07 December 2021

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As you move to electric vehicles, you’ll need to think about interoperability. So what is it and how does it work?

As businesses introduce more electric vehicles on to their fleets, the issue of interoperability becomes ever more important. But what is interoperability, and what does it mean in practice for fleets?

Interoperability, in its widest sense, is the ability of systems (mostly computerised) to work and communicate with each other. In the case of the electric vehicle charging infrastructure, achieving an interoperable ecosystem means getting your systems for charging, payment, fleet management and finance to work together.

Why does interoperability matter? 

If you can’t get these systems and departments to ‘talk’ to each other, then you risk losing insights into your fleets’ operational capability and its costs – at a time when it is more important than ever to understand these, and how they could affect your company in the future.

Global consulting firm Boston Consulting Group said businesses primarily face a technological challenge: “Interoperability is dependent upon smooth communication between the distribution grid, charging hardware and vehicles. All of these elements need to speak the same language to ensure full calibration. With hundreds of new vehicles entering the market, this is a continuously changing landscape.

So what can you do to tie these elements together? We look at some of the challenges of interoperability

Home and work charging

According to RAC Foundation and Field Dynamics’ research, 18 million (65%) of Britain’s 27.6 million households have enough off-street parking to accommodate at least one car or van, which means there is a huge capacity for charging electric vehicles at home.

It says the average car or van in England is driven just 4% of the time, a figure that has barely changed in a quarter of a century, and it is parked at home for on average 73% of the time and elsewhere, such as work, for a further 23%.

Steve Gooding, the director of the RAC Foundation, said: “It means that there is ample opportunity for recharging the next generation of electric vehicles, particularly at home, or at work – so making best use of our cars’ ‘down-time’ rather than us having to make a specific trip just to get refuelled.

There is clearly a lot of attention focused on providing a rapid public charging network to help address drivers’ range anxiety, but this data shows there is plenty of scope for slower, potentially cheaper recharging facilities to be installed at people’s homes, where the average car spends so much of its time.

The issue then is bringing this new charging environment into the infrastructure that already exists for many fleet operations, and allowing systems to talk to each other and costs to be controlled. 

After all, there are a number of issues with home charging that need to be addressed – not least reimbursement for charging and mileage undertaken for work, as well as factors such as knowing the electricity tariff employees are on. You can find out more about home charging for company vehicles in our article here.

Allstar is working in partnership with Mina to provide fleets with an interoperable solution that pays, measures and manages home charging, allowing businesses to reimburse drivers for the electricity used at home for work journeys, while also providing fleet management data around energy usage and mileage that would otherwise be lost in the new electric vehicle charging world.

On the road

As the roll-out for home charging increases and vehicle batteries allow longer ranges, home or work are likely to become the preeminent locations for charging. But there will be a need for public charging, especially for drivers doing high mileages. 

The Boston Consulting Group says: “While many EV drivers use privately funded chargers at home or work, we still expect 20% to 50% of charging to take place on the road and at destination chargers, depending on the region.

The proliferation of charging networks and ways to pay could increase the amount of administration fleets need to undertake to reimburse and also understand costs.

The UK Government says that the market for charge points is growing with an estimated 90-100 manufacturers active in the market, and since 2019 has stipulated that all charge points must be capable of receiving and processing information, and be able to monitor, record and transmit energy consumption data, and include appropriate security measures for payment. 

At the recent COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, the Government unveiled a new style of on-street charger as part of a £620 million funding boost for zero emission vehicle grants and electric charging infrastructure.

For a fleet trying to understand its public charging costs, it means collating receipts and data from all drivers for potentially dozens of different providers supplying information in differing formats – making interoperability more difficult.

Just as with petrol and diesel though, cards can provide a solution by tying networks together into a whole. 

The Allstar One Electric card for example, allows the driver to use a number of network providers, and payments, receipts, invoices and charging data are all collected in one place, creating an interoperable system that can be used for fleet management to understand mileage, energy efficiency and by finance, HR and payroll for expense reimbursement and VAT.

Being able to pay for charging, and then receive single HMRC compliant invoices and also receipts, as well as charging data, digitally can cut down on administration and increase visibility of EV operations. 

Achieving interoperability

Home charging and management solutions, a network of public charge points, payment solutions and reporting structures too: achieving interoperability offers electric fleets the opportunity to streamline their processes by ensuring data can be passed right along the chain, makes daily use of EVs far simpler and hassle free, and also gives the business the chance to learn quickly about the issues of running EVs.

In such a fast-moving sector, having this interoperability could prove a decisive advantage for your business.

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