Politics is essentially the art of presentation and self preservation. So when the leader of the opposition Ed Miliband finally got the ear of the electorate, he sure as heck was not going to let it go. Energy Prices; it's been in the news for weeks. Every politician trying to appear on the side of the of the "Hard Working family" whilst ultimately knowing they are powerless to change anything. Now I am not going to drone on for paragraphs about privatisation or "The big 6" so let me keep this bullet point snappy:
- It's a market place the UK Gov can not control. There are 6 energy companies buying gas on an open market
- The UK does not have enough gas or fossil fuel to meet our current or future energy needs so we HAVE to import from other countries
- The UK has to COMPETE on the international energy market for that gas with every other developed and emerging country to get GAS
- We cant cut the 5% VAT off the fuel prices as it's against European Law
- Nuclear power maybe low carbon, but's it's waste lasts hundreds of years and we historically have built power stations next to the sea as lots of cheap cooling water but that did not work out well for Fukishima in Japan.
Today the front page of The Sun reads "Get rid of the Green Crap" a campaign it claims to have now won. Hearing that at 6am on Radio 4 as I tried to get back to sleep compelled me to this blog post as, on the face of it, it's victory for white van man.
Let's be crystal clear: The ONLY solution to the UK's energy situation is renewable energy and energy storage;
The more home grown energy we can produce the less of the expensive stuff we have to import. No it really is that simple. In Germany the average household pays HALF for their energy costs vs the UK. This is not due to any tabloid campaign, or sound bite, but the direct result of Government renewable energy incentives encouraging homes and industry to install huge amounts of renewable energy. The home owners get paid for what they generate via Feed in Tariffs and have free energy to power their homes. Germany's renewable energy revolution leaves the UK in the shade.
Energy storage is a bit more complex but lets compare Germany and UK again. Germany has 122 days of gas storage, the UK has 15. Not only is this a risk if something fails but it also leaves the UK hopelessly exposed to market fluctuations. You can't take advantage of cheap gas over the summer and store it for the winter if you only have 15 days of storage.
So when the chancellor stands up in a few days time to deliver his Autumn statement and 'slashes' the 5% of Green Taxes off Energy Bills we'll all be rejoicing at the £112 off our annual fuel bills right? Well yes a reduction in our energy bills is welcome relief but it actually changes nothing. The Government has already reassured the Renewables Industry that all current and future subsidies remain, nothing is being stopped in terms of Feed In Tariffs or Wind Farm support as a result of this PR stunt. It just comes from general taxation. It's just politics.
What remains a huge issue is the shambolic UK Energy Strategy. Unless the Government re-instates attractive subsidies for homeowners and industry to install renewable energy and thereby create their own energy reducing our dependency on imported energy then NOTHING CHANGES. The Energy Companies will keep making huge profits and we are still on track for 17 years of above inflation energy price hikes.
I have Solar PV electric panels and Solar Thermal Hot Water panels on my roof as I personally believe in home grown energy as the strategic solution to protect against future energy price rises. I will write a 2nd blog about why and how rather than take this piece of course.
This Sunday (20 Oct) a few of us are gathering for the UKs FIRST EVSE Build Day..... we will be Building 3 or 4 32 Amp PORTABLE EVSE chargers. The whole event will be recorded for publication to YouTube and we will be Tweeting through the day using the Twitter hashtag #EVSEBuildDay
The objective is to show just how simple an Electric Car Charging station is; essentially 3 components. The completed unit will be able to charge all current and future electric cars as you can choose what connectivity.
This Portable EVSE will allow an Electric Car driver to connect to 'normal' electrical outlets found on Camp Sites, yachting marinas, commercial and hotels as well as the early Zero Carbon World Charging stations. This 32 Amp Commando Connection will allow a BMW i3 or a Leaf Mk 1.5 or a Tesla to charge at the full 32 Amps. Equally you could choose to fit a 16A commando plug, or indeed anything else you would like. Or build a simple 32A to 16A commando converter - we'll show you that as well!
An electric car, like the Nissan LEAF, comes with a charging cable (AKA EVSE brick) that trickle charges a Nissan LEAF at 10 Amps, meaning about 10 hours for a full charge. Using a dedicated charging station, or this Portable EVSE Charger, the same car could charge 60% faster at 16 Amps from a commando plug connection, and hence charges 60% quicker. If you have a BMW i3, or if you have paid £800 for the 6.6kWh charger in the Mk1.5 LEAF, you can charge at a full 32 Amps using this Portable EVSE, from a 32A Commando Connection reducing charging time to 4 hours.
We will also be showing, in a 2nd advanced video, how to install a variable switch so you can vary the charge. For instance, if you have a Solar PV installation why not charge at 7 Amps without having to import electricity (dependent on the sun being out). OR imagine hooking up to a 3 pin socket where you don't know how robust the wiring is so reduce the charge to reduce a fire risk.
As a Nissan LEAF / BMW i3 / Vauxhall Ampera / Citroen C-Zero / Mistubishi iMiev driver this will give you the flexibility to charge where and how you want. It's an essential piece of kit for the roving EV driver!
The recording is taking place on Sunday 20th October. Video is planned to be released within a few days via YouTube; Tweets will be live throughout the day
Grant Thomas (me) - hosting the event and building one of the Portable Chargers. Nissan LEAF Mk1 Driver
Kevin Sharpe - Founder and Patron of the Zero Carbon World charity. Tesla Roadster Driver
David Peilow - EV Advocate, occasionally throws things in space. Vauxhall Ampera Driver
Richard Goldsmith - behind the lens for the day. Vauxhall Ampera Driver
All participants are volunteering their time for this venture.
We would have really wanted to include many more but wanted to get the video sorted first then there is always the possibility of future workshops; subject to the capacity of my double garage and good will of the Oh!
Some people got very excited when we first mentioned this. We will be putting warnings out there that playing with any electricity caries risk; however the skill level for this build is estimated akin to wiring a domestic plug.
The parts used to construct the kit will be available from the Zero Carbon World shop shortly.
"I'd love to know what you'd think after driving the car for a year" came the question from the audience as I presented my decision to choose an Electric Car at the 2012 IBM North Harbour Sustainability day. And it's a fair question for many seeking reassurance of this "brave new transportation world". A year is a long time to reconsider a passionate or hurried purchase. A years wear and tear can expose a flaw or a substandard product. Can the marketing hype be born out in reality? Has the sheen worn off the 100% Electric Nissan LEAF after living with it through four seasons? Is Range Anxiety a reality? Would I do it again?
That year is now up.
If you have never read any of my former blogs; a bit about myself, family and transport needs. I've been with IBM 18 Years and for the last 9 of those years I have been able to choose a company car from a free choice of makes and models. My previous 2 cars were on 4 year leases; a VW Golf MK5 TDi Sport followed by a Seat Altea XL (both with same 2L Diesel Sport engine). Our family requirements; we're a family of 5 with 3 kids ages ranging from 6-17 plus an English Springer Spaniel (so a full load!) I work full time from home but my partner commutes daily on a 35 mile round trip along the M27. Now rather than go through all the rationale as to why we chose a Nissan LEAF you can just refer back to my decision making blog here. You can also see a video of my first day with the car on YouTube. :
After a year, how do you find driving the LEAF every day?
We have blown the estimates for our annual mileage and have covered 14,432 miles in the LEAF in a year. I've had over 25 cars over the years and nothing quite prepares you for the smile when you drive an EV (Electric Vehicle) for the first time. That grin is still there 1 year on.
A 'normal' car is hopelessly inefficient at generating power. It wheezes and puffs and bangs to produce power and it's still not enough so a gearbox tries to scale it up and after all that showmanship only 20% of the fuel you put in makes the car move. The rest is wasted. An electric car simply has a battery, an inverter and a motor and 80% of that power goes instantly to the wheels as torque (or power). And there is nothing quite as satisfying as pulling up silently at a traffic lights next to some boy racer. Then leaving them standing as they struggle with gear changes, and their ego, the LEAF silently launches in a relentless surge off the line. With all it's eco credentials, it's something that was such a huge surprise. I'm not recommending that as a driving strategy but to every Top Gear spotty nosed teenager viewer who thinks you need many horses of power, don't forget its the torque that counts.
The LEAF is an utter joy to drive. It's smooth, quiet, refined and such an immensely relaxing drive. I use the steering wheel mounted digital cruise control the majority of the time and find the fact you can choose exactly lets's say 32mph is such a nice touch, especially through speed controlled roadworks. Out of our 2 cars I choose to drive the LEAF. I wait for it to get home before running errands. And Jo has commented (out of my earshot!) what a great car and how simple it is to drive. It's when you get back in an old ICE (internal Combustion Engine) car that you realise how unrefined and dirty and noisy it is.
What's the longest trip you have done in the LEAF?
Last November I was invited to be part of World Record Electric Vehicle convoy at Silverstone Race circuit. This required me to get from Emsworth to Northampton with the need to stop and charge on the way. It's a 140 mile trip, in November. Now the LEAF can recharge at a dedicated Rapid Charging station in under 30 mins. That's from flat to 80% charged. This would be my first trip where I was relying on what was then an emerging Rapid charging network. Thankfully things have changed a bit since then but last November there were very few places to Rapid Charge so I had backup charging plans and contingencies all over the place. I still have the spreadsheet on my desktop with the miles between stops and backup locations if anything was not working.
Now before any readers start with the 'oh thats far too much hassle' I don't mind being an early adopter of many things. I hope that the bumps and challenges I encounter, and then feedback, helps smooth things out for those who follow along after. And there many more Rapid Charging locations live now 10 months on but let's head back to last November.
I had planned my route with 2 Rapid Charge stops. "But can't the LEAF do 100 miles on a single charge?" I hear you cry. Well that car you drive now, remember when you first got it and the manufacturer claimed it would do 58 mpg or so, but you only get about 45 mpg on your daily drive?. Well that's because manufacturers use unrealistic measurements to achieve that MPG. The same is true of Electric Car range. They too can be affected my how you drive it, how heavy your right foot is and the speed at which they are driven. They also can be impacted by things like heating and lights in the winter months.
So whilst I did meet one driver who had driven up from Portsmouth to Silverstone only stopping once, I decided that I would like to go a reasonable speed and treat myself to some heat !! I Rapid Charged at West Way Southampton then at Waitrose Abingdon and made it to the hotel in Northampton with 30% battery remaining. Total cost of journey £0 . And the hotel had ordinary 3 pin sockets in their grounds for when they had outdoor events and the LEAF happily plugged in and trickle charged overnight. People forget it can just trickle charge from a 3 pin plug.
Are you forever hunting charging locations pent up with Range Anxiety?
I'll admit that I am now evangelical about Electric Cars; but the rest of the family are less so. Jo is bored of me talking about them, but thinks the LEAF is a great car. Our 17 year old, who watches at least 3 episodes of Top Gear a day on Dave, thinks unless the car is drifting sideways round a disused airfield making lots of noise it's not a car. And our 14 year old is mortally embarrassed that we have something different from her other friends and are tooooo eco. However whilst our 6 year old boy doesn't understand the environmental benefits or technical reasoning for an Electric Car, he knows how to plug it in, and happily talks about other LEAFs he saw on a recent trip to London. His generation will be the one that really make the switch.
The point is Jo drives the company car LEAF more than I do commuting 4 days a week in all weathers, so she knows what it can and can't do. She'll glance at the battery gauge and just drive. Yesterday case and point. She drove from home to Southampton General Hospital and back, plugged in for 45 mins then to Chichester and back in the evening (so lights on etc) and made it home with 2 bars / 20 miles remaining. Now I would have given myself more top up time, or parked and charged in Chichester but when you drive this car for a year through all the seasons you know what it can do, and you drive to that range. The car was plugged in at 10pm and at 2.15am this morning I got the normal email saying the car was 100% charged and ready to go again. So if you have a short journey then you can drive a little faster knowing that overnight it will be fully charged at home. If there's snow on the ground, and you're doing a longer journey then you drive more steadily using heat, lights etc. Again knowing that overnight at home it will fully charge and be ready to go.
So Range Anxiety can easily be overcome. We charge our car 99% of the time from home using a dedicated charging station. If you are in England and reading this before April 2015 you too can get a Free Electric Car charging station, even if you don't own an electric car yet.
I only Rapid Charge if on a longer journey or if on a return trip and I know I need to do another trip later in the day. And there is now a Rapid Charger 5 miles from home at WKB Nissan Waterlooville. So if I have 30 mins spare I'll nip up there and charge for free. In the last year the number of Rapid Chargers has 'Rapidly' grown. In the past month Fleet Services, both North and Southbound M3, have free to use (with free card) chargers which allows me to recharge on the way in or out of London, IKEA have just announced loads of planned installs with free to use provide Ecotricity.
Take a look for yourselves on : http://www.zap-map.com for all current installed chargers and this map from Ecotricity to see where they are installing free to use rapid chargers:
What lessons have you learnt over the year?
The biggest lesson learnt is how tied people are to NOT making the switch to Electric Cars. I have colleagues, friends and family, who I have lots of respect for, still baulk at the idea of stepping away from their petrol/diesel car. I find it quite frankly, bizarre.
I've presented and spoken about Electric Cars with a lot of people over the last year and I still thrive on the response I get. I've seen in an auditorium full of people "the lightbulb moment" or when the penny drops. "It's 90% cheaper to run, really?", "You mean you charge the whole battery in 30 minutes?" "You can run it for free of Solar, but I spend 綀a month on diesel". BUT in 12 months the reasons people choose not to make the switch to EVs have not altered one bit; they start talking about Range and 100 miles yet over 95% of their journeys. There's an Aunt in Norfolk or the annual vacation in the Lake District. To me it seems madness to drive a car that you only might need for 1 or 2 journeys a year and then for the other 360 days a year you could drive a car that is 90% cheaper to run. Why not drive a car that meets the majority of your needs and use a different car for those 1 or 2 times a year.
I priced it up yesterday. I could hire a small car for £26 a day. So having saved £2,500 by switching from a diesel to an electric car just spend £26 to do that one long trip. OR just make allowance that you need to grab a coffee while the LEAF is on charge for 30 minutes at one of the many Rapid Chargers.
The LEAF has four speeds of charging:
- Rapid Charge - 80% of the battery in 30 min
- Fast 32 Amp charge - Optional extra on the UK 2013 Built LEAF - charges the car in 4 hours
- Fast 16 Amp charge - Charges the car in 6 hours (this is the how I charge at home)
- Trickle 3 pin plug charge - 8 hours ish
Do the savings really add up?
This decision to drive a LEAF was initially a financial considered purchase, the driving experience came as an enormous surprise! With ٞRoad Tax, ٞLondon Congestion Charge, ٞCompany Car Tax and cheaper servicing costs it came out cheaper to drive than many other cars I could have chosen.
It costs less than £2 a night to charge this car from flat to full. In reality it costs us £1 a night to charge it up as we rarely run it that low. Install some Solar Panels on your house and not only will you get a 20 year tax free income from the Government but you could use that generated electricity to power your car. That's what we do and for 10 months of the year we generate electricity more than the car uses to charge. Free driving? However, even without Solar PV panels on your house there are still 90% savings to be have by making the switch to an electric car.
I'm the kind of person who makes up spreadsheets to validate such decisions. It costs about £1,900 a year to drive 10,000 miles in a frugal diesel car. It costs about £200 a year in electric to do the same if you 100% charge at home on a standard online Tariff. It's that simple, you can drive as you do today but wiping out the dependency on yo-yo fuel prices. And with no messy oil or fuels or sparkplugs, servicing is much less as well.
Now if 90% savings are not enough:
- Choose an Economy 7 tariff and you could save 30% on that electric cost by using cheap off peak electric
- Install renewable energy and potentially charge your EV for free
- You can FIX your electric cost. Imagine fixing the price of Diesel for 12 months....
- Use a Rapid Charger or charge at work for free
- There is no duty on domestic electric and only 5% VAT.
Financial Winner: ELECTRIC CAR
Electric Cars are only useful as a second car "run-around"
Apart from the Nissan LEAF we have a Volkswagen EOS 2.0 TDi Sport as a personal car. We got this 2 years ago and it's a really great car, especially in the summer with the roof down. HOWEVER, since taking delivery of the LEAF a year ago:
- The VW EOS has done 2,500 miles
- The LEAF has done 14,400 miles
- We only use the EOS when we both need to drive
I loathe putting £65 of diesel in the EOS so I positively choose to wait until the LEAF is home. As such the VW EOS only gets filled up every couple of months.
"Who are you trying to fool, it's not that green? Still needs power to drive the thing?"
Electric Cars are by far the most environmentally friendly switch that many of us could make. They remove cancer causing fumes from street level by emitting ZERO emissions whilst being driven. Electric Cars are normally charged overnight when the National Grid is emitting the lowest level of emissions. BUT even if you did plug an Electric Car to charge up from a dirty coal fired power station it would still only use 40g/km of CO2.
Now a car like the Volkswagen Golf Bluemotion has a CO2 figure of 119g/km of CO2 but that's just what it emits whilst it's driving. To make a fair comparison you have to use the "well to wheel" argument that is the amount of fuel it takes to :
- Drag the oil out the ground
- Store it
- Transport it
- Store it
- Ship it
- Store it
- The massive amounts on energy used to refine crude oil
- Store it
- Transport it
- Store it
- Transport it
- Store it
- And THEN put it in a car
It's actually about 450 - 500g/km of CO2 for a modern efficient family car vs 40h/km if you charged it from the dirtiest power station. And what's more you can choose a company like Green Energy or Ecotricty and charge your Electric Car from 100% Renewable Energy, or generate your own electricity. The poor old petrol car has no choice, it has to get it's fuel from a petrol station where the price is fixed by a cartel called OPEC and which the government then applies huge fuel duty and VAT tax levies.
"But when Jeremy Clarkson had a LEAF and a Tesla on Top Gear it ran out of battery. So Electric Cars are crap!"
Jeremy Clarkson is a baffoon. Top Gear is an entertainment show, not a consumer advice programme, unless you think driving a Smart Car off a cliff or firing cars at caravans in a disused quarry is meaningful journalistic research.
If you were to drive a Ferrari F40 Sports Car round the Top Gear track it will achieve only 1 mile per gallon. it would only have half the range of an Electric Car. But they don't mention that it. If you were to run out of petrol in the middle of the countryside you are probably 30 miles from your nearest petrol station where as an electric car could plug into the farmers cottage, they skip over that as well.
"Yeah but that silly Tesla Roadster ran out of battery and had to get pushed off the Top Gear track, ha ha snort ha". No it didn't. Tesla representatives where there and drove the car off the track with lots of battery remaining, After an official complaint Top Gear published a small apology saying that the piece demonstrated what WOULD happen if an electric car runs our of power. They just never show a petrol car running of petrol 30 miles from the nearest petrol station.
The BBC has been really poor on it's electric car coverage with plenty of factual errors and contradictions. HOWEVER, even the Surrey Baffoon himself conceded that the Electric Merc Super car on the last series was great "for when the oil ran out" and even Radio 4's Costing The Earth programme yesterday was positive speculating if this really is the time for EVs. The media tide MIGHT be beginning to turn.
It's a looks like an old dears car!
Yes this one surprised me when I heard it, beauty is in the eye of the beholder I guess. I love the LEAF and a year ago we were a select bunch of 1,500 cars in the UK (that's now doubled in number), so when you see one it's normally lots of waving and such.
But whilst all my experiences talk of the Nissan LEAF there's a lot of other electric cars out there or about to come to market including:
- The BMW i3 launching November with a 100 mile electric range but a 180 mile extended range option with a small petrol generator under the bonnet. Prices from £25k
- The Renault Zoe - Fiesta sized, again about 100 miles with prices starting at £14k + battery lease
- Vaxhall Ampera/ Chevrolet Volt - 40 mile electric then a petrol generator allowing up to 250 miles range. £30k price tag
- The Tesla Model S - pure electric up to 7 seats and 300 mile range launching in UK later this year prices £55k+
- VW Golf Blue-e-motion: Fully electric Golf with sophisticated regen breaking - launching Frankfurt motor show
But the Battery will not last and cost a fortune to replace
No they don't. There's a LEAF in the USA that has 70k miles and all 12 capacity bars still intact. There are 2 cars in the UK that I know about with over 40k miles in 2 years and have no loss in capacity. Nissan has increased the warranty on it's battery pack that the car will retain 9 out of the 12 bars (approx 70%) for 5 years or 100,000 kilometres, whichever comes first. That is capacity not power. By the time anyone needs to think about reconditioning the battery pack this will be no more painful than a changing a clutch on a petrol car. And what happens to the battery packs after they are no longer used; well first up they can be reconditioned but they also make perfect renewable energy stores, so you can store all that free electric from Solar Panels during the day and power your house overnight. Joined up thinking.
If something sounds too good to be true......
OK here's the reality check. I was NEARLY stranded once due to a dealer telling me at 10am the Rapid Charger was working and when I arrived at noon it was not [Link to story]. And right now there are a number of charging providers requiring different cards to charge and there is no one single web page listing ALL charging points. But these are growing pains. I have not ONCE been stranded. And with so many new charging points coming online it so much more advanced in just 1 year.
"Would you choose an electric car ever again?"
I write this article in late August 2013; the Nissan LEAF has sold twice the number of cars already in the UK vs 2012; the incredible Tesla Model S with its 300 mile all electric range outselling Porsche and Range Rover in California and has JUST launched in Europe.
I recall as clear as yesterday trying to explain to my Nan and Mother in 1996 why I had developed my first web site Emsworth OnLine on this thing called the internet, just before it took off. Or as recent as 2 years ago trying to justify installing Solar PV to a room full of folks who really thought a new kitchen was a better application of funds; then the government slashed the Feed In Tariffs weeks after my install. I'm a Realistic Optimist. There is now considerably more interest in Electric Cars than a year ago, BMW stepping into the ring has made Mr Mainstream sit up and many more people have engaged in dialogue with me rather than just me banging on about how great Electric Cars are.
I spent a year in the Motor Trade before joining IBM 18 years ago, people are INCREDIBLY passionate about their cars. Getting people out of dirty petrol cars to electric cars will takes lots of time with many carrots and sticks. The charging network we need for long journeys is still rolling out. The range of the cars on the market is increasing and new models are on their way. Yet if you make that switch now you will get the ٣k grant and free charging station from the government but you will NEVER have to pull into a petrol station again.
Every single one of us will be driving an electric car (of some sort) in the future. Anyone who differs from that conclusion does not understand the issues, has their head in the sand or is called Jeremy Clarkson. My VW EOS, a great car, is doing 2k miles a year and depreciating by ٠k a year, it's pointless holding onto it. So it's going. And in it's place a Japan built Mk1 Pearl White Nissan LEAF is on the shopping list. Exactly the same as the LEAF we drive today. We will have a matching pair.
To answer those questions in your head right now. Here's the strategy:
- Our company car Nissan LEAF has 2 years left to run on it's lease. This would be replaced in 2015 with an Extended Range Electric Car like the BMW i3, or similar. This would allow us to drive 180 mile on an electric motor, 100 miles using the battery and 8 0 miles using the small 4 cylinder petrol BMW motorbike engine as a generator. It rapid charges like the LEAF (on AC rather than DC) and with a petrol backup you have that flexibility.
- Yes there is a UK built new Nissan LEAF, I drove it last week and it does have a slightly better range and the drive is certainly better than the Mk1 Jap built car. However, to get the same level of equipment as in the Mk1 LEAF you need to be looking at the middle or top level of trim and we are now fast approaching £25k level
- Right now there are over 150 nearly new LEAFs on Auto Trader. Most have less than 10,000 miles on the clock and prices start at £12k
- If we need to do a long journey before August 2015 we either use a Rapid Charger or hire a car for the day for £26
So today you can purchase a 2 year old electric car, with all the technology for a saving of 66% against it's original price. Purchase that from a Nissan Dealer and you'll get a 2 year warranty and 2 year free servicing (usually 12 months). And with ٞroad tax, ٞcongestion charge the only thing you have to pay is insurance, for me that's under £200 a year. Which is exactly what I plan to do........
Amazing weather for Renewable Energy; in the past 10 days our Solar PV has produced 251 kWh, thats £121 tax free from the Gov via Feed-In-Tariff, and enough free electric to drive over 1,200 miles in the all Electric Nissan LEAF.
As for the Solar Thermal Hot Water well the Gas Boiler was turned off in May and a on typical day I turn the overnight electric immersion off at 7am, the morning showers use most of the top half of tank then Solar Thermal will heat the whole 250 litres to 60+ degrees during the day ready for the evening water demands, for free. Then immersion goes back on at 10pm for overnight top up ready for the morning. Plus on Friday they finally published the rates for Solar Hot water so another £400+ a year coming from that starting next spring.
Currently costing £1.80 a day in Gas & Electric for a family of 4 / 5 to cook, wash, work, play, and commute to work. And even that figure is wiped out by the electric Feed In Tariff.
Sharing as it sometimes helps to hear from folks that 'walk the talk' rather than the companies that try and sell you stuff. Happy to answer questions, share and discuss as ever
When's the last time you switched deodrant brand, or your favourite shops underwear? I don't mean to be overly personal but us humans are creatures of habit, we get used to something and then the grocery store moves where our favourite breakfast cereal has been for the past 3 years, and now its 6 aisles away. We don't like change. I'd like to think that after 8 years of working in day job that involves implementing change I'm more flexible but we all have our individual routines and preferences.
So when the opportunity came up to drive a different electric car; how much could I park my Nissan LEAF driving habbits and try and approach the Vauxhall Ampera without precedence. It's pretty much impossible. We've driven 13,000 miles in the Nissan LEAF in just under 11 months and we both really like how it drives in all weather and conditions, the only
limitation consideration is that for longer journeys every 80 -100 miles to stop and charge it up in under 30 mins. With the Vauxhall Ampera you don't have to; it has a 40 mile electric battery and a petrol generator that powers the electric motor when the battery runs out.
The Vauxhall Ampera is in fact a re-badged Chevrolet Volt, GM;'s response to the charge of Nissan and the Electric Car. On the surface the Ampera and its mechanical twin appear somewhat different, but underneath their skin they're practically identical. Built alongside the Volt in Hamtramck, Michigan, the two differ only by means of front and rear fascias, wheel designs, and some interior trim. Beneath the skin, both share the same 16-kWh lithium-ion battery pack, and the same 1.4-liter turbocharged I-4, which primarily serves as a so-called range extender
"You mean a hybrid then?". No, no, no. Big difference. A hybrid uses a petrol engine for propulsion with a bit of battery assistance at low speed. The Ampera is an Electric Car with an Electric Motor (drive-train); the petrol engine is just their to charge the battery.
"Well you're a bafoon for choosing the LEAF a year ago then aren't you?" Not so fast. The Vauxhall Ampera was absolutely on my short list of cars and my reasons for not choosing it then are as sound as my reasons now for still recommending the Nissan LEAF ahead of the Ampera as this review will hopefully point out.
So we've had the Ampera for 4 days and tomorrow it goes back - our longest journey in a day was 90 miles and we have charged at home and out and about the same as we would do our Nissan LEAF, or I say nearly as normal. 40 miles isn't enough range for a battery mode. You are forever looking at when the battery power will run out and you have to start using the oil juice. I was speaking to an Ampera driver a couple of days ago about a meeting coming up and he readily said that he would not be able to make it there and back on one charge and would have to plug in. People who drive Chervrolet Volts / Vauxhall Amperas are range obsessed, there's even a 50 mile club for those that have squeezed this milestone of mobility whereas the LEAF does that 50 and keeps going to 70, 80 or more miles.
I found myself doing a 20 mile round trip then rushing to plug in as half the battery was gone, thats just not EV driving. The Ampera has nearly the same size battery asa Mitsubishi iMeiev / Citroen C-Zero type car but only does half the miles due to hauling around all that extra weight of engine and fuel.
Now this is not a Ampera bashing blog, there are many things I did like about the car, the electric motor IS quieter than the LEAF, it also squats down low, handles better and has a much more aggressive look about it than the 'happy' LEAF. But let's just get my list of niggles out there:
- With its super low ride, the rubber skirts under the front bumper hit just about every speed hump, or car park ramp that you encounter
- You can feel every bump and ridge on the road - a far more hunkered down drivers feel - trying to take a non-blurry camera shot when the car is in motion is near impossible.
- It's a cramped cockpit with little headroom and annoyingly big A and B pillars couple that with black leather seats, black dash and door panels and charcoal grey console make this is a dark place.
- My biggest issue - usability. Whoever designed the infotainment system and the ridiculous center console, more akin to an aircraft cockpit, should be rounded up and issued out the door. It's bad. Buttons randomly vomited over the centre console with no logic to when you twist or push buttons to try and change options or radio channels. Ampera is the ZX Spectrum to the LEAFs Apple-type touchscreen interface, they are poles apart. At the end of the 4 days I had just about got to grip the sequence of buttons you had to press to make things happen. Think 'Simon Says' game.
- Acceleration - theres a noticeable lag between depressing the accelerator and response compared to the LEAF, you get used to it but the drive train is not as smooth as the LEAF
- Brakes - theres an audible clunk when they applied at low speed, functional but quite un-refined
- No Telematics service - so no preheating the car from your iPhone while laying in bed, no monitoring charging or sending maps to the car from your home computer. I would really miss this after the LEAF.
- REALLY LOUD REVERSING BEEPS and front beeps, this may be configurable but lept out of skin upon first invocation
- There is only one charging socket that charges as 10amps through the supplied EVSE cable or 16 Amps if you have a charging station. Put your feet up for a 6 hour wait before you can drive this car another 40 miles on Electric. The LEAF can recharge via a DC Rapid Charger in under 30 mins and you can drive another 80-100 miles before stopping again. You cannot drive long journeys on the Ampera without using the petrol engine, which kinda sucks. Also the new LEAF can charge at 32 Amps from a charging station at home thats down to 4 hours for a full charge to go twice the Ampera distance.
- Only 4 seats - big, big issue for us and unworkable for us as a family of 5 and one of the key reasons we did not go for this car last year
- The Ampera used a lot more juice to charge than the LEAF for less range. I have a kWh meter connected to my home charging station and the readings over the 4 days were much higher though I did not record daily mileage to give an accurate recording.
Jo summed it up today when she said, "Its a really comfy car to be a passenger in but way too big to drive". Compared to the light, airy LEAF it does have a stretched NASCAR look and feel about it but with a pretty small passenger cabin. One last issue, the price. The demonstrator is the top of the range issue with heated seats etc and comes in at a weighty £33,995 (after £5k UK Gov Subsidy). That is just bonkers. The LEAF is now £9k cheaper than this for it's top of the range model complete with Telematics (log into your car from your iPhone) and double the electric range.
HOWEVER, 95% of UK drivers do less than 40 miles a day; therefore you could drive the Ampera using it's battery range for most journeys with the reassurance that if you wanted to drive longer without stopping occasionally you could do so without the worry of charging. Our longest trip over the 4 days was 90 miles and the battery ran out after 40 miles. We used 2.72 litres of fuel which works out at about £3.70 in petrol for that trip. Had we of found somewhere to plug it in and waited 6 hours we could have made the return journey for free, at which point you pay accept the £3.70 fuel cost as an infrequent trip. Dashboard worked that out to be 120ish MPG.
Given all the above issues, we liked the Ampera and in 2015 when our Lease on the Nissan LEAF is up may very well consider it's sister, the Chevrolet Volt which has a much lighter interior and more modest pricing structure. However I would not be without the LEAF and would buy one and choose the Chevy Volt as it's long running mate. The Nissan LEAF is a far better designed and executed Electric Car with a smoother drive and a really usable interface to a colossal amount of tech. The Chevy Volt / Ampera is GM's response to this threat and it is a great, great start.
Could I recommend the Vauxhall Ampera / Chevrolet Volt? IF
1) You already have a LEAF or
2) You're a travelling salesman.
It's a low slung, fast, fun EV that is comfortable and ideal to have for the longer journeys, but it's massively overpriced, short on range and way too slow to recharge. It would be great if there were some competition in the Extended Range Vehicle (ERV) space.....
Had an hour to spare yesterday pre-BBQ so took my LEAF into the South Downs National park armed with my iPhone 5; to cheer up any wet February Day:
And why I just love the pearlescent white.......
In recent days I have received letters and offers of FREE charging station installations quoting prices that would normally be £1,313 (Polar March 2013); And this is just for a 16A charging station, if I want the 32 amp version I have to cough up another £75. Plus these 'free' charging stations require 3G data signals and data logging my charging to be shared with who knows who.
So a few weeks ago a forum member advertised their used 32A Rolec Unit (Retails for just over £400 new) and I snapped it up. This is the story of my installation and internal pictures of why these charging stations should NEVER cost anything like £1,000. Mine was bought and installed for less than £300.
First up the Rolec unit itself with the lid off:
It's a fairly basic unit with a Siemens control module and the 32A contactor to the right of it. At the top of the case is the fuse and that's it - 3 components. In later vesions of this unit you will find the Zero Carbon World unit inside this Rolec Charging Station.
Off to the garage....
This had been our 'charging station' for the first 6 months of Nissan LEAF driving. A £17 Screwfix double socket. We plugged in each night and next day a full battery ready for the off. It NEVER failed, worked in all weathers and requires no contract with anyone. Just £40 for the sparky to connect each end (I ran the cable along the inside garage wall - it's just a cable, some clips and hammer). A standard outside socket is a perfectly safe and acceptable solution to charge your Nissan LEAF at 10 Amps, just make sure a sparky checks your wiring. This cost us £60 to buy, and install including the socket, 10 meters of cable, the breaker and the sparky.
Back to the charging station install: As all the connections and meter where the other side of the wall I decided to mount the Rolec 32A charger just beneath this double socket. First up was the decision on where to enter the cable into the charger. I decided on a entry point on the back plate of the unit so simply drilled a hold just beneath the metal cable support bracket. This was just a pilot hole then a hole saw from any standard drill set:
The hole to the right was my first attempt that then was covered when I re-attached the cable support bracket.
Next up drilling the hole through the garage wall. You either need a good hammer drill with a long masonary bit - I used my father-in-laws SDS drill with a huge long bit on the end; I then slid this through the entry point on the charging station:
I then also drilled 2 drain holes in the base of the charging station case to allow any moisture or condensation a route to drain out:
I then TEMPORARILY wired the unit in to test it before my sparky came and made the FINAL connection. Please re-read that - you need to get a qualified electrician to make the proper connection (I did not have the earth cable sheathed for instance):
The point is that this simple kit is out there and getting cheaper. You should be able to buy and install such a station for between £400 - £500. No contracts and it's all 100% yours. The fact that some companies are building in 3G data modules and asking you to sign contracts and claim the cost would be over £1,300 is, frankly, astounding.
KISS - Keep It Simple, Stupid.
Overall this unit works great and charging at 16 Amps versus 10 Amps does make a difference. The unit is plastic and does flex a little; especially with such a substantial cable and plug attached; but this is a small issue for the usability this offers versus taking the EVSe cable out the boot twice a day.
A second Government scheme that pays you for installing renewable energy on your home, plus providing you up to 70% of your hot water for free (after installation).
- You'll need a South or East/West facing roof
- Payback should cover the cost of the system
- Much smaller installation on the roof
- Ideal if you are upgrading your boiler or hot water system
- Even works in winter at zero degrees
- Costs between £3k to £5k to install
- BUT still go for Solar PV first as longer, better payback.
A few weeks back I promised the second part of this Solar blog focusing on Solar Thermal. If you missed the first part of the blog this detailed the Full Year 2012 results for my 4kWp Solar PV system that had performed at 117% of it's target values. This blog also discussed whether it was worth still investing in Solar PV. If you are considering investing in renewable energy let me be clear that solar PV Electric Panels still offer the best return on investment of about 10% a year, tax free for 20 years and as such Solar PV should be considered ahead of any other technology at this time. Solar PV 4kWp systems now costing about £8k, if you have a South or East/West facing roof - then go for it!
Solar Thermal Hot Water - RHPP & RHI
However if you are planning on installing a new boiler or upgrading your hot water system or maybe considering further solar Investment then this is your February 2013 call to action! Right now I'm about to have Solar Thermal installed on our roof adjacent to our Solar PV system. And thanks to two government schemes there is cash back both as soon as you install as well as starting this summer:
The Renewable Heat Premium Payment (RHPP) of £300 for Solar Thermal is paid as soon as your system is commissioned. To qualify for this you have to have the system installed by an MSC Certified company who issue you the MCS Certification for the system. Other renewable energy technology like ground or air source heat pumps also qualify for this payment at different rates.
The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) will pay an annual amount for a period of 7 years which is designed to payback the cost of installation. The amount payable is dependent on the rated size of the system and if you have claimed the RHPP £00 above this will be deducted off the total amount of the payback. This scheme is currently consultation with announcement expected in the next few weeks confirming exact amounts and going live from Summer 2013. However all MCS Accredited installed systems from July 2009 will qualify for this domestic Renewable Heat Incentive. RHI for commercial properties is already live now so if you run a business payments are already available.
Our Solar Thermal Installation story
So what's happened so far? When we moved in a couple of years back this 4/5 bed house had a Warm Air system for heating the house and an Andrews Water Heater for hot water supply. The Warm Air Boiler had just been replaced when we moved in and was located in ground floor boiler room adjacent to the kitchen. The Andrew Water heater, essentially a hot water tank with a gas burner under it, was in airing cupboard outside the kids bedrooms and had no service record and had to go. In January 2011 we had a Worcester Bosh 30kw System Boiler installed directly adjacent to a Range Tribune Twin Coil 250 Litre Solar Cylinder in the boiler room thus removing the old water heater and all the potential carbon monoxide dangers. This pressurised system has worked really well over the oast 2 years allowing 2 showers to be run at once and bags of hot water for a family of 5.
Why install a Twin Coil Solar Hot Water Cylinder with no solar installed? A traditional cylinder just has a coil connected to a gas boiler in the middle of the tank, a solar cylinder has a second coil at the base of the cylinder. As we did not have solar we had the solar lower coil plumbed in so the gas boiler pumped hot water through the lower and upper coils basically recharging the hot water twice as quick. To complete the historical story, The warm air heating survived only 1 winter when it simply could not deliver enough heat and cost a fortune to run. In Summer 2011 we added central heating to the Worcester boiler (it was always sized so that this could be added on) and 14 radiators now keep the house toasty.
Here's a video of the cylinder and boiler room with the old warm air boiler decommissioned but still in place:
So as I type this on 16 Feb 2013 I have removed the entire warm air heating boiler and been repairing / decorating the room where the Solar thermal pump station and pipework will be installed. One really helpfull remnant of the warm air heating is a flu that runs from the boiler room up to the roof. A couple of weeks ago we had a roofer out who removed the above roof flues from the old water heater and boiler leaving the old boiler flue terminating in the loft. This means I can run the DN16 Solar Pipe direct from the room where the cylinder is right up to the loft rather than any drilling or external pipe runs - result! The Solar pipe is basically a corrugated, insulated pipe that has a thin 2 core cable running along its length allowing easy connection to the solar collector.
On the electrical side I have mounted the Solar Controller in the kitchen and run some electrical trunking and switch gear ready for the install. This is easy to do, just a bit time consuming and anything I can do up front reduces the total install cost. Ive also run a couple of cables ready for the sparky to 'top n tail'
The Solar Thermal Hardware - my decisions
There's basically 3 parts to a solar thermal system and then a 4th bit that I added on to avoid 'stagnation' but we'll come onto this a little later
The Solar Colllector - 1 x 30 Tube Kingspan Thermomax HP400
There are 2 types of Solar collector available - a flat plate which is basically a radiator in a black flat box or evacuated tubes which are much more efficient. Evacuated tubes have an element running up the middle of glass tube with a reflector on the back of the tube. The heat transfers up the super heated element to the manifold at the top where the water runs through and gets heated up before heading off to the Solar Cylinder. I chose the Kingspan Thermomax HP400 system over others quite simply that it is supper efficient, made in the UK and guaranteed for 20 years, if installed by a Kingspan accredited installer. Up until recently the estimated lifespan was 10 years so maufacutring techniques have now greatly improved, plus if a tube does break you can replace it without draining the system, just unscrew and replace.
The Solar Pumping Station and Glycol - Part of the Kingspan Kit
This basically has a brass pump (for the high temperatures) and pumps the Solar Fluid round the Solar Collector then down through the Solar Coil in the Hot Water cylinder and round and round it goes. It's activate by the solar controller when the temperature on the Solar Collector is a few degrees warmer than the Solar Coil in the Hot Water cylinder. The fluid used in a Solar Thermal system is a specifically designed to work at high temperatures whilst having an antifreeze component protecting the system in winter. It's known as Glycol or the Kingspan brand is called Tyfocor.
The Solar Controller - Kingspan SC100
I've positioned this in the kitchen next to our central heating controller as I want to be able to monitor the temperature in the hot water cylinder. This has an LCD display that tells you the temperature on the Solar Collector as well as top and bottom of the Hot Water cylinder. There is also a graphic showing when the pump is running and lots of configurable options if you needed to change any of the presets
Thermostatic Valves and Heat Dumps and stagnation
As a rule of thumb you typically have one evacuated tube for every 10 litre capacity of your hot water cylinder so by installing a highly efficient 30 tube collector with a 250 litre cylinder we are oversized. However as a family of 5 we also use a lot of hot water; 5 showers and 1 bath a day. So the oversizing may meet our usage pattern. But I also wanted to add two extra bit of tech that maxmise and protect the solar hot water system:
Solar Thermostatic Mixing Valve - This is mounted on top of the Hot Water cylinder and allows control of the hot water temperature by mixing with cold before heading off to the showers and taps. This means I can set the hot water cylinder temperature to be 80 degrees in the cylinder which is then mixed so that it does not scold. This means on sunny days the solar thermal system can heat the hot water should last that bit longer as it will be mixed down with cold via this valve and hence maximising the return on the system. It also has the added bonus of negating the need buy expensive thermostatic showers as it's all mixed to warm already . NB Do not try and use a normal thermostatic mixing valve as they can not handle the Solar High temperatures. I selected an Inta valve: http://www.ozoneheatingsupplies.co.uk/ourshop/prod_1642363-Inta-Eco-High-Pressure-Solar-Thermostatic-Mixing-Valve-22mm.html
The Heat Dump - Now as I have oversized my system by fitting more tubes there is a risk that the system could overheat. Now there are safety valves and pressure relief valves that protect the system so that there no danger, but the Solar Fluid will stagnate and loose efficiency if it's not pumping round an exposed to high temperatures. Now the Solar Controller does have a Stagnation prevention or holiday mode that slowly pulses the solar fluid round but I wanted the added safety mechanism of a heat dump. Basically this is a radiator, sized to the system (1.5kw for me) that simply gets activated when the hot water cylinder reaches its temperature. So on a hot August day let's assume the tank has been heated to 80 Degrees C by 1pm the Solar Controller opens the Solar 3 Port Valve and heats up the radiator in my garage until the hot water cylinder drops in temperature or the solar collector drops in temperature. It's a safety loop that should prolong the life of the system. I got the radiator off eBay for £30 and the Solar 3 Port Valve for 䀎delivered, again has to be a Solar 3 port valve due to the high temperature operation.
If you need the Cylinder as well - about £5k installed. Don't forget you get £300 back straight away and 7 years worth of payments with the Renewable Heat Incentive, all tax free. For us, we already had the Solar Cylinder and I managed to source all of the hardware from a merchant in Northern Ireland. I had 4 companies quote me for the work and I selected Space Renewables of Farlington, Portsmouth and the total cost is a shade over £3,100, all of that cost will be recovered from the 2 Government schemes.
The current UK Energy Policy is reliant on imported gas, coal and oil - commodities that will increase greatly in price in the coming decades. By installing Renewable Energy at home provides flexibility in how we heat, cook and use hot water. We can switch between technologies and reduce our dependencies on expensive fuels. With Solar Thermal we should have 70% of our hot water needs met on top of about 50% of our electric need achieved with Solar PV Electric, which also charges our 100% Electric Nissan LEAF car.
What's next? There's more?
A twin coil hot water cylinder is great but with a thermal store you can also heat your radiators, you can also bolt on a number of boilers like BioMass, log burners. They heat up a mass of water that then converts mains pressure cold water into piping hot water. And because its fresh hot water you can even fill your kettle from the hot tap........ It's amazing when you speak to engineers in the trade how the folks with money are installing these systems; people who could easily pay for that gas, electric or oil bills yet the smart money is heading into Thermal Store systems powered by renewables sources..... if only to heat their homes, hot water and swimming pools!!
To me it's a kind of pension; whilst I'm working I'm investing in renewable technology that will reduce our bills for decades to come, and when the kids have fled the nest, provide all of the electricity and hot water we will need. It's a strategy that also decarbonises the environment for our kids.
2012 may well have been the second wettest year on record but for our first full year of Solar PV Electric generation not only did we meet the installed estimated output it over achieved this figure by a full 17%. This is the first of two blog posts this week; this covers Solar Electricity panels, the next blog will discuss Solar Hot Water panels.
To recap, we had a 4kWp Solar PV system installed in October 2011 by Solar Voltaics of Havant who I still thoroughly recommend. The system consists of 16 x Suntech 250w panels and a Fronius Inverter mounted on our roof which faces 5 degrees off direct south at an angle of 24 degrees. You can read my blog documenting the decisions, calculations and installation photos here.
So three sets of figures to review; first up the 'headlines'. When a Solar PV installer gives you a quote they give you a detailed system diagram and expected performance that is unique to the location of your house in the UK, the angle and direction of your roof coupled with actual met office data for the past 20 years. This is all done in a piece of software called PV*SOL. One of the outputs from this software is your estimated Kilowatt Hours (kWH) of generation per year. Our install was calculated to produce 3760 kWhs. I recorded the actual meter readings on a monthly basis into a spreadsheet and submitted the reading every 3 months to our Feed In Tariff (FIT) provide who is Eon (our Electricity supplier at the time of install though you can choose anyone).
The actual kWh recorded for the year was 4089 so a full 17% higher than the estimated production. The following chart shows that for 9 months of the year the green production line was higher than the estimated monthly generation and for 3 months it did not make the figure:
Generated kWh's get turned into Feed In Tariff payments every quarter. This amount is free of Income Tax, or any other tax, and is paid direct into a bank account within a week of me calling in my generation reading. In addition to this payment there is the second benefit of savings on our electricity bill. We are still waiting for our electricity supplier to change our electricity meter to a more modern digital type, but until they do we have an old 'wheel type' meter which goes one way when we use electricity and goes backwards when we generate more than we use. This means that there is no 'back stop' so I can accurately claim that for every kWh that was generated actually was a saving off our electricity bill. For this calculation I used our 'next rate' of 9.5p per kWh from our Electricity Bill. The results are displayed in the following table:
The installation cost for my system was £11,500 and for 2012 the Return on Investment (ROI) was 18% for the Feed in Tariff payments alone or 20% if you include the actual electricity savings as well.
Is it worth installing Solar PV now?
Our system was installed when the Feed In Tariff was 43.3 per kWh. This then increased with inflation in April 2012 to 45.4p per kWh. The rates have had a series of reductions and the current January 2013 FIT rate is 15.44p per kWh. However the installation cost has now fallen and a system like ours can be installed for about £7,000. This would generate £725 per year in Feed In Tariff Payments (15.44p + (50% export rate of 4.5p per kWh) x 4089kwh, plus you would save up to £400 off your electricity bill dependent on the type of electricity meter you have installed. You basically have a Return on Investment (ROI) of 10% if you install today, considerably better than any ISA Savings Account on the market today. There are also very clever products you can buy for £500 that divert all unused Solar PV electricity to your immersion heater so you can heat hot water for free as well as being paid Feed in Tariffs.
So yes, if your roof and position is right, it is still worth installing Solar PV as the income you receive is guaranteed by the Government for 20 years, rises each year with inflation and is tax free. Plus if you look at the current state of the UK Energy Policy then prices for both Gas and Electric are only going to go up for many years to come. Installing renewable energy is yours, and the UKs, only solution to rising energy prices. You may also be interested in Solar Hot Water and a scheme launching in summer 2013 whereby the government will pay you, similar to Solar PV Feed In Tariff, for everything you generate, but that's the topic of the next blog....
You can find out more about Feed In Tariffs on the Energy Saving Trust's web site.
On 20th December a significant milestone with our electric car ownership, 5,000 miles in under four months. "Well so what?!" I hear you ask. 5,000 miles in a modern has barely broken itself in but with some people only thinking that electric cars are for short ranges, or unusable in the real world; I wanted to continue how, as a family of five, we have used our 100% Electric Car for everything a normal family would use a vehicle for, except the considerable running cost saving.
Our daily use of the Nissan LEAF is about 40 to 50 miles this includes around commute of 36 miles plus various trips that after-school club shopping etc. There has also been an extended trip taking the vehicle on a 360 mile round trip from Chichester to Northampton and back again in one weekend.
After 4 months and 5,000 miles you really get to know how a car feels and whether you've made the right decision beyond the initial test drive. Not only am I utterly convinced with the electric car proposition I can't wait to get another electric car and relieve this family of expensive, inefficient, polluting oil based motoring.
So what's behind my EV conviction? First and foremost is the sheer driving experience. It is so smooth, so quiet, so refined and yet responsive - it's just a dream to drive. Monday to Friday we have the car programmed so it preheats (It's December) so that it is ready for departure at 8:10 at a perfect 21 degrees. The car measures the outside temperature is what time and energy it needs to bring the car up to 21°by the same time every working day. On cold frosty mornings this means the car is completely de-iced and heated up ready to go whilst still plugged in to the household mains negating any need to use the car battery for any heating for the first 10 to 15 minutes of our journeys. Once on the road the car behaves impeccably I typically get up to speed and set the cruise control to within the exact MPH; for motorways about 58MPH. The car can go 80+ MPH but, as with a petrol car, the amount of energy used to get a car from 60-70mph is considerable, so a steady 58MPH gets the best use of energy and hence the best range. With the integrated IT systems the car phone and audio are instantly connected through Bluetooth, and the car consistently gets real time traffic updates through it's embedded 3G data SIM. And my last comment on the drive; without any vibration, or shudder you just sit in silence when at a set of lights whilst all around you other cars are burning fuel, money and belching out carcinogenic diesel fumes.
Secondly the economics. How far can you drive your car on £28of fuel? About 300 miles more or less depending how efficient your car is. In the last month for that £48 of electric we have driven our electric car over 1,100 miles, over three times further than a modern efficient diesel. Multiply that up over the 5,000 miles and we have saved our family £800 by driving an electric car versus our old diesel car. And 99% of that from a 3 pin plug on the front of our house. It's actually less than that for us due to the floor KWP solar PV system on our roof that is also contributed to the charging of our electric car but nevertheless even without a solar PV system the savings are around 90% To drive an electric car versus an efficient diesel car.
Thirdly there is the environmental impact. Yes this was a new car and all cars use materials and Earth resources to construct and the Nissan Leaf also requires all the components of an ordinary car plus a battery pack but once it leaves the factory gate and is delivered to the customer at that point there are Zero emissions whilst driving the car. No carcinogenic diesel fumes pumping out of the car and no vehicle or engine noise Compounding our congested towns and cities. For those questioning where the electricity comes from there are two parts to this; Firstly there are dedicated renewable power companies, like Good Energy, where all Electricity comes from renewable sources. Secondly only this week the government has announced that we are well on our way to producing 20% of energy from Renewable Energy so even with a standard energy provider more of the power comes from zero emission renewable wind turbines.
Also pair that with the time of day when we charge our car in the middle of the night. Anyone in their utility industry would explain the 'bath-tub effect' or the low utilisation of the electricity network is the ideal time to charge electric vehicles as the emissions and CO2 emissions from the grid are low, and the environmental impact is low compared to plugging in at peak time. With the introduction of Smart Meters nationwide over the next 4 years you can expect to see attractive overnight rates to better manage the grid and the growth in Electric Cars
My final reason is really strategic; we have fixed our electricity price until October 2013 so we can now predict exactly what it will cost to run our car for the next year. Imagine if you could fix the price of diesel for a year.....
Now I believe in objective, transparent, journalism and there have been changes that we have made to how we use an electric car versus a combustion engine, but none of these were difficult. 99% of our charging is from a three pin plug on the front of the house but there are times when planning a longer journey that we do need to factoring where we can plug in and charge. Now this can be as simple as topping up the charge whilst shopping, or factoring in 30 minute charges on longer journeys. So when I made the 130 mile trip to Northampton I stopped at Nissan Southampton where I enjoyed a free coffee and free Rapid Charge to 100% of the battery, before stopping again at Waitrose Abingdon to top up charge for free again. The leg of the trip from Southampton to Northampton was 62 miles across the hilly A34 and I arrived with about 20 miles left in the battery pack. I parked the car, strectched my legs and bought a couple of items in Waitrose before returning to the car and using the heater to warm the car whilst it finished the Rapid Charge - again FREE rapid charging, I arrived as Northampton after some significant traffic congestion with about 25 miles of range left on the battery. And as the Hilton Northampton had a socket for plugging in garden machinery I plugged the car in there overnight where it fully charged and preheated the car ready for the Saturday Silverstone trip.
So the point here is that if you are planning a longer trip a car can easily make that trip you just need to build in those 30 minute stops. I covered 360 miles without having to spend anything on the Charging infrastructure saving around 㿞of diesel in the process. Just Brilliant.
Now after 5,000 miles you get the hang of how to drive an electric car dependent on your trip. I know Jo, who drives the car on the daily commute, has got into a mindset where she only has to worry about the car getting her to work and back with a little bit of running around after that. This means she tends to drive the car at 70MPH amd uses more heat in the car in the knowledge that with an overnight charge its ready the next day. When trying to get more range we drive the car at 58MPh on motorways and use ECO mode and sporadic demisting to get more miles.
The simple way to remember this is 70MPH = 70 miles of range; At 60mph = 80mph; 30mph = 150 miles and so on. Just like a combustion engine, the more smoothly you drive the car a better economy it returns. On my trip back from Northampton I made sure the car stayed between 55 and 60 miles an hour and that easily allowed me a 70 to 80 mile range even with occasional heat usage and a very hilly A34 road.
We are a two car family with our non-electric car being a Volkswagen EOS 2.0 Diesel Sport. This has been a magnificent car to drive especially in the summer and regularly returns 50 MPG; However the financial benefits of the electric car has now resigned this car to our garage with maybe once or twice a week it coming out for a short run and only when the LEAF is being driven at the same time. I now positively choose to drive the LEAF and wait until we do things like grocery shopping as the benefits are so great.
A lot of this article talks about the Nissan LEAF as this is the post usable family car out there right now and our lease car for 3 years, however there is a raft of new vehicles coming in the next few months and predictions of a doubling of sales of EVs in 2013. The Renault Zoe launches mid year with a 㾹k price tag and 㿲pm battery lease; along with the BMW i3 and the larger i8 in 2014. Expect another electric car from Nissan by 2015 as well as Volkswagen Audi group dipping their toe in the EV pond with the Golf eBlueMotion.
So to conclude would I recommend an electric car to somebody else? Without hesitation. The superior drive the substantial running and servicing cost savings paired with the fixed electricity price and environmental benefits make an electric car an obvious choice. And if you want something slightly more progressive than a five seater family car then check out the Tesla model S –that is heading to Europe in 2013; a luxury car with a 300 miles range. The real challenge is to get bums on seats that is to get people into electric cars and trying them because once someone has driven an electric car and realised the benefits there is no going back. For me I simply Cannot see me ever buying a non-electric car again.