Taking charge

Surrey Research Park-based Reserve & Charge is shaping the future of EV charging through its smart reservation platform

As the UK transitions to electric vehicles (EVs) – a crucial action to achieve the government’s 2050 net zero target – we’re seeing more and more EVs in use and technology around batteries is continually improving.

With this, the demand for public charging points is rapidly increasing. The lack of EV charging infrastructure, however, is resulting in what some are terming as “charging uncertainty” as EV users struggle to find accessible, available and reliable charging points.

Dr Ralf Kernchen

Reserve & Charge is putting forward a solution – smartly managed public EV charging station reservations. Working with charge point operators across the country, the platform allows users to reserve charging points at specific locations and specific times and dates for their journeys, providing much-needed assurance around the availability of chargers.

Reserve & Charge comes from the team behind Surrey Research Park-based software development company Accelogress, headed up by Dr Ralf Kernchen. Ralf explains: “As part of Accelogress, we developed a reservation and parking management platform for train station car parks. The Save-a-Space app came about with government-backed innovation funding, addressing issues of commuters finding available parking spaces when and where they needed them so they could arrive at their train on time and without stress. From working on that project with Transport for West Midlands and seeing the positive feedback from users, we thought it could be useful in the EV market, so decided to look into how we can bring reservations to EV charging stations.”

Because improving the EV infrastructure experience is also a government issue, Reserve & Charge started its journey with an Innovate UK grant. Following an in-depth analysis of the user experience on the Save-a-Space project, a prototype of Reserve & Charge was developed in March 2022. “Since then, we have received a lot of interest from partners and clients,” says Ralf. “We came up with a strategy on how to get Reserve & Charge into the markets, deciding to create a platform that uses the previous reservation functionality and integrate it with the EV charging management platforms. We’re not providing an app, but we are providing an additional functionality to existing charge points and apps. We officially launched as a company in March this year to commercialise on Reserve & Charge.”

When Reserve & Charge was tested as a service with users, 67% of 100 people in the West Midlands said that they would try it and a further 40% would even be willing to pay £3 to £5 for a reservation. “This feedback is absolutely great,” states Ralf. “It really emphasises the level of pain people have at the moment in finding available charging points – something we can help change.”

As a unique selling proposition for advance reservation in the EV market, Reserve & Charge is proving to be an interesting project for investors. The company has been invited to attend events such as the Cenex LCV 2023 at Millbrook to pitch to public authorities. This, Ralf says, was received excellently. He goes on to explain: “Since last year, when we got our mentors to form a board with us, we collected around £100,000 in angel investment, which was completed in June. We’re now focused on building an MVP of this proposition with the prospect of running some pilots towards the end of the year and into 2024. We have a roadmap which includes more financing. Reserve & Charge is looking for angel or similar early-stage investment and pre-seed funding rounds thereafter. The idea is to push into the market as quickly as we can and partner with relevant people.”

Like its parent company Accelogress, Reserve & Charge operates from Surrey Technology Centre at Surrey Research Park. “I’ve been working from Surrey Research Park for 10 years,” says Ralf. “My background is in computer science, technology and I did a PhD at the University of Surrey. I received initial support from the SETsquared Partnership when I started Accelogress, and now Reserve & Charge is benefitting from the programme, with access to events to pitch for investment, as well as experienced mentors to help with reviewing funding applications. Surrey Technology Centre is a wonderful place to be. There’s access to talent from the university and excellent networking opportunities with fellow companies here that are on a similar journey. Through SETsquared, you can connect with and meet mentors and people who will be willing to invest to help you develop and grow your business.”

In just over a year, Reserve & Charge has evolved from an idea into an innovative business proposition with the potential to really disrupt the EV charging market. For Ralf and the team, the ambition is to create a successful and sustainable business in the UK, but also in the European market and possibly further afield. “We’re passionate about helping with the transition to more sustainable private travel with electric vehicles and the phasing out of fossil fuel vehicles,” concludes Ralf. “As an advance reservation platform, we want to optimise the user experience so that net zero targets can be reached.”

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