One of the largest ambulance fleets in Britain has begun installing solar panels across its frontline vehicles as it aims to cut its annual fuel costs by up to £400,000.
South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) NHS Foundation Trust has started attaching two 34 watt panels to the roofs of 36 newly delivered Ford Mondeo estates.
It intends to install solar panels across its entire fleet of 120 response cars and 200 ambulances over the next five years.
They will be used to charge the vehicles’ secondary batteries which power the radio and blue light systems, medical equipment as well as the on-board “mobile data systems” which provide crew with directions and information about incidents.
In addition, it is limiting the speed of its frontline vehicles when their blue lights are not turned on.
SCAS believes that these initiatives will help reduce overall fuel consumption by between 10% and 15%.
As it spends more than £2.5 million on fuel each year, this means savings of between £250,000 and £375,000.
Rick Stillman, head of fleet at SCAS, said: “I believe that we are pioneering the use of such a large solar unit within ambulance trusts.
“I’m aware of five-watt units being used previously but we are using 68-watt units and we are doing this in tandem with installing a new bespoke telematics system from ATSR which will provide vehicle-related data for the first time.
“There is great pressure on costs at the moment, and we believe that this initiative will bring savings for us.
“In the past we’ve brought each vehicle back to one of the ambulance stations to charge the secondary battery or the crew have kept the engine ticking over to charge it.
“We’ve been trialling solar panelson two cars since January and this has shown that we will no longer have to do this.”
SCAS’s fleet of 120 Ford Mondeo estate response cars are on five-year sale and leaseback agreements from Alltruck and Venson Automotive Services.
It intends to install the solar panels, which are each 5mm thick, across the fleet over the next five years as each vehicle is replaced.
It also has 200 ambulances purchased direct from specialist suppliers WAS Group which are all constructed on Mercedes-Benz chassis.
Installation of solar panels on these vehicles, which have 10-year life-spans with “mid-life refurbishments”, will be staggered from next April.
Richard Kersley, vehicle commissioning team leader at SCAS who is leading the fit-out, said: “It is only recently that we’ve been able to get solar panels that have the capacity to meet our needs.
“We are sourcing the semi-flexible solar panels made by Solara from a Hampshire company called Barden Batteries.
“In essence, the solar panels convert daylight into voltage and then a separate C-Tec regulator, which we are positioning in the boot, enables us to power our equipment.”
The total cost of the solar equipment being installed on each vehicle is £770, with each solar panel costing £260 while the regulator is £250.
The installation work is being undertaken in-house at SCAS’s vehicle commissioning workshop in Eastleigh, near Southampton.
SCAS covers Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire and Oxfordshire – an area of 3,554 sq miles – and serves a population of more than 4m.
By Ben Rooth