Invest in EV tech now and the UK can lead the electric revolution

By Richie Frost, Sprint Power founder and CEO

As the shackles brought about by Covid-19 begin to be loosened, now is the time for UK plc to seize the opportunity of a fresh start and refocus our goal of becoming leaders in EV tech and low carbon transportation. This won’t happen on its own – we need government and societal commitment, and crucially investment, if we are to make this work.

I was pleased to hear positive signs from Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who recently addressed the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership’s (LowCVP) annual conference. He made it clear that the government’s future transport strategy will focus heavily on decarbonising transport, while acknowledging that it’s this generation that can drive the transition away from fossil fuels. 

While words are easy, there is growing evidence that the government has been putting money where its mouth is by investing more in future zero-carbon technologies. Whether it’s setting aside £12 billion for the development of future EVs and charging technologies, or providing £10 million to local authorities to install on-street charging points, they do appear to be getting serious. Their planned ban on internal combustion engine vehicles by 2035 is certainly ambitious.

What’s clear is that we must act now if we are to ensure the UK can flourish in a new era of low carbon road transportation. It’s easy to revel in our nation’s history of driving change in transport through innovation, but investment and adaptability is key. The real challenge for any step-change technology is the required significant investment, the adoption of new technologies, their expert application and integration into vehicles, validation that these new solutions deliver what they’re supposed to, and the installation of the infrastructure required to assemble and maintain them.

I could see early on that the UK could benefit from an EV specialist that would bring together the country’s most experienced engineers to develop electric motors and battery systems and integrate them efficiently and reliably into a finished product. Having founded Sprint Power in late 2018 to serve this goal, we’ve witnessed a huge demand for our services. Having started with ten engineers, we’ve since grown to over fifty in a year, with further plans to expand to meet demand. It’s extremely positive to report that the pandemic hasn’t seen a slow-down for us.

As part of our design consultancy services, OEMs come to us with their requirements, we carry out detailed analyses and find solutions to complex problems. The manufacturer then has the opportunity to use this information to develop their own IP.

Our initial seeding investments come from investors in Asia. They saw the potential of the UK, the skills of our engineers and the opportunities brought about by a transition to zero emission transportation. While we are always keen to see private investments from within the UK and Europe, we are pleased to have already won two multi-million grants from Innovate UK.

Innovate UK is a non-departmental public body funded by the UK government designed to drive research and development into new technologies. Our task is to develop wireless charging modules for taxis and light commercial vehicles. We’re developing custom interface modules and software, together with bespoke integration kits for each vehicle type to demonstrate the suitability of wireless charging technology on our roads. These ‘inductive charging’ trials are due to start in Nottingham imminently.

While countries such as the US, China and Japan have been investing heavily in EVs and battery tech development, the UK will need to invest significantly in this space in order to maintain its leading role in the automotive industry. For instance, to enable rapid charging and avoid expensive on-board power electronics, future EVs will need a system voltage to match that of rapid chargers. Compared to the 400V systems that are used in the majority of today’s EVs, 800V systems will allow them to do this. Sprint Power has been heavily involved in this area of battery development. Lowering the cost of such technology through mass production will benefit us all.

Now Covid-19 begins to ease its deadly grip on the UK, instead of relying on imported technologies and skills, the UK needs to invest in technologies and R&D core to EV and low carbon tech development, whether it’s batteries, motors, or autonomous vehicles. Having such a sensible and timely strategy will help us become true world leaders in this electric revolution.