Oxford County Hybrid Ambulance Study

23 Apr Oxford County Hybrid Ambulance Study

On October 26, 2017 Oxford County became the first municipality in Canada to deploy hybrid ambulances.  However, the journey towards this objective began much, much sooner.  On June 24, 2015, Oxford County council set in motion a plan to rely only on 100% renewable energy sources by 2050, and as such became the first municipality in Ontario to commit to the energy target.

With the release of the final draft of the Community Sustainability Plan Oxford positively positioned itself to commit to 100% renewable energy.  The Community Sustainability Plan includes targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and actions to promote green construction and low-carbon transportation which, as efficiency and conservation measures, are considered first steps towards realizing a 100% renewable energy target.

As part of these initiatives Oxford County Paramedic Services in collaboration with Crestline Coach engaged in a project to utilize a technology created by XL Hybrids to introduce Canada’s first hybrid ambulances to service on October 26, 2017 with the goal of significantly reducing CO2 emissions and our reliance on fossil fuels.  We first approached Crestline about our vision in January of 2017, and by September of the same year we had the first of two hybrid vehicles in our possession.

It should be noted that the particular hybrid technology in the Oxford implementation performs two functions:

  • Regenerative Braking. This technology involves using the inertia or momentum of the vehicle (kinetic energy) and converting it into a form of energy which can be used later.  In our case the energy is stored in onboard batteries in the vehicle.
  • Acceleration Assist. This part of the process involves utilizing the energy stored in the batteries to assist the vehicle’s gasoline engine during acceleration and thereby reduce the amount of gasoline fuel required to bring the vehicle to its optimal speed.  The obvious byproduct of this process is that less gasoline burned equals reduced environmental impact

 

The Oxford solution does not make use of plug-in hybrid technology.

Upon introduction to service the two new ambulances would form the basis of a study to determine the impact of the hybrid systems and to give us an opportunity to collect, analyze, and share certain key performance metrics with the Paramedic Services community.

Specifically we wanted to measure:

  • Fuel usage (litres / 100 km)
  • Operating Costs (Repair Costs + Maintenance Costs / Mileage) = Cost / km
  • Duration of idling (The amount of time a unit spends idling during its lifetime)
  • CO2 Emissions (in kg)
  • CO2 Emissions (in kg / km)
  • Return on Investment (ROI – how long would the vehicle need to operate in order to recoup 100% of the cost of the hybrid upgrades)
  • Optimal Price Point / Tipping Point (a proposed pricing point that the hybrid feature must be equal to or less than in order for a service to break even on ROI over the life of the vehicle, and thereby encourage mass adoption of the new technology)

 

As we all remember from high school, to run a proper scientific study requires modifying a single variable and studying its impact.  Or if you like, establishing a baseline (in our case several years of historical fleet data), introduce a change (let’s try a new hybrid system!), measure the impact of that change (did we burn less fuel/dinosaurs?), and attribute any measureable differences to the item we modified (hybrids burn less fuel therefore hybrids are wonderful).

Unfortunately General Motors had others plans in store for our study.  GM chose 2017 to discontinue production of its diesel chassis which at the time comprised 100% of our fleet and left us in a difficult predicament.  If we were going to use historical data as the foundation of comparison for our study we would need to find other sources of gasoline vehicle data, or we could opt to outfit just one of our two new vehicles with the hybrid technology and leave the other one identical in all respects minus the hybrid option.  This would leave the unmodified vehicle as a perfect comparator for our study.

After considerable deliberation we chose to make both new vehicles gasoline hybrids and thereby align ourselves more closely with the strategic and environmental initiatives of our County, and do the most responsible thing for the environment.

To solve our historic and ongoing data collection problem we turned to our friends running Paramedic Services in other jurisdictions that had already adopted the use of GM Chevrolet gasoline chassis for their fleets.

With the assistance of our friends from Crestline Coach we identified two partnering services in Ontario that generously contributed the time and resources necessary to gather both historic and ongoing operational data from their respective fleets for use in our project.  So thanks to both Hastings-Quinte Paramedic Services and Medavie Emergency Medical Services Elgin Ontario for your involvement in the project.

Along the way we also connected with British Columbia Emergency Health Service (BCEHS).  BCEHS was interested in learning more about our data collection process and quickly offered to provide data from the BC fleet to enhance our data collection efforts.  Due to the size and diversity of the BC fleet, their involvement in the project allowed us to collect an incredible amount of data in a very short period of time, so thank you once again for your interest and support in this project.

With our partners on board the next challenge we encountered was to try to determine a way to measure the impact of the hybrid ambulances in various different types of operational theatres.  For example an ambulance that has lived much of its life in the city would experience vastly different operational conditions than one that has spent most of its life in a rural setting or on long-distance calls involving mostly highway driving.

In addition, to make the data meaningful to any services that were interested in our study we needed to create a mechanism of data collection that would allow any Paramedic Service to immediately compare the data to the information they have collected in their own unique operating environments.

Initially we came up with three basic operational groupings into which we would categorize our findings:  “Rural Deployment”, “Urban Deployment”, and “Mixed Rural-Urban Deployment.”  However we quickly discovered that these categories were quite subjective and we needed more concrete and measureable categories into which we would group our findings.

Rob Howland from BCEHS suggested a metric that he has been using to categorize the BC fleet for some time, specifically (KMs / Response), which is a measure of the total mileage of the vehicle over its lifetime divided by the number of responses or calls it has been on.  In other words, if a vehicle has a high KMs / Response we can infer that it spent most of its life on the highway or in a more rural type setting, and conversely if the vehicle has a low KMs / Response we know that it has spent much of its life in the city doing short hops to each call.

I immediately fell in love with this metric for a number of reasons:

  • It was simple, uncomplicated and easy to calculate.
  • Every service has access to this data, so they could easily apply this metric to their own historic data and directly compare the results of our study to their own fleet metrics and thereby determine if hybrid ambulances might be a good fit for their unique operating theatres.
  • Most Paramedic Services operate both “rural” and “urban” ambulances, so using this metric would give them the ability to decide which ambulances in their fleet would realize the greatest benefits if they were to switch them to hybrid technology.

 

It is still early days for the Oxford study and I certainly hope to have a future article that takes a deeper dive into the data we are only beginning to collect, but I would be remiss if I did not give you some early indication of the potential or lack thereof for hybrid vehicles in ambulance operations.

When we initially selected XL Hybrids as our technology of choice company literature suggested that we could expect as much as a 23% increase in KMs / litre.  Preliminary data collection would suggest that we are currently getting a 16% increase in KMs / litre compared to vehicles operating at partnering services with similar configurations and under similar operating environments (KMs / Response) but it’s still quite early in the study and we are still refining our data collection process.

At Oxford we realize the volume of ambulances we place on the road isn’t in and of itself going to change the industry or heal the environment, but as is always the case with new technologies someone needs to take the first small step, and I want to thank Oxford County Council for their vision and support of our project and for taking the journey with us.  In addition, perhaps by sharing our experiences and the data we collect we can somehow leave a small dent in the industry and encourage others who are considering walking a similar path.  Individually we have limited power, scope, and reach, but collectively we can have an enormous impact on our environment and leave a better legacy for future generations.

Thank you

Ambitious projects of this nature cannot be successful without the help of many fine folks from partnering organizations, and I wanted to take a moment to thank the following people that were so generous with their time, expertise, insights, experiences, and suggestions.

  • Michael Harbec, Gary Masson, and the whole team at Crestline Coach for bringing our dream to reality, especially in such a short period of time.
  • Chief Doug Socha and Deputy Chief Carl Bowker from Hastings-Quite Paramedic Services.
  • Chief Pauline Meunier and Deputy Chief Jason Rick from Medavie Emergency Medical Services Elgin Ontario
  • Rob Howland from British Columbia Emergency Health Service
  • Oxford County Council for dreaming big and supporting initiatives that will make a difference.

 

Stephen Edwards

Deputy Chief of Logistics and Standards

Oxford County Paramedic Services