Wednesday
Aug062014

To Edinburgh Again...

In January this year I drove a Nissan Leaf from London to Edinburgh.

This was partly in response to an attempt by BBC reporter Brian Milligan to undertake the same journey 3 years previously and partly because we knew we could do it.

It took Mr Milligan something like 4 days and many hours of waiting to charge the prototype electric car he was driving,

It took us 11 hours, with never more than a 20 minute wait to charge the car.

I’m not going to claim it was a walk in the park, it was January, cold, wet and dark for most of the journey and it was also quite boring.

Driving long distances is boring and bad for you, I try and do it as little as possible.

Which is why, writing this in a motorway service area after a long drive while I wait for the extraordinary electric car I've been loaned to charge is a little bit bonkers.

Today I am driving from the South of England, my home in Gloucestershire, to Edinburgh, a distance of 341 miles.

However this time I only need to stop a couple of times. less than an hour to bring the batteries back to full before commencing the second leg of the journey.

A few people have already commented on the appalling parking on display in the picture, it was a little bit tight and the Tesla is a huge beast, okay, I am rubbish at parking.

The range of the Tesla Model S, on a UK motorway, at motorway speed is well over 250 miles on a charge so it really takes driving an electric car into another dimension.

In the Nissan Leaf in January we stopped 7 times on our trip to Edinburgh.

We never got close to being empty and we only charged for 20 minutes but that’s still 7 stops.

Just to explain a little. The battery pack in the Nissan Leaf is 24 kiloWatt hours. In the Tesla Model s, it's 85 kiloWatt hours, so even with my crude grasp of maths, I can understand why it goes further.

So today I have overstopped, but that is not because of the car's range.

Let’s forget the range and the rapid chargers and the battery for a moment and think about my bladder.

Too much information?

Sorry, but my bladder has a range of about 95 - 120 miles, I will be stopping a little more often than the car needs to for my own personal reasons.

So why, after I stated publicly last time I did this trip that in future I'd get the train, am I driving all this way again?

The reason I’m going to Edinburgh is to deliver a talk I’ve been doing for the past few years. It's called:

‘Electric Cars are Rubbish. Aren’t They?’

Hopefully it’s an informative and entertaining talk, I certainly enjoy doing it.

I’m doing the talk at the Assembly Rooms in George Street, Edinburgh, it's part of a season of talks given by very prominent scientists and academics.... and me.

All day tomorrow the right hand drive Tesla Model S will be on display for a day outside the vehue.

But here’s a romantic little bit of history that has nothing to do with electric cars or the future of the energy matrix.

I’m presenting this talk in the very same theatre I first saw my wife performing in 27 years ago. She was then an acrobat and performer in Circus Oz.

I was smitten.

Just in case you are wondering if we are on this trip together in a romantic re-hash of our early love... um... no. She's at home, working on her masters degree and walking the dogs.

27 years later. Hey ho. 

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.

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