The climate change emergency is arguably the greatest challenge of our current times, and innovation is a key tool in the transition to a greener society.
Since autumn 2021, the CCR Challenge Fund has invested in several challenge-driven projects using innovation to make progress towards zero emission targets and decarbonise local authority vehicle fleets. Here are their stories as they progress:
Merthyr Tydfil CBC EV charging project is first up and running
A Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council project looking to optimise charging of electric fleet vehicles is now operational. This is the first completed project out of the Net Zero fleet challenges projects supported by the CCR Challenge Fund.
The EV charging infrastructure partner of the project is SWARCO Smart Charging, part of the global traffic technology group SWARCO, who have 13 years’ experience in the field and have established working relationships across Wales. Stuart Davis (Senior Key Account Manager) at SWARCO, praised the commitment of Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council to carbon reduction: “They really wanted it to happen. They were willing to take that stride forward.”
The Merthyr Tydfil CBC project is innovative in its use of quiet, zero emissions technology for an industrial depot that would usually generate a lot of noise as well as pollution. “This was a very challenging project, involving the largest depot installation that I’ve done”, Stuart Davis says. “It’s fantastic to turn up at a site like this and realise that it’s silent, knowing that you could have this type of depot in residential areas. When you see the scenery and hills around the site, you understand that this is what the local council is trying to preserve.”
The process of working on the challenge started more slowly and gradually ramped up, with SWARCO highlighting Merthyr Tydfil CBC’s quick problem solving whenever the need appeared. A crucial step, from company’s perspective, is allowing enough time for surveying the site.
The findings and achievements of the Merthyr project could be applied to similar works by other local authorities in Wales and elsewhere. There is a lot at stake for Wales in protecting its many areas of natural beauty from the effects of climate change, added Mr Davis: “Wales and Scotland are leading the UK in EV infrastructure, while England is coming on more slowly. What we do is literally changing the world”.
SWARCO Smart Charging is committed to supporting the uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles. It provides electric vehicle charging infrastructure and the systems, and services to support them, and has more than 12,000 charging points installed across the UK with an uptime of 99.1%. SWARCO Smart Charging is part of SWARCO – an international group providing the complete range of products, systems, services and solutions for road safety and intelligent traffic management to support the mobility needs of society and lower transport-related emissions.
“As Cabinet Member for Neighbourhood Services I was keen to see this innovative project completed and am very proud of its beneficial impacts environmentally, economically, and on noise pollution. I would like to thank all involved in the project – CCR Challenge Fund, external partners and the great team we have here at Merthyr Tydfil, particularly our Transport Manager Ioan Vantu for his efforts leading for the Council.” said Cllr David Hughes, Cabinet Member for Neighbourhood services.
Caerphilly CBC will turn discovery phase insights into new solutions
Local authority teams in Caerphilly have recently completed the discovery phase of their EV fleet optimisation project. They were looking for solutions to help them make the right decisions regarding electric fleet vehicles and charging infrastructure procurement.
This discovery stage consisted of in-depth analysis conducted by contractors Optrak Distribution Software Ltd into how Caerphilly County Borough Council’s vehicle fleet is being used. Replacing the current fleet of almost 600 diesel vehicles with plug-in electric alternatives will save up to 3,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent in annual emissions but comes with a challenge of keeping those vehicles charged ready for work.
Electric vehicles need to be managed differently from diesel vehicles, as they cannot be refuelled as quickly and easily. This project is developing innovative digital solutions to be able to plan the optimal number and size of vehicles required to deliver services, the exact location and size of each charge point and to model their usage pattern based on shift and route information of each vehicle. This will reduce the overall charging needs and avoid the need for unnecessary chargers.
Some of the potential interventions identified by the discovery phase include sharing vehicles through a booking system, optimising journey lengths and using digital solutions to identify the best locations for placing chargers. In the next stage of the challenge, tailored software products are being developed by a consortium led by Optrak and supported by Flexible Power Systems and the Data Innovation Research Institute at Cardiff University.
Suppliers were identified through a challenge-driven procurement process designed to find the most appropriate partners for innovative R&D which can be turned into practical solutions. “We reached a vastly larger number of potential suppliers than we would have reached going through a traditional procurement process”, says James Penfold, Transformation Manager at Caerphilly CBC. “And the thorough discovery stage has enabled us to say that when we make the changes that the digital projects will help us make, we are confident that we will see savings of over £1,000,000 a year.”
The discovery phase involved a deep dive into the way the current fleet is used to deliver hundreds of vital services to the people of Caerphilly and the approach was open-minded to potential solutions. “One thing I would flag up to anyone undertaking challenge-based innovation is that you’re likely to find things that will take you down rabbit holes, and it’s very important that you’ve got a broad range of specialists working with you, to help you tackle some of the obstacles you might find”, says James Penfold.
The development stage is focusing initially on housing services, as the drivers who maintain over 10,000 council homes return to their own homes with the vehicles rather than dropping them off at the head office or a central depot, which limits the ability to charge them overnight. Using a live fleet service will allow the digital solutions to be tested with real-life data so they can be refined and will result in final products that have been thoroughly tested in the field. The learning from this process can then be used to support other organisations who want to reduce their carbon emissions and improve service efficiency at the same time.
Monmouthshire Meals on Wheels to be powered by groundbreaking technology
Monmouthshire County Council aims to decarbonise the energy-hungry ancillary equipment of its Meals on Wheels utility vehicles. The Meals on Wheels service delivers nutritional hot or frozen meals at home to anyone in the county who has an assessed need, providing a valuable community service to residents across the county.
The company developing a novel solution is Vantastec Ltd, based in Ystrad Mynach and specialised in all aspects of temperature-controlled vehicle conversions. They are working on a groundbreaking vehicle prototype with 100% green ancillary equipment powered by hydrogen, the first of its kind in the UK.
The company’s co-founder Colin Smith explains: “The design and ground-breaking vehicle prototype we are working on is 100% green energy, which will independently supply the power to operate the ancillary equipment required to defrost and heat up the meals to edible temperature. Hydrogen technology is used to run the equipment, using its own energy and without connecting in any way to the vehicle power source”.
The technology allows the vehicle to fully operate from its own power, without taking any duty away from the vehicle’s true running/driving time. This cleverly integrated design allows it to be fitted onto any type of light or commercial vehicle operating ancillary equipment, whether the vehicle itself is powered by electricity, hydrogen, diesel or petrol fuel. Possible applications include ambulances, refuse vehicles, recovery vehicles or even military.
Gareth Edwards, also co-founder of the company, commented: “Being involved for more than twenty years in providing vehicles to the food industry, we have seen many changes in the challenges presented to vehicle manufacturers and ourselves in developing sustained energy to run the vehicles and their additional equipment. This has driven our organisation to develop this innovative technology, and to prove that there are still engineer-entrepreneurs based in Wales.”
The innovation has already attracted international interest and the company has filed a patent which they are expecting to be approved in the next few months. First road trials and tests are planned for January 2024 with high expectations of the outcome. Colin and Gareth plan to commercialise the technology under a new name, ColGar Energy Ltd.
Each of these challenge projects also provides valuable learning and potential products that can benefit other Local Authorities and organisations managing vehicle fleets, across the Cardiff Capital Region and beyond. Look out for our Net Zero Fleet Challenge Showcase event in the Spring, where you can learn more and speak to the people involved. If you are interested in attending, please fill in this form and we’ll keep you informed.