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“Over 50% of all new vehicle registration each are to fleets. This has a huge impact on transport emissions, which is now the country’s biggest emitting sector,” Ian Johnston, CEO of Osprey Charging tells us.

However, times seem to be changing. Last month, British Gas chose Osprey Charging to provide the charging for its growing fleet of electric vehicles. Currently standing at 9,000 vehicles, British Gas has one of the largest commercial fleets in the UK and is currently working to make the switch from internal combustion engine vans to electric ones.

Finding a partner that could match the scale of British Gas’ needs, therefore, was pretty important. Naturally, it was important for British Gas to reduce emissions (and, presumably, the amount spent on petrol and diesel) but also because consumers are becoming increasingly environmentally conscious.

Making the Switch

“Fleet emissions are one of the most significant areas that a  business can quickly and easily reduce,” explains Johnston.

“Solutions like Osprey’s Volo system give fleets, big or small, a way for their employees to charge easily through removing the big public charging barrier to their fleet electrification.”

Ian Johnston
Osprey Charging CEO Ian Johnston

British Gas’ fleet is quite unlike most other companies. The engineers take their vans home overnight, for example, before starting their rounds the next morning. What’s more, according to James Rooney, British Gas’ Fleet Engineering and Innovation Manager, around seven in ten of the company’s drivers don’t have access to home charging. 

However, Osprey Charging removes the problem entirely. 

“[They] needed a charge point operator (CPO) with the technical capabilities to provide direct access to a nationwide network,” explains Johnston. 

“Through our proprietary software platform, Volo we were able to quickly and reliably offer them the capability to automate the charge card process and billing so that their drivers have access to easy-to-use, reliable rapid chargers with nearby amenities.”

Launched in 2020, Osprey’s Volo system uses software to give drivers access to charge points across the UK — regardless of whether those charge points are operated by Osprey or a third party. 

“We chose to create a bespoke platform ourselves to achieve optimum control over our network of charge points, and the ability to create innovative partnerships and technical integrations with our roaming partners,” says Johnston.

“As Volo is an open protocol-based software platform, it can connect to any charge point hardware and gives a full set of charge point network assurance tools — meaning we can monitor and remotely diagnose and resolve errors.”

The system also offers direct open charge point integration (OCPI), giving British Gas drivers the chance to use the Zap-Pay, Octopus, Electric Juice, and Hubject platforms to manage their charging. 

“The charging authorisation process and billing underwent rigorous testing,” explains Johnston.

“However, one key element for Osprey was British Gas’ thorough due diligence process. This is something that they understandably have for any partner they choose to work with and I’m really proud that it was the Osprey offering that was able to satisfy all of their criteria.

“We also work with fleet solutions such as Mina and Paua, who help smaller businesses centrally bill for employee charging both at home and out and about.”

But, there is more to Osprey than just charging and billing software.

Building the Network

“It’s clear that the demand for public charging is now so high that dedicated, multi- high-power charger sites are needed to ensure that drivers have access to the right charge rate at all times,” says Johnston. 

As a result of the increased demand for charging, Osprey has taken some quite significant — and some novel — steps to ensure that both the company’s business and consumer customers can charge their vehicles quickly and easily. 

The company has more than 300 charging stations around the UK, which are all at least 75 kW. British Gas drivers can simply turn up, tap their electric fuel card and pay. 

“At the end of their charge, the session is logged by Volo and Osprey bills British Gas directly for it. The charging session authorisation and billing are automated via communication between Volo and British Gas’s own fleet management system,” says Johnston.

Osprey Charging British Gas Charger

“This means that British Gas is paying Osprey for kWh delivered by Osprey chargers to their fleet engineers when they’re charging out and about. Many engineers don’t have home chargers, so this makes it easy for them to charge up and removes any need to expense fuel.”

However, Osprey also has what it calls charging hubs which offer 150 kW chargers. Currently, there are three sites already up and running in Croydon, Wolverhampton, and Banbury. Another four are set to go live in the next few weeks in Brackley, Brentwood, Crewe, and Ipswich.

“Our hubs are located at major motorway and A-road junctions and routes,” says Johnston.

“[They] give confidence to drivers that they’ll get on a charger, and provide a sizeable, safe, accessible, well-lit space for charging — and that is the future. At hubs, we install a load-balancing system (in a UK-first) where the site’s available power is stored centrally and then shared around the site’s charging posts, meeting the real-time demand of the cars.”

The Future of Fleet Charging

“Every business should at least be planning to electrify by 2030, if not already have the transition to electric well underway by then,” says Johnston. 

“Public charging is perceived by some as one of the major barriers, but there are lots of seamless fleet solutions available now, whatever size the fleet.”

It seems likely that as electric cars become more commonplace among regular drivers, fleets will become more open to switching. Of course, switching will still require a large CapEx outlay — something that company beancounters are unlikely to be in favour of.

However, according to Johnston, businesses may be left with little choice. Consumers are becoming increasingly environmentally conscious and are starting to connect the dots between the products and services they use and the business infrastructure required to provide them.

“You already see businesses publishing the fact that they use zero-emission delivery partners during the online shopping process,” says Johnston.

“Businesses know that consumers are far more alert to, and savvy about, green credentials, so I think we’ll see more advertising along these lines and more scrutiny from consumers moving forward.”

However, we aren’t completely there with electric commercial vehicles. 

“There is a need for rapid product development for electric commercial vehicles and vans,” says Johnston, “where the impact of payloads upon vehicle range are still causing concerns for some fleet operators.”

But with automakers continually innovating and improving their offerings, we are getting closer every day.

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