In further pursuit of my exploration of the practicalities of electric motoring I drove the 14 miles to Petersfield yesterday to try out the chargepoint which has been installed there by the local authority.This is the first of a number to be rolled out under the Hampshire County Council energy policy.
This picture shows me soon after arrival, connected up in one of the two bays in the car park in front of the Festival Hall, Heath Street, GU31 4EA
The first thing to understand is that this is a commercial enterprise. The chargepoint is installed and run by the energy
company SSE and you can’t use it at all unless you have their particular kind of smart card with you. I had prepared myself by obtaining this online from http://www.chargepointgenie.com for the payment of £20. (Oddly enough, their emailed confirmation stated $20 – i.e. twenty dollars – but my credit card statement confirmed it was, indeed, 20 pounds sterling.) This standing charge has to be paid each year.
But that is not all – before you can use the card you have to pre-load it with credits, with a minimum payment of £10, enough to pay for two and a half visits to one of their charging stations. Each time you have a charge £4 is debited from your card , whether you are connected for one minute or for the maximum of four hours, and whether or not a rapid charger is available, which it wasn’t in Petersfield.
Anyway, in the selfless pursuit of my researches I had topped up my card before leaving home (total outlay now £30). As the SSE account includes my credit card details I imagine I could have done this at the site by smartphone
Another point to bear in mind is that the SSE network is only one of several, each of which requires its own card. None of them accept payment by credit card like a petrol station. The Ecotricity card is the other network I have subscribed to, but they provide their card free and charging at their stations, which are mainly on major routes and include rapid chargers, is also free.
So, this SSE chargepoint at Petersfield had only one kind of connector – the universal Type 2 connector (illustrated), one for each of the two bays. And you need to bring your own connecting cable.
Instructions on the little screen tell you to wave your card near it and wait while it checks your credentials. After about a minute is says you are OK and tells you to connect the cable. After that the charging starts automatically. All this works well and I was pleased to find that I could unlock the car (interrupting the charging) in order to get things I had forgotten and the process resumed without problem when I locked up again. I tested this thoroughly by coming back several times before walking into town for lunch and a bit of shopping.
The standard Hampshire County Council notice (see illustration) over the chargepoint told me that I might not have to buy a normal parking ticket but as the lady on reception in the Festival Hall didn’t know the answer I bought one anyway to be on the safe side, bringing my total expenditure up to £34.60. The town centre was an easy walk away and by the time I returned to the car 52 minutes had elapsed. The instructions told me to wave the card again to cancel the charging and when I had done that the charging cable released and I was able to disconnect it. When I unlocked the car that end was released in the usual way and I stowed the cable away in the boot.
Back inside the car I was a little surprised to find the car not yet fully charged and that my £4 and 52 minutes had increased the indicated range of the car by only eight miles (65 miles from the 57 when I left it). I know from experience that that means about seven miles on the road and that so works out at 57p for each mile. Then you have to add the standing charges…
In comparison, our diesel Skoda does more than 400 miles on a £70 fill-up – which equates to 17p per mile. And when I charge the electric car at home it gains eight miles range per hour and provided our solar panels are producing more than the 2kW it draws, which they easily do for more than half the year, it costs me (and the planet) nothing at all.
Another comparison is with the SSE chargepoint at the Rapids Leisure Centre in Romsey, also provided under the Hampshire County Council Scheme.
This point does have a full range of connectors, including both kinds of rapid charger, which should charge the battery up to 80% in 15 to 20 minutes, using the same SSE card and the same £4 fee. That might occasionally be convenient but it would still be ludicrously expensive.
When I first plugged in to the Petersfield charge point a couple of passers-by told me they lived next door and that I was the first person to use it. They were friendly, interested and positive, and full of the advantages of electric cars and how they were the future. But I am not surprised that I was the first to use it.
We changed from SSE for our domestic electricity and gas a year ago because of the extreme reluctance with which they administered the feed-in tariff for our PV roof array. In contrast Ecotricity, to whom we changed,seems wholeheartedly committed to making the system work. I came away from the new Petersfield charge point feeling I had been duped. I would almost go as far as to say that I think Hampshire County Council and East Hants District Council have been duped as well. I passionately believe in electric cars, but I hope the responsible officers will get the message that this is most certainly not the right way to arrange for charging them and that they will not make the same mistakes at other sites. For, reluctant as I am to say it my bottom line is this: even if you didn’t have to pay £30 in advance to use it at all, I honestly can’t think of any circumstances in which this chargepoint would be useful to anybody.
It is simply gorgeous to drive. We absolutely love it.
Elastic. Like the wind. Sweeping up hills. Effortless. Gliding. Peaceful and docile in city jams. Like a little rocket when you put your foot down. Wonderful feeling of peace after a journey
And none of that old nonsense of ‘starting the engine’. Whatever the weather, you just touch your foot on the brake, turn the key, drive away. When you stop, the engine stops. No gears (this is the thing that seems to surprise everybody) and of course no clutch. Electric motors have their maximum power at rest, completely unlike ordinary engines which have to be ‘started’ (with an electric motor!) and then have to rev up until they have enough power to get you moving. So the e-up! zooms straight off with a complete absence of fuss. Smooth from the first instant. No ‘warming up’ and none of the lumpy performance of many internal combustion engines when they are ‘cold’.
Under way the response is beautifully sensitive, especially while manoeuvring gently. There is an excellent hill-hold function which means you don’t need the handbrake to start on a gradient, either forwards or reverse. And the clever ‘recuperative braking’ function – which turns the engine into a dynamo as you lift pressure off the accelerator, reclaiming energy and feeding it back into the battery – means that most of the time you don’t need to move your foot onto the brake pedal at all to slow down. This has become so automatic and so convenient that it is the thing I find myself missing most while driving the diesel car.
On the road the e-up! has a solid, quality feel. It’s a bit bouncy on rough roads, especially in the back, but on reasonable surfaces it is smooth and refined and feels like a much larger car than it is .
Another thing people ask is whether the lack of engine noise is a problem – should there be some sort of warning sound instead? On the contrary, the quiet is nothing but a bonus. Many modern cars, especially hybrids, are virtually silent at low speeds and all drivers have to be careful near pedestrians and cyclists. At higher speeds road noise from the electric car builds up and the bright LED running lights wrapped round the ends of the front bumper are extremely effective in making the car conspicuous, even out of the corner of the eye. These lights, the easiest way or distinguishing the e-up! from the petrol up!, are a safety feature we appreciate very much, especially on country roads. Much more relevant to the comfort of pedestrians, surely, is the wonderful absence of noise and fumes. This is something that is is likely to be appreciated more and more as people become used to it and increasingly expect it. (As a matter of fact the only time a pedestrian has stepped out in front of us during the eight months we have had the e-up! was when I was driving the other (diesel) car and the pedestrian was wearing headphones.)
There are a few irritating economies which hang over from the inexpensive petrol up! but are out of place in a premium vehicle. The electric version is highly specified with, for example, an integrated ‘info-tainment’ console, with sat-nav, radio, bluetooth phone link, aids to economical driving and charting of battery range and accessible charging stations. Yet it comes with only one smart key. We found that getting a second would cost us the best part of £200 and require a complex verification procedure requiring ID. Again, for a four door car it seems mean not to have an interior light for the rear seats or one in the luggage compartment/boot.
One small point is that the plastic flap that covers the charge point sticks out and can be broken off if you walk carelessly by it the wrong way.
The most serious criticism we have is that the range is consistently overstated by the instrumentation. When you have got used to this you make allowances but this is very much the wrong way round! If, instead, you always got a longer range than indicated it would do wonders to combat ‘range anxiety’ and make a huge difference to how positive people felt about the whole experience. It seems an elementary mistake for VW to have made, possibly reflecting their own wishful thinking about their exciting new baby.
So, with the battery fully charged we get an indicated range of between 70 and 80 miles, which seems to be calculated from our driving style over the last few journeys. This indicated range jumps to about 90 miles when we switch to eco+ mode (which turns off the climate control and restricts the performance a bit). But on the road, using a combination of driving modes (the touch of a button toggles through normal, eco, and eco+ modes) we can only rely on a range of 70 miles in the summer and 60 miles in winter (when the battery is less efficient and you need more heating and lights). And another problem is that there is no way of finding out how much leeway you’ve got before you would actually run flat. Short, that is, of having a friend with a low-loader follow you until you roll to a stop. We suspect the car would actually go further than it says, but have no way of being sure. And you do need to be sure.
Which is why the e-up! is not, in our opinion, a practical only car. It is an absolutely fabulous second car, but you need something else for the longer journeys. Which brings me to the issue of charging the battery.
The nuts and bolts of the electricity bit
Charging at home from an ordinary 13 amp square-pin plug in the garage is practical, convenient and cheap. This is a huge advantage of the VW models – you simply don’t need a special charging point, whether subsidised or not. When the technician came to install ours we talked it through with him and decided not to go ahead.
Our e-up! adds about 8 miles range for every hour of charging at home. During this time it draws about 2 kilowatts, less than an electric kettle and well within the output of our solar panels during more than half the year. To the extent that we charge like this our motoring is entirely cost-free and carbon-free. For people who worry about this sort of thing this benefit is very significant indeed.
Anyway, for these reasons we try to charge during the day.The VW Car-net app (another premium feature) allows us to monitor the state of charge remotely and switch the process on and off at will. Connection can be lost at times but usually it works brilliantly.
Staying with friends we can plug into their household supply just as easily as into our own – another big advantage of the VW way of doing things. Sometimes they have solar panels as well.
In the eight months we have had the electric car we have spent £481 on petrol for the Skoda diesel compared with £889 for exactly the same period last year when we had the same Skoda and a petrol Ford Ka. Which extrapolates to a saving of almost £700 in a full year, less 14p per kWh for any charging which isn’t covered by the solar panels. So, with the free road tax, free car parking permit in the town and freedom from congestion charges if we went to London, we are already eating quite substantially into the premium price for this gloriously premium vehicle.
Using public charging points is another thing entirely. In fact it is a jungle. Fortunately, having the diesel Skoda to use for longer journeys we have hardly had to use public chargers at all. But we are beginning to get our heads around the options available and gain a little confidence.
To start with you can’t just go to a charging point, plug in and make any payment necessary with a credit card. Oh no. That would be far too sensible. The charging points are all run by networks for which you need different access cards, sometimes purchasing payment credits in advance. The exception is EcoTricity – you do need to apply for their card but it is free and charging is all free as well. The excellent SpeakEV electric car forum http://goo.gl/0XqqfD lists seven different networks at the present time. All their comments speak of the lunacy of this way of doing things. But you just have to decide which networks you need depending on where you live and where you want to travel.
And the next problem is that there are at least four types of connector and two categories of charging speeds. Low speed AC (Alternating Current) charging is relatively easy, it uses the Type 2 connector which seems to be pretty ubiquitous. But when we tried it at a garden centre 14 miles away and measured the charging rate it only charged at the rate we get at home – about 8 miles added each hour. So if we had arrived there with a nearly flat battery (which of course we didn’t) it would have taken two hours to add what we needed to get us home.
When you get to Rapid DC (Direct Current) charging the fun really begins because there are three incompatible systems.
As a Volkswagen our e-up! uses what is intended to be the new standard – CCS
Using this it should draw 30 kW and charge to 80% in 15-20 minutes. More of these points are coming online and we now have a good range at about the right distance from home – Andover, Romsey, Farnborough, Fareham. Ringwood, Beaconsfield, Crawley, the M4/A34 junction and Reading. So far we have not had a chance to try one, but it is looking good. Another advantage of rapid charge points is that they are unlikely to be occupied for as long as AC points.
As I understand it, Renault’s and Nissans use the CHAdeMO connector and the up-market American Teslar range use a third, completely different kind of its own, sited in places like hotel car parks. These last charge at an almost incredible 120 kW and give the cars a range of 200 miles.
This is an extraordinary production. And, the Royal Court run being completely sold out, we were lucky to see it yesterday.
It is extraordinary because it is not presented by any sort of actor but by a top international scientist, and one who obviously believes that doing this – presenting climate science as clearly as he can to two London theatre audiences a day – is the most important thing he has to do at the moment. And as we read from the free handout that one of his many professional roles is Chairman of the Science Policy Advisory Committee of the European Space Agency, we could well imagine, on what was the day of maximum tension after their triumphant comet landing, Professor Rapley would rather have been much closer to the action .
But onto the stage he walked, without the slightest showmanship, sat down, and talked quietly for 70 minutes about the situation that faces the world.
Behind him, and perfectly synchronised with his words, were steadily-evolving images, graphs and diagrams on a huge, kaleidoscopic back-drop.
The fact that these graphics were almost entirely monochrome made the occasional use of red extremely striking. The sound track was equally subtle; gently supporting the narrative and punctuating it with hanging silences while he took a sip from his water glass. In all it was a deceptively sophisticated telling of a story which is, of course, far too dramatic to require theatricality. To my mind it was perfectly judged, and absolutely convincing.
Professor Rapley had been Director of the British Antarctic Survey and was particularly authoritative about the collapse of Antarctic Ice Shelves; now happening far more rapidly than ever expected. And as past Director of the Science Museum and Chairman of University College London’s Policy Commission on Communicating Climate Science he presented a masterly overview of all aspects of his subject. He described this year’s report from the Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change, with its unequivocal call for action, as the most audited document in history. One easily-understood implication of this report being that three quarters of known fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground if humanity is to avoid the potentially disastrous consequences of a more than 2°C rise in global temperature over pre-industrial levels. We have already had 0.8°C of that.
There were lots of young people in the audience, as well as older folks like us. But deniers were not at all in evidence. One day such people must realise that they have grandchildren too (Professor Rapley’s oldest will be the age he is now in 2071 – hence the title). Unfortunately, as things stand at the moment, that is going to be too late.
Buying an electric car was something of an act of faith for us. There is still very little experience of them and even the dealer said it was only the second they had sold. A friend had shown us a Renault Zoe and his enthusiasm was infectious and persuasive, but we liked the fact that the new VW models have an option to charge from an ordinary 13 amp household plug.
But we didn’t, for example, know how well the electric VW would cope with hills. We were quite prepared for it to struggle a bit going up the steep incline from our garage to the road, and similarly on the steep zig-zag up the hill to where we live.
That just shows how little we had gleaned from our short test drive – we couldn’t have been more wrong. The way it gently, silently slips out of the garage and up onto the roadway, and the way it sweeps effortlessly up hills, absolutely ‘like the wind’, is a complete revelation and an intoxicating joy. We can’t resist going out at the slightest excuse to do it again. And we do that knowing that it isn’t costing anything at all: It doesn’t cause any noise; it doesn’t make any pollution. That’s because, charging on a reasonably sunny day, it draws less power than our solar panels are generating. So it literally runs on the sunshine which would otherwise have heated up our roof tiles. And – almost too obviously to point out – it doesn’t have an exhaust pipe, so it couldn’t emit exhaust gases if it tried.
With no gears the engine picks up strongly from rest and carries on pulling smoothly right through any amount of acceleration. This feels incomparably superior to the smoothest and most sophisticated of automatic gears. Apart from Park, Reverse, Neutral and Drive you can select one further mode, B, by pressing momentarily on against a spring. This engages the recuperation system which, provided the battery isn’t absolutely fully charged (when there is presumably nowhere for the electricity to go), the motor operates in reverse when you lift off the accelerator, gently but increasingly-firmly retarding the car as it puts energy back into the battery. This means that 1) you rarely have to move your foot onto the brake pedal and 2) at the end of a long descent you find you have several miles more range than you had at the beginning.
It all takes a bit of getting your head round, something so new. The motoring journalists in the reviews I’ve seen missed it completely. The one in the Telegraph, although he said he liked the e-up!, seemed to think the only reason anyone would actually buy one would be to save money, and he declared the issue settled when he found that most people wouldn’t. No economic case at all: QED. It is hard to imagine him applying the same criterion to a Porsche – ten times as expensive and in my opinion ten times less fun. Not to mention immeasurably less sustainable. But then that would only count in the equation if he worried about sustainability, which as a rule motoring journalists tend not to.
So the general impression is that it is an incredibly refined vehicle, uncannily quiet and unfussy, and a complete joy to travel in. It is hard to pin down what is quite so special about it, but it reminds me of a trip I once had in a glider, or of that wonderful sense of peace you get in a sailing boat when you get out of the harbour and kill the engine. As you slow down and stop, the engine stops. Silent, still, cool. Cars whose engines keep running until you turn them off begin to look a bit ridiculous. It could be quite soon that people come to see the internal combustion engine as crude and unsophisticated, and those exhaust pipes – no less than four huge ones on a Lamborghini I saw in a service station the other day – as frankly disgusting.
Everybody asks about the range. Well, a full charge takes it just over 80 miles. Another ten or so if you change to Eco+, which turns off the air conditioning and restricts the speed until you do a deliberate kick-down with the accelerator. Eco mode is somewhere in between. In Normal mode the e-up! zooms along the motorway and keeps up with and overtakes almost anything if you want it to. The instrumentation tells you exactly how much power you are using and the range remaining all the time.
So, we already do return trips to towns 35 miles away in complete confidence. [ADDENDUM – this should really say ‘in summer, using Eco+ mode’ – see note added at the bottom*] We have yet to try, or need, a rapid-charging station on a longer journey, but the thoroughly-integrated Garmin ‘Info-tainment’ centre tells us where they are when we do. We are registered with Ecotricity and we have our swipe card, and charging will be free and take up to twenty minutes. The VW models use the new CCS connector which is currently being installed in charging centres. As far as we can tell we can also use the more common Type 2 connector as well. But I will edit this post to give clearer details of the practicalities of using these stations as we find them out. This is where the lack of people experienced in using the technology is so apparent. There is certainly a pioneering element which is probably part of the fun.
For the time being I would have two major reservations – I do not think we have reached the point where electric cars are practical as an only car for people who need to make long journeys. The extra range of the VW e-Golf might make the necessary difference but I think that remains to be seen. And secondly, you really do need a garage where you can keep and charge it. I see no solution at the moment for the many people who have to keep their car in the street, and not even in a fixed position outside their house.
Otherwise, I’ve seen the future, and it works…
* Further note on Range 24 August: Yesterday evening we took four adults on a 63 mile round-trip to the theatre.
Starting with a full charge and on Eco+ mode the indicated range was 98 miles. As we started home it was 48 miles – battery charge dial showing between half and three quarters full. About ten miles from home we changed to normal mode, turned on the heating and stormed up a couple of hills to show off the car. Arriving home there were 8 miles remaining range indicated.
Full statistics of the journeys, from the VW Car-net e-remote smartphone app:
Out (Daylight, late afternoon) 31 miles in 53 minutes av 35 mph Av. e-motor consumption 4.1 mpkWh (miles per kilowatt hour) Av. recuperation 19.5 mpkWh Av. secondary consumption (heating/lights, etc) 155.4 mpwWh
Return (Dark, temperature <10°C) 32 miles in 57 minutes, av 33 mph. Av. e-motor consumption 4.0 mpkWh Av. recuperation 18.3 mpkWh Av. Secondary consumption 28.3 mpkWh
It takes time to get your head around having your own solar power.
Our PV roof panels were switched on three days ago and we have already generated (…gets up to look at the meter behind him on the wall…) 57.1 kilowatt hours. That’s much more power than we have used in that time. That’s a lot. Much more than I imagined.
Our system has a little bonus gizmo so that when we are not using all the power we generate (most of the time) the excess is fed automatically into the immersion heater in our hot water cylinder. So we switched off the gas boiler when the PV came on stream and we still have piping hot water for showers each morning. (That means zero energy cost, folks.)
But the thing which is so novel and which takes some really believing is that during the day we can use as much hot water as we like and there is absolutely no cost whatsoever – not to us and not to the planet: we are just using the heat from the sun that would have fallen on that part of the roof anyway.
Why isn’t everyone doing this!
Another thing: When the energy performance certificate for our house was done just six months ago the assessor estimated that a 2.5kW solar array would cost future owners (i.e. us) between £9,000 and £14,000. In fact our state-of-the-art array, installed with meticulous care and attention to detail last week, actually cost us £6,500. And it generates 4kW, getting on for twice as much as that estimate, for less than half the price.
Bottom line – even the experts have not understood how quickly solar power is becoming hugely cost effective.
And our bottom line is the profound satisfaction we are getting. We even have a new electric lawnmower, which – wait for it – gets used in summer and always during the day – isn’t that just beautiful.
Our system was generating 1kW at 8.00 this morning and 1.3kW at 6.00 this evening. And it is early April in supposedly dark and dreary England. Isn’t that beautiful too!
Oh yes, it peaked at just over 3kW. Eight panels on the East sloping roof and another eight on the West.
@1010 We have two LED bulbs billed as 60W replacements by Homebase which are much brighter than 100W
When this provoked some interest I added that I had kept meaning to test this impression by using the light meter of my camera. 10:10 replied that they would be interested in the results. So, waiting only for darkness to descend, I went ahead with my simple experiment. Which confirmed my assertion, thus:
Lumix G2 camera set on Aperture Priority mode. Sensitivity at ASA 1600 Aperture fixed at f3.6
Night time. No other light sources present.
The only change made between each reading was the bulb itself.
The two mini fluorescent examples were allowed to warm up to full intensity before taking their readings.
60 Watt Incandescent: 1/60th second exposure required*
100 Watt Incandescent: 1/100th second exposure required*
15 Watt mini-fluorescent: 1/100th second exposure required*
12 Watt LED: 1/160th second exposure required*
30 Watt mini-fluorescent: 1/200th second exposure required*
*The amount of light produced by the bulb is presumably in inverse proportion to the length of the exposure required – i.e.the shorter the exposure the brighter the bulb.
These results suggest that while the 30W mini-fluorescent is the brightest bulb tested, the 12 Watt LED bulb bought from Homebase produces nearly three times as much light as the 60 Watt incandescent bulb for which it was billed as a replacement, and is more than half as bright again as the 100 Watt example, just as I claimed in my tweet.
One factor inhibiting people from changing over to LED lighting in their homes (apart from the cost – which is falling dramatically) is the belief that you can’t really get an adequate replacement for a standard 100Watt light bulb. Homebase, at least, appears to be contributing to this misconception by underselling the particular LED bulb which I used in this comparison.
I had no means of testing the accuracy of the wattage marked on the different bulbs, but if these are roughly correct then this experiment also supports the commonly repeated claim that LED bulbs use approximately 1/10th the electricity for the same light output.
I can feel further blogs coming on re:
The emerging practicality of large-scale changeover to much more efficient means of domestic lighting
The enduring validity of amateur experimentation, even in cutting-edge areas.