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.
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.
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.
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
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 towing 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;
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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....
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.
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
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.
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.......
(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.
Here it is my review and recommendation on yesterday's iPhone 6 and Apple Watch announcements.
iPhone 4 and 4S owners: Upgrade ASAP
iPhone 5 and 5S owners: Get the best price pre Christmas to cushion the cost of upgrade
iPhone 6 Plus 64GB Silver is my recommendation, iPhone 6 is just not quite as good.
Cut out your own iPhone 6 real size template; make you print option Actual Size, not best fit. http://img.wonderhowto.com/img/download/iphone-6-and-6-plus-scale-cutouts.pdf
If you want to watch the whole Apple Event you can here
It was strangely warm at the bottom of this long tube; it’s amazing the memories you recall from childhood. As I removed my arm from this large drainpipe submerged in a compost heap I knew something clever was going on but at 12 quickly wanted to leave this odd hippy-esque Center For Alternative Technology in North Wales that my parents had dragged my brother and I to.
Clearly something had sublimilarily registered as for the past few years I had wanted to return. And what better way to go back than in a vehicle with zero emissions and so the idea was born. I’d planned the trip in my head but by early 2014 the planning really started, the accommodation was booked, the destinations selected and in April the 600 mile trip was on!
Regular readers will know I’ve driven a Nissan LEAF Mk1 since August 2012 and by the time of this road trip it would have covered 23,000 miles. Having just got through a second winter in this car I know that at best it will cover 70 miles on a freezing day with heat, demist and motorway driving you can get just over 50 miles. Wales in April can not only be chilly but it’s also full of mountains / hills etc
Rather than really push the Mk1 LEAF I was able to utilise a Mk2 LEAF that we had as a long term demonstrator at work. This is a mid range Accenta grade LEAF that has the Heat-Pump (lots of heat, fraction of the power needed vs Mk1) but this car also has the 6.6 kW upgrade which would be needed on this journey.
I had actually taken this exact car on 150 mile roundtrip in November whenit was factory fresh; but in the intermittent months it had been on weekly loans so I had no idea of it’s mileage, how it had been charged or cared for. So rather than jump in the car and set off to Wales I had a weekend in the New Forest. An easy 50 mile journey and a weekend with in the Forest which only required a trickle charge to get me home again
It staggers me how some people jump in an EV relying on one charger then panic when they arrive to find the charger not working and not sure where to go. I guess this comes with experience and after 20k miles and a few longer journeys I always check before departing if the charger is working and what the nearest options are in case it’s not working.
On a 5 day, 600 mile trip I am expecting something to present a challenge so I set about creating a document listing each journey stage and the charging locations and times. Wales, unlike the flat coastal home plane of Hampshire, is full of hills and, just like the petrol cars, require more energy to ascend. This also means on the way back down an Electric Car recharges it’s batteries to recover some of that energy.
Part of my journey included the wonderful Brecon Beacons and whilst wild and scenic ascending this mountain range was certainly going to zap some power from the LEAF battery pack. Luckily someone has developed and excellent web site where you simply tap in your start and destination post codes and it will graphically show you the terrain en route: http://www.jurassictest.ch/GR/. In addition you can select your car from the presented list of EVs and the web site will tell you EXACTLY how much power your car will use and what you have left upon reaching the destination.
And so the day by day document had a table of locations, distances and screen shots showing how much battery I would use and have left. I also had a list of backup charging locations and alternatives should any fail. Remember the 7 Ps: Proper and Preparation Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance; and will stop you ending up on a flatbed lorry!
Day 1: Emsworth to Bath – Total distance: 113 miles
Now I could have got to Wales in a day with 3 charges but this is also a vacation for me rather than an endurance test so I did plan a 1 night stop over in beautiful Bath. Previously Bath had no EV charging but finally last year Source West finally installed charging in one car park so an emission free return to Bath was on the cards.
Nissan LEAF fully charged from home supply; Set off 11am and a brisk 70mph jaunt 28 miles along the M27 to Rownhams Services West bound where Ecotricity had installed a free-to-use Rapid Charger. I had been asking for such a rapid charger here as it’s a key trunk road to the west country and the New Forest so was delighted when Ecotricity installed one Rapid Charger each side of the M27.
First time using this charger and no problems using the Ecoticity card. I knew the next leg of the journey was a 53 mile leg and over a few hills so charged the car to 97% in about 40 minutes. I set off and along the A36 through Salisbury then down the A303 until I reached Wincanton after 90 minutes driving.
F J Chalke was one of the first Nissan dealerships to sell LEAF and had a reputation for being excellent EV Specialist. On arrival it’s a small forecourt with one space, thankfully adjacent to the rapid charger. You’ll need a member of staff to swipe the smart card and then a quick 30 min charge I was 90% charged and ready for the 33 mile jaunt to Bath. More stunning English spring countryside driving then I arrived at Bath from the South that seemed far less congested than the normal A36 arrival.
Rather than one of the normal hotel’s I had selected a B&B called Cornerways due to the excellent Trip Adviser reviews; plus it backed onto the large Charlotte Street carpark where the EV Charging was.
Upon arrival there are 4 clearly painted and signposted EV charging bays run by Source West. I had called a couple of weeks before to make sure my smart card was active as I had never used it since applying for it a year ago. I pulled up and the post had LEDs at the side by the screen was dead. The same on the post next door. The charging flaps were open but neither post would respond to my smart card. I called Source West who were very accommodating and quickly called the keyholder, the local council. I explained this was an overnight stop on a 600 mile roadtrip to North Wales and without the charge I was stuck. Now time to ‘fess up – I had 40% of the battery left and I could have easily made it to IKEA Bristol or probably even the severn bridge chargers but frankly it we’re going to be asked to pay for charging in the future we need a robust charging network.
To cut a long story short within 10 mins I had the council on the phone to me saying they would be up to look at the chargers and if that failed I could use their charger at the council offices. A quick pop open off the adjacent supply cabinet. And the ‘turn it off and on again’ fixed it and I was charging at 6.6 kw 40 mins after arriving. Not that slick but a commendable recovery by the council.
A quick word on Cornerways; forget budget hotels; the room was superb; great ensuite and outstanding breakfast. Will be back here for sure.
Day 2: Bath to Three Cocks (Brecon) – Total distance : 84 miles
The second day of dry spring warmth was forecast and a quick check on the LEAF from my iPhone Carwings app and the car was 100% charged and ready for the trip. Before setting off I checked the dependent Rapid Charger status on the Ecotricity Electric Highway web site and Magor showed as being down (just over the new Severn Crossing) but the Rapid Charger just before the original Severn crossing was fine.
A scenic drive out of Bath along the A46 and then a quick 70mph blast along the M4 / M48 to Severn View Moto services (only 26 miles from Bath). Rapid charger easily found and available. If you are new new to electric car driving here’s one bit of charging etiquette; if I leave my car plugged into a rapid charger unattended I have an A4 piece of paper in the glove box saying “To contact the owner of this car please call 07…..” and a couple of times I do get called; especially in places like IKEA etc. After plugging in my LEAF at Severn Crossing Rapid Charger I zipped into get a coffee and as I emerged another LEAF was waiting.
EV drivers are nice people! After a quick hello, how are you wheres your journey, sure enough this driver was a member of a popular EV forum and we knew of each other and within 10 minutes my LEAF was 90% charged and ready to go and the other LEAF driver was off charging up and off to Cardiff.
Over the River Severn and into Wales. Now rather than stick to the major A roads I had found a far more direct cross country route that gave me the option to stop at a location that had a Zero Carbon World charger installed so I set off across some of the most stunning cross country roads passing small villages heading towards Ragnor just ahead of the ascent across the Brecon Beacons.
The Llansantffraed Court Hotel was a couple of miles away and the battery was still at 60%+ but as it was lunchtime and this was a 32A commando location I could get a bite to eat ad use my DIY EVSE box for the first time.
I think it’s courteous to ask before just plugging in at a hotel so upon checking on lunch availability and EV charging they wer more than happy for me to plug in and charge. I was not EV alone…. The Llansantffraed Court Hotel has its own fully branded Renault Twizy as part of the Eco Travel Network where guests could hire the little electic 2 seater and scoot around the Brecon Beacons as part of their vacation experience. The Twizy was plugged into the 3 pin plug so I had full access to the 32A commando. Connection was hassle free and within 10 seconds the car was charging at a full 6.6kWh.
Lunch was truly outstanding and after an hour the car was 96% charged and ready to head off. The Manager and a couple of members of staff were fascinated to see their first LEAF and a photo call and a couple of Tweets later I was off into the Brecon Beacons .
Frankly the car out-performed all of my guestimates and within an hour I was at my Uncle’s house with a plenty of battery capacity – the lunch stop was more for refuelling me than the car; but hey nevere miss a chance to spread the EV word.
As I was here well ahead of time, and in fact my Uncle I took a 5 mile driver to Drover Cycles; another Zero Carbon World location. I had reached out via Twitter in advance to see of I could use their charger in case of backup and thought this was a great opportunity to network do had a quick hour top up charge. Had a great chat with the owner who was just off to pick up a Reanult Kangoo EV a couple of days later so I showed him all the cables, connectors and options he may need in return the LEAF got a nice 6kWh top up. Back to Uncles house and trickle charged the car overnight ready for the next leg of the adventure.
Day 3: Into the Wild: Total Distance: 103 miles. From this point on there was no rapid charging until the last day so 6.6 kWh charging could only be achieved at Zero Carbon World destinations / hotels or it was trickle charging. Whilst in the throws of organising this trip one commercial charging vendore had introduced per-charge billing for EV charging that had been met with a barrage of complaints from existing EV drivers.
I had resisted the urge to sign up but thought I would check the status of the one charging point that could get me out of a tight spot. The Chargemaster post was marked on the map as being on and available at a Little Chef in Builth Wells; I had to pass this crossroads to swung in to see if I could use this if needed later in the trip. The red post had no signpost or signs, no parking bay markings and was not easy to see; and being nearest the restaurant had 2 non-EV cars parked in it. In fairness as there was abolsutely no signange marking out this was an electric car charger they were no to blame. I parked up and walked up to the red post and it was dead; screen was off, no LEDs so would have been no use anyway. Why does Chargemaster continue to show such posts as on and available when this opposite is the case?
Onwards through more stunning countryside to my first charge of the day the Elan Valley visitor center. Easy to find on the map and a great welcome before eing shown round to the ZCW 32A commando charger by an exited Warden who was keen to see this Electric Car. Elan Valley is a huge Dam whose contained fresh water supplied the city of Birmnigham as well as having 2 small hydro electric power stations at the base of the impressive brick faced Dam. After a couple of photos the car was on charge and I donned the walking boots for a 30 min circular walk of the site before a warming coffee and Dannish whilst using their free wifi and as the car completed it’s 40% charge. A great location and a welcoming, enthusiastic staff happy to help EV drivers.
Onto the next hilly drive to my most northerly location on this trip the Center for Alternative Technology in Pantperthog. I’m running out of descriptions for the Welsh countryside but it’s a delight to drive through. A stumbled accorss a small village and grabbed a sandwich and even parking up was stopped and asked about the car from a local farmworker that knew exactly what a LEAF was but had never seen one. I peddled out my normal response of 22,000 miles and would not drive petrol again and he was suitably positive about his next car being electric.
1:30pm and arrival at CAT and directed up the hill to the ZCW 32A commando charger. Hassle free connection and charging whilst I visited the amazing CAT location 30 years after my last visit! Frankly I cant remember much apart from that warm compost heap but the CAT location is now a major education location for students form around Europe as well as having many practical working models of renewable energy.
One that caught my attention was 3 different types of Biomass boiler with different states of automation burning wooden pellets and logs to supply the entire site with hot water via an enormous dual bore insulated pipe – a hot water ring main using multiple renewable energy sites to service resident students and visitors. If you’ve never been and you’re going to wales – add CAT to your itinerary.
Back to the LEAF and at a full 32A charge rate it was up to 98% charge after my 3 hours visit and I was ready for the final leg; an overnight stop at The Old Vicarage, Dolfor that had a Zero Carbon World charge point. As will all other stops I’d spoken to them before turning up to make sure the charger was still there / working / available etc. A delightful old vicarage with wonderful hosts; a refreshing tray of tea in front of roaring log fire as I checked in and great another nice couple also relaxing in the lounge. Not only a great stay but 10% off the bill for arriving in an electric car; nice touch.
Day 4: Dolfor to Three Cocks (Brecon): Total distance 43 miles.
Part of this journey was to catch up with family so frankly this leg of the trip was going to be straight forward. A wonderful winding drive up and down hills along the A483 and I actually stopped off at the literary centre of Hay-on-Wye to have a look round. After a quick stroll round lunch and time to check out another Zero Carbon World location; not as I needed the charge but pub lunch and a free charge; too good an opportunity to miss.
Arriving at the Radnor Arms mounted on a fence post was a Type 2 Mennekes Rolec charger – I would not even need to use the Portable EVSE for the first time in days – just the Type 2 to Type 1 cable and she was charging at 32 Amps. In fact the owners have their own Renault Zoe EV all decalled up and the pub was delightful – everything you’d expect from an 18th century Inn with great food and after an hour or so both car and owner were recharged.
Back to my Uncle’s and dip in the pool and some R&R ahead of the final day;’s drive for the 183 mile return leg
Day 5: Brecon to Chichester: Total Distance 183 miles
Sat 12th April: my longest EV journey and I would need at least 3 charges; I had gone the safe route and planned 4. I had backup plans and before leaving Brecon I had checked all the Ecotricity Electric Highway chargers were working; even Magor by the new Severn Crossing.
8 am I was on the road and heading up over the Brecon Beacons. No stopping at Llansantffraed hotel just staying on the A449 down to the M4 and then after 48 miles pull over to the Magor Services. Charger was free and let it charge for 20 mins up to 90%.
The next leg was really a ‘just in case’ – 20 miles from Magor to IKEA Bristol and happily pushed the car to the speed limit on cruise control and was at IKEA for opening time. Part of the goal was to avoid Bristol on a busy Saturday so earlier the better.
Whilst I was plugged in another LEAF arrived and a great knowledge swap about cars, chargers, journeys etc. I needed the full 95% charge as the next leg was a up and down country road stretch and after 30 mins was on the road.
Heading south out of Bristol was painful. Endless traffic lights and it took 30 minutes to clear the suburbs and onto the A37; but an A road this is not. It’s a single lane, winding slow road that after 80 minutes to cover 40 miles of fed up driving finally reached FJ Chalke again. Straight in and onto the charger and met a guy who had driven over 50,000 miles in his LEAF and still loved it as much as day one.
At 95% I disconnected, grabbed some lunch and it was soon back on decent roads, up the A303 and down the A36 through Salisbury. After 53 miles and 2:10pm I was at Rownhams Eastbound and straight on for a quick 15 minute charge and 26 miles later I was home by 3pm.
The LEAF and the charging network had behaved impeccably. Including some running round the Wales trip was 600 miles and apart from a blip in Bath with the RFID Source West charger the trip had gone brilliantly. Sunny dry days and cold spring nights.
With some simple planning and the right tools long journeys in 100 mile electric cars are possible; if you need to drive further you drive slower; if you have plenty of range then put your foot down. All of the charging I used was free to use, some was in exchange for custom, like the B&B but this was no issue and I was delighted with the food stops and overnight stay locations.
Wales – I’ll be back!
A couple of weeks ago one of the major Electric Car charging vendors announced that from 1 April 2014 users would no longer be able to charge for free from the network of Polar and Chargemaster charging stations.
The backlash from existing EV drivers has been severe and near universal in it’s condemnation of the cost of the new charging and the inability for the charging to relate to the amount of electricity actually used. Charging is being implemented on an hourly basis with drivers of cars like the Nissan LEAF Mk1 and the Vauxhall Ampera having to pay the same rate as Nissan LEAF Mk2 and BMW i3 drivers who get twice the amount of electrical charge, and hence range, for the same price.
There are a variety of Pay As You Go, annual pass and monthly subscription models but, at it’s most basic, an electric car driver could charge for an hour at a £2.50 using a mobile phone for payment (no smart card needed). Drivers of cars than charge at the slower 3.3kw rate are pointing out that this £2.50 charge will only give them 16 miles or range, a cost higher that running on Petrol, one Ampera driver pointed out.
As a strategy I think this is a good plan, but Chargemaster has some work to do;
- RELIABILITY As an occasional user of their network over the past 2 years I have frequently found local charging stations down, and when I call the customer support number printed on the charging station it goes to a mobile phone voicemail. I do get a call back within 15 minutes; but the reply is the same “We’ll send an engineer next week”; imagine if this was a car stuck at pump number 2 at a Petrol Station
- LOCATIONS Chargemaster have so far installed charging in City Center NCP car parks (with expensive car parking charges) and Waitrose supermarket car parks. There is a regular problem with these dedicated parking spaces being occupied by non-electric cars with no desire for either the car park / supermarket or Chargemaster to do anything to enforce or prevent the situation. Also there are locations where Charging Stations have been installed in underground car parks that hardly ever can get the required 3G signal, as a result CAN'T work...
- PRICING Chargemaster are not completely at fault here. It is UK law that only licensed power companies can bill in kWh so it is not possible to bill usage of their chargers based on kWh dispensed, however they could offer a reduced hourly rate for 16A / 3.3kw cars vs the 32A / 6.6kw cars…..
- PARKING CHARGES In Southampton and Portsmouth, Chargemaster charging stations are located in NCP car parks that charge circa £2.90 for up to 2 hours charging; add on the £2.50 PAYG cost for one hours charging and this gets very expensive. Chargemaster need to make sure that there are no extra charges when people are using their charging network, be those parking charges or other.
I don’t think we can rule out the impact of release of the BMW i3 with it’s ChargeNow subscription offering. There are three levels of charging and maintenance packages for the BMW i3 all with a monthly cost. There would soon have been a negative kickback when a new i3 owner rolled up to find a LEAF owner charging for free whilst the i3 is paying £20pm for their Charge Now subscription.
I am hoping that with the investment of BMW in the ChargeMaster business and with this new charging model we will see an increase in charging station installation and technical support for the network. One response I get when talking about electric cars is “….but I live on the 3rd floor of a block of flats with only on-street parking”. Indeed one of my local cities, Portsmouth, is largely Victorian built terraces with ONLY on-street parking. Now if Chargemaster can start installing charging stations in these streets then I can see a business model where users pay the flat £20pm fee for unlimited charging. If we don’t address how to offer charging to houses without off-street parking then there is still a barrier to electric car adoption. This requires investment which is not currently in place via the Government OLEV (Office for Low Emission Vehicles) so has to come from the private sector.
On a personal level, 95% of my charging is at home and once a week I go and have a coffee and a charge at the local Nissan dealer. I have used Chargemaster / Polar chargers about 10 times in 2 years, and only as the chargers were in the same car park I was using. I would not pay to use the Chargemaster network unless I needed it. And I do have a trip in April where I may need to use one post in mid-Wales, but only as a backup. But then myself, and many current EV drivers, are not the target market, and that’s probably why so many ‘early adopters’ have reacted so strongly.
ChargeMaster also need to work on their PR and customer relations. Ecotricity have been superb in engaging with their customers; even when their network of free-to-use Rapid Chargers is clearly having reliability issues they man the phones, post updates to web site forums and Social Networks and act with responsibility and empathy with their customers. Hence their customers trust them. The pay-as-you charge market are for new EV drivers who have given up paying £200-£300 a month in petrol costs and see £20pm as a cheaper alternative.
ChargeMaster started badly with the CEO David Martell saying "Electric car drivers are rich and can to pay to charge" with expensive pay per charge schemes that were and soon dropped after very low take-up.
I have documented many instances of arriving at Polar / Chargemaster charging location showing live and available on their map only for it to be down. A Chargemaster post at WKB Toyota was flooded and down for 2 weeks, and relocated within the car park yet showed up as live and available on the Chargemaster live web site. There are also charging station in secure car parks (Southern Electric Havant) that the public are not allowed to use, yet showing as available on the map. Is that really worthy of a £20pm subscription service?
Better reliability, better customer service, more charging locations, protected EV only parking/charging spaces and no car parking charges. Corporate history is littered with companies who failed to listen to their customers.