The Grant Thomas Blog Sustainability, Electric Cars & Technology news and comment

3Mar/170

The BMW 225xe; full video review

My weekend treat drive of the BMW 225xe Plug In Hybrid electric car.

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4Jan/170

2017; 2 new EVs to buy

Video update recorded on 1 January 2017 as I talk through replacing our Nissan LEAF Tekna and Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV...

 

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6Aug/150

Farewell MK1 Nissan LEAF!

After 3 years and 34,000 miles it was time for the Mk1 Nissan LEAF to be returned. I was a tad emotional to give back the car that has changed my view on driving forever. Here's my 'one take' farewell drive the day before 'Bex' went back....

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2Mar/151

30,000 Mile Nissan LEAF Mk1 Update

Last week another significant electric driving milestone was met, 30,000 miles now on the clock of our 2012 Nissan LEAF Mk1. Now if this was any other road car this digit would pass without event but it also coincides with our 2.5 year mark, meaning 6 months only left with this car.

IMG_2771

End of a LEAF?
So after 3 years and 30,000 miles the decision is made to move AWAY from the LEAF as a company car. So what happened? Did I stop loving the LEAF? Did it fail to live up to the hype? What went wrong? Well nothing and no. In fact out of the 25+ cars I have driven the LEAF has single-handedly changed how I not only consider cars but it opens a door where you question your energy usage, where it comes from and more.

So why ditch the LEAF?
Well its not really a complete walk away from a LEAF but more a financial adaptation. When I took delivery of the LEAF in 2012 I was one of the first few hundred electric car drivers in the UK. Compare that tO Last year where 13,000 LEAFs were sold so a significant exponential growth in adoption DESPITE a plummeting oil price. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had a few company cars before and I have learned that such time boxed leases are more financial than emotional decisions about as car I will never own. Before a LEAF I drove a diesel car and was feeling the year on year increase in Company Car Tax.

Company Car Tax
Now before your eyes glaze over at the mention of tax it’s a pretty big thing. HALF of all UK new cars are sold to fleets and if Company Car Drivers have to pay a Benefit in Kind tax for the ‘privilege’. For a decade this has been linked to the CO2 emissions of a vehicle designed to incentivise drivers to choose lower emission cars. Essentially it’s a sliding scale dependent on the emission the more it gunk out the exahaust, the more you pay. The real bonus for the past 2.5 years has been that all electric cars pay NO company car tax. So if I had chosen a VW GOLF in 2012 instead of a LEAF I would have paid over £1,000 more in company car tax each year. Zero Emission cars were taxed at 0% and this is the PRIMARY reason I chose an electric car. HOWEVER the Government is SCRAPPING the 0% rate for zero emission cars and lumping all cars that emit less than 50 CO2 into one big bucket. AND the rate goes from 0% to 5% in April 2015, the 7% in 2016, then 9%, nnext year and up to 13% the year after that. So take out a zero emission car like the LEAF on a 3 year lease and by the end of it your BIK company car tax will have shot from £0 in 2015 to over £1000 a year by 2017.

This utter madness means that a cheaper car, like the VW Golf at £10k less purchase price than a Nissan LEAF will be CHEAPER than a car that emissions nothing out the tailpipe. At the very time when there are huge health concerns about the toxic gasses from Diesel cars the Government is scrapping the very incentive that got me into a zero emission car in the first place. At a time where Paris is banning all diesel cars by 2020 and London is breaching EU regulations on air quality and considering the same.

Loving the LEAF
Before talking about my decision lets just praise the technological marvel that is the LEAF. I have driven round Silverstone track and all the way to Snowdon in North Wales proving, that with some basic planning, Electric Cars can work for long jounrneys. When I tok delivery of my LEAF in August 2012 there was less than 100 rapid Chargers in the UK now there are over 800 Nationwide including EVERY motorway service station. There is also something magnificent of laying in bed reaching for your iPhone and telling the car to heat itself up on af frosty morning. Or plugging it into charge on a sunny day knowning that you are charging, and hence driving, for free. The Traffic Light Grand Prix that has left many a boy race grappling for the right gear as this silent car launches into the distance. All this in a car which can take all 5 of our family plus the dog in the boot.

Range
Lets make a caveat; the Mk2 LEAF is a significant improvement on the MK1 I have been driving for 3 years. BUT one of the challenges of being an early adopter is that you are soon left with yesterdays tech. In our LEAF this has manifested itself in a terrible heating system which, on a cold wet evening, can mean you are sat on a Motorway trying to demist a window watching the range haemorrhage as the heating takes 4kw to try and heat the cabin. Now thats an extreme example but it has happened. And before someone lifts that soundbite out of context; the Mk2 LEAF Accenta and Tekna models largely resolve this with a far more efficient heat pump heating system. It’s also means that we can’t travel further than 30 miles form home with our relying on some form of public charging to get back home again, and this has had its challenges.

RANGE ANXIETY IS JUST A POINT IN TIME. It is widely speculated that by 2016/2017 we will see at least a doubling of the range of the LEAF to 150 miles, possibly 200 milesalong with cars from GM and Tesla with a similar range and price point; and at that point EVs becomes far more adoptable.

Next car decision
Having driven nearly all UK available EVs in the past year, our LEAF replacement in August will be the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV GX4h. Do I need a 1.8 tonnes 4x4 car for our usage? No. And that is the compromise. But with this car we have a 27 mile electric range and then a petrol hybrid that extends that range to over 300 miles. Another great advantage is that is has the same 2 sockets for charging as the LEAF so a J1772 plug for home and public charging and a CHAdeMO socket for a 20 minute rapid charge at a motorway service station. BUT, and its a meaningful BUT, if you arrive at that motorway service station and the Rapid Charger is DOWN, or if there is 1 LEAF on Charge and another waiting, you don’t have to wait AN HOUR until you can continue your journey. The Outlander is also a very smooth drive, loads of technology as standard and very familiar with all the controls and buttons in the same place as the LEAF.

OPTIONS it’s all about options. We can choose when we want to drive electric and when we can use the petrol 2 litre engine to drive or charge the batteries. Its the flexibility of never worrying about range yet still paying the same company car tax rate as a Nissan LEAF. It’s the flexibility to carry stuff in a decent boot or on a roof rack, both missing in the BMW i3. And moreover it’s the ideal stop-gap for 2 years until we see the longer range electric cars in 2017. Telsa, GM and Nissan are all racing to bring out a 200 mile range EV by 2017. Also, as Ecotricity struggle to prop up their motorway charging network, there is a good chance of those growing pains to have diminished by 2017.

It’s all about 2017.

Goodbye LEAF?
Not quite, So while all the above talks of Company Car tax and financials the Outlander is not without its compromises. It has a pretty rudimental satnav and no luxury of laying-in-bed-climate-control and it also uses a lot more electric to move it than the LEAF. Now that may sound mad in the context of ICE engine vs Electric as both the LEAF and Outlander PHEV are over 90% cheaper to drive than an ICE; but I want the full 80 miles electric range. So we plan to sell our 2nd car, a BWM Mini, and either buy or lease a Nissan LEAF Tekna 6.6kw. Now EVs depreciate quickly so there are all sorts of calculations and sums to be done but my mindset is; we just drive it into the ground. If we personally but a LEAF there is no road tax, insurance is a couple of hundred quid a year, I have a nissan dealer with rapid charger 5 miles from home and supermarket with 4 x 7kw free charging posts. So really there should be next to no running costs if we have a personal owned LEAF to compliment the Outlander PHEV.

So that’s the plan; to bid farewell to the game-changing LEAF in August as a company car, swap it our for an Outlander and in the interim stalk a decent low mileage LEAF Mk2 Tekna or PCP deal to make us a twin EV family.

And what of that comment of beware the door it opens, well I already had solar electric panels on my roof, but soon after getting my LEAF I added Solar thermal hot water, then added solar electric hot water heating and I continue to drive down our family’s dependency on fossil fuels. I present at many public events on our journey with the LEAF and drive and blog about the revolution in electric driving. You cease to be tied to a petrol station or an energy provider for all your heat and hot water needs and start to have options about how we consume energy and drive our cars. It’s been a fabulous 30,000 miles in the LEAF but what’s round the corner looks even more exciting

Sources-

http://drugguardians.com/devices/gm-ignition-switch/

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19Jan/156

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Video Review by Grant Thomas

In the Autumn of 2014 I was lucky to get a full 6 day test drive in the revolutionary Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV which one day can be the austin towing company caravan and the next whispering round town with up to 27 miles of zero emission electric driving. Unlike other Plug-in Hybrids the Outlander PHEV also comes with a CHAdeMO DC charging socket, the same as the Nissan LEAF, which charge the car up to 80% in 20 minutes, just like a LEAF. It also has a 2nd socket to allow you to charge up at home through the J1772 connection as the Nissan LEAF. And with the Government's rapid Company Car Tax increase from 0% to 5% in 2015, 9% in 2016 and then 12% on 2017 for all cars under 50 CO2, the Outlander is making massive in-roads to the corporate market.

Here's my thoughts;

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1Jan/152

Christmas Eve, Chicken Run and look, Cheap Petrol!

Christmas Eve 2014; the normal hectic dash of last minute shopping, wrapping presents, tables, chairs, cards etc and two unconnected events which perfectly captured a sustainable point in time.

First off, the brilliant Chicken Run on BBC1 Christmas Eve afternoon; I’d not seen it in a while but have always thought this was the funniest, and best written, Aardman Animations Film; from the characters right through to the shamelessly cloned Theme Tune from the Great Escape.

There’s a scene where the dictator-styled Farmer's Wife enters the Chicken Coup and the Chicken that has laid the least eggs is summarily removed and slaughtered as the least productive of the flock. But on this occasion rather than being hauled off for the Sunday Roast the chickens are given extra feed and without a moments thought set about eating as much of extra feed as possible. Only Babs, their industrious leader, sees the new Chicken Pie machine being set up across the yard where these newly fattened chickens will soon meet their untimely demise.

mrs tweedy

It reminded me of a recent post on my Facebook wall by a friend who had commented on the recent falling price of Petrol and a tongue-in-cheek suggestion about the viability of the Electric Car. As sure as those chickens who gorged on their extra meal, the current blip in Petrol prices, and the public glee at a cheaper fill-up are guaranteed the false hope as the Chickens, but onto the second 'Canary in the Coalmine' that December 24th...

Screen Shot 2015-01-01 at 17.44.13

This brings me to the second event that Christmas Eve; the Today Programme on Radio 4 at 6am and a news article whereby OPEC, the cartel that fixes Middle East oil prices by manipulating oil production; said that it would not cut oil production EVEN oil if it fell to $20 per barrel. This was MASSIVE and knocked me sideways; not because of my advocacy of Electric Cars but the tactics that OPEC were now deploying.

To briefly summarise; anytime in the past the price of oil fell, OPEC would reduce the amount of oil it extracts hence constraining demand and forcing up prices to ensure all member countries continue to make billions of dollars of profit.

However; the price of oil falling in 2014 was attributable to one fact; US Fracked Oil. The USA has been fracking the rocks (a really unsafe practice) and extracting oil for it’s own supply hence reducing the need , and dependency, to import it from the Middle East and Russia. This new supply has directly resulted in the falling price of oil and many analysts were expecting OPEC to cut production to force the price up. So why this Christmas Eve statement about no such reduction in supply?

Well earlier in December UK North Sea Oil drilling companies announced 2,500 job cuts as it was no longer viable to extract oil from beneath the sea bed if the market price falls below $60 a barrel. And the penny dropped; the Middle East still extract oil from their shallow Land based oil wells which is much cheaper than an oil rig in the North Sea. And certainly a lot cheaper than horizontal drilling and fracking which the USA has been doing to self supply .

So OPEC are looking to kill off the competition by not reducing supply. There will come a point whereby it is not financially viable to extract oil from the North Sea in the UK or by fracking in the USA. OPEC will have wiped out their competition and will then to recommence their control of global oil pricing and the strategic goal of increased oil prices year on year will recommence.

So yes, right now the price of forecourt petrol prices is falling, but if you look at a graph over the past 60 years you will see there are frequent short-lived temporary drops in prices but the overall price continues to rise. And let’s not forget that we are past Peak Oil, that is the point whereby we have extracted all the easy oil and continued supply requires very dangerous practices like fracking rocks next to drinking water supplies or drilling the Arctic.

fracking.injection.wells_.contamination.public.water_occupycorporatism

When a Fracking well Pollutes Drinking Water

 

Now a pragmatist would suggest taking advantage of the low oil prices while the price is low and I agree with the idea of choices; indeed our next car will be a part  electric / part petrol plug in hybrid; but we also plan to keep a 100% electric car charged from the solar panels on our home.

But to suggest that this temporary dip in petrol prices should divert people away from transportation run on non-fossil fuels is as short sighted as those Chickens gorging on an apparent free meal without care for their impending fate. Still, there’s a lot to be said for a good Chicken and Mushroom pie.

chicken pie

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28Oct/140

Solar PV: 3 Year Update; beating every estimate.

On 22 October our solar PV system turned three years of age. Despite predictions that the system gets less efficient as it ages the results show a year-on-year increase in the kilowatt-hour production rate of the system. Despite near biblical floods in the UK earlier in the year, 2014 has been the most productive to date with every month exceeding the target generation of the Solar PV system.

2014 Solar Generation vs Target

2014 Solar Generation vs Target 

With solar PV feed in tariff rates linked to inflation these have also been rising year on year and will continue to do so for the 25 duration of the payments. During the three years since installing the system we have also started driving an electric car as well as installing a solar PV diverter that sends unused electricity in the home directly into the hot water immersion heater. The combination provides free hot water and free miles for our 100% Electric Nissan LEAF. .

The chart below shows the feed in tariff payments for the first three years as well as the electricity saved from our electric bill. This is going a long way to paying back the £11,500 install cost in October 2011.

Feed-In-Tariff and Electricity Bill savings

Feed-In-Tariff and Electricity Bill savings

Another key environmental consideration is the amount of CO2 removed by our own electricity generation. Over the three year period this equates to 5.5 tons removed from the atmosphere just with our own solar installation.

5.5 Tons CO2 reduction over 3 years

5.5 Tons CO2 reduction over 3 years

Is it worth installing now in 2014?

Absolutely! Whilst the Feed in Tariff rates have fallen an equivalent system cost has also fallen. For example my system that cost £11,500 to install 3 years ago will now cost you around £5,500 to have installed. This would provide approximately £800 a year in Feed-In-Tariff and electricity savings, or a 14% Return on  your investment.

Remember Feed-In-Tariff payments are paid for 20 years, are tax free and rise with inflation each year. if you have a roof that faces south or east/west you would be mad not to get Solar PV installed.  Electricity prices are only going to go one way....

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8Oct/141

Breaking: Nissan LEAF comes with BOTH charging cables with 6.6kW Upgrade

Just been told that anyone ordering a Nissan LEAF from 1 October 2014 and who pays for the 6.6 kW charging upgrade will get BOTH the 3 pin "EVSE Brick" charging cable as well as the Type 2 to Type 1 charging cable which allows the full 6.6 kW charging.

Nissan "EVSE Brick" allowing a trickle charge from a 3 pin socket

Previously customers had to pay an extra £400 for the 3 pin EVSE brick as they got the Type 2 to Type 1 cable only

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26Sep/141

The Guardian asked: Why have you joined The Green Party?

On my Facebook news feed today The Guardian asked "Have you recently joined the Green Party?"; I intended to write a short, snappy reply but alas it turned into a mini-blog entry;  here's my contribution and as ever I welcome your perspectives.

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JOINED UP THINKING - THAT'S WHY I JOINED.

I'm 42 and have never joined a political party until I joined the Green Party this year. After the Conservative Party promised to be the "Greenest Government ever" I have been massively unimpressed with every action they have taken to reduce support for Renewable Energy and then support such ludicrous policies as Fracking, which the public do not want or trust.

Our only hope for Energy security, energy independence, a move away from Coal and our reliance on Saudi Oil and Russian Gas is to have a STRATEGY. Today we have a  5 year political cycle that deters from joined up thinking,  however we need a political party that encourages householders to install Renewable Energy, capture massive Tidal projects all around our coast, allows onshore and offshore wind farms on a massive scale and ensure all new housing developments come with Ground Source energy and roof mounted solar on EVERY large domestic estate.

We also need to accelerate Electric Car adoption to rid our towns and cities that have pollution levels to rival Beijing. I have driven 25,000 miles in 2 years in our 100% Electric Nissan LEAF and could not go back to petrol driving. Not only is it a far superior driving experience but you're not tied to buying a fuel source which a fluctuating price with hefty fuel duty and VAT charges.

As a Dad and a part of a family of 5, I see investing in Renewable Energy as both a moral and financial investment. It begins to undo the reliance on Fossil Fuels and reduces the carbon footprint of this family. It also provides an income from Government Feed In Tarrifs that pays off the up front cost. It provides flexibility so when the sun is out I can heat our hot water or charge the car for free,  choices we never had before. The moral perspective is that I am not driving a car that pumps out noxious gases at street level as my son walks to school; and by using ecotricity as our energy provider I know all the electricity that fuels our car and our home is from 100% renewable sources. Small choices made by many can lead to a profound impact.

The Green Party is the only party I could see with strategies that support this direction; setting out the framework to make Britain a less polluting country; inspiring households to reduce consumption and produce energy. A party that is not funded, and hence influenced, by the oil industry. I don't pretend for a moment that in May 2015 we'll see hundreds of Green MPs in Parliament but every change requires a nucleus and with Social Media and rationale arguments positive changes can happen.......

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20Sep/140

iPhone 6 Plus Unboxing

(Edited) My unboxing of the iPhone 6 Plus on launch day. Remember to change the quality up to 1080p on the little cog below the video.