EV: Cleaner than you think

I’m not sure how I found myself checking the official figures for electricity generation in 2015 on a Sunday evening, but it happened. And it’s very interesting too.

e-Golf headlamps

Electric cars are greener than you think. 

You see, a very common criticism of electric cars is that the fuel still has to come from somewhere, and that often means a coal-fired power station doesn’t it? Well, according to this document, it really doesn’t! In fact, over the whole of 2015, coal accounted for just 22.6% of power generated. The really interesting bit is that renewables accounted for 24.7%. In other words, more electricity was generated from green sources than from dirty ol’ coal.

Sure, gas still accounted for 29.5% to be the overall winner, and that’s still fairly bad, but gas is at least cleaner than coal – both in terms of storage and when you burn it. Power stations can capture the carbon from combustion too, or they could if the Tories hadn’t cancelled a competition looking into such technology back in November. Oh well.

Interestingly, actual electricity generation was down too, though my joy was shortlived. Turns out we were just importing more from France and The Netherlands.

One reason for the renewables boost, apart from more wind and solar farms, is that Drax power station is gradually converting to Biomass operation. That’s good isn’t it? Tree grows, absorbs carbon, you burn it to make heat and out comes the carbon again, to get absorbed by the next generation of tree. This should be carbon neutral.

The only problem is that each burner requires 2.3 million tonnes of Biomass per year, and that’s rather a lot. Apparently, it currently comes from North America, which means carbon emissions from shipping. You also worry about the state of forests having to provide this much fuel.

Still, things are heading in the right direction. For electric cars to be really clean, they need to run on clean electricity. I know hydrogen is touted as the real future, and I agree with Riversimple that it could well be, but I also find something elegant and rather wonderful about pure electric vehicles. I admire the simplicity.

I’m still some way from owning an electric vehicle myself, but the desire has not gone away. It really will happen. I just can’t say when.

My favourite videos of 2015

Excuse the self-promotion as I guide you through my favourite videos of 2015 – my favourite HubNut videos that is. 2015 was a year in which I really stepped up video production, so here are my personal highlights. This is my Top Five.

Number 5 – Nissan e-NV200 Combi

This was the first electric car that I tested long distance, and it has to be said it wasn’t exactly stress-free! Using the Ecotricity Electric Highway, I was able to drive from home in mid-Wales to Bideford in Devon. Choosing to do this in Winter, in a vehicle with a 60-mile range was the problem. This is also a review of the e-NV200 itself. A very useful vehicle but still blighted by good old range anxiety and an inefficient heater.

Number 4 – Perodua Nippa

This one joined the fleet in March, and has proved to be an ideal little runaround. This review was filmed not long after purchase and while it’s certainly a car built cheaply, it continues to run well. Listen to the road noise though!

Number 3 – My first Vlog

Vlogging appears to be a thing – video blogging – so I thought I’d have a go. This is where I began a series of (so far) ten videos. I aired some annoyances with the regime in Saudi Arabia – exacerbated by recent developments as I write – and I also talk about electric cars and the Citroen XM.

Number 2 – Honda Insight first generation

Insight rear

Testing the Honda Insight Mk1

It seems that I love every car that I drive, and I expected the Insight to be no exception. It didn’t quite do it for me, as you can see in this video. Still an appealing car, but not quite what I’d hoped for. It is proving to be a popular video though.

Number 1 – My 2CV and me

Picking one favourite is not easy. My XM V6 video continues to amass a huge number of views, and the Citroen Ami one was an absolute hoot to put together. But, my friend Keith Hicks helped me make a rather special tribute to my 2CV. I still don’t know what the future is for this car, but I’ve had many good adventures in it and I’ve loved every minute behind the wheel.

Thanks for watching. Once the weather improves, I hope to get cracking on some more videos. 2016 promises to be very exciting. Stay tuned!


The Citroen e-Mehari – my thoughts

There’s exciting news today as Citroen might actually be building a car I like the look of – the e-Mehari. Dredging up the name of a fantastic 2CV-based model in its history is perhaps unforgivable but I must concede that this new model does hold some appeal – and does have quite a few Mehari styling cues.

Most interesting is that this will be an EV or electric vehicle. It was actually conceived by Bollore, which already builds a small EV car. PSA (the company that owns the Peugeot and Citroen brands) has merely squashed a C4-Cactus-esque snout upon it to create a new look.

Crivens! I actually like it!

Crivens! I actually like it!

It does look remarkably niche for a mainstream manufacturer and I must concede that I do wonder what PSA are up to. It has already dabbled with electric vehicles with the Berling Electricque, which didn’t really take off. It then went into a deal with Mitsubishi to sell the i-MIEV as the Peugeot iON and Citroen C-Zero.  A far better vehicle, but hideous pricing (£30,000 when launched, but now a far more realistic £11,995) and Japanese Kei-car looks seem to have kept buyers away. So you’d think that the last thing PSA would want to do is entertain another niche. Yet, with the e-Mehari, which appears to lack proper doors and a roof, that’s entirely what they’ve done. I do find this confusing. Nissan and Tesla have proved that if you want EV sales success, what people want is an actual, proper car with plenty of space. I’m not sure something that invites the use of the word ‘quirky’ is really going to do it for them.

Mind you, they’re already talking down production totals – 15 vehicles per day or 3500 per year seems vaguely possible. It’s clear it’ll never be a volume seller and PSA rightly admits as much. I can’t see a lot of profit in it though, especially at an asking price of 24,000 Euros, or £17,300 at current rates. Details seem a little sketchy, but it seems that you’ll probably have to pay another 80 Euros a month to rent the batteries, in a similar manner to Renault. This is disappointing and I’m sure it’ll harm resale values. What seems a reasonable extra cost for a brand new car becomes a millstone as that car ages.

A shame as with a 24kwh capacity, the range should be pretty good – over 100 miles should be possible on a charge. That’s similar to a Kia Soul EV or Nissan LEAF. It’ll be interesting to see if this is yet another EV failure for PSA, or whether this is the simple, frill-free EV that the market has been waiting for.

Review: Volkswagen e-UP! Part Two

Having discovered just how poor the range of the Volkswagen e-UP! is, I then set about using the car in a rather more typical fashion. An awful lot of my journeys are short ones, to neighbouring villages and towns. Here, the e-UP! was just fantastic. I like having so much torque in so small a car. Great for acceleration and for climbing the great many hills in these parts.

A City car, emphatically not in a city

A City car, emphatically not in a city

Even better, the short range isn’t an issue so close to home, so I could drove the e-UP! in a much more spirited fashion – much more how I’d normally choose to drive.

In those circumstances, I was averaging around 3 to 3.2 miles per kilowatt hour, so about a mile less per kilowatt hour than when I was driving as gently as possible. I don’t feel that’s too bad at all, especially with lots of heater use and sub-zero temperatures at times.

But naturally, I got bored just testing the e-UP! on sealed surfaces, so I also indulged in a little light greenlaning. All this and more is contained within my latest video. Enjoy!

Video: The Eco Car Con

The government is working hard to encourage us to buy brand new, environmentally friendly cars. But is it actually better for the environment than just keeping our existing cars going? Inspired by a question by one of my followers, I decided to investigate.

Could it be that new is not best after all?

Could it be that new is not best after all?

Now, this is not that easy to get to the bottom of, because there are an awful lot of variables. Certainly, my XM doing 10,000 miles a year kicks out about the same amount of pollution as a brand new Land Rover Freelander diesel auto doing the same mileage, or better than an electric car doing 25,000 miles a year. Yes, electric has a dirty footprint too – in the UK at least. Paraguay is actually leading the way with renewables while we still rely on dirty gas and coal. Encouragingly though, this summer apparently renewables were more productive than coal. A step in the right direction?

But it’s manufacturing that still generates most emissions. Now, this will vary dramatically from car to car, but as far as I could find out, building a car the size and specification of my Citroen XM today probably produces about 20 tons of CO2, whereas driving it for a year generates 2.5-3.0 tons. I do more investigation in my latest video.

A new Citroen I actually like!

Yes, I’m surprised too. Since the demise of the XM and Xantia, I’m not sure there has been a Citroen that I actually want to own. Nice as a C6 is, they’re a bit – needy. And huge. And scary.

The Citroen I would really like to own is not huge. It’s not really a Citroen at all – it’s a Mitsubishi. But hold on a minute. What actually is a Citroen these days? The C1 is a Toyota while everything else is just rehashed Peugeot. Hydropneumatic suspension is dead and the entire range is one big pile of Meh. The Cactus looks a bit interesting, and has a nice interior, but I wouldn’t rate it as desirable.

Stupidly exciting. No, really.

Stupidly exciting. No, really.

The C-Zero on the other hand, that really does appeal. For a start, it’s based on a Japanese Kei-car – built to strict regulations on size and speed. My Perodua Nippa began life as Kei-Car (though it’s 847cc is over the 660cc limit). I’ve always loved Kei cars and the skinny, high-up looks of the C-Zero put me in mind of the 2CV.

Best of all, the C-Zero is electric, so EV kicks ahoy! One of the first electric cars in fact, with the Mitsubishi i-MIEV on which it is based launched in 2009. It seems to be a fairly good one as well – I’ve spent a lot of time looking into this. Now sure, it’s no Nissan LEAF – it’s far smaller for a start and a lot lighter – a good few hundred KG. That makes a difference. While it’s range is firmly in the 60-80 mile range, that’s pretty similar to an early LEAF. It’s an entirely useful amount of range, just not for every journey you’ll ever do. I reckon it’d cover about 90% of my journeys. The range isn’t brilliant, but that’s because the battery is a lot smaller than a LEAF. It has to be, the car is much smaller. The major benefit here is that charging time is reduced – seven hours from pretty empty to full compared with ten hours for a LEAF. Appealing.

But the good news doesn’t end there. Citroen (and Peugeot with the identical iON) actually suspended their agreement with Mitsubishi while they tried to sell existing stock. I think that must be complete now and with the agreement rumoured to cover 100,000 vehicles (split between Peugeot and Citroen), they seem keen to make a real crack of it again – the price has dropped to a remarkable £11,995 on the road (including government grant). That’s astonishing! These cars were £28,000 or more when they first hit the market.

Given that a brand new Renault Twingo starts at £9495, it puts the C-Zero on a far closer par with a petrol equivalent. It makes me want to dash out and do something stupid on finance, which is a feeling I haven’t had for many years. I won’t of course, because my wife would kill me, and I quite like living a finance-free existance, but even so…

You’re probably wondering what a C-Zero is like to drive though. So am I. Frustratingly, I’ve been utterly unable to get my hands on an i-MIEV, C-Zero or iON so I’ve no idea. None of the manufacturers seems to have one on the press fleet and dealers have been less than sympathetic. And often bloomin’ miles away too!

Needless to say, if you do own one and don’t mind a strange chap with a beard having a drive, do let me know!

EV: Still can’t bloomin’ afford one

Every time I plug my smart phone in for its daily dose of electricity, I’m reminded of my love for electric vehicles (EV). Cars that to make go further, you simply plug into a socket.

Also, every time I go down a hill in a conventional (or ICE for Internal Combustion Engine) vehicle, I’m appalled at the sheer waste. All that potential energy lost though the brake system as heat. If I was in an electric vehicle, that energy could be recouped as range-extending electricity.

It may seem a small thing, but when I tested the Nissan e-NV200 Combi, I found it easy to generate more than 1kwh of electricity (per charge) through regenerative braking. Now, that might not sound much, but as I discovered with the Volkswagen e-Golf, it’s possible to drive 5 miles or more per kilowatt hour. That’s five miles of range generated for free! Pure gravity. It must be said, those figures were obtained without trying particularly hard either. Even with the short range of electric vehicles, I tend not to hang about.

Nissan electric van

Nissan e-NV200 Combi. Encourages economical efforts.

That said, I’m pretty sure that I drive much more economically in an EV than an ICE. It’s all too easy to just put my foot to the floor with petrol power, as you don’t get an instant sense of how bad that is. Shove your foot down in an EV and while you (usually) get a wonderful shove in the back, you also watch the range begin to plummet. With an EV, you have to drive efficiently.

Here’s the thing though. I still find that HUGELY enjoyable! When I had the e-Golf, I drove it on a very testing challenge across Snowdonia. Here are some of the finest driving roads you could wish for. I had a great time, but I also managed to drive very economically – 5.1 miles per kilowatt hour. That’s pretty impressive for an electric car. Especially as my average speed for the entire trip was 39mph. Given that there was very little dual carriageway and no motorway at all, I consider that quite remarkable. I doubt I could safely achieve more in an ICE. In Snowdonia, you just can’t drive much quicker than that.

Electric Car Charger EV

Certainly, EVs are a lot more pleasant to refuel. No smelly diesel or petrol here – just over there.

I’m sure that I’m now driving my ICE’d cars more economically too. Owning a 2CV has been really useful, because you learn a lot about momentum conservation. Finding the racing line (even if you stay your side of the central white line), judging your speed well so you don’t end up scrubbing too much away as you turn and trying to anticipate road and traffic conditions to avoid harsh braking. I HATE harsh braking! Yet lots of people do it. Smooth braking is a lot more comfortable, and also more economical.

Frankly, I’m a bit astounded by how much I love driving electric vehicles. I love the clean, smooth power delivery and the way you can often use different modes to boost the engine brake sensation – ie activate the regenerative braking without you even having to touch the brake pedal. It means you can easily control your pace with just one pedal. That’s very satisfying.

Electric makes so much sense for so much of my driving too. Sure, it would have made the trip to France a bit difficult – the charging infrastructure is barely keeping up with demand and some areas are still worryingly free of chargers – but for the vast majority of my time at the wheel, I’m driving distances between four and 25 miles. No trauma for even the worst EVs. I could even manage that in a G-Wiz – albeit very slowly.

A LEAF awaits its charge as the e-NV200 fills up

Congestion at charge points already becoming an issue.

But alas, the youngest EVs worth having are still only five years old. I’m starting to see Nissan LEAFs below £8000, and the Renault ZOE for as little as £6500 (albeit with a monthly battery lease to pay on top). Still way out of range for me given that my current ‘moderns’ cost £300 and £375 each. It’s a frustrating business waiting for depreciation to kick in, and waiting to see if EVs develop any ageing issues now they’re getting on a bit. There are interesting times ahead, and an EV will definitely be joining my fleet. I just can’t say when.