During the 2010 to 2015 term of government in the UK (Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition) the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in the ‘2013 spending round’ a provision of £500 million to support schemes for ULEV (Ultra Low Emission Vehicles).

This was a bold move at a time when Climate Change was still widely perceived as a distant threat. At that time the immediate and progressive impact of global warming was not as widely recognised as it is today.  As a direct of this ULEV lead from that coalition government, we’ve seen an incremental uptake by local authorities and town councils to invest in more environmentally friendly public transport.

I was encouraged to see the deployment of a new fleet of nine electric buses into my home town, Guildford, in 2019. These electric buses were the product of  ongoing collaborative venture between the Chinese supplier, BYD, and the local (UK) firm of coach-builders ADL.  This was undoubtedly a safe bet for our local authority as the ADL and BYD partnership had already proved it’s metal across the country,  claiming 70% of the electric bus market Britain at that time.

The design of the bus is a variation on familiar theme. The conventional internal combustion engine has been replaced by a modern powerful electric motor and diesel tanks replaced by batteries and charging technology. The use of conventional materials and layout provides a familiarity to passengers and must therefore reassure any potential purchasing authority. Until now, the chassis, motors, and the batteries for the buses have been built by BYD in China before being shipped to ADL for body assembly and internal fitting in the UK.  Clearly, shipping bulky products around the world is not ideal.  The model is being improved as, going forward, the chassis will be built in the UK.

Shortly after the electric bus service launched in Guildford there were reports online and in the local press that the we had run into a stumbling block.  The depot, used by the operator to house and charge the buses,  needed a major upgrade to it’s electrical capacity in order to meet demand for battery charging. The supplier was unable to commit to a suitable upgrade in less than 12 months.  This major limitation created operational issues for full deployment and presented a risk to the financial viability of the project. The team had to find resolution and to their credit, they came up with something brilliant. It paves they way for future scaleability.

Enter ‘Zenobe Energy’, a UK company founded in 2017 that prides that itself on developing intelligent energy storage solutions.  Zenobe was another ‘safe option’ as they had already teamed up with Abellio UK, one of Britain’s largest transport operators to bring electric buses to the streets of London and other major cities.  Zenobe had also secured £120 million funding to augment the e-bus provision from the ULEV grant scheme.   They were able to propose a viable battery-storage solution that could be (and was) implemented in a matter of weeks. From the image there is more than a hint that Zenobe have used the Tesla Powerpack in their solution (arguably the highest performing and safest bet for battery tech).

I’ve been exploring several incremental improvements we can make to this project.  These are the three options I looked at:

  1. Put a solar-farm onto/into the depot to charge the batteries during daylight hours.
  2. Leverage combined power-generation and satorage capability to improve EBIT  (offset cost)  by trading electricity on the Grid
  3. Embrace a more innovative step change in electric-bus design that contributes more fully to the UK economy and sustainability.

I don’t know if options 1 and 2 have been reviewed, indeed they may already be in place?   The remainder of this post focusses on option 3 as I haven’t seen any new vehicle designs in operation:

In autumn I came across this amazing London start-up that has developed a revolutionary way to manufacture and distribute next generation electric busses and vans in a sustainable way.   The vehicles are price matched to diesel powered alternatives have a range of about 400km (an improvement on 150km for the electric bus currently in service).

The company, called Arrival, have developed a modular design that can be tailored to meet specific customer’s need.  The vehicles are manufactured in ‘micro-factories’.  These production plants are small and super-efficient, with 70 versatile robots constructing the vehicles (compared to thousands in a conventional factory).  The internal and external body-work and fitments are made out of new reusable material,  is much more durable than conventional metal parts, super light-weight, and can be molded into any shape.

The pop-up factories can be easily deployed into warehouses local to the demand, cutting out the need to ship from abroad.  So, I’ve just gone through several incremental improvements that could be made by just switching to a different product that has been designed from the ground-up to be sustainable (instead of modifying a legacy design using conventional materials, technology and production methods).

Hat’s off to UPS for ordering 10,000 vans from Arrival, and credit to the authorities the US for authorising the construction of a ‘micro factory’ to meet local demand.

They already have a factory in Oxford by the way. I wonder if Guildford BC will have this (UK built) product on the short-list when it comes to increasing the fleet?

If you’re interested in Arrival, here’s a link to a 7 minute video, published by Wired earlier this month.

This post follows on from a related article about sustainability, published last month. The post is titled: ‘Sustainability – what can I do about it?’

Thanks for reading my post, and do let me know if there are any sustainable initiatives that I can get involved in.