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Solar panels on ambulances save money

A fleet manager equipped 40 ambulances with solar panels, which reduced fuel consumption and extended battery life

RICHMOND, Va. — Dan Fellows, fleet manager of the Richmond Ambulance Authority, won an EMS10 Award for his innovative approach to using solar energy to supplement the electrical needs of ambulances.

Fellows, responsible for the design and day-to-day operation of 40 ambulances, is constantly looking to for ways to improve efficiency. He decided to explore the use of solar panels when an RAA resource vehicle did not have access to a shoreline power plug at headquarters.

“The solar panels installed on this (resource) unit did an excellent job of charging the battery needed to start the vehicle each morning, so we decided to try solar panels on a standard ambulance to see if we would have similarly positive results,” Fellows said.

“There were many factors to work through such as secure mounting and wiring the panels directly to the vehicle’s battery so the solar energy could power the ambulance’s entire electrical system,” Fellows said.

RAA’s solar panels generate enough electricity to offset the energy requirements of the many onboard electronics such as the mobile communications systems, air quality control, mobile gateways, and computer chargers, all of which draw power.

“Others in the industry had dabbled with solar to charge individual component batteries, not the entire vehicle, and we have come close,” Fellows said.

After offsetting the draw of the electronics on board, the solar energy provides about four additional amps of power to trickle charge the batteries. As a result, ambulances no longer high idle when parked between calls.

While the solar panels don’t generate enough energy to allow the ambulances to be completely turned off between calls, the engine only needs to power the heating and air conditioning system; the solar panels power all the other electronics within the ambulance.

Before implementing solar-charging in all of RAA’s ambulances, Fellows tested an ambulance for almost a full year to collect data on its efficiency.

“Dan is a creative manager who thinks outside the box and is constantly looking for solutions to improve efficiency,” said Chip Decker, CEO of the Richmond Ambulance Authority. “The use of solar panels on our ambulances has led to noticeable cost reductions.”

Benefits of the solar panels include extended battery life, fuel saving and the vehicle absorbs less heat, which reduces air conditioning demand in the summer.

“There is also the added benefit of reduced environmental impact,” said Decker. That gain comes from the reduced tailpipe emissions by not having to run at high idle.

The EMS10 award, presented at the 2016 EMS Today Conference, recognizes individuals who have contributed to EMS in an exceptional and innovative way.

“It is a tremendous honor to win an EMS10 Award,” said Fellows. “I am blessed to work with supervisors and senior staff who encourage experimentation and are willing to explore new ideas and methods. This culture of innovation at RAA — clinically and operationally — drives us all.”

The RAA responds to approximately 200 calls per day and transports, on average, 140 patients per day. RAA is accredited by both the Commission on the Accreditation of Ambulance Services and the National Academies of Emergency Dispatch.