Source: Waitrose

The electric vans are charged wirelessly by parking over a recharge plate

Waitrose is trialling a fleet of electric home delivery vans that can be charged wirelessly.

The vans will begin delivering customer orders from Waitrose’s St Katherine Docks store in coming months, with the fleet expected to be expanded in the near future.

Unlike most electric vehicles, the vans are fitted with a slim charging pad on their underside and their batteries are topped up when they are parked above an electric plate – the technology working in a similar way to flat charging plates for mobile phones.

The trial followed “significant investment” Waitrose said, and the work put the supermarket “at the forefront of green home delivery”.

The supermarket is working with Flexible Power Systems on the trial. The startup in August launched what it called a world first trial for the tech, with four modified Vauxhall electric vans completing daily duties for Heriot-Watt University and The City of Edinburgh Council. That trial is funded by the UK government’s Office for Low-Emission Vehicles through its innovation agency Innovate UK.

_MG_3761 (1) (1)

Source: FPS

An electric plate, which vans are parked over to top up their batteries

As well as the vans and charging plates, Flexible Power Systems is working with Waitrose to equip the store with “a cloud-based smart charging system designed for home delivery”.

The system is integrated into building energy monitoring and operational software systems to ensure maximum efficiency.

“We’ve already committed to electric vans and have created a new biomethane gas filling station too, which is helping to reduce CO2 emissions by 80%,” said Marija Rompani, director of ethics and sustainability at the John Lewis Partnership. “We continue to look for new innovative ways to cut our emissions as well as bring in the latest technology. 

“Being the first to trial this new wireless charging technology is both exciting and another example of our ambition to show leadership in this space,” she added.

Rompani added that Waitrose’s home deliveries had soared from 30,000 orders a week pre-pandemic to well over 200,000 currently.

“That uplift in demand for grocery deliveries means that prioritising an electric fleet is more important than ever, particularly as world leaders meet at COP26 to discuss how we lower global emissions,” she said.

The move follows a pledge to end the use of fossil fuels across Waitrose’s entire transport fleet by 2030, which is estimated to save 20,000 tonnes of CO2 every year.

“This project is about testing technologies that can save time and cost, particularly wireless charging, which has the potential to save time spent charging between deliveries,” said Flexible Power Systems MD Michael Ayres. “In future, driverless vans could even be used, as no one is needed to plug in charging cables. Our management system will ensure that the electric vans can be integrated into Waitrose’s wider systems.” 

The trial follows two years of collaboration between Waitrose and Flexible Power Systems “on large-scale simulations of EV fleet implementations to understand the impact of different vehicle choices and charger configurations” the startup said.

“That work has revealed that one-size doesn’t fit all in fleet electrification projects and that a range of operational, site and vehicle requirements need to be balanced to arrive at effective strategies,” said Ayres.

“Wireless charging has the potential to offer fleet operators faster charging sessions, easier access to vehicles, and space savings while futureproofing operations for the advent of autonomous vehicles,” he added.

Transport Minister Trudy Harrison said she was “thrilled to see Waitrose leading the way by making the important switch to electric vans”

“This Government has committed £2.5bn towards electric vehicle grants and infrastructure and I am delighted to hear that Flexible Power Systems have been able to develop this cutting edge wireless charging technology with the help of DfT funding,” Harrison said.