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

19Jan/151

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 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;

Filed under: EVs 1 Comment
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

Filed under: EVs 2 Comments
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....

Filed under: Solar No Comments
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

Filed under: EVs 1 Comment
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.

===================

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.......

Filed under: Comment 1 Comment
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.

10Sep/140

Apple iPhone 6 and Apple Watch – 9 September 2014

Apple yesterday announced 2 products; The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 plus along with the Apple Watch. If you missed them you can see the iPhone 6 here and the Apple watch here.

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

3Jul/143

North Wales 600 Mile Round Trip in a Nissan LEAF

Wales 1985

My mother and I in Wales in 1985

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!

THE CAR

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.

My Mk1 LEAF on the right, the MK2 with 6.6 kWh on the left

My Mk1 LEAF on the right, the MK2 with 6.6 kWh on the left

DRY RUN

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

PLANNING

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

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Ecotricity Rapid Charge at M27 Rownhams (W)

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 Nissan, Wincanton Rapid Charge

F J Chalke Nissan, Wincanton Rapid Charge

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.

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Four EV Parking Bays in Charlotte Street Car Park

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.

IMG_8216 IMG_8215

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.

Crossways B&B, Bath

Crossways B&B, Bath

 

Breakfast at Crossways

Breakfast at Crossways

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.

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A LEAF meet up; owner had just bought LEAF for £15k off 'Richard' on LEAFTalk?

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.

IMG_8251Over 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.

Twizzy on Charge and avail be to Hire

Twizy on Charge and avail be to Hire

32A Commado Zero Carbon World Socket & DIY Portable EVSE

32A Commado Zero Carbon World Socket & DIY Portable EVSE

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 .

 

Car is recharging - me too!

Car is recharging - me too!

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.

 

Drover Cycles 32A Commando ZCW Charger

Drover Cycles 32A Commando ZCW Charger

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.

Dead and ICEd Chargemaster post at Builth Wales - but the CM map said it was live

Dead and ICEd Chargemaster post at Builth Wales - but the CM map said it was live

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?

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Elan Valley Reservoir and Hydro Electric Power Stations

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32A Commado ZCW Charger at Elan Valley Visitor Center

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One of the Hydro Electric Generators at Elan Valley

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.

Daffs, Sheep and Hills - Wales in April!

Daffs, Sheep and Hills - Wales in April!

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.

 

Back at CAT for the first time in 40 years

Back at CAT for the first time in 40 years

IMG_8296

Yup another 32A Commando ZCW Socket

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.

 

One of the original Battery Banks when CAT was off-grid

One of the original Battery Banks when CAT was off-grid

Wood Pellet Biomass Boilers at CAT

Wood Pellet Biomass Boilers at CAT

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.

 

The Old Vicarage at Dolfor

The Old Vicarage at Dolfor

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.

The Radnor Arms Type 2 ZCW Charger

The Radnor Arms Type 2 ZCW Charger

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%.

Magor Services, M4 Wales

Magor Services, M4 Wales

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.

IKEA Bristol

IKEA Bristol

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.

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Back at F J Chalke Nissan, Wincanton

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How slow the drive was from Bristol to Wincancon - all those trees in 40 miles driving!

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.

Rownhams M27 East - Final charge of the trip

Rownhams M27 East - Final charge of the trip

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!

 

Filed under: EVs 3 Comments
13Mar/142

How Chargemaster’s Pay Per Charge Scheme COULD Work

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...

    Gunwharf Quays underground car park charger mostly down due to no 3G signal

    Gunwharf Quays underground car park charger mostly down due to no 3G signal

  • 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 CEO, David Martell

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?

Un-accessible Charger in Southern Electric Staff Car Park

Un-accessible Charger in Southern Electric Staff Car Park

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.

Filed under: EVs 2 Comments
12Mar/142

BMW i3 Funky Video Review

Last week I was lucky enough to spend 48 hours with a BMW i3 BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle) car. My written review is on the way but here is my 30 min video blog of how this Nissan LEAF driver with 20,000 miles under his belt, go on

 

Filed under: EVs, Uncategorized 2 Comments