Close to half of the 100-plus vehicles being introduced at Portsmouth Naval Base will be plug-in vans. Christopher Smith finds out why
Solar panels, LED lighting, electric vans... commodore Jeremy Rigby, Portsmouth Naval Base commander, introduces his new fleet of Nissan e-NV200 electric vans in a slightly tongue-in-cheek fashion, comparing them to a raft of eco-friendly developments that have been introduced across the site in recent years.
But the arrival of electric vehicles isn’t simply a token gesture – the MOD is likely to see a significant cost saving in its vehicle operations across the base, which is managed by BAE Systems. BAE is responsible for ongoing maintenance and is behind this latest roll-out.
The site is home to two-thirds of the Royal Navy ship fleet, and is soon to expand further, with the arrival of two new aircraft carriers.
A total of 48 Nissan e-NV200s are joining the van fleet, and these are expected to save £360,000 in fuel and maintenance over the two-year contract, with an option to extend for a further year.
They arrive as part of a commercial vehicle renewal tender, won by Lex Autolease, which consolidates a number of funding methods into one new contract.
Elliot Webber, supply chain lead at BAE Systems, says the outgoing vehicles ranged in age, condition and suitability.
“We had 95 vehicles on our van fleet – all diesel – and funded by a range of methods. Some were on long-term rental, some on contract hire, and there were a few older vehicles which were owned outright,” he explains.
BAE completed an operational review of vehicles and, in part thanks to the arrival of the new aircraft carriers, added an additional 12 vehicles to the procurement bid bringing the total to 107 vehicles to be delivered across the contract.
The balance will be diesel and all will operate primarily in and around the naval base on a low mileage cycle – 5,000 miles a year in some cases.
“Their work is mostly ‘inside the wire’, with a few trips on local roads,” Webber explains.
BAE knew electric vehicles were a possibility, but even Webber didn’t expect the scale of the roll-out currently taking place.
“We began to investigate our options, looking at diesel and electric, and realised there was scope to add some plug-in vehicles – but we were thinking maybe six, seven or eight,” he says.
The company went out to tender on behalf of the MOD, and two bids were shortlisted after a number of rounds of tendering, including the eventual winner, Lex.
“We went with the team from Lex in part for the commercial offering on the table, but also because of their commitment to helping us move to electric vehicles,” Webber says.
“The emissions and cost figures we modelled made the electric vehicles really attractive. We considered an electric vehicle trial before the roll-out, but the numbers made it really apparent that this was a move that made complete sense.”
Diesel vehicles return to the fleet for work requiring higher payloads and load volumes than the medium-sized e-NV200s can support.
Chris Chandler, principal consultant at Lex Autolease, who was involved in the project, explains the procurement process for diesel vehicles.
He says: “We wanted to get the most suitable vehicle for the role, and vehicles that could work well in this unique environment. The challenges faced include the low speeds and low mileage on site, which could cause DPF (diesel particulate filter) issues.
“We’ve gone with Fiat for the majority of these vehicles as they tend to deal with this kind of environment a bit better.
“We set the challenge to get as many vehicles electrified as possible, but they had to be the right fit, for cost, practicality and performance. This is the biggest single roll-out of electric vehicles at once we’ve seen at Lex, and it’s been great to work on.”
The vans – across the whole contract – are used primarily by the operations maintenance team with various trades working across the site.
Webber says: “It might be for an electrician, it might be for a plumber – each vehicle is different. Each particular van has been specified for a job role.”
The vans have been fitted with Tevo lightweight racking systems, with several supplied with roof racking to support ladders, beacons and pipe storage as required.
On a day-to-day basis, the fleet is managed by Louise Hill and a team of one other full-time and one part-time staff.
Hill looks after the vehicles on the BAE contract, as well as a number of heavy goods vehicles for the MOD – a total of 300.
Vans were scoped in collaboration with Lex, the on-site fleet team and the drivers, taking into account both positive and negative feedback about existing vehicle specifications. “We’ve encouraged drivers to get really involved in the process, and help us specify vehicles that are truly fit for purpose,” says Webber.
“Some drivers have suggested downsizing, because of tight spaces where they park and regularly use the vehicles on site, while others have recommended upsizing to allow for bulky goods they regularly transport – for example shower screens.”
Due to the nature of the contract, the whole fleet is being updated in a fairly short timeframe – with the roll-out set to take about a month.
A rigorous driver education and handover process is taking place, with drivers trained in person and then given materials to take away. A series of ‘toolbox talks’ have taken place in each department, followed by a handover process for each individual vehicle.
“We want the drivers to feel completely confident before they take their vehicles away,” says Webber.
“We’ve also set up a new information pack that goes out with every vehicle, including the diesel fleet, with the focus on driver safety, vehicle loading and best charging practice for the electric vans.”
The team is applying for the Freight Transport Association (FTA) Van Excellence accreditation, with an audit scheduled later in the year. The standard formalises and recognises best practice of van operators, and sets out standards for vehicle maintenance and driver policies.
“As we also work in the O-Licence heavy goods world, bringing van standards up to the same level makes a lot of sense,” Webber adds. “It’s a better, safer, way of driving a white van.”
The introduction of electric vehicles also required the installation of a significant infrastructure across the base.
For example, 26 Pod Point charging units have been installed, alongside 28 new dedicated electric vehicle parking bays.
Installed in collaboration with Lex, the points were part-funded through an Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) public sector programme.
Lex’s Chandler says: “We used CleanCar telematics in the original vehicles for two months to monitor journeys. We looked at minimum, maximum and mileage ranges over that period to help us understand the usage.
“Then we did heat mapping, on site, establishing where all the vehicles stopped overnight. It meant we could offer informed advice on the best places to install the charging facilities.”
Most of the e-NV200s will be charged overnight and take around three hours to reach full capacity.
The vans are supplied on a fully maintained contract, and will be serviced at the local Nissan dealer in the city.
Webber hopes the Portsmouth base will become an example for others to follow across the forces.
“I really hope that other sites – both BAE and Ministry of Defence ones – look at what we’ve done here and see it as a template for what they should be doing with vehicle fleets,” he says.
Going green saves cash as well as environment
The Royal Navy is not excluded from public sector funding cuts, with ongoing cost reductions having to be found.
“In partnership with the BAE team, over the past four or five years, we’ve managed to significantly reduce our operating costs at the base,” says commodore Jeremy Rigby.
“Now by bringing in this fleet, from an economical perspective, it’s just common sense. We’ve got really stringent targets to reduce our carbon footprint, too, so this is a really great initiative.”
The projected £360,000 savings from the van fleet follow previous developments on the base.
Almost 2,000 solar panels were installed in 2015. They were predicted to save £1 million over 20 years. Other initiatives including heat pumps, ‘intelligent control’ systems and LED office and street lighting have contributed to further reductions in costs of around £500,000 per year.