All charged up for the Road to Renewables

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Richard Walter caught up with some of the partnership team responsible for planning the journey of a BYD ADL Enviro400EV travelling from London to Glasgow on the Road to Renewables tour, culminating in the COP26 Climate Change Conference.

The 1963 Cliff Richard film ‘Summer Holiday’ conjures up fond memories of a red London AEC Regent III RT double decker bus converted into a holiday caravan driving across continental Europe. Wind on to 2021 when a very different journey through the United Kingdom was made demonstrating that an electric bus of the present can cope with long distances just as well as a petrol-powered vehicle from the past.

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Driver Tim McManus negotiates the narrow streets of North Berwick in East Lothian. The bus stopped off in the town to engage with the local community about the Berwick Bank offshore wind farm project, which has a potential to generate enough energy to power all of Scotland’s households twice over. RICHARD WALTER














Road to Renewables

The ‘Road to Renewables’ tour from London to Glasgow kicked off on 18 October as part of a partnership between SSE Energy Solutions, the Go-Ahead Group, BYD and Alexander Dennis (ADL). The event was organised to celebrate low carbon energy and transport projects that are transforming citizens’ lives. The launch was covered live by the Kay Burley show on Sky News, which interviewed Nathan Sanders, MD SSE Energy Solutions, Distributed Energy about the project.

The ambitious 11-day tour commenced from Go-Ahead’s Northumberland Park bus garage in north London and the bus reached Glasgow three days before COP26 began. The depot is home to the Bus2Grid project that could turn EV buses into two-way chargers.

V2G (Vehicle to Grid) technology enables energy stored in an electric vehicle’s battery to be fed back into the electricity network. By recharging when demand is low and putting energy into the grid when it is high, V2G helps manage the peaks and troughs, balance the network and make it more efficient.

The Bus2Grid project was led by SSE Energy Solutions with partners including Go-Ahead London, BYD, Leeds University and UK Power Networks. The initial trial uses the batteries of 28 state-of-the-art double decker buses, capable of returning over 1MW of energy to the grid.
Bus2Grid will explore both the commercial value and social benefits to the energy and passenger transportation systems by developing services for the national grid, regional distribution network operators, bus operators and transport authorities. The development and test of the underpinning technology is also an important objective of the trial.

Following its send off from London, the Road to Renewables tour stopped along the way at several key destinations to highlight various projects that are driving the transition to net zero in the UK. The stops were in Oxford at the Sheldonian Theatre; Lowestoft for the Greater Gabbard wind farm; Ipswich Buses; Peterborough Cathedral Square; Nottingham Sneinton Market; Mansfield Bus Station; Warrington Town Hall; Stagecoach Manchester’s Sharston depot; the Museum of Transport, Greater Manchester; Harrogate Cenotaph; Go North East’s Gateshead Riverside depot; North Berwick for Berwick Bank wind farm; the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood in Edinburgh, and; Lothian Buses’ Central Garage before reaching its final destination at First Glasgow’s Caledonia depot. The reason for using that facility as the final stage of the tour was because SSE is helping install charging infrastructure to power 150 clean green buses for Glasgow, turning Caledonia into the biggest depot in the UK which will subsequently provide cleaner air for the city.

The installation of 11 advanced dual-headed rapid charging units at the depot marks a significant step forward in First Bus’ plans to have a zero-emission fleet by 2035. The depot has been designed to accommodate and charge up to 300 EV buses and has been funded through a £35 million investment by First Bus which has been supported by a further £28m from the Scottish Government and Transport Scotland through their Scottish Ultra Low Emission Bus Scheme (SULEBS) funding. SULEBS was an evolution of the Scottish Green Bus Fund held each year between 2011 and 2018.

In addition to the stops located in bus depots, the bus was also hosted and charged by the Oxford Bus Company, Stagecoach in Cambridge, First Bus in Great Yarmouth, Stagecoach in Peterborough, Nottingham City Transport, Warrington’s Own Buses, Go North West in Manchester, Transdev Blazefield in Harrogate, and Prentice of Haddington.

The SSE Renewables team in North Berwick. From left to right: Heather Donald (Head of Consents); Kerr Mackinnon (Consents Advisor); Gary Donlin (Stakeholder Engagement Manager); Gordon Rae (Graduate Engineer); and Alex Meredith (Project Director, Berwick Bank). RICHARD WALTER












The bus

Ed Black, Head of Corporate Affairs, SSE Distributed Energy, explained the background to the choice of bus: “Manufacturers ADL totally bought into the concept of the tour. They were happy to build and help us brand with COP messaging a swanky electric double decker that would give us the physical and metaphorical vehicle we needed to tell our story.”

The bus used was a newly built, and as yet unregistered, pure electric customer demonstrator in a distinctive purple COP26 wrap. With a range of at least 160 miles, it could get from London to Sheffield on a single charge. It is one of 1,000 BYD ADL electric buses already on the road or on order. Following COP26 it will lose the special branding and be used by the BYD ADL partnership for a vehicle demonstration programme with various UK operators over the next few months and will be registered at that time. The plush, modern and attractive interior included comfortable SmartSeats (developed to ADL’s own specification) with tables and complete with rear sofa lounge on the upper deck and glazed roof panels and staircases offering excellent panoramic views which were ideal for this particular journey. Keeping with the green theme of COP26, the bus featured green coloured flooring and staircase representing grass.

Green simulated grass on the centre floor and simulated blue skies set off the bright passenger-centric lower deck of the bus. RICHARD WALTER
The SmartSeats feature ergonomically formed backrests. RICHARD WALTER












Getting safely to Glasgow

The task of navigating the bus across the UK fell to experienced driver Tim McManus of Grangemouth who has driven many ADL vehicle types over the years. He was pleasantly surprised with the vehicle’s electric performance over such a distance. “Battery technology has definitely improved as even ten years ago such a journey would not have been possible,” said Tim, “The bus was clearly high-end spec, looked the part, and was comfortable to drive.” Tim experienced a few tight manoeuvres to make along the way including accessing a very busy car park close to the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood when it stopped off in Edinburgh but generally concluded that the bus coped admirably with all driving and road conditions.

Charlie Barnes, the EV Project Development Manager from SSE travelled on the bus throughout the English part of the tour. She referred to the other people that had formed the tour team: “Tim McManus the driver, David Bernard, the BYD service engineer and Dan Ashfield, Senior Digital Content Editor at SSE were able to commit to the full duration of the trip. Chris Churchill, who is ADL’s UK and Ireland Technical Sales Manager, spent a total of nine days with the vehicle, and myself eight. We also had lots of people from ADL and SSE join us for short stints, so we had great company. We met many other colleagues waiting for us at each of our stops. Tim also carried out some short trial drives along existing bus routes, such as the 36 in Harrogate, with local bus operators so that they could get a feel of the vehicle in service.”

Charlie added: “We had a couple of smaller visitors express interest in the bus. At some stops we allowed young children on to have a look around, and even have a go in the driver’s seat. It’s great to see young people engaged in transport, and their parents were very appreciative.”

Other BYD ADL vehicles in the form of 22 Enviro200EV buses are being operated by First Glasgow on an electric shuttle service connecting main bus and rail stations with the COP26 conference centre. RICHARD WALTER












End of the Road

Following its lengthy tour, the bus arrived safe and sound at First Glasgow’s Caledonia Depot in Glasgow on the evening of 28 October albeit in bucketing rain. Until the Scottish border, the tour had seen glorious sunny weather wherever it went.

The following day Primary pupils from Jordanhill School in Glasgow were joined by Secretary of State for Scotland Alister Jack MP and Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights Patrick Harvie MSP for photo opportunities as they plugged in the bus to one of the charging stations at Caledonia depot. A number of large umbrellas were to hand to assist with a continuing deluge of rain. Hardly the conditions experienced by Cliff Richard and co on their London RT but nevertheless proof that a modern-day bus can cope with the very unpredictable climate that the delegates at COP26 were in Glasgow to discuss. Given the rather less than direct route the bus took to reach its destination, and the complexities of the areas in which it ran, the team involved in organising the tour have been extremely pleased by how far the bus could travel with no issues about running out of charge. Ed pointed out: “Swarco provided the all-important mobile charging unit. There was a possibility of a PR disaster should the bus have conked out on the A1 and that gave us a few sleepless nights.” The final performance of the bus however bodes extremely well for operators wishing to use electric vehicles on longer routes in the future.”

The result of the tour

While understandably not something the organisers would want to rush to repeat in the near future simply due to the meticulous planning involved, Jacqueline Anderson, Group Marketing Director at ADL, was pleased with the results: “In terms of customer and stakeholder engagement, media exposure and as a great example of partnership collaboration, it really worked. It showed the complete EV solution, from infrastructure to vehicles. The bus was well received by customers.”

Asked about what memories stood out from the trip Charlie said: “Personally, there were several memorable moments of beautiful scenery with glorious weather which were enhanced by the bus design with its large windows and skylights. The top deck felt very open and as we drove between towns there were some gorgeous views of the countryside. As we were on our way to Harrogate, we even saw some deer.”

In terms of the success of the trip Charlie explained: “For me I got to engage with multiple bus operators to discuss ZEBRA funding projects and the future of green bus fleets and also had the opportunity to promote lots of positive transport projects to the Women in Transport network.”

Ed added: “The one big lesson for me is what a great shared story we have to tell at SSE and having the chance to promote Renewables, Networks and Distributed Energy was a real benefit of this project. It was fantastic for us as an engineering company to collaborate with all of our partners. It’s very important to continue that collaboration if we want to crack Net Zero and get the right infrastructure.”

Philip Toomey, Head of Marketing for SSE Energy Solutions, Distributed Energy stressed the importance of that collaboration: He said: “I mean not just with the various businesses themselves. It is equally important to recognise everyone from the engineers that worked on the bus overnight to the operators that stored it and all the other valuable staff who helped keep the bus moving. In truth the project tested all of us, especially as from nothing the ‘fun bus’ seemed to assume a madcap momentum of its own.” said Ed. “In ten years’ time let’s hope that driving an electric bus from London to Glasgow might be normal. That’s the reason that this project really appealed to me because we are at the start of an electric revolution.”

The bus had a number of different special destination screen messages programmed during the tour. RICHARD WALTER












Static Exhibit

Whilst the bus won’t actually appear at the COP26 conference, BYD and ADL have a similar vehicle that they are showing to world leaders and negotiators in the COP26 Blue Zone. It was kindly lent by National Express West Midlands – its E011(LF20 XOM) – for the duration. It will return to National Express at the end of the conference.