Monday 2 April 2012
Electric vehicles create a buzz
Openreach is almost half way through a long-term electric vehicle trial – and it’s fair to say that, so far, everyone involved has been more than a little impressed.
With a company fleet of over 20,000 vans (of all sorts of shapes and sizes) and a car pool of nearly 3,000, Openreach people spend a lot of time behind the wheel. All those vehicles making all those journeys have a significant impact on the environment – and the organisation is keen to minimise this as much as possible. So, among a whole host of fuel-saving and energy efficient driving initiatives, Openreach has been trialling electric vehicles.
Sustainability manager, Ian Hill describes the trial: “In November 2010 we took delivery of four prototype electric vehicles. Right now we have one in Milton Keynes, two in London (including one in the Olympic Park) and one in Cardiff, supporting our rural broadband bid.
“Of course, the whole point of the trial is to see how well the vans cope with the type of work we do and to gauge how much of our current fleet could be replaced by electric vehicles, though we acknowledge that that would be some way down the line. In terms of driving experience, however, they’ve been generally well received. The drivers – and for that matter, the customers – have shown a great interest in them.”
In fact the electric van trial has been sparking interest inside and outside Openreach. The engineer driving the van based in the Athletes Village was even recognised by the site owners (Lend Lease) and given a helicopter tour of the site as a reward!
The plan for 2012 is to assess all the trial data and work out an electric vehicle strategy for the future as part of a broader low carbon ambition. As well as taking on board the experiences of the drivers, the Openreach team will have to look at overall performance as well as the general market conditions.
“Things have definitely moved on since we first began investigating electric vehicles,” explains Ian. “The first vehicles were prototypes, produced by converter organisations from internal combustion engine originals. Now, we’re starting to see vehicle manufacturers produce electric versions of their own.”
As well as trialling vans, Openreach has also had use of a Nissan Leaf electric car, which is on loan to BT Fleet at its HQ in Coventry. There has been a rota for people to use it, but the first person to take it home in Openreach was engineer Ron Jones, who is one of the electric van triallists in Milton Keynes. He had a week in early December 2011 to share it with friends and family – making him one of a select few in the UK to have not one, but two electric vehicles on the go at the same time.
Openreach has also just launched a broader employee prize draw for drivers to win the Leaf for a week. By joining the 450 Openreach Energy Champions, employees can enter a draw for a week’s use of the vehicle.
Ian also volunteered to test drive the car and picked it up just before Christmas: “It drove like an absolute dream,” he says. “No noise, no shaking, good handling and mighty quick at accelerating too! The range of the vehicle (around 80 miles) is obviously a concern at first, but you have to get used to that and work round it.”
It’s vital, for a business like Openreach, which is at the cutting edge of technology within its own area
of expertise, to be pushing the limits in other areas as well.
Obviously electric vehicles can’t, at this stage, replace traditional vans – the range is limited to 80-100 miles and they don’t have the power to cope with some of the heavier loads involved in the work Openreach does.
“But we want to be an organisation that leads the way in sustainable business, and that includes our work on low carbon vehicles,” says Ian. “Sustainability is important to our customers, particularly in more rural areas. We’ve already invested in smart energy management and if we can influence other groups to follow suit, all the better.”
For more information on Openreach sustainability initiatives, visit www.openreach.co.uk