(Small note on the YouTube video above. Original version has serious sound synch issues, this one is fine. Worked it out finally.)
Over the recent weekend we very possibly experienced a pivotal event, indeed a turning point in our global history.
A few facts emerged around the same time which could be nothing more than 24 hour news fluff, or which could point a way through the chaos of information to some emerging new reality.
Late last week BP announced that China had overtaken the United States as the world’s top energy consumer and largest importer of oil.
Apple computers have more money in the bank than the US government
And there have been incredible breakthroughs in battery design and materials.
Oh, and Top Gear did a review of electric cars.
If you look at these events from a distance, from the perspective of the last century, we are without question now in the future.
You could also deduce from this information that petrol and diesel are going to get a lot more expensive very soon, batteries are going to get cheaper, lighter and store more energy and Apple computers are going to rule the world.
Oh, and the Top Gear team are still living in 1993.
So, because of my rant a few years ago when Top Gear reviewed the Tesla Roadster (and got in a bit of legal trouble that’s still ongoing) it was clear from the messages I received on Twitter on Sunday night that many people expected me to go through a similar tirade.
However there was a very important difference between the two shows.
When reviewing the Tesla the Top Gear team indulged in what could be called a ‘deliberate obfuscation of the facts’ to get across their conviction that electric cars are rubbish.
They also ran the review alongside a piece about the wonderful Honda Clarity hydrogen fuel cell car and stated without hesitation that hydrogen is the future, again underlying the fact that electric cars are okay, but batteries are rubbish and will never work.
This time they didn’t do any fake running out of power gags. Well, not as blatantly.
Mr Clarkson gave the Nissan Leaf a glowing review, he liked it, he said it was very well made and very comfortable.
As they approached the only major town in the UK that has no public charging infrastructure, lovely Lincoln, observant viewers might have wondered why.
Where did they start from? How full were the batteries when they started? We don’t know. Does it matter? I’ve no idea.
Once in Lincoln they went through the now time honoured rigmarole of trying to charge the cars, of getting students to help push the cars to somewhere they could plug in, making much of the fact that they had to trail wires through windows, all the things you’d expect from the men in jeans.
It was all good fun, I didn’t get angry, I didn’t want to rant, it was exactly as I would expect.
But of course it’s Top Gear, they couldn’t leave it. Mr C went on to explain that as well as being prohibitively expensive to buy, these cars were prohibitively expensive to drive. He suggested they could cost as much as £8.50 to charge the battery. At this point I admit my relaxed ears pricked up.
£8.50, that sounds like a lot. Where did they get that figure from?
£8.50 to charge the Nissan Leaf’s 24 kWh battery means the electricity costs 36p per kWh. So the researchers at Top Gear must have searched long and hard to find the most expensive daytime tariff they could, I’ve searched and I couldn’t find anything like 36p per kilowatt hour but I have to accept you could find it somewhere.
According to the plethora of energy comparison websites, the average cost of daytime electricity is between 14 and 18 pence per kWh meaning a full battery would cost £4.23 if you charge in the daytime, working out at 4p a mile as opposed to 12p per mile for a traditional car doing 50mpg.
I charge the Nissan Leaf at night when the cost is under 5p per kWh, which works out at £1.20 for 100 miles, which means it’s costing me fractionally over 1p a mile to drive the car.
However, I’m sure you can pay more if you want and the Top Gear script writers will have underlined that, and Andy Wilman the producer will have insisted to Mr Clarkson that it was imperative that he say, “It can cost £8.50 to charge this car to drive 100 miles.’
‘We all know batteries are rubbish’ said the apparently knowledgeable Mr May, ‘they always run out.’
What, as opposed to a petrol tank that stays perpetually full?
So the official TG line is now, electric cars are fine, it’s just batteries which are useless. It’s a line that, judging from my Twitter stream alone has clearly struck a chord.
Is it true?
I think there is ample evidence to say it is very far from true. The batteries in the Nissan Leaf are extraordinary, they are a step change in technology. If, after say 100-150,000 miles the batteries range starts to decrease, Nissan will re-furbish the battery for much less than the £19,000 figure so casually bandied about in the Tory press recently
Nissan will re-furbish batteries in the UK, at the plant in Sunderland where the batteries are made. They will re-cycle 97% of the materials and fit the re-furbished battery back into the car and it will be as good as new, for another 150,000 miles.
While it is true that no one yet knows exactly how long a modern electric car battery will last, (they’ve not been in use long enough) we are beginning to get a good idea of their longevity.
Once again I will refer to Paul Scott’s Toyota RAV E4 in California which has now travelled over 120,000 miles on the original battery pack and it’s showing no signs of failure. Also worth pointing out that in the time he’s driven the car, Mr Scott had to replace wiper blades and one shock absorber. The maintenance costs of that vehicle are so low as to register as zero.
The ending of the Top Gear section on electric cars was a little tragic. Three men whose lives revolve around internal combustion engines and burning rubber facing the now universally accepted truth that we are going to face a chronic shortage of the fuel we all depend on.
They stood there like confused rabbits with no idea of a solution other than saying ‘hydrogen mumble mumble.’ That’s just it. ‘Hydrogen mumble mumble’ is not a very convincing solution.
Meanwhile, all around the world actual engineers and scientists are working on viable, economic and sustainable solutions to this truly appalling prospect with dedication and enthusiasm. They won’t be mentioned on Top Gear, but they will on Fully Charged.
Petrol currently costs £6.26 per gallon. @ 50 mpg, £12.53 per 100 miles.
Diesel currently costs £6.72 per gallon. @ 50 mpg, £13.44 per 100 miles.
Electricity = max 20p per kWh. @ 100 miles for 24 kWh, £4.80 per 100 miles