Saturday
Mar292014

"Everyone is Talking About the Sound"

I am gently becoming increasingly excited about the upcoming FIA Formula e racing season.

I attended the London Launch last year and saw the first car which is featured in the video below.

As Formula e boss Alejandro Agag says in the video, 'everyone is talking about the sound, now we've heard it, we love it.'

Having driven a few high performance electric cars, I have to say the lack of deafening, rattling, banging, smokey old engines is a bit of a plus in my book but then I'm very biased.

I don't think the races are going to be slow, the Spark-Renault SRT-01E is a 270 brake horse power racing car.

The cars are made up of components from many motorsport companies, the power train is from McLaren, Italian firm Dallara built the monocoque chasis, Williams Advanced Engineering (part of the Williams F1 Team) supply the batteries.

 

The season looks like this

2014

13th September. Beijing China

18th October. Putrajaya Malaysia

15th November. Rio de Janeiro Brazil

13th December. Punta Del Este Uraguay

2015

10th January. Buenos Aires  Argentina

14th February. Los Angeles USA

14th March. Miami USA

9th May. Monte Carlo Monaco 

30th May. Berlin Germany

27th June. London 

All these races take place on the streets, not on a track, the final in London will take place slap bang in the middle of town.

Teams include Drayson Racing, Mahindra Racing, Virgin Racing and of course the one that got in the news a bit recently, Venturi Grand Prix who were founded by among others, some actor bloke called Leonardo DiCaprio.


 

Thursday
Mar272014

The Toyota TS040 Hybrid.

 

I’m thrilled to bits to see Toyota doing this.

The TS040 hybrid is the car that will take the team into the 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship.

The 473 brake horse power of all-wheel drive hybrid boost is in addition to the 3.7-litre V8 petrol engine, taking maximum power 986 brake horse power.

That sounds like rather a lot so it’s clearly not a sensible city or commuter car but the technological development that Toyota are using in this monster will always filter down to their road cars.

It’s fascinating what’s happening in motor racing, I’ve heard a lot of hardcore Formula 1 fans moaning about the lack of noise but big changes are obviously taking place across the racing spectrum, and of course there's Formula E soon.

All teams entering the World Endurance Championship this year are required to use 25 per cent less fuel than in 2013, which is an enormous technological as well as driving style challenge.

If you’re a race fan, this is the 2014 World Endurance Championship season

20 Apr             Six Hours of Silverstone (GB)

3 May              Six Hours of Spa-Francorchamps (Bel)

14 Jun             Le Mans 24 Hours (Fra)

20 Sep             Six Hours of Circuit of the Americas (USA)

12 Oct              Six Hours of Fuji (Jpn)

2 Nov              Six Hours of Shanghai (Chi)

15 Nov            Six Hours of Bahrain

30 Nov           Six Hours of Sao Paulo (Bra)

Tuesday
Mar252014

It's more about Economics than Earthquakes

This brilliant infographic comes from a rather impressive group called The Trillion Fund

They are an investment fund that focusses on renewable energy solutions and they argue very convincingly that we need to study the economics a little more carefully before we lazily agree with the big money bullies who control our government telling us 'fracking is the only sensible economic solution.

Sunday
Mar232014

It’s not about cars!

The more I learn about electric cars, the more I understand that subtle changes in technology are having many previously unforeseen side effects.

As we are all beginning to accept, electric cars are just cars that don’t use liquid fuels, they can still cause traffic snarl ups, accidents and parking problems.

But one or two aspects are emerging that make them a very different proposition.

Although electric car sales world wide are now being counted in the 100’s of thousands, they still make up for a tiny proportion, even with current rates of increased sales they still barely reach 5% of cars on the road by 2020.

What will happen in that time though is a massive leap in battery technology, you don’t have to be a hedge fund manager or rampant free market capitalist to see the writing on the wall. There’s big money in batteries.

Of course there’s far bigger money in oil and gas, the really big tax breaks and corporations who manipulate them are busy enough.

But even they are becoming aware of new battery technology emerging all around the world.

Batteries are getting smaller, lighter, more energy dense, longer lasting and above all, cheaper.

These increases are constant and low level at present. Battery energy density is, according to companies like Panasonic, Samsung and Tesla increasing by roughly 8% a year. No great shakes but in the 5 years I’ve been keeping an eye on this sector, energy density has increased by roughly 40%.

But if they still cost a fortune, so what?

Well, they are also getting cheaper, the cost per kWh of storage a few years ago was around $500 per kWh. It’s now around $400.

I know nothing about predictions but there are companies emerging who are claiming $180 per kWh by 2020.

I’ll put that into context for myself because these figures seem so arbitrary, but the Nissan Leaf, BMW i3 and e-Golf all have batteries with around 24 kWh capacity. At $180 per kWh, you’re looking at a $3,000 battery pack.

However when I talk about batteries I’m not even thinking about them in relation to cars, I’m thinking about our houses, about the grid, about cities, dammit, I’m thinking of the whole country.

The effect that millions of widely distributed batteries would have on the way we generate and distribute power is immense.

Imagine a 100 kWh battery pack built into your house, you have solar panels on the roof which trickle charge them day after day.

Before I explain the difference this could make, let’s look at the cost. Your battery pack is made from ‘depleted’ car batteries and the cost is a great deal lower than buying new ones. It’s not impossible to imagine something the size of a small fridge that could store 100 kWh with no maintenance and 10-15 years of trouble free use.

So you get home after work, lights on, computer on, washing on, cooker on, telly on, water heater on.

Currently at the National Grid control room they see a huge spike in demand, a huge expensive spike, everything that can generate is generating flat out.

If, say, 5 million homes had battery storage, that spike would drop dramatically, the grid could call on all that stored power to supplement the grid.

Now go bigger, much bigger.

Industrial scale grid batteries, not storing 100 kWh or even 10,000, but multiple gigawatts.

They are charged over a long period of time by wind and solar and hopefully tidal turbines. The excess power generated at night when we don’t use it is suddenly valuable, we don’t waste it, we store it.

Fanciful?

Certainly today this kind of technology doesn’t exist outside a lab, but numerous projects all over the world are being tested.

Some of them will work, and when they do and we start using them, the energy picture is going to change in ways we can’t imagine.

Just one important caveat, modern batteries last a really long time, they can be charged 10,000 times. If you charge and deplete them every day, that means they last about 30 years.

And when they’re no good any more, do we just throw them away?

Of course not, we use a lot of stored power to recycle 96% of the materials in them and make new ones.

Sun Catalytix

Organic Megaflow battery

 

 

Wednesday
Mar052014

The Tesla Model S

Okay, I admit I’m a little overwhelmed.

I just spent two days driving a Tesla Model S, I covered 204.8 miles and used a total of 76.4 kWh to do so.

First off, the range. With an 84 kWh battery it's just not something you think about. I plugged it in when I was at home merely to get shots of the car plugged in. It certainly didn't need it.

Hence in the readout above, taken when I delivered the car back to Tesla, you can see under Trip Meters that I hadn't used anything like 84 kWh.

The car is very big, has breathtaking performance, road holding, comfort, speed range and all the other OMFG inducing swishness you may have heard reported previously.

I had one moment of anxiety during the drive, not range anxiety, but ‘where is the windscreen washer button’ anxiety.

A wonderful Tesla representative called Mark Tapscott had gone through all the controls with me at the Tesla service centre, the washer button was the one we forgot.

I found it and all was fine.

The screen washers are awesome by the way, multiple jets all along the enormous windscreen making vision optically perfect in milliseconds.

But what is truly breathtaking is the maturity of the technology.

It isn’t like driving some kind of experimental vehicle in early development, it’s like driving the tenth generation model of something that first appeared in the 1950’s. Everything is refined, functional and easy to use.

However this car was just a dream just 5 short years ago.

I saw a mock up of the Model S in Tesla’s original headquarters in Menlo Park, Silicon Valley about 3 years ago.

They only started making them in mass numbers last year and yet everything about the car is refined, slick and very high end.

‘I think I’d feel embarrassed driving around in this.’ Said my daughter as we negotiated the back roads of Acton. ‘It’s so big and luxurious, it’s sort of showing off.’

Of course she’s correct, this is without question a car for rich people, the sort of people who currently buy a Range Rover, Jaguar, Mercedes Benz, Maserati or flash BMW.

But imagine the difference;

If you saw some rich person zoosh past you in a Model S instead of driving cars with the highest CO2 output, the lowest MPG and the highest choking particulate emissions we have ever created I for one would bow down and thank them.

They will, as is their duty, be supporting innovation, new, more sustainable technology and before long, smaller, cheaper versions of this type of car.

Counter to that, if, in a years time you see some ignorant, selfish, tax fiddling banker/gambler driving a ridiculously enormous, inefficient 3 ton gas guzzling lump of luxury steel and leather, we have every right to look down on them as part of the problem, not even attempting to create a solution.

Oh yes, and one more thing, the acceleration is arse removing. Terrifying, awesome, spectacular and not for the feint hearted.

I will be posting a full review of this remarkable car on Fully Charged soon.