Monday
Dec082014

It's Hardly News.

 I don't wish to come across smug and knowing, but the many unpleasant effects of tailpipe emissions aren't exactly news, are they?
When I first visited Los Angeles in the mid 1980's during its period of bearing the 'most polluted city in the world' moniker, there was a great deal of talk about local area pollution and the dire effect this toxic smog had particularly on the old and very young.

On a bad day in LA you could barely see or breath, this pollution was anything but subtle.
20 years of legislation by the Californian government and in particular the California Air Resource Board, (CARB) encouraged the introduction of things like unleaded petrol, catalytic converters and of course hybrid and electric cars.
Now it's in the news again, like the fact that tens of thousands of diesel cars in London being a bad thing is a sudden shock to everyone.
In a recent BBC report it was stated that "...traffic is responsible for 42% of carbon monoxide, 46% of nitrogen oxides and 26% of particulate matter pollution."
Not sure what that means?
Try cycling around London with an air filter face mask and have a look at the filter after a half hour pedal. It's properly black. I first noticed that in about 1979.
So, the sooner we get rid of all diesel taxis, busses, trucks, vans and cars the better.
'But,' say the fossil defenders, 'that could have a huge negative effect on the economy.'
I would like to suggest that it could have a huge beneficial effect on our economy and indeed cut down on the annual estimate of 29,000 deaths that are as a direct result of traffic related air pollution.

 

Wednesday
Dec032014

A Little Out of My Depth

Last night I took part in a lively and fascinating debate in London organised by Ecoconnect and hosted by BDO LLP .

I was invited to attend by a delightful man called Michael Ware.

Long time readers of this blog with better memories than me may find this description surprising, Michael and I had a little spat over an article he wrote and the response I posted on here back in 2013.

But that’s all in the past, I was invited to join a panel of genuinely distinguished guests.

Chaired by the urbane and charming Tom Heap who is the Rural Affairs Editor at the BBC, the panel was made up of Chris Huhne who was a Liberal Democrat MP and until fairly recently Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

Then there was the previously mentioned Michael Ware, next to him Matt Ridley who is a conservative member of the House of Lords and a highly intelligent and subtle critic of climate change policies, and indeed the very notion of climate change as a scientific reality.

Oh yes, and then there’s that old bloke off the telly, that numptie who drives around in electric cars and drones on about renewable energy.

So I was a little nervous, the audience was made up of people who work in the renewable energy sector, some journalists and a quite a large number of people who work in the investment trade.

Many of the topics were well above my pay grade, what should governments do about subsidies to the renewable energy sector, how do we address the issue of intelligent demand response, grid balancing, the increase in coal use since Germany steered away from nuclear.

All fascinating but for me, challenging stuff.

I’m not going to lie, I held my numptie flag high.

I couldn’t begin to argue with such intellectual luminaries as Matt Ridley, Michael Ware and Chris Huhne.

So I tried to argue the very fundamentals. The notion of genuinely long term planning, the notion that the longer we are reliant on fossil fuels, the more vulnerable we are to the vagaries of international crisis and market speculation. The very airy-fairy notion that as the human race, we should aim towards the end of burning stuff to quite the same degree we do now. The fact that the idea of climate change has spurred incredible technological innovation in the last 20 years. You know, the usual.

Chris Huhne’s grasp of the realities of renewables, the challenges they face both technological and political was encyclopedic, he could counter the rather childish claims of Matt Ridley with his own set of facts and figures.

I just got a bit shouty which is always self defeating.

However, it was the spin on climate change denial that Matt Ridley came out with that was fascinating. He’s not denying that increased man made CO2 is having an effect on the climate, just that ‘it might not be a bad thing and if we spent the money on protecting ourselves and adapting to this change then we can go on extracting and burning without a second thought.’

That isn’t a direct quote, but believe me that’s the gist.

Just for the record, Matt Ridley is without question a brilliant scientist, successful author of such books as The Rational Optimist, Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters and many others. He’s a hereditary peer who went to Eton and Oxford.

Okay, and he was Chairman of Northern Rock at the time the bank that went seriously and disastrously pear shaped a few years ago but let’s brush over that.

He is more importantly an advisor to The Global Warming Policy Foundation that was set up by Nigella Lawson’s dad, Nigel.

Their shtick is that we are wasting money trying to mitigate the impacts we’ve been making for the past 150 years, these ideas are very carefully couched and can seem at a glance to be quite a reasonable response to the sometimes mildly hysterical warnings coming out of the IPCC.

However, the slightest nudge reveals their true colours, terms such as ‘ugly stupid wind turbines,’ ‘ridiculous ugly solar panels’ and ‘electric cars powered by coal.’

He used all those terms last night.

But best of all coming from someone with such a supremely privileged background as Matt Ridley, ‘poor people who have to pay more for their electricity to subsidies middle class people’s guilt who can afford electric cars and solar panels.’

No mention of the colossal profits his pals in the large corporate energy conglomerates make each day, no mention of the massive disparity between the wholesale price of electricity and the massively higher rates we pay to keep our lights on.

No suggestion that a change in the way we produce electricity could possibly, just maybe affect the entrenched position of supreme power his mates in the corporations, and their intimate relationship with the current government enjoy.

Of course, my main regret is that I didn’t have the intellectual capacity to deliver these slightly better thought out responses to his arrogant nonsense last night.

I was, I’m afraid to admit, just a slightly befuddled but possibly self aware old hippie having the occasional rant.

Thursday
Sep252014

But it's all so complicated!

I posted this picture on Twitter the other day which caused a bit of a flutter.

It’s a still taken by someone during the shoot of a new series of Top Gear.

I was impressed that the old men in jeans are even attempting to use an electric car, so the initial view of this picture is great.

Big Jezza’s seen the light…… sort of.

For a start the BMW i8, the car in the picture, is amazing, fast and made of the future. It also has a petrol engine and a fairly limited electric only range.

It’s a plug in hybrid £100,000 supercar and that’s fine and dandy.

I think it’s fantastic and much better than an old school massive engine in two-seater supercar.

However there’s a couple of things in the picture that give the impression that all is not 100% hunky dory in the brave new Top Gear change of mindset regarding electric cars.

The first is the position the car is parked in.

The charge port on the i8 is on the passenger side, there are two parking spaces for electric cars at this location, if he’d parked in the other one the cable running from the charger wouldn’t have to be stretched over the bonnet to look all awkward and ungainly.

If he had reversed in, as you would in a Tesla Model S, the same lack of cable stretch would apply.

You would only park in this position to ‘make a point’ that it’s a bit silly to plug a car in.

Sure, some people stop with their filler cap on the far side from the petrol/diesel pump, we’ve all done it, a couple of times.

Any normal human being who is just using the car would gather that instantly and move the car to the other bay, then the cable would just reach with no problem.

But this is Jezza, I suppose he has to make it look awkward.

The second and far more important point is the charger he’s using belongs to Ecotricity and it’s specifically designed as a rapid charger.

It can charge my Leaf from close to empty to 80% in under 30 minutes.

But the Leaf is designed to take this fast charge, the BMW i8 is not.

The battery in my Leaf has a capacity of 24-kilowatt hours, the battery in the BMW i8 has a capacity of 7.2 kilowatt hours.

If you plug the i8 into a 32-amp domestic charge socket it will take about 3 hours to fill.

If you don’t ever charge the battery the car still works, regenerative braking and indeed the amazing 3-cylinder petrol engine can charge the battery so if you’re not stopping somewhere for more than a couple of hours it’s not really worth clogging up a rapid charger.

It will take a charge from the Ecotricity system but only at the same rate you’d get from a 32 amp charger at home.

Not that an inconsequential thing like a fact should get in the way of good telly, so stretch that cable, moan about how complicated it is to understand and make sure another couple of million people don’t understand how electric cars and plug in hybrids work.

Job done, the fossil fuel companies can sit back and relax as further development and understanding has been held back for another few years.

After all, that’s his job isn’t it?

Thursday
Sep182014

The BMW i8

Last week at the Low Carbon Vehicle event at Millbrook proving grounds I finally got to have a drive of the BMW i8. I'd seen it before, I've seen one 'in the wild' on a London street but I hadn't driven it up until that point.
Yes, the engine sound is entirely manufactured, it's 'fake' if you like, but so what? 
This car is designed and built as a supercar which, from where I'm sitting, is an utterly ridiculous notion.
Surely supercars are for people who have so much money they may as well buy one.
However, and I'm trying to take the long view here, as with all technology, the first iterations are expensive and for the very wealthy.
But the innovation and technological developments embodied in a car like this (unlike the notion of the offensive 'trickle down effect' regarding obscene wealth in the 1%) actually do trickle down to more mundane and sensible forms of transport.
As you can see in the video, being in this very fast car is great fun, there's no denying that. Of course I'd love one, that's the whole point of them.


Just to give some weight to the argument in favour of this car, your average supercar will do ten, maybe twelve miles to the gallon. When the cars are stationary in busy city traffic the engines are pumping out comical levels of noxious gas and CO2, when they're not even moving. Oh, but they sound great.
Yeah, thanks, I'll live without the noise if my eyes aren't stinging.
The BMW i8 has all the panache, verve and show-off potential of a supercar but can run on electricity in cities, can get over 100 miles to the gallon and go around a track like there's a legitimate need to get to the other end very fast. 

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.