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Monthly Archives: August 2017

Royal Mail takes delivery of electric trucks

by John Brian Shannon

The Royal Mail is testing electric delivery vehicles to replace their 49,000 vehicle fleet with an eye towards lowering annual maintenance and fuel bills, and to help improve air quality in UK cities.

Royal Mail electric trucks made by Arrival
Ranking 1000+ on the cuteness scale, these 3.5 tonne Royal Mail electric delivery trucks made by Arrival have a 100-mile range and feature zero emissions and no noise. Image courtesy of Royal Mail.

Royal Mail is testing-out a range of electric delivery vehicles to complement and eventually replace their 49,000 vehicle fleet. The smallest of these vans is pictured above with three (of the one-hundred on order) already delivering packages from the Mount Pleasant Mail Centre in London.

The new trucks come in three different payload ratings and the larger trucks are scheduled to begin operations later this year.

Royal Mail 6-tonne van presently undergoing trials in London
Arrival’s 6-tonne electric van at the Banbury, Oxfordshire assembly plant which is presently undergoing trials in London. Image courtesy of Royal Mail.

Three 3.5 tonne electric trucks, three 6 tonne, and three 7.5 tonne electric trucks will be tested in 2017.

“Royal Mail is delighted to be collaborating with Arrival and pioneering the adoption of large electric commercial vehicles. We are pleased to be the first fleet operator to take delivery of and trial these new larger payload vehicles which will complement the 100 electric vans we recently ordered. We will be putting them through their paces over the next several months to see how they cope with the mail collection demands from our larger sites.”

“Royal Mail is trialling a variety of vehicles to see which work best for us and are keen to share our experience with other fleet operators who may be considering introducing electric vehicles. We have trialled electric trucks before but not of this type of design and look forward to see what additional benefits they can bring to our existing fleet of around 49,000 vehicles.” — Paul Gatti, Royal Mail Fleet’s managing director

In congested and heavily polluted cities like London, switching from loud and smelly diesel-engined trucks to electric trucks can contribute to better air quality, as most of the fine particulate and soot found in city air is caused by diesel vehicle emissions.

“We are thrilled to partner with Royal Mail using our electric vehicles. Cities like London will benefit hugely from a switch to electric, in terms of both pollution and noise. Most importantly we are priced the same as diesel trucks removing the main barrier to go electric.” — Denis Sverdlov, CEO of Arrival

Formerly known as Charge Automotive, Arrival’s new 110,000 sq ft factory is located in Banbury, Oxfordshire.

Arrival says the trucks are built using, “revolutionary ultra-lightweight composite materials that significantly reduce the weight of the vehicle and by combining this technology with Arrival’s custom built hardware, including power electronics and motors, the cost of operating has been reduced by more than 50%.”

The company also says it’s pursuing autonomous driving technology and that the new trucks are ‘autonomous-ready’.


This follows an announcement by the Royal Mail in July that they’ve also purchased 100 Partner electric minivans (made by Peugeot) for use on regular delivery rounds.

Peugeot Partner electric minivan delivers the Royal Mail.
Peugeot Partner electric minivan delivers the mail. Image courtesy of the Royal Mail.

But what’s the real story here?

The real story is that 49,000 Royal Mail vehicles are going to need replacement within the next ten years. And not only the mail service, but hundreds of thousands of ambulances, courier company vehicles and private companies that haul their own freight will need replacement vehicles within ten years — and all of them could be built at the Arrival plant in Oxfordshire.

To say nothing of the number of delivery vehicles that will need replacement within ten years in every Commonwealth nation and throughout the rest of the world.

As much as I’m a fan of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van (and they are a great vehicle by any standard) these new Arrival vans come without a clattering and smelly diesel engine. And in today’s congested and polluted cities, that’s everything.

If Arrival plays its hand properly, it will become the Apple or TESLA success story of the decade.

Organic Food: Can Britain Capture a Growing Market?

by John Brian Shannon

The freshest thing on many lips these days is organic food.

Yet, supply isn’t keeping up with demand even as prices for organic foods range from reasonable to outrageous and there isn’t a global standardized labeling system to inform retail shoppers that the produce is ‘certified organic’.

People want to buy food they know is organic and has passed rigorous government inspection to ensure the organic food claim is accurate — especially with some of those prices we see in the grocery stores (said every organic food shopper ever)

In the United States and Canada, big box grocery stores like Whole Foods, Sobey’s and others have rooftop gardens where they grow their own organic salad greens and other small vegetables. Everything from shallots to every variety of mushroom, cucumbers, tomatoes and more, are grown on the rooftops of those stores, or on rented space atop nearby buildings.

Organic Foods / Rooftop Farming: Gotham Greens in Gowanus, New York.
Organic Foods / Rooftop Farming: Gotham Greens’ second greenhouse facility was built in 2013 in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Gowanus, on the roof of Whole Foods Market’s first ever Brooklyn store. The rooftop greenhouse, designed, built, owned and operated by Gotham Greens, measures over 20,000 square feet and grows over 200,000 pounds of fresh leafy greens, herbs and tomatoes each year. Image courtesy of Whole Foods. READ MORE HERE.

New York City and Chicago have some amazing rooftop gardens which offer public tours where you can see the food as it is being grown and speak to the people who grow your salad greens. Very cool stuff.

READ: Gotham Greens rooftop garden supplies organic food to Whole Foods stores in NYC (Whole Foods Market)


In Chicago, several indoor farming operations combine vertical farming with aquaponics. Small fish (tilapia) live in large holding tanks and their waste stream is the perfect organic fertilizer for plants. Eventually, the plants strip the nutrients out of the water, leaving only purified water to return to the fish tanks.

READ: Inside the Nations Largest Indoor Vertical Farm (EcoWatch)

The advantage of aquaponics is that no synthetic fertilizers are required to grow healthy organic food crops and millions of gallons of water are saved every year.


Panasonic grows 81 tons of organic produce every year in a nondescript 11,000 square foot warehouse in Singapore that meets .015% of all leafy green vegetable demand in the island nation and it hopes to reach a full 5% of the market within a few years.

The company is relentless in its pursuit to add efficiency to its indoor farming operation via their advanced electronic lighting and environmental control systems.

Organic Food + Indoor Farming
Organic Food + Indoor Farming: Panasonic LED lights shine at a specific frequency that encourages the plants to grow quickly. The farmers also control the warehouse’s climate, including its humidity and temperature. Image courtesy of Edgar Su / Reuters.

PHOTOS: Panasonic’s first indoor farm can grow over 80 tons of greens per year (Business Insider)


Taking things a bit deeper, Growing Underground grows its leafy greens in abandoned WWII-era tunnels beneath the City of London.

“Growing Underground is using a 550-square-metre area fitted with hydroponics that will produce about 20,000 kg of greens every year. As the business grows, so will the farm – they have 20,000 square metres to expand into. And their produce will be exclusively for consumers within the M25.”

Organic Food being grown in London's underground
Organic Food being grown in London’s underground. Image courtesy of Wired UK and Christoffer Rudquist

READ: Growing underground: the hydroponic farm hidden 33 metres below London (Wired UK)


The above examples represent a fraction of the indoor farming operations worldwide and there is considerable room for growth in this market segment. Billions of pounds of produce are consumed every year globally and few countries have stepped up to ensure recognizable and standardized labeling to indicate these foods are 100% organic and are healthy for consumers.

It’s not only the benefits of organic food that we’re talking about here; Food that is grown locally doesn’t need to be trucked or flown hundreds of miles to get it to your grocer’s shelves. And locally grown food doesn’t need to be picked days prior to delivery and then warehoused for several more days prior to arriving at the market. It means you’re getting healthier, less bruised, and fresher produce. It also represents a drastic lowering of CO2 emissions per billion pounds of produce.

READ: Scotland’s first vertical indoor farm to be operational by Autumn 2017 (The James Hutton Institute)


It seems natural for the UK government to quickly agree on a standardized labeling system for organic food, much of which is grown indoors — which makes it easier to guarantee the produce is 100% organic and free from GMO cross-contamination or from chemical contamination such as pesticides, etc.

Once a standardized labeling regime is in place (and please, make the label graphics easy-to-read and easy-to-understand!) it will put UK organic farmers on the fast-track to grow their market within the UK, but also throughout Europe. And that’s just what this small but burgeoning segment needs.

Instead of getting their produce shipped in from Spain or the Netherlands, UK shoppers and restaurants will be able to buy UK certified organic vegetables and fruits that are grown within a hundred footsteps of the grocery store. And the jobs that are part and parcel of growing that organic food will be UK jobs, the energy required to power indoor farms will come from UK power companies, and the income taxes paid by British workers will be paid to the UK government, instead of workers in foreign countries paying their income taxes to their government.

It’s a ‘Win-Win-Win’ for British consumers and indoor farmers if the UK government can facilitate the exponential growth curve in locally grown organic foods. And if it doesn’t, countries like Germany and Denmark surely will.

By getting the standards and labeling handled early, organic food producers can then turn their attention to expanding their operations within the UK and begin making strong client relationships with grocery store chains from Iceland to Sicily.

Let’s hope that when the House of Commons resumes sitting this autumn that Theresa May will put a strong focus on growing a newish segment of the economy that still has plenty of growth potential.


Related Article:

  • Futuristic farms to fight possible post-Brexit food supply problem (Sky News)

Northern Ireland and the ‘Soft Border’ Option

by John Brian Shannon

Thanks to the dedication of thousands of people, the problems that plagued Northern Ireland for decades have all but disappeared. While we mourn those lost during ‘The Troubles’ we must move forward and provide the best possible future for the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The best way to continue to move forward is for a ‘soft’ border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland so that the free movement of people and unimpeded trade may continue along the 310 mile border.

Many people on both sides of the border meet for tea, travel across the border to shop, or are employed on the other side of the border and it would be unfair to require these people to face a regular border crossing twice daily. And a hard border would definitely hinder trade, which trade is a vital part of the local economy along both sides of the divide.


A dedicated ‘Commonwealth and Ireland’ line at UK ports of entry

The smartest thing the Home Office UK Visas and Immigration department could do is to create a separate queue line at all UK ports of entry and mark it “Commonwealth and Ireland” so that people from Commonwealth countries or from the Republic of Ireland have a dedicated and streamlined entry into Britain.

In this way, goods and people can move much more efficiently between those jurisdictions.

If it sounds like I want to favour people from Commonwealth nations, you’re right. If it sounds like I want to favour people from Northern Ireland who may decide to fly to Britain, you’d be right. And if it sounds like I want Republic of Ireland citizens to easily travel to any part of the UK, you’d be right in that assumption.


Special Treatment at UK ports of entry: A ‘Nexus Card’ for frequent travelers between Ireland and any UK port of entry

Here in North America, citizens who cross the U.S. / Canada border can apply for a Nexus Card or an Enhanced Driver’s Licence — either of which dramatically speed border crossing times for holders of those cards — and not incidentally, also lowers wait times for the people in the non-Nexus lineups because fewer people (or vehicles) are traveling in that particular queue — it’s a bonus for frequent travelers in North America.

Such a streamlined customs experience should be extended to all Irish citizens as a courtesy — and for the Republic of Ireland in exchange for their help in patrolling and securing the soft border with Northern Ireland.


The UK Government (UK.gov) Paper on Northern Ireland and Ireland

Stormont is the seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly and is located in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Stormont is the seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly and is located in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Image courtesy of visitbelfast.com

“The UK government pledges to protect the Belfast Agreement and Common Travel Area in new position paper published August 16, 2017.

The Government has today published a comprehensive paper which outlines the UK’s position on addressing the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland and the land border with Ireland.

The position paper — which has been published ahead of the August negotiating round — states that the Government will protect the Common Travel Area (CTA) and associated rights for UK and Irish citizens, and put upholding the Belfast (‘Good Friday’) Agreement at the heart of its Exit negotiations.

The paper also puts forward proposals on avoiding a hard border on the movement of goods — making clear the UK’s position that there should be no physical infrastructure at the border — and plans to preserve the wide range of institutional cooperation between Northern Ireland, Ireland and Great Britain including for the energy market.” — From the UK.gov website


Trade Between the UK and the Republic of Ireland

Billions of pounds sterling in trade crosses between the UK and the Republic of Ireland and a significant amount of it is spent in the small and medium-sized business (SME) trade. Keeping the border open, yet enhancing security will be a challenge for both the UK and the Republic of Ireland, but with good will and some visionary thinking it shouldn’t be too difficult to get an agreement that benefits the largest number of people.

Brexit - Ireland and UK trade
Brexit – Ireland and UK trade in numbers. Image courtesy of cso.ie

A Soft Border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is in everyone’s interest

For as long as the Republic of Ireland remains a member of the European Union it’s in everyone’s best interests to keep the soft border arrangement and to work together to enhance security on both sides of that soft border by any reasonable means.

If that means having facial recognition technology and vehicle license plate readers at all government buildings and properties, ferry terminals and international airports in Northern Ireland and Britain, it’s a small price to pay to preserve and enhance security for the EU, for the Republic of Ireland, and the UK including Northern Ireland.

The soft border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland must work for citizens of each country, for small (and large) business, and it must ensure a high level of security for both the EU and the UK. This is one Brexit negotiation that must succeed for the benefit of all.