicle?
Absolutely, I think in the future wireless charging will be a fantastic next step.
I think fleet applications today, and commercial applications are absolutely the right way to go initially. But I do think wireless charging will spread because everybody loves convenience. There’s a lot of people that have gone to wireless charging for things such as mobile phones, it doesn’t take a lot to plug a cable into a mobile phone, but we still prefer wireless and I don’t see why that would be any different with your car.
Currently, I see vehicles such as buses, taxis and fleet vehicles as being ripe for wireless charging, but we need to take further steps with the technology.
For legislative reasons, we’re currently only able to use relatively low power charging solutions. As technology and legislation progress, we can get higher and higher charge rates, and vehicles such as buses will be highly suitable for wireless-enabled charging.
What would you like to see the UK government doing differently to help you develop the technology?
You’d always say that you’d love everyone to do more. Right?
But the funding and the consortium projects Sprint Power is involved with are hugely important to the development of the right IP and bringing these projects to life.
The other great thing about the consortium projects is that they are all public domain programmes. This means that we are free to talk about them and you can bring the public with you on the journey.
I think the 2030 and 2035 legislative requirements set out by the UK Government is a huge help and a step in the right direction. It’s fantastic that funding for these projects is in place to bring these consortiums together. Frankly, it wouldn’t happen in a normal commercial environment.
How important is it for Sprint Power as a business to be involved in these sorts of trials?
The partnerships and the ability to generate the IP for all the parties in these consortiums is enormously important.
The jointly developed IP allows us all to move forward together – and that’s enormously important to us, we can make leaps and bounds in terms of the technology development that would take us a lot longer commercially.
Do you think we’ll end up with a ‘one-size-fits-all’ charging solution or will it be much more of a mix and match?
There are a lot of challenges with all the methods of charging.
I think things such as pantographs and others will have their applications where wireless may not be suitable. There will be multiple routes, I don’t think they’ll ever be one fixed route.
Pantographs are a great solution for the right vehicle and in-road charging is actually just a number of steps beyond what we’re looking at here. If you imagine you’ve got static charging, where someone pulls up to the same place every day – it might be your driveway – and you can just park up and walk away.
Our ‘semi-dynamic charging, where you have charging pads in a specific place, is kind of a halfway house between static and fully dynamic charging. The latter is a big step beyond and has a huge infrastructure requirement.
What we’re doing at the moment is effectively a step along that path.
What do you see as the biggest barriers towards widespread EV adoption, whether for individual drivers or fleets?
I think there are still a lot of challenges that we need to address – wireless charging should help, particularly because of the convenience it brings.
Our project with the Advanced Propulsion Centre is all about developing rapid charging times which is a huge barrier to adoption. Again, it’s to do with convenience but also practicality. For example, around 30% of UK homes don’t have access to driveways or off-street parking which is a problem.
The range can be an issue but, if you do the math, the range that most EVs achieve is actually fine for almost all journeys. But if we can reliably bring the range of electric vehicles to that of ICE vehicles thanks to rapid charging, we will be well on the way.
How do you convince consumers and fleet operators that EVs will be a viable solution within the next few years?
When I first started talking about EVs 15 or 20 years ago in a previous role, everyone was very sceptical – I might as well have been talking about The Jetsons!
But as the costs and charging times have decreased, and the ranges have increased, I think most people are now actively considering whether their next car could be an EV.
Fleet operators don’t have the same emotional response as consumers. We have to go out there and physically demonstrate and prove there’s a business case for EVs. These customers have a very different mindset when it comes to assessing whether EVs are the right choice – there’s a spreadsheet involved and they need to know that there won’t be any issues and nor will it have a negative commercial impact. They also need to know whether EVs will allow them to do the businesses they need to do.
But, if an EV option can allow businesses to carry on as normal, with no commercial impact, then I guarantee that businesses will go for the greener option every time – but you have to meet those criteria first.