RCV Solar Panels

Reducing the council fleet's carbon footprint though retrofitting.

1 t
Est. annual reduction in carbon
emissions (tonnes CO2 eq)

Solar panels retrofitted on bin lorry.
One of Ards and North Down Borough Councils' bin lorries with solar panels.

Our story

by Ards and North Down Borough Council

In response to the declaration of a climate emergency, the Council had embraced its leadership role, committing to creating a low carbon future and agreed to explore ways of achieving carbon neutrality.

Officers from our Transport Unit attended the last annual Commercial Vehicle Show, and identified an innovative solution for reduction of fuel consumption, financial cost and carbon emissions of our fleet vehicles, through deployment of renewable energy.

Officers reviewed the potential for this leading-edge technology to be utilised in our Council fleet and had concluded that it was likely to yield maximum benefit if used on our Refuse Collection Vehicles (RCVs). 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 as well as very significant cost. Furthermore, RCVs have a significant amount of on-board ancillary equipment that must be powered from the vehicle battery throughout the entire working day – most particularly the bin lifts and the 360-degree CCTV cameras.

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 outcome is likely to take some time yet. 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.

Our advice

We researched solar technology on vehicles, which seemed to be led largely by American companies. We met with TRAILAR at the Commercial Vehicle show and established a partnership.

Council approval was sought in January 2020 with a proposal to trial this new system on three of the councils younger RCVs (bin lorries).

The advantage of this system is that it can be retrofitted onto existing vehicles without the need for high capital investment on new vehicles.

The system utilises 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.

Initial figures showed immediate savings in fuel, and therefore both cost and carbon savings.

One challenge has been that 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.

Since January 2021 - September 2021 the following savings have been 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.

Our metrics

Solar yield – fuel savings and carbon reduction.
Share this initiative