Tag Archives: Environment

Further experience of our electric Car

Our VW e-up! after 7 months/3,200 miles
Our e-car

Gorgeous to drive

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.

Overstated range

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.

Charging
Charging from a 13 amp plug in the garage. You can just see the green lights of the charging unit on the far wall beyond the wing mirror.

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.

Screenshot_2015-03-23-15-28-49
The display on the e-manager app

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.

Networks

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.

Connectors

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.

SSE ChargePoint
SSE ChargePoint at The Rapids, Romsey
CCS - AC - CHAdeMO
CCS – AC – CHAdeMO connectors
CCS connector
CCS business-end

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.

‘2071’ by Duncan Macmillan and Professor Chris Rapley, CBE

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.

2071 - Chris Rapley

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.

Our first impressions of owning an electric car

Our e-car
Our e-car. Note the distinctive running lights

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

 

Imagine if Owen Paterson had been lobbied by ‘asbestos deniers’

Imagine if UK Secretary of State for the Environment Owen Paterson had been approached by lobbyists employed by the asbestos industry telling him that the science linking asbestos inhalation and the particularly nasty kind of lung cancer called mesothelioma was in doubt. And that all the scientists and scientific institutions who were currently claiming that there was such a link were conspiring to deceive the public so as to justify ideologically-based restrictions on personal freedom which would result in increased taxation…
In that case, how certain would Owen Paterson have to be that this view of the situation was right before he began to inhale asbestos dust himself?
And how certain would Owen Paterson have to be that all the scientists were wrong before he began to use his position as UK Secretary of State for the Environment to undermine moves to control the release of asbestos into the environment so that children began to inhale it too?
And, last but not least, how confident of this position would Owen Paterson have to be before announcing to a fringe meeting of the Conservative party conference that asbestos exposure “can have a positive side” and that “People get very emotional about this subject and I think we should just accept that [asbestos exposure has been going on] for centuries”?
Now, to return to the real world: How likely does Owen Paterson think it is that fossil-fuel lobbyists are wrong when they deny the validity of the scientific evidence concerning the threat posed by man-made global warming?
Nobody fit to hold a position of responsibility can ever take the view that there is no chance at all of their being wrong about a controversial issue, that is a truism. So has Owen Paterson contemplated the seriousness of the consequences if he is wrong about the issue of man-made global warming – in fact the possibility that he has been deceived by the lobbyists – however small he may think that possibility may be?   If not, could we all encourage him, please, to contemplate the seriousness of those consequences now.

LA LA LA LA LA...

Climate Surfing – a selection of links

We tuned up the following list of links during our recent Climate Week 2013 event.
I’m posting it here in case it is useful to anyone else.
Concern about Climate Change
Answering Denial
Ways forward

Saving energy

Wind Power

Tidal Power

  • Sea Gen – Sea Generation Tidal Turbine (1min)

Solar Power

  •  A Shade Greener A short video by the BBC explaining the benefits of Free Solar Panels: 

What can We do?

  • * Reality Drop: Makes it easy to help ‘Spread Science about Climate Change, Global Warming’

The Climate Week Declaration

Climate Week 2013 starts tomorrow and I have just signed the Climate Week Declaration. Here is the full wording.

Britain must do all it can to create a secure, prosperous and sustainable future by helping to prevent climate change.

We call on the government to maintain its commitment to the Climate Change Act by taking further steps to encourage investment in the green economy, greater use of renewable energy and positive action across society.

The Energy Bill currently being considered in Parliament is an important and urgent example of the commitment needed. We urge the government to act on the recommendation from its own Committee on Climate Change to include decarbonisation targets in the Energy Bill.

And I got the nice badge to prove it:Print

Now I’m seeing if my colleagues on the Alton Society committee will agree to us signing up as a body. STOP PRESS: Yes they have, with enthusiasm!

Personal theories are of no significance whatsoever

An astonishing turnout
An astonishing turnout

It is a month since my open Climate Change meeting: http://www.friendsinlowplaces.co.uk/OnceMore.htm

The key point that has emerged for me during and since the meeting is that personal theories about climate change, yours or mine, are of no significance whatsoever. The only thing that we non-experts should legitimately concern ourselves with is which of the two stories about climate change we can trust. Because it is clear that there are two stories. And they are diametrically opposed to one another. One calls for urgent global action; the other urges inaction.  If we back the wrong one, or undermine our politicians in their attempts to back the right one, the consequences, we are being warned, could be beyond our imagination.

In deciding which story to trust, the suggestion I made at the meeting was that we should look at the language being used. I picked out two characteristic signs of material that should arouse suspicion: CERTAINTY and VITRIOL. Having reiterated the principle that science is never ‘certain’, I gave a number of examples of what I meant by ‘vitriol’. These made a big impression on the audience, especially the personal message from a well-known journalist I invited to the meeting, which I allowed people to read as a slide. To these two tell-tale signs we can now add a third, as described in two of the links below — ‘occult funding by vested interests’. And when these three come together to contradict the consensus view of global scientific expertise on such an overwhelmingly important issue I for one have not the slightest doubt where I will continue to place my trust.

There have been some important developments in the month since the meeting, some are shocking, but some are wonderfully encouraging. Here is my selection in chronological order:

And here are the links I promised to sources of trustworthy information:

Finally, here is the latest pie chart by James Powell, showing the miniscule number of peer-reviewed scientific papers which deny that global warming is caused by humans (Look for the green dot) The excellent website is at jamespowell.org – the methods and criteria are detailed there so that anyone can repeat the survey for themselves if they doubt the findings.

www.jamespowell.org
http://www.jamespowell.org