In the words of novelist William Gibson, “The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.” Over the course of 2017, this saying has started to reverberate around the world of Energy & Transport. Amidst the incessant gloom of bad news, fake news and inconsequential news, an unstoppable, positive force is accelerating.
I didn’t notice until I’d done 60,004 miles. I don’t know if it’s a very exciting milestone but it’s certainly been an interesting journey.
I got my 2011 Nissan Leaf on a loan from Nissan the year it came out. I drove it 20,000 miles in about 9 months and loved it so much I bought it from them.
I’m not sure they wanted it back, possibly because back then all the predictions from the likes of Clarkson, the Daily Mail and Lord Lawson was that after 3 years you’d have to throw the battery away and pay £900,000 for a new one.
Now, 6 years and 60,000 miles later, I haven’t thrown anything away and the car has been astoundingly reliable and cheap to run.
In some ways sailing past the 60,000 mile marker is something to note. In that time, and I think this stuff is important for people who’ve never driven an electric car, nothing has gone wrong mechanically. Nothing.
Every time I get in it just starts and off we go. I’ve never given its reliability a moment’s thought. I’ve never checked the oil (you can’t) or made sure the coolant levels are correct (you can’t) or had the emissions checked (there aren’t any).
I’ve bought one rear wiper blade (I blame the chickens) and replaced four tyres. Two due to wear and two due to punctures. It’s had one service which cost £112, it should have been for a few more according to Nissan but that’s been my choice. I could have taken it in but it clearly doesn’t need it. It’s passed every MOT without anything being done, not even an indicator light.
It’s got a few dints and scratches on the bodywork, it’s fairly filthy inside and out because I occasionally take the dogs out in it and we live in a rural area where they actually do farming and the roads are mud baths at this time of year.
It has ‘run out’ once, but that was so I could find out what happens when you do run out and I was filming it for Fully Charged. It was one of the most boring episodes I’ve ever made. I had to drive for ages before it finally stopped. What happens when you run out? It stops, just like a fossil burner.
So, the main thing that everyone always goes on about. The battery.
Well, it’s still got the original one and there’s no question it has lost some range in that time but not enough to make it unusable.
But here’s where it gets complicated. The range on the Japanese built 2011 Nissan Leaf was pretty lousy compared with more recent models. It was supposed to be 100 miles, in reality was closer to 85 in the summer and 70 in the winter.
This is mainly down to the cabin heater which is a crude brute, knocking 5-8 miles off the range as soon as you switch it on.
Having driven the more recent Sunderland built Leaf’s a more efficient heater makes a huge difference, they are using a heater that a) actually warms up the cabin and b) drops the range by maybe a mile on a cold day and in summer you can’t even see the change.
Here’s another lesson learned the hard way. When we first had the Leaf our big fear was that we’d forget to plug it in when we got home. We got into the habit and we’d always plug it in regardless of how far we’d driven.
If I drove down to the local shops, 10 miles there and back, I’d plug it in. I’d drive my son to meet his skateboarding pals, 25 miles, come back, plug it in. Daughter to school, 8 miles, come back, plug it in.
The result after 50,000 miles was we lost one bar on our battery indicator. As Nissan engineers have confirmed, it’s the top up when the battery is nearly full that causes the problems, not rapid charging as many suggest. I’ve certainly used rapid chargers plenty of times but far less often than I expected.
It was too late that I discovered the ‘charge to 80%’ setting. I’m lazy, like most people, once you get used to something you just use it without thinking. No, I didn’t read the manual, I don’t even know if it’s got one.
So that level of battery degradation could have been avoided and surely having software that further protects the battery from lazy user habits could curtail this problem.
However even with that drop in range it’s still a very usable car. So much so that we still use it every day, all the little trips we do in the local area we use the Leaf.
Mainly because it’s so cheap, certainly in the last year, and particularly since we’ve had the Zappi charger, the cost per mile is well sub 1p.
The Zappi is set up to register any electricity generated by our 5.5 kWp solar panels going into the grid, as soon as it does it sends that power to the car. If you’re not in a rush to charge it, leave it like that for the day and it’s full of free electrons.
I’ve used close to zero grid electricity this summer to charge the Leaf, I know with confidence I’ve done over 1,000 miles in it at zero fuel cost.
So if you average out the fuel cost over 60,000 miles at around 1p per miles, even for me the maths is easy. £600.
So yes, electric cars are much cheaper to run, but even that isn’t important in the big picture. What has happened in the 6 years since I first sat in my Nissan Leaf is nothing short of phenomenal. The shift in attitudes of the general public has been the most noticeable, the questions I get have changed, no longer ‘what’s the range’ or ‘the batteries will wear out’ but the far more important ‘where does the electricity come from’ and ‘these are much better than old fashioned cars.’
Electric cars are fuel agnostic, as long as it’s electricity they will work, doesn’t matter where it’s from, which means if will run just the same on electricity from solar PV, wind turbines, tidal barrages, nuclear, gas, coal or oil.
It’s so much easier to replace those last three sources than grow biofuels or increase by miniscule degrees the efficiency of thermal engines.
I think we can now safely state; “The results are in, it’s game over for internal combustion.”
That’s the year when the current UK government have stated we will no longer build or sell new cars that burn fossil fuels.
There will I’m sure be loads of fossil burning cars still around, far less than today, maybe 10%, so they’re not trying to ‘ban’ fossil burners, just phasing them out, really slowly.
When the announcement hit the news everyone I’ve ever met, spoken to or heard of that drives an electric car was on the Radio and TV.
Last week I climbed into my Tesla Model S charged with 100% solar power the day before. I know this because I now have a very sophisticated app which came with the home battery system and 5.3 kilowatt peak solar photovoltaic array I’ve just had installed.
The 13.3 kilowatt hour Tesla Powerwall was at 10% when I woke that morning, (it had drained itself into the Nissan Leaf overnight) and was refilled by midday so I used the excess solar output in the afternoon to charge the Tesla.
Australia is a fascinating country. A country of conflicts, opportunity, forward facing, backward facing, progressive and retrograde, charming and alarming.
The recent announcement about James Corden’s amazingly successful ‘Carpool Karaoke’ segment being picked up by iTunes has sparked a renewed flurry of comments on my @bobbyllew Twitter stream.
‘You should sue!’ ‘It’s a direct rip-off of your show!’ ‘I hope you’re getting royalties from Mr Corden’ etc.
All very flattering and supportive, but not terribly realistic. I was not the first person to stick cameras in a car and talk to people and clearly I’m not going to be the last.
I’m very happy for James Corden’s success and the episode with Michelle Obama was, let’s face it, fairly enormously out of my league.
The simple fact is people have always got inspiration from pre-existing examples; painters, writers, poets, film makers and TV producers have plundered, copied, re-shaped and mimicked each other for millennia.
I got a lot of inspiration for making Carpool and Fully Charged from various previously existing shows and formats, notably the encouragement I got from Leo Laporte.
I’ve met Leo a few times, been on his shows occasionally and he’s been a Carpool passenger. Like me he had a career in traditional broadcast TV but for the last 10 years has been running his own network, TWIT.TV. (This Week In Tech)
Many years ago he encouraged me to go it alone, his example gave me some reassurance that it might just be possible. I’m so glad I took his advice.
Creating a long running series like Fully Charged has been one of the highlights of my varied career in TV. It’s always been fun but it’s been a real blast this year. 75,000 new subscribers since April and an increase from 50,000 views a month to around a million makes the effort behind it worthwhile.
And then there’s Patreon which has made creating the series close to financially viable. The combination of the distribution network of YouTube and Facebook and the financial support from generous Patreon supporters is game changing.
To be able to make what is effectively a TV series without any 3rd party oversite, influence or management is a very liberating experience.
Now I want to take the project a bit further and, bizarrely, this is very much down to connectivity and indeed Leo Laporte.
I live in a fairly remote rural part of the UK, our current broadband connection is pitifully slow or non-existent. It comes and goes at random intervals like a sulky teenager, utterly unreliable and incredibly frustrating.
The main reason I am able to put out one or two shows a week is down to the patience, skill and internet connection of Mark Taylor-Hankins, (@inksharkman) the Fully Charged camera operator, sound engineer and editor.
Yes, Mark is talented, clever and has a high speed internet connection. I say high speed, it’s a perfectly normal internet connection but for me it’s super high speed.
Last week a team of hardworking your fellows dug a ditch along the lane I live on and buried a fiber optic cable outside my house. Fingers crossed, by Christmas this year I will have a genuinely high speed connection.
My plan is to continue to put at least one new Fully Charged episode a week on YouTube, Facebook and hopefully Amazon, but also do a live, interactive weekly news update from my ‘studio.’
It’s actually an outhouse playroom that we’ve cleared out since our children fled the nest.
I would release the news and hopefully discussion shows as both audio and video versions after the live webcast which is exactly what the TWIT.TV network and Leo Laporte does.
So it’s not original, okay, it’s not called TWIT and it’s not about computers, phones and the internet, it’s about electric cars and the future of energy and transport but you get my drift.
I’m very excited about this because the hardest thing to do with the current Fully Charged is to cover the news, and the news pours in like a torrent.
There is so much going on in the renewable energy, electric car space that given the time, energy and budget I could probably do an episode every day.
That’s not going to happen, I’m old, I need a nap.
But once a week would be fun. I hope some of you would watch.
Let me know.
When I picked up my Tesla Model S 85 a couple of weeks back, Stefan Dekker, the helpful and charming delivery expert pointed out a slight defect in the paint job on the tailgate of the car.
I can honestly say that if hadn't shown me I would never have noticed. It's very subtle and you can only see it in strong direct light.
Anyway, he wasn't happy with it and although I drove off in the car that day, Tesla arranged a courtesy car while they took mine away to rectify the paint fault.
Today that car arrived at my house, another Tesla, very nice, I'm not going to complain. However they have loaned me a left hand drive Model S P85D.
It’s the one people love talking about because it has two power settings. Sport and Insane. That's right, you can set it to Insane mode.
The rated zero to sixty speed in Insane mode is 3.1 seconds.
I knew that, I had watched the videos on YouTube of people who didn't know about the car, sitting in the passenger seat and then screaming in terror as the car almost silently fires itself forward like the shell out of a long-range field gun.
I should have been prepared.... but nothing can prepare you for what happens.
It's so instant and violent that I truly couldn't see anything, my visions blurred and my mouth let forth a string of screams and obscenities.
This may have been because I lost blood flow to the frontal areas of my brain, all the blood immediately sloshed to the back under the brutal G force. Only the crude reptilian sub-brain had control and it was in fear of its continued existence.
So yes, the P85D is comically quick off the mark, with two electric motors, 4 wheel drive, incredible traction control, wide, low profile tyres and an immense amount of energy stored in the battery, this car sets the benchmark very high indeed.
Porsche, Aston Martin and Audi have all said they will make ‘the Tesla killer’ and launch a pure electric high performance car in… the next two or three years. No question, the old guard have got some serious catching up to do.
I’ve no idea which particular petrol powered supercar can achieve this kind of acceleration, I imagine there are some but I’m also confident they will be even more expensive than the Model S and let’s face it, that is very expensive.
But Tesla have already gone one further. If you are prepared to fork out an eye watering, stock-option-sell-off amount of money, you can get a further upgrade that gives you Ludicrous mode.
The car I drove takes a lazy 3.1 seconds to go from zero to sixty. The Ludicrous upgrade gets that down to 2.8 seconds.
But all show off, silly numbers aside, what does this frankly terrifying achievement tell us?
That electric cars can be fun, luxurious, fast, sexy, desirable? I suppose that’s in the bag, but the development of this technology does, unlike Thatcherite economic policy, have a genuine trickle down effect.
Of course a car like the P85D is for the very wealthy, it’s an aggressive, sporty beast that’s saying in an unequivocal manner, ‘fossil fuel, your time is up.’
It also means that other electric cars will get more efficient, have longer range and of course, be much, much cheaper. We are in a very interesting transition period where many of the projections imagined a mere 5 years ago have been way off the mark.
The uptake of the electric car has been slower than many suggested, but it’s accelerating at break neck speed, rather like the P85D
After having got over the initial shock resulting from a spur of the moment decision I made in March this year, I now have less of a heart stopping shock every time I walk past my Tesla Model S.
The screengrab on below is the phone app that informs you of the cars location, state of charge, etc, etc. (I named the car Gavin, the hero of the News from Trilogy, if that makes no sense don't worry. It doesn't make sense when you do know)
I’ve already driven 800 miles in it, I’ve used Tesla’s supercharger network up and down the country and I’ve even been the recipient of some low level Range Rover Road Rage.
I kid you not but this is worth mentioning because of what happened.
I was driving down the M5, cruise control set to 72 mph. I was overtaking a van that was overtaking a truck when suddenly some very bright headlights flashed at me from the rear. The lights were very close, the huge hulk of Range Rover bonnet seemed alarmingly close.
I pulled over to the middle lane when I’d passed the van and the Rangey roared past me giving just enough time to see a beautifully quaffed woman at the wheel as the 2.5 ton monster disappeared down the fast lane with a small cloud of diesel smoke wafting behind it.
Now, here’s the lesson I want you to learn if you are ever in a car that can leave many others in the dust.
I could have floored it, I could have become annoyed and ‘shown them’ that my car can go faster than theirs. The Model S acceleration from 70mph to 100 and beyond is very impressive.
(check out this video I did on a runway with Tom Scott)
But no, don’t succumb to those emotions; don’t go over to the dark side. Allow the tragic soul whose inner well-being relies upon their need to get other ‘annoying’ road users who won’t break the speed limit out of their way.
And here’s a very good example of why I say this. Moments later an event occurred that is, in my long driver experience, very rare.
The next thing I saw in my wing mirror was blue flashing lights as a BMW police car zipped past me, caught up with the speeding Range Rover and pulled it over.
I passed by the two stationary vehicles at a leisurely 56mph, I didn’t flick the V’s or wave triumphantly, I merely cruised past in the slow lane.
Smugmode was fully engaged and turned to 11.
Since I acquired this spectacular vehicle many people on the Twitters have asked me if I am getting rid of my Nissan Leaf. The answer is a very emphatic no.
Only this morning I popped down to the post office and bank in it.
Going from a £65,000 super new and very clean luxury sedan to a £20,000 familiar and embarrassingly dirty 4-year-old hatchback was an interesting experience.
It made me remember how much I love the Leaf, it’s a brilliant car and has proven to be incredibly reliable. I’ve clocked up over 50,000 miles in it. It’s had 1 puncture, it’s run out of screen washer fluid many times and run out of electricity once. I did it on purpose to find out what happened when you run out. It’s fairly obvious, you stop. You can see the experiment here.
But that 50,000 miles has been incredibly cheap, and this is the point I really want to make.
The Tesla is an amazing, high performance, high spec luxury sedan that can only realistically be compared to high end BMWs, Audis, Jaguars and Mercedes. It’s much cheaper to fuel than any of those listed, but in the world of electric cars it’s an electron guzzler.
300 miles would use 84 kilowatt hours minimum, of you drove carefully.
300 miles in a Leaf would use around 55 kilowatt hours. It’s a fair claim that the Leaf costs just over 1p per mile to drive if you charge overnight on off-peak or night tariff electricity at 5.1p per kWh.
This would mean that 50,000 miles in a Nissan Leaf would cost somewhere around £600.
50,000 miles in a Model S would cost around £1,500
50,000 miles in a hyper efficient 65mpg diesel would cost £4,300 in fuel.
50,000 miles in an Audio A8, Mercedes S class, BMW 7 series (same purchase price as Tesla) would cost over £15,500. That’s funny that is.
However, I would not claim £600 spent on electricity to power the Leaf, I have charged the car during the day on quite a few occasions. In the summer that costs me nothing because I take the power from solar panels, but in the winter I’m paying 20p per kWh.
I use public chargers that are currently free so I’ve saved there, but I would say a realistic total fuel cost for 50,000 Leaf miles is close to £900.
That is still £3,200 cheaper than the most efficient, super lightweight fossil burner, so for me, the Leaf is made of pure win.
But here’s a bit of madness, you could, and there are people in the USA who’ve done this, you could exclusively use Tesla’s free Superchargers for every mile, you could drive 50,000 for nothing. Nada. Not a penny.
That is an insane and highly disruptive technological and economic spanner in the works, which is kind of why I rather like electric cars.
My first impression of the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (plug in hybrid electric vehicle) was that it’s just too big.
I have an unresolved emotional issue with the very notion of the SUV. It’s just silly, who came up with such a daft, selfish, stupid notion?
When I see one person being transported in 2 tons of un-aerodynamic gas-guzzling steel, glass and plastic I get a bit depressed.
It is an insane way to get around and yet these wretched monsters are ubiquitous.
Of course I’m as guilty as anyone having once owned a Land Rover Defender 110 V8 Country wagon, about the least fuel efficient vehicle even Land Rover have ever produced.
But that was then, this is now.
One night when I was presenting my talk “Electric Cars Are Rubbish. Aren’t They?’ I made a tongue in cheek comparison between the fuel costs of driving 40,000 miles in a Nissan Leaf compared to a Range Rover Sport.
Of course it’s not a fair comparison, it was a joke but it highlighted an important point
I used the official Range Rover MPG and the Leaf turned out to be about £12,500 cheaper to drive that 40,000 miles.
After the talk four enormous blokes, all engineers at Jaguar Land Rover came up to me and told me I had the figures wrong.
Imagine my guilt, the man with dyscalculia caught out by proper engineers who build Range Rovers and know actual facts.
However, I was wrong because, as they informed me with glee, no one who owns a Range Rover Sport drives along a motorway in the UK at 57 mph, the speed needed to achieve the advertised MPG.
They drive at UK motorway speed, between 85 and 90 mph all the time, meaning that the hefty box is achieving closer to 10 mpg.
In fact the fuel cost difference between Leaf and Range Rover Sport over 40,000 miles is closer to £20,000.
So getting into a big boxy SUV and driving 137 miles on my own meant I was enrobed in an elaborate cloak of shame, except this SUV is a bit different.
I plugged it into my 32 amp (7 kW) wall socket for an hour before I left. The battery wasn’t empty when the car was delivered to me but I wanted a full battery to start the trip.
I drove 58 miles, stopped at Michael Wood services on the M5 and used an Ecotricity 50 kW rapid charger for, and I timed it carefully, 15 minutes.
I then drove into Bristol, parked in a multi story car park with free 13 amp (3 kW) outlets, plugged in, went shopping, had dinner with my son, went back to the car to find the battery full, and drove off.
On the return journey I stopped at the wonderful new Gloucester services with walls built by my pal Gilbert, plugged into another rapid charger for 10 minutes and drove home, a total distance of 139 miles
Overall fuel use on this trip? 95.1 miles to the gallon.
Yes, that’s right, 95.1 MPG in a two ton SUV where 70% of the journey was on the motorway at 70 mph. I used the adaptive cruise control which is as good as any I’ve ever experienced and makes motorway driving a breeze.
If you’re not sure what adaptive cruise control is, here’s a quick explanation. You reach your desired speed and set cruise control, if someone in the lane in front of you slows down, you slow down a set distance behind them, if they speed up you speed up until you reach the speed you set. It works very well.
Now I would be the first to point out that in general day to day use it’s doubtful you could get this level of fuel efficiency, I made an extra effort, charging at every opportunity.
I later did many more trips in the car, always leaving home with a full battery but not re-charging to the same extent. After just over 500 miles in total it was nearer 72 MPG but that’s still ridiculously impressive for a car that big.
I tried it off road, it was fine, deep water, no problem. It has permanent 4 wheel drive without being encumbered by a heavy and complex energy sapping mechanical transmission system. One motor drives the front wheels, one the rear. The traction control is very impressive so this car can do anything a regular four wheel drive can do.
Another annoying thing about 4 wheel drives, and I’m sure someone will explain, but I also can’t stand the term 4x4, or four by four as we say it
What does that mean?
To me with my primary school level of maths comprehension it means 8. No SUV has 8 wheels. (I will now undoubtedly receive a picture of an 8 wheeled SUV)
So who really needs an SUV?
You could argue that farmers do so I showed the Outlander to a farmer.
I explained that this model costs the same as the diesel version, it can do the same tasks as a diesel, permanent 4 wheel drive, able to tow a trailer of 1.5 tons, ford rivers, climb steep gradients yadda yadda yadda.
All farmers have somewhere off the lane to park and charge so there really is no excuse and thankfully, for once, the farmer in question was very impressed.
In fact this car is flying off the lot like it’s going out of style, it’s a very popular car and it’s not surprising.
I have been asked many times if I think hybrids are a cop out or if they are holding back the development of pure electric.
I think no on both counts, my original electric car was a Mitsubishi iMiev, the Outlander has used much of the technology they developed and refined for that car.
In a similar way, the technology in this car will find its way into pure electrics, plus, so many more people are going to experience the ease of use and economy of a plug in hybrid that I think they will consider 100% electric far more readily in future.
My overall take on it is that very soon all fossil burners will be plug in hybrids, and that will be a big improvement. Okay, it’s still a compromise, but it’s a step in the right direction and can make a huge difference, the technology is leaping ahead, just check the VW XL1.
So, even though my guilt chip was in meltdown as I drove through Bristol in a big fat SUV, it was tempered by the fact that the entire time I was within the city limits, I didn’t burn one drip of fossil.
This is a recent press release from Nissan, I thought it made interesting reading so I have posted it verbatim.
NISSAN LEAF OWNERS SAY THEY WILL NEVER BUY CONVENTIONALLY-POWERED CARS AGAIN
- More than half of owners say the LEAF outperforms traditionally-powered alternatives
- Financial savings free up spending on everything from holidays to eye surgery
- One owner sells his Aston Martin to buy two Nissan LEAFs
More than nine in 10 owners (93%) use it as their main family car, 64% say it's better to drive than a petrol or diesel vehicle and one man even sold his Aston Martin to buy a pair of them in order to avoid domestic fights.
These are just some of the insights from a sample of the 6,500 plus Nissan LEAF owners now in the UK.
The brand new research naturally points out the significant financial savings made by owners, but it also highlights how living with the Nissan LEAF in the real world has turned it from a second car into the main family car for many motorists.
With a cost per mile of just two pence or less, it is understandable that the majority (89%) of those surveyed reported significant savings against more traditionally-fuelled cars. One driver calculated that he had spent just £400 travelling more than 22,000 miles in his Nissan LEAF, with many reporting savings of £200-250 per month.
With the savings made, LEAF owners have been treating themselves to little luxuries including a 3D printer, a vintage synthesizer, holidays and many installing solar panels on their homes for virtually free motoring.
Nissan Motor GB Limited Managing Director, James Wright, said: "Electric car ownership was a big step for motorists to take when we launched the LEAF in 2011 but we are now seeing that owners who were bold enough to take that step are reaping the benefits.
"The issues that the naysayers said would hinder ownership have not materialised and, in fact, the feeling from LEAF owners is that they would never go back to a traditional combustion engine. We were the first to bring a mass-produced electric car to market, so it stands to reason that we are also the first to prove the genuine viability of electric motoring."
More than one in two owners admitted they would not go back to a conventionally-powered car, 41% said the car has positively changed the way they drive and a unanimous 95% of them were happy to recommend it to a friend.
Nine in 10 now use it as their main family car, citing everything from practicality to simple enjoyment of driving. One owner ended up ditching his Aston Martin to buy a second LEAF to avoid arguments with his wife about who would take the Nissan to work every day.
More than a third said that they do not have to plan journeys in advance any more than they did before owning an electric car, especially as 89% of them charge up their LEAF overnight at home.
Only recently, Nissan Motor GB Limited Managing Director, James Wright, said sales of the British-built model were "reaching tipping point", with ownership now doubling month-on-month. Boasting 64% Pure EV market share, more than 3,599 cars have been sold in 2014 - almost double the volume sold in 2013 (1,812 in total). In September alone, Nissan's all-electric family car sold a record 851 cars - more than double the number sold in the same month last year and the largest volume ever sold in one month in a European market.
Nissan's Sunderland factory has built 24,000 LEAFs, with 147,000 sold globally since launch.
I don't wish to come across smug and knowing, but the many unpleasant effects of tailpipe emissions aren't exactly news, are they?
When I first visited Los Angeles in the mid 1980's during its period of bearing the 'most polluted city in the world' moniker, there was a great deal of talk about local area pollution and the dire effect this toxic smog had particularly on the old and very young.
On a bad day in LA you could barely see or breath, this pollution was anything but subtle.
20 years of legislation by the Californian government and in particular the California Air Resource Board, (CARB) encouraged the introduction of things like unleaded petrol, catalytic converters and of course hybrid and electric cars.
Now it's in the news again, like the fact that tens of thousands of diesel cars in London being a bad thing is a sudden shock to everyone.
In a recent BBC report it was stated that "...traffic is responsible for 42% of carbon monoxide, 46% of nitrogen oxides and 26% of particulate matter pollution."
Not sure what that means?
Try cycling around London with an air filter face mask and have a look at the filter after a half hour pedal. It's properly black. I first noticed that in about 1979.
So, the sooner we get rid of all diesel taxis, busses, trucks, vans and cars the better.
'But,' say the fossil defenders, 'that could have a huge negative effect on the economy.'
I would like to suggest that it could have a huge beneficial effect on our economy and indeed cut down on the annual estimate of 29,000 deaths that are as a direct result of traffic related air pollution.
I was invited to attend by a delightful man called Michael Ware.
Long time readers of this blog with better memories than me may find this description surprising, Michael and I had a little spat over an article he wrote and the response I posted on here back in 2013.
But that’s all in the past, I was invited to join a panel of genuinely distinguished guests.
Chaired by the urbane and charming Tom Heap who is the Rural Affairs Editor at the BBC, the panel was made up of Chris Huhne who was a Liberal Democrat MP and until fairly recently Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.
Then there was the previously mentioned Michael Ware, next to him Matt Ridley who is a conservative member of the House of Lords and a highly intelligent and subtle critic of climate change policies, and indeed the very notion of climate change as a scientific reality.
Oh yes, and then there’s that old bloke off the telly, that numptie who drives around in electric cars and drones on about renewable energy.
So I was a little nervous, the audience was made up of people who work in the renewable energy sector, some journalists and a quite a large number of people who work in the investment trade.
Many of the topics were well above my pay grade, what should governments do about subsidies to the renewable energy sector, how do we address the issue of intelligent demand response, grid balancing, the increase in coal use since Germany steered away from nuclear.
All fascinating but for me, challenging stuff.
I’m not going to lie, I held my numptie flag high.
I couldn’t begin to argue with such intellectual luminaries as Matt Ridley, Michael Ware and Chris Huhne.
So I tried to argue the very fundamentals. The notion of genuinely long term planning, the notion that the longer we are reliant on fossil fuels, the more vulnerable we are to the vagaries of international crisis and market speculation. The very airy-fairy notion that as the human race, we should aim towards the end of burning stuff to quite the same degree we do now. The fact that the idea of climate change has spurred incredible technological innovation in the last 20 years. You know, the usual.
Chris Huhne’s grasp of the realities of renewables, the challenges they face both technological and political was encyclopedic, he could counter the rather childish claims of Matt Ridley with his own set of facts and figures.
I just got a bit shouty which is always self defeating.
However, it was the spin on climate change denial that Matt Ridley came out with that was fascinating. He’s not denying that increased man made CO2 is having an effect on the climate, just that ‘it might not be a bad thing and if we spent the money on protecting ourselves and adapting to this change then we can go on extracting and burning without a second thought.’
That isn’t a direct quote, but believe me that’s the gist.
Just for the record, Matt Ridley is without question a brilliant scientist, successful author of such books as The Rational Optimist, Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters and many others. He’s a hereditary peer who went to Eton and Oxford.
Okay, and he was Chairman of Northern Rock at the time the bank that went seriously and disastrously pear shaped a few years ago but let’s brush over that.
He is more importantly an advisor to The Global Warming Policy Foundation that was set up by Nigella Lawson’s dad, Nigel.
Their shtick is that we are wasting money trying to mitigate the impacts we’ve been making for the past 150 years, these ideas are very carefully couched and can seem at a glance to be quite a reasonable response to the sometimes mildly hysterical warnings coming out of the IPCC.
However, the slightest nudge reveals their true colours, terms such as ‘ugly stupid wind turbines,’ ‘ridiculous ugly solar panels’ and ‘electric cars powered by coal.’
He used all those terms last night.
But best of all coming from someone with such a supremely privileged background as Matt Ridley, ‘poor people who have to pay more for their electricity to subsidies middle class people’s guilt who can afford electric cars and solar panels.’
No mention of the colossal profits his pals in the large corporate energy conglomerates make each day, no mention of the massive disparity between the wholesale price of electricity and the massively higher rates we pay to keep our lights on.
No suggestion that a change in the way we produce electricity could possibly, just maybe affect the entrenched position of supreme power his mates in the corporations, and their intimate relationship with the current government enjoy.
Of course, my main regret is that I didn’t have the intellectual capacity to deliver these slightly better thought out responses to his arrogant nonsense last night.
I was, I’m afraid to admit, just a slightly befuddled but possibly self aware old hippie having the occasional rant.
I posted this picture on Twitter the other day which caused a bit of a flutter.
It’s a still taken by someone during the shoot of a new series of Top Gear.
I was impressed that the old men in jeans are even attempting to use an electric car, so the initial view of this picture is great.
Big Jezza’s seen the light…… sort of.
For a start the BMW i8, the car in the picture, is amazing, fast and made of the future. It also has a petrol engine and a fairly limited electric only range.
It’s a plug in hybrid £100,000 supercar and that’s fine and dandy.
I think it’s fantastic and much better than an old school massive engine in two-seater supercar.
However there’s a couple of things in the picture that give the impression that all is not 100% hunky dory in the brave new Top Gear change of mindset regarding electric cars.
The first is the position the car is parked in.
The charge port on the i8 is on the passenger side, there are two parking spaces for electric cars at this location, if he’d parked in the other one the cable running from the charger wouldn’t have to be stretched over the bonnet to look all awkward and ungainly.
If he had reversed in, as you would in a Tesla Model S, the same lack of cable stretch would apply.
You would only park in this position to ‘make a point’ that it’s a bit silly to plug a car in.
Sure, some people stop with their filler cap on the far side from the petrol/diesel pump, we’ve all done it, a couple of times.
Any normal human being who is just using the car would gather that instantly and move the car to the other bay, then the cable would just reach with no problem.
But this is Jezza, I suppose he has to make it look awkward.
The second and far more important point is the charger he’s using belongs to Ecotricity and it’s specifically designed as a rapid charger.
It can charge my Leaf from close to empty to 80% in under 30 minutes.
But the Leaf is designed to take this fast charge, the BMW i8 is not.
The battery in my Leaf has a capacity of 24-kilowatt hours, the battery in the BMW i8 has a capacity of 7.2 kilowatt hours.
If you plug the i8 into a 32-amp domestic charge socket it will take about 3 hours to fill.
If you don’t ever charge the battery the car still works, regenerative braking and indeed the amazing 3-cylinder petrol engine can charge the battery so if you’re not stopping somewhere for more than a couple of hours it’s not really worth clogging up a rapid charger.
It will take a charge from the Ecotricity system but only at the same rate you’d get from a 32 amp charger at home.
Not that an inconsequential thing like a fact should get in the way of good telly, so stretch that cable, moan about how complicated it is to understand and make sure another couple of million people don’t understand how electric cars and plug in hybrids work.
Job done, the fossil fuel companies can sit back and relax as further development and understanding has been held back for another few years.
After all, that’s his job isn’t it?
Last week at the Low Carbon Vehicle event at Millbrook proving grounds I finally got to have a drive of the BMW i8. I'd seen it before, I've seen one 'in the wild' on a London street but I hadn't driven it up until that point.
Yes, the engine sound is entirely manufactured, it's 'fake' if you like, but so what?
This car is designed and built as a supercar which, from where I'm sitting, is an utterly ridiculous notion.
Surely supercars are for people who have so much money they may as well buy one.
However, and I'm trying to take the long view here, as with all technology, the first iterations are expensive and for the very wealthy.
But the innovation and technological developments embodied in a car like this (unlike the notion of the offensive 'trickle down effect' regarding obscene wealth in the 1%) actually do trickle down to more mundane and sensible forms of transport.
As you can see in the video, being in this very fast car is great fun, there's no denying that. Of course I'd love one, that's the whole point of them.
Just to give some weight to the argument in favour of this car, your average supercar will do ten, maybe twelve miles to the gallon. When the cars are stationary in busy city traffic the engines are pumping out comical levels of noxious gas and CO2, when they're not even moving. Oh, but they sound great.
Yeah, thanks, I'll live without the noise if my eyes aren't stinging.
The BMW i8 has all the panache, verve and show-off potential of a supercar but can run on electricity in cities, can get over 100 miles to the gallon and go around a track like there's a legitimate need to get to the other end very fast.
In January this year I drove a Nissan Leaf from London to Edinburgh.
This was partly in response to an attempt by BBC reporter Brian Milligan to undertake the same journey 3 years previously and partly because we knew we could do it.
It took Mr Milligan something like 4 days and many hours of waiting to charge the prototype electric car he was driving,
It took us 11 hours, with never more than a 20 minute wait to charge the car.
I’m not going to claim it was a walk in the park, it was January, cold, wet and dark for most of the journey and it was also quite boring.
Driving long distances is boring and bad for you, I try and do it as little as possible.
Which is why, writing this in a motorway service area after a long drive while I wait for the extraordinary electric car I've been loaned to charge is a little bit bonkers.
Today I am driving from the South of England, my home in Gloucestershire, to Edinburgh, a distance of 341 miles.
However this time I only need to stop a couple of times. less than an hour to bring the batteries back to full before commencing the second leg of the journey.
A few people have already commented on the appalling parking on display in the picture, it was a little bit tight and the Tesla is a huge beast, okay, I am rubbish at parking.
The range of the Tesla Model S, on a UK motorway, at motorway speed is well over 250 miles on a charge so it really takes driving an electric car into another dimension.
In the Nissan Leaf in January we stopped 7 times on our trip to Edinburgh.
We never got close to being empty and we only charged for 20 minutes but that’s still 7 stops.
Just to explain a little. The battery pack in the Nissan Leaf is 24 kiloWatt hours. In the Tesla Model s, it's 85 kiloWatt hours, so even with my crude grasp of maths, I can understand why it goes further.
So today I have overstopped, but that is not because of the car's range.
Let’s forget the range and the rapid chargers and the battery for a moment and think about my bladder.
Too much information?
Sorry, but my bladder has a range of about 95 - 120 miles, I will be stopping a little more often than the car needs to for my own personal reasons.
So why, after I stated publicly last time I did this trip that in future I'd get the train, am I driving all this way again?
The reason I’m going to Edinburgh is to deliver a talk I’ve been doing for the past few years. It's called:
‘Electric Cars are Rubbish. Aren’t They?’
Hopefully it’s an informative and entertaining talk, I certainly enjoy doing it.
I’m doing the talk at the Assembly Rooms in George Street, Edinburgh, it's part of a season of talks given by very prominent scientists and academics.... and me.
All day tomorrow the right hand drive Tesla Model S will be on display for a day outside the vehue.
But here’s a romantic little bit of history that has nothing to do with electric cars or the future of the energy matrix.
I’m presenting this talk in the very same theatre I first saw my wife performing in 27 years ago. She was then an acrobat and performer in Circus Oz.
I was smitten.
Just in case you are wondering if we are on this trip together in a romantic re-hash of our early love... um... no. She's at home, working on her masters degree and walking the dogs.
27 years later. Hey ho.
I am gently becoming increasingly excited about the upcoming FIA Formula e racing season.
I attended the London Launch last year and saw the first car which is featured in the video below.
As Formula e boss Alejandro Agag says in the video, 'everyone is talking about the sound, now we've heard it, we love it.'
Having driven a few high performance electric cars, I have to say the lack of deafening, rattling, banging, smokey old engines is a bit of a plus in my book but then I'm very biased.
I don't think the races are going to be slow, the Spark-Renault SRT-01E is a 270 brake horse power racing car.
The cars are made up of components from many motorsport companies, the power train is from McLaren, Italian firm Dallara built the monocoque chasis, Williams Advanced Engineering (part of the Williams F1 Team) supply the batteries.
The season looks like this
13th September. Beijing China
18th October. Putrajaya Malaysia
15th November. Rio de Janeiro Brazil
13th December. Punta Del Este Uraguay
10th January. Buenos Aires Argentina
14th February. Los Angeles USA
14th March. Miami USA
9th May. Monte Carlo Monaco
30th May. Berlin Germany
27th June. London
All these races take place on the streets, not on a track, the final in London will take place slap bang in the middle of town.
Teams include Drayson Racing, Mahindra Racing, Virgin Racing and of course the one that got in the news a bit recently, Venturi Grand Prix who were founded by among others, some actor bloke called Leonardo DiCaprio.
I’m thrilled to bits to see Toyota doing this.
The TS040 hybrid is the car that will take the team into the 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship.
The 473 brake horse power of all-wheel drive hybrid boost is in addition to the 3.7-litre V8 petrol engine, taking maximum power 986 brake horse power.
That sounds like rather a lot so it’s clearly not a sensible city or commuter car but the technological development that Toyota are using in this monster will always filter down to their road cars.
It’s fascinating what’s happening in motor racing, I’ve heard a lot of hardcore Formula 1 fans moaning about the lack of noise but big changes are obviously taking place across the racing spectrum, and of course there's Formula E soon.
All teams entering the World Endurance Championship this year are required to use 25 per cent less fuel than in 2013, which is an enormous technological as well as driving style challenge.
If you’re a race fan, this is the 2014 World Endurance Championship season
20 Apr Six Hours of Silverstone (GB)
3 May Six Hours of Spa-Francorchamps (Bel)
14 Jun Le Mans 24 Hours (Fra)
20 Sep Six Hours of Circuit of the Americas (USA)
12 Oct Six Hours of Fuji (Jpn)
2 Nov Six Hours of Shanghai (Chi)
15 Nov Six Hours of Bahrain
30 Nov Six Hours of Sao Paulo (Bra)
This brilliant infographic comes from a rather impressive group called The Trillion Fund
They are an investment fund that focusses on renewable energy solutions and they argue very convincingly that we need to study the economics a little more carefully before we lazily agree with the big money bullies who control our government telling us 'fracking is the only sensible economic solution.
The more I learn about electric cars, the more I understand that subtle changes in technology are having many previously unforeseen side effects.
As we are all beginning to accept, electric cars are just cars that don’t use liquid fuels, they can still cause traffic snarl ups, accidents and parking problems.
But one or two aspects are emerging that make them a very different proposition.
Although electric car sales world wide are now being counted in the 100’s of thousands, they still make up for a tiny proportion, even with current rates of increased sales they still barely reach 5% of cars on the road by 2020.
What will happen in that time though is a massive leap in battery technology, you don’t have to be a hedge fund manager or rampant free market capitalist to see the writing on the wall. There’s big money in batteries.
Of course there’s far bigger money in oil and gas, the really big tax breaks and corporations who manipulate them are busy enough.
But even they are becoming aware of new battery technology emerging all around the world.
Batteries are getting smaller, lighter, more energy dense, longer lasting and above all, cheaper.
These increases are constant and low level at present. Battery energy density is, according to companies like Panasonic, Samsung and Tesla increasing by roughly 8% a year. No great shakes but in the 5 years I’ve been keeping an eye on this sector, energy density has increased by roughly 40%.
But if they still cost a fortune, so what?
Well, they are also getting cheaper, the cost per kWh of storage a few years ago was around $500 per kWh. It’s now around $400.
I know nothing about predictions but there are companies emerging who are claiming $180 per kWh by 2020.
I’ll put that into context for myself because these figures seem so arbitrary, but the Nissan Leaf, BMW i3 and e-Golf all have batteries with around 24 kWh capacity. At $180 per kWh, you’re looking at a $3,000 battery pack.
However when I talk about batteries I’m not even thinking about them in relation to cars, I’m thinking about our houses, about the grid, about cities, dammit, I’m thinking of the whole country.
The effect that millions of widely distributed batteries would have on the way we generate and distribute power is immense.
Imagine a 100 kWh battery pack built into your house, you have solar panels on the roof which trickle charge them day after day.
Before I explain the difference this could make, let’s look at the cost. Your battery pack is made from ‘depleted’ car batteries and the cost is a great deal lower than buying new ones. It’s not impossible to imagine something the size of a small fridge that could store 100 kWh with no maintenance and 10-15 years of trouble free use.
So you get home after work, lights on, computer on, washing on, cooker on, telly on, water heater on.
Currently at the National Grid control room they see a huge spike in demand, a huge expensive spike, everything that can generate is generating flat out.
If, say, 5 million homes had battery storage, that spike would drop dramatically, the grid could call on all that stored power to supplement the grid.
Now go bigger, much bigger.
Industrial scale grid batteries, not storing 100 kWh or even 10,000, but multiple gigawatts.
They are charged over a long period of time by wind and solar and hopefully tidal turbines. The excess power generated at night when we don’t use it is suddenly valuable, we don’t waste it, we store it.
Certainly today this kind of technology doesn’t exist outside a lab, but numerous projects all over the world are being tested.
Some of them will work, and when they do and we start using them, the energy picture is going to change in ways we can’t imagine.
Just one important caveat, modern batteries last a really long time, they can be charged 10,000 times. If you charge and deplete them every day, that means they last about 30 years.
And when they’re no good any more, do we just throw them away?
Of course not, we use a lot of stored power to recycle 96% of the materials in them and make new ones.
Okay, I admit I’m a little overwhelmed.
I just spent two days driving a Tesla Model S, I covered 204.8 miles and used a total of 76.4 kWh to do so.
First off, the range. With an 84 kWh battery it's just not something you think about. I plugged it in when I was at home merely to get shots of the car plugged in. It certainly didn't need it.
Hence in the readout above, taken when I delivered the car back to Tesla, you can see under Trip Meters that I hadn't used anything like 84 kWh.
The car is very big, has breathtaking performance, road holding, comfort, speed range and all the other OMFG inducing swishness you may have heard reported previously.
I had one moment of anxiety during the drive, not range anxiety, but ‘where is the windscreen washer button’ anxiety.
A wonderful Tesla representative called Mark Tapscott had gone through all the controls with me at the Tesla service centre, the washer button was the one we forgot.
I found it and all was fine.
The screen washers are awesome by the way, multiple jets all along the enormous windscreen making vision optically perfect in milliseconds.
But what is truly breathtaking is the maturity of the technology.
It isn’t like driving some kind of experimental vehicle in early development, it’s like driving the tenth generation model of something that first appeared in the 1950’s. Everything is refined, functional and easy to use.
However this car was just a dream just 5 short years ago.
I saw a mock up of the Model S in Tesla’s original headquarters in Menlo Park, Silicon Valley about 3 years ago.
They only started making them in mass numbers last year and yet everything about the car is refined, slick and very high end.
‘I think I’d feel embarrassed driving around in this.’ Said my daughter as we negotiated the back roads of Acton. ‘It’s so big and luxurious, it’s sort of showing off.’
Of course she’s correct, this is without question a car for rich people, the sort of people who currently buy a Range Rover, Jaguar, Mercedes Benz, Maserati or flash BMW.
But imagine the difference;
If you saw some rich person zoosh past you in a Model S instead of driving cars with the highest CO2 output, the lowest MPG and the highest choking particulate emissions we have ever created I for one would bow down and thank them.
They will, as is their duty, be supporting innovation, new, more sustainable technology and before long, smaller, cheaper versions of this type of car.
Counter to that, if, in a years time you see some ignorant, selfish, tax fiddling banker/gambler driving a ridiculously enormous, inefficient 3 ton gas guzzling lump of luxury steel and leather, we have every right to look down on them as part of the problem, not even attempting to create a solution.
Oh yes, and one more thing, the acceleration is arse removing. Terrifying, awesome, spectacular and not for the feint hearted.
I will be posting a full review of this remarkable car on Fully Charged soon.