BP is buying Amply, a startup that helps bus and truck fleets go electric

A European oil major stakes a claim in U.S. EV charging and software to lower the cost of electrifying fleets.

Amply CEO Vic Shao plugs into an electric bus owned by Logan Bus Co., one of the fleets his startup serves with charging software. (Amply)
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Three years ago, serial entrepreneur Vic Shao launched Amply, a startup aiming to take the cost and complexity out of charging electric buses, trucks and other fleet vehicles without overloading the grid — or fleet owners’ electricity bills. 

On Tuesday, Amply announced that it is being acquired by U.K. oil and energy giant BP, which plans to put its fleet-charging management software and charging-as-a-service business to much broader use. 

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BP has about 11,000 public EV charging points today, many of them part of the network of Chargemaster, the charging provider it acquired for $170 million in 2018 and rebranded as bp pulse last year, and others being deployed as part of joint ventures in Germany, China and India. BP intends to expand its charging network to 70,000 charging points by 2030

Amply is BP’s first foray into fleet EV charging, and its biggest move into the U.S. generally,” Emily Leung, vice president of future mobility and electrification for BP’s Americas operations, said in a Tuesday interview. 

The financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed. Amply has previously raised $13.2 million, including a Series A investment last year led by Soros Fund Management and joined by Siemens and previous seed round investors Congruent Ventures, PeopleFund and Obvious Ventures. 

Amply has about 50 employees and fewer than a dozen customers, including transit districts in California and New York City’s biggest school-bus operator. But the market for its managed charging services is growing quickly. Transit agencies, school districts and cities including Houston, Los Angeles, New York and Seattle are making the switch from diesel-fueled to battery-powered buses. Companies with carbon-reduction goals such as Amazon, Anheuser-Busch, DHL and Walmart are converting their fleets of medium-duty vans and trucks to electric models.

Amply has worked with a number of companies in these markets, including e-bus makers BYD, Lion Electric and Proterra, charging providers ABB, ChargePoint, Siemens and Tritium, major utilities in California and New York, and infrastructure developers such as AECOM and Duke Energy Solutions.

Being able to manage multiple models of EVs and charging systems is an important distinction that sets Amply apart, Shao said in a Tuesday interview.

Consistency, reliability [and] uptime guarantees are all key attributes for fleet operators,” he said. This is where software integration comes in: needing to operate across multiple [manufacturers’ vehicles] so that the fleet operator can make the proper decisions.” 

Why managed charging matters for electric fleets 

The U.S. will need to invest billions of dollars into charging to support the EV growth needed to rapidly decarbonize road transport. Several companies are building out nationwide charging networks for passenger vehicles, including ChargePoint, Electrify America and EVgo.

BP is looking to deploy more EV chargers at its network of service stations, providing another option for fleet vehicles to charge when they’re on the road, Leung said. 

But EV fleet-charging sites represent a different challenge, with loads that can add up to tens of megawatts of grid demand. The cost of that electricity can vary by as much as 400 percent depending on when it’s used and how much of it is used at once, Shao said. 

For fleet operators that have to carefully keep tabs on the total costs of ownership of their vehicles, unless there’s some certainty in fueling costs, you can’t scale up.” 

Most of Amply’s customers are using its software to operate EV charging infrastructure they’ve already installed and want to optimize to control for variable costs such as hourly electricity prices or the demand charges assessed against their moments of peak draws from the grid. 

These rates change from utility to utility and customer class to customer class, and they can add up to major excess costs if left unmanaged, giving fleet operators good reason to avoid charging at the wrong times. At the same time, every vehicle must be charged up to meet strict and inflexible daily duty cycles, which requires tight integration between vehicles and charging systems. 

Amply has cited some significant cost savings for customers that have turned over their charging to its software. Its first public-transit customer, Tri Delta Transit in Northern California’s Contra Costa County, was able to shave as much as 40% from its monthly utility bills by using Amply’s algorithms to schedule its bus charging.

Installing and maintaining EV chargers is another costly and complex proposition for fleets, with central recharging hubs that can add megawatts of load to constrained grids. An increasing number of vehicle and charging equipment manufacturers are offering financing deals to reduce the upfront cost barriers to EV adoption. 

Amply’s Charging-as-a-Service” model works that way, paying the upfront costs of installing and maintaining charging stations and electricity bills over five- or 10-year agreements in exchange for payments built on power usage rates or miles driven per vehicle. Southern California’s Anaheim Transportation Network has used this upfront financing for at least one of its charging sites, using a containerized EV charging system unveiled last month. Other financed deployments are in development, Shao said. 

The competitive landscape for decarbonizing energy giants

Amply isn’t the only company offering software, services, financing and charging equipment for EV fleets. Similar offerings are on hand from companies like Highland Electric, which raised $235 million early this year to finance charging depots for electric buses in school and transit district fleets. Inspiration Mobility, a newly launched startup with $200 million in financial backing, is targeting corporate and government customers interested in financing and management of EVs and the charging infrastructure to support them. 

Nuvve, an early entrant in the vehicle-to-grid charging space, is developing large-scale charging hubs meant to earn back their costs by providing grid services. TeraWatt Infrastructure, founded by former Google energy chief Neha Palmer and financed with $100 million from Keyframe and Cyrus Capital, is developing EV charging sites across the country. 

BP’s move into EV charging is similarly being matched by other international oil and gas companies and utilities. Fellow oil major Royal Dutch Shell subsidiary Shell New Energies bought European charging network provider NewMotion in 2017 and North American EV charging networking startup Greenlots last year. 

These companies’ moves into EVs are being matched by investments and acquisitions aimed at gaining a foothold in broader distributed energy technologies. Earlier this year, BP bought Blueprint Power, a New York City–based startup that manages major loads and distributed energy resources like batteries and EV chargers at commercial buildings. 

French energy giant Engie, which bought EV charger company EVBox in 2017, also acquired Shao’s previous startup, Green Charge Networks, which installs and controls batteries in commercial buildings. Italian utility Enel X bought residential EV charger maker and software provider eMotorWerks in 2017 and integrated it into its Enel X distributed energy subsidiary, which also includes batteries and commercial and industrial building load controls. 

Revenue from BP’s distributed energy lines of business is tiny compared to that from its fossil fuels business. BP has pledged to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, a plan that has drawn scrutiny from environmental groups for its lack of commitment to reducing oil and gas production and its goal of decreasing rather than eliminating emissions from the products it sells. 

BP has committed billions of dollars of investment into solar and wind energy via its Lightsource bp joint venture, but it doesn’t forecast that its low-carbon business will achieve significant income for the next five years.

Leung declined to provide details on how much BP planned to invest in its EV charging efforts over the next decade, though she did note that the company plans a tenfold increase in its low-carbon investments to $5 billion by 2030

Beyond shifting fossil-fueled vehicles to electricity that can be provided by renewable energy resources, EVs can be charged in ways that help absorb wind and solar power when a lot of it is being produced. Amply has begun to offer clean energy purchasing options to its California fleet customers, both via purchasing renewable energy credits and by offering data to help them match charging to times when renewable energy is prevalent on the grid.

Jeff St. John is director of news and special projects at Canary Media.