There are so many reasons that I LOVE Brighton, not least because some of my favourite people live there – so I was delighted to be able to find out more about the Big Lemon CIC in Brighton, chatting to Kelly Dibbert, Development Manager
We asked Kelly to tell us about “Om Shanti” the first solar powered electric bus in the UK.
When did you launch and what’s the route?!
The Big Lemon Community Interest Company (CIC)* launched on the 28th April 2017, the first solar-powered zero emissions bus in the UK – used for the Brighton & Hove City Council 52, Woodingdean to Brighton route.
Do you have plans for further vehicles?
With another bus due later in the year we will run both the 52 and cross city services for Legal and General.
*A Community Interest Company (CIC) is a non-charitable social enterprise in the UK.
HOW do you power the Brighton buses?
Solar panels! Thanks so much for asking about our pioneering community campaign to power zero-emission electric buses with solar panels on the roof of The Big Lemon’s bus depot in Brighton. The joint solar roof campaign with Brighton Energy Coop won the regional contest for the M&S Energy Awards, with 1473 votes and 171 crowd-fund backers raising a total of £13,325. Together with £12,500 from M&S Energy this campaign raised £25,825 to put 128 solar panels on the roof of our depot to power our new electric buses.
The solar panels mounted on the depot roof generate electricity that is fed into the grid. At the end of their duties the buses return to depot and are recharged via two 32amp, three-phase chargers. These operate at 415 volts.
How much power do the solar panels generate Kelly?
The current system has 84 panels installed generating 21 kilowatts. We also plan to install another 9 kilowatts of second hand panels, so giving us 30 kilowatts. The resultant 30,000 kilowatt hours of electricity each year the equivalent of 1.8 million boiled kettles.
Each bus has a 150 kilowatt hour battery and will be used for around 300 days per year
We estimate that over the year, the power will be sufficient to power both our buses and our office, and even generate a surplus to feed back into the grid.
In terms of charging, one bus will be on site as a spare each day so it will be charged up from a mixture of the solar PV and electricity from the grid
In the future the Big Lemon is looking at charging from larger PV arrays, which could include Brighton Energy Co-op’s solar panel at Shoreham Port.
The emissions of the solar electric buses will be nil, saving 11 tonnes of CO2, 1.4 tonnes of NO2 and 81 kg of particulates per bus each year from some of the city’s most polluted areas. We will also be the first operator in the UK to record data about the electric buses to share with other communities.
Tell us about the cost savings
The electricity costs for a full charge are about £15 compared with about £80 for the equivalent in diesel which means a more efficient service. The savings could be used to pay for rural services that are being cut by central government austerity measures. Each bus can operate for approximately 100 miles on one charge depending on gradients, weather and loadings.
How are the buses ‘owned by the Community’?
In 2016 we launched a community bond issue with an initial target of £100,000 to enable us to buy an electric bus for use on our services in Brighton & Hove. In ten days we were halfway there and a week later we reached our initial target but the offers kept coming so we re-jigged the business plan and set our sights on a new target of £200,000 to fund two buses. In just two months we exceeded our new target, with a grand total of £250,000 raised by 166 investors:
Magtec retrofitted the two originally diesel Optare Solo buses with drivelines manufactured and built in Sheffield.
Transport accounts for a quarter of the UK’s carbon emissions. We see Om Shanti as the first step in a much wider revolution in sustainable “powered by sunshine” transport nationally.
Will these buses reduce air pollution?
Brighton & Hove has very high levels of air pollution and the City Council’s 2015 Air Quality Action Plan prioritises improvements in roadside NOx levels and welcomes initiatives to reduce NOx emissions from buses.
In terms of our core fleet of coaches, (Ali: one of which I spotted on the motorway!) currently The Big Lemon uses waste cooking oil to power these, dramatically reducing emissions of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and particulates. But we recognise that the current fleet of biodiesel coaches produces relatively high levels of nitrogen oxides. We aim to initiate a programme to replace all these coaches with electric ones, so reducing our total emissions to zero.
Is this the Future of Zero Emissions transport in the UK?
Our vision: by 2030 every community in the UK has access to affordable, sustainable transport, using zero-emissions vehicles powered by renewable energy and owned by the local community.
Our challenge now is to scale our model to create real impact in communities up and down the country.
The UK is in the midst of unprecedented public transport cuts in rural areas and an air quality crisis in cities. In addition, there is the monumental challenge of climate change that we as a society are not doing nearly enough to deal with. We believe that the way out of this problem is through local action – local people addressing the problems in their own community.
We want to see our innovative solar-powered project as an inspiration for others elsewhere to follow, and we stand ready to help those who wish to follow suit elsewhere.
Thank you to Kelly for the chat, if you’d like to know more check out their links below:
Business of the Year 2016, Brighton & Hove Business Awards
Environmental Social Enterprise of the Year, UK Social Enterprise Awards 2016