Action Areas: Air pollution/Carbon emissions/ Tech & Innovation

In response to the declaration of a climate emergency, the Council has embraced its leadership role and committed to helping create a low carbon future and to exploring ways of achieving carbon neutrality.

Officers from our Transport Unit identified an innovative solution to reduce fuel consumption, running costs and carbon emissions of our fleet vehicles - the use of solar (renewable energy) technology.  The system identified could be retrofitted onto existing vehicles avoiding the high capital investment of new vehicles.  The system utilises an ultra-thin, flexible solar film matting system fitted to the roof of a rigid truck and directly connected to its battery. The harvested natural energy is used to power all on-board ancillary equipment including tail lifts and on-board cameras, reducing maintenance costs, extending battery life and lowering emissions due to less engine idling.

Officer determined that the technology would yield maximum benefit on our Refuse Collection Vehicles (RCVs).  The operation of RCVs is particularly fuel intensive, typically giving around just 2 miles per gallon, meaning that the bin collection service is responsible for a significant proportion of our carbon emissions. Furthermore, RCVs have a significant amount of on-board ancillary equipment that must be powered from the vehicle battery throughout the entire working day eg  the bin lifts.

From January 2021 to September 2021 the following savings were made:

Vehicle 1 - CO2 saved 1020kg, 380L diesel, 191.4kWh solar yield
Vehicle 2 - CO2 saved 999.9kg, 373.1L of diesel, 187.3kWh solar yield
Vehicle 3 - CO2 saved 658kg, 245.5L of diesel saved, 122.8 kWh solar yield.

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen changes in how our bin collections are operated, for instance, vehicles come in and finish for the day once their rounds are complete. This means that they are not getting full solar gain over the course of the entire day. However, figures remain high, just are not at their full potential.

Whilst the ultimate goal of the Transport Unit is to move, as soon as is practicable, towards a fleet powered entirely by renewable energy this is still some time off.  This is particularly true for heavy goods vehicles, where renewable technology is not yet as well advanced as it is for lighter vehicles. In the meantime, whilst the only viable option for the likes of RCVs remains the procurement of conventional derv powered vehicles, this innovation presents a significant opportunity to at least reduce the level of our consumption of hydrocarbon fuel - and with this comes a reduction in carbon emissions and fuel costs. The annual carbon saving per RCV is estimated at 3.75 tonnes and the return on investment in monetary terms is estimated at 1.9 years.