Ian Johnston is the CEO at Osprey Charging Network, who are focused on building the best UK charging network using the latest technology that’s easy-to-use with accessible chargers in premium locations.
The company partners with commercial landlords and local authorities to provide an open-access, rapid charging network for electric vehicles (EVs) all powered by 100 percent renewable energy.
Ian has experience from both the renewable energy and automotive industries having worked at Temporis Developments, where he was head of operations and then COO for over seven years, responsible for the delivery of the UK’s largest portfolio of Feed-in Tariff wind farm projects.
Before this Ian was retail operations manager for Volkswagen for four years. Here was responsible for managing the performance, development and franchise relationship of 14 franchised Volkswagen retailers.
Ian has also been a board director for RenewableUK for two years, a leading not-for-profit renewable energy trade association.
EDs: What attracted you to working in the emobility sector?
I started my career working for the Volkswagen Group for a decade before making the switch to developing renewable energy projects because I wanted to work in the field of sustainability.
As we were developing battery projects I saw the first signs of the complexities that would be faced in the deployment of rapid charging infrastructure, and it is a natural merging of my two former careers to now be in the EV grid-connected infrastructure space.
EDs: What electric vehicle do you drive and why?
I am fortunate to have been provided with an Audi e-tron by Osprey. The size was essential given that road travel over recent years has involved double buggies, travel cots and all of the associated paraphernalia.
My lease with Octopus is up in 12 months and it is exciting to see the huge range of choices that are now available for drivers like us who need lots of space when travelling.
EDs: You’re CEO of the leading UK fast charger network, Osprey, how fast does the fast charge network in the UK, and other countries, need to grow to meet the growing demand for EVs?
There has been an impressive deployment of infrastructure since the start of the pandemic. Unfortunately, certain areas have been underserved and where we are now seeing queues, or even more disappointingly a lack of electric vehicle take-up.
There has been a lot of policy discussion regarding the situation at motorway service areas (MSAs), which are critical for mass-market adoption of electric vehicles. Similarly, electric vehicle infrastructure is a tricky challenge for local authorities to address because they don’t always have the resource or expertise to deliver such a programme.
The money and technology are there from the charging networks like Osprey and others, but it needs a centralised support function to help run the processes and projects to get the kit in the ground.
Where we need to get to is that every motorway service area, every town centre car park and every supermarket car park has a charging hub. That will change the landscape of charging an electric vehicle in the UK. The charging networks have the funding, the expertise and the technology, the controlling bodies just need to issue the contracts.
EDs: Can you tell us more about Osprey and its mission?
Osprey was founded to help cleaner air to all through the decarbonisation of transportation and we are pleased with the progress that we have made so far on our journey.
However, the work so far is just the beginning and has established us as a leader charging network operator. We have proven our offering and credentials, and we now look forward to rolling out our trusted and reliable network to thousands more sites across the UK.
EDs: Do you think a rapidly developing fast charge network means that we don’t need electric vehicles with huge 600-1,000 mile (1000-1600km) ranges?
I think there will always be a race for the largest range, the fastest charging car and the most powerful charger, as there has always been in the automotive and other related industries.
However, in the same way, that less than one percent of internal combustion engine (ICE) drivers drove high-performance sports cars in the old days, the mass market of 30 million vehicles on our roads will be focused on more mid-range vehicles.
Advancements in battery technologies will mean that vehicle ranges and charging speeds will continue to improve, and the charging networks will evolve quickly over time to offer the optimum charging experience for the UK’s drivers.
EDs: Do you think consumer demand will see the transition to electric vehicles happen more quickly than the UK government’s 2030 policy on the sale of new combustion engine vehicles?
I think we are already seeing demand is far out-stripping supply. I believe that for the next five years we will see every single electric vehicle that can be brought to these shores being sold without difficulty.
However, I think the delays in vehicle supply and the complications in transitioning commercial fleets will result in us seeing the transition push back into the late 2020s towards the deadline. As most electric vehicles are not manufactured in the UK, it will require the UK to be seen as a profitable destination market to send the electric vehicles to, despite the complications of currency exchange rates, BREXIT and alike.
Even where electric vehicles are produced in the UK, we face constraints in the supply of critical components such as battery packs from overseas. Hence the establishment of gigafactories in the UK is also essential.
EDs: What do you see as the most exciting challenges and opportunities for 2022?
The biggest dynamic for 2022 will be the arrival of the mass-market electric vehicle driver at a public charging station. Charging networks have had it easy to date with the very passionate and supportive group of early adopters who have been more patient with a few failed experiences on their travels.
The mass-market driver will expect their car to be refuelled as easily as the ICE vehicle they have just walked away from. Only those networks with the most reliable experience, the best customer service and the most innovative offerings will win. 2022 is ‘game-time’ for sure.