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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Fully Charged Episode 12: Drive a Tesla from London to Scotland

In the first episode of Fully Charged for 2011, Robert Llewellyn introduces a fellow EV enthusiast who is driving a Tesla Roadster from London to Edinburgh to counter the ludicrous anti-EV reporting at the BBC by reporter Brian Milligan.

You may recall Mr Milligan wrote a piece of anti-EV propaganda in August last year where he juggled the numbers to make the cost of owning a Mitsubishi iMiEV look more expensive than a ICE powered Fiat 500 when the truth was the iMiEV worked out to be 16% cheaper.

This time Mr Milliagn has set out to exaggerate the negative aspects of charging an EV. To do this the BBC has selected a trip that most commuters would only attempt perhaps for their annual holidays.

Mr Milligan will drive a test fleet BMW eMini (i.e not a full production EV) while recharged en-route using only low current car park based public charging stations that are designed for top up or all day charging.

Sounds like the kind of job Clarkson would have jumped at given half a chance.

You can follow the trip on Twitter@dpeilow

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Unknown said...

All in the name of pushing this industry forward!

Mark The Skint Sailor said...

Brian Milligan's stunt does raise several issues around battery powered EVs, their infrastructure (or lack of it) and their drawbacks.

It also raises the question of why government is spending millions of pounds on subsidising such an evolutionary cul-de-sac as battery powered cars.

The government would be better spending the money on providing the right conditions for hydrogen technology to be adopted.

Its also a bit of a cheat for Tesla to be putting up a car that most people can't afford against a more affordable EV.

Spike said...

The whole point of EV cars as I see it is not for use on long journeys at the present (it will come though). They are surely for urban journeys or commuting and most peoples' day to day use is far less than their current range allows.
Brian Milligans test seems me to be more akin to cycling to Scotland and the complaining that it took longer than a car.
Horses for courses and all that...

tomihawk said...

Care to explain how battery powered cars is an evolutionary cul-de-sac? Are you implying that the current state of technology is as good as it gets? No room for improvement? No potential for longer life, more efficiency and faster charging? The end of progress as we know it?

I'd also like to know how you class the eMini as a "more affordable EV". It's not more affordable if nobody can buy it because it's nothing more than a step up from a prototype. At least "some" people can afford (and buy) the Tesla.

And finally, if you think hydrogen technology is the answer then you really don't know the EV landscape at all. Educate yourself from a more credible source than Top Gear and figure one three letter word into what a hydrogen infrastructure would mean to the future: TAX.

-=EviL Ras=- said...

I still cant see why people are complaining about the BBC's adventure?!! Its totally valid! Yes, he is travelling much further than most EV owners would day to day. But i for one would drive from manchester to london. And if i choose to make that trip, i want to know the infrastructure exists! After all, why pay £26000 for a car that you can only drive from manchester to liverpool and back, with the heating and radio on. and suddenly i need to fill up!

Until they improve the technology (and things WILL get better!), think i'll stick with the petrol! At least i can get that anywhere, and i can go 380 miles to a tank!

Mark The Skint Sailor said...

David: Okay, I accept your premise that battery powered EVs are for short range use, but they're being promoted by all and sundry as an acceptable replacement for fossil fuelled vehilcles which the enlightened know they aren't.

Not only that, but the government is spending billions on providing subsidies to buyers and on the infrastructure to support them, when a far more flexible alternative is within reach.

The government crows about "backing winners", but it will be the fuel cell vehicle that wins out eventually in this VHS/Betamax-like race, so why not save money and back hydrogen technology from the outset? By doing so we can attract fuel cell technology to the UK before it goes mainstream and steal a march on the rest of the world.

Carmadman said...

This is a great story! Personally, I can't wait to see the back of my hydrocarbon vehicle, not least as the prediction for the cost of crude for the next 20 years expects cost per barrel to rise to in excess of $1000!
However, there are some other things to bear in mind. Vehicles such as EV's require complex batteries. Many at present use technologies in the batteries that rely heavily on precious metals. If a battery only has a finite life of say 5 years, this is going to make the total cost of motoring expensive.
I'm amazed that there is such little discussion about fuel cells and their realism. Sure, its a great clean technology at producing power, yet few have bothered to ask where the vast quantities of hydrogen come from! In short, it's not produced from electrolysis (as assumed), but "crack" from natural gas!
Another interesting fact is TRL have tested fuel cell as part of their collision database - except for one rather unspoken point. Their risk assessment deems the impact too dangerous to fill the cells and hydrogen tanks with fuel prior to the impact. Makes you wonder what the first fuel cell RTA is going to look like.

Mark The Skint Sailor said...


Battery powered cars are an evolutionary cul-de-sac because they require charging. Before you go "well duh!", let me explain why thats one hell of a drawback, no matter how quickly you can charge the battery pack.

Look at the millions of people living in terraced, on-street housing with no drive as an example: how do they charge their EV? Do they run a lead from their front door down the street to their car? Or, as I suspect do the EV proponents start pestering local councils to install expensive charging infrastructure on every street at taxpayer's expense? Will, as I suspect the government (local or national) have to recoup their costs for installation by charging battery powered EV owners TAX? After all, why should battery power users expect to be heavily subsidised?

You can't get away from the fact that battery power needs a whole new level of infrastructure which will be expensive to install from the ground up.

Hydrogen technology only needs the right financial conditions creating to encourage oil companies to install the infrastructure and supply hydrogen alongside ptrol, diesel and LPG.

Hydrogen directly replaces fossil fuels in the way its used, so it would be readily accepted by motorists as an alternative fuel. It doesn't require any change in driving habits at all, as opposed to battery powered technology with charging rate limitations, etc.

Not only that, hydrogen could be created locally at the supply station using solar, wave, wind or grid generated electricity, thereby eliminating the distribution network, saving cost, traffic, etc.

Hydrogen could be used as a half-way house as a clean fuel in internal combustion engines.

Finally, hydrogen could be used for domestic energy use, thereby reducing or eliminating the need to import natural gas so ensuring better energy security.

Unknown said...

Just to make it perfectly clear - again:
Hydrogen cars cannot and will not work - ever.
Regardless of what car companies are claiming to get government money, the numbers just don't add up.
Consider this:
You will need to get hydrogen to your car in order to fill up, So you need a network of hydrogen filling stations.
That then raises the question of how to get the large quantities of hydrogen to those stations and here is where it all breaks down.

You can imagine three ways of doing this:
1) You deliver it by lorry, like petrol is delivered today.
The problem with that solution is that hydrogen is extremely volatile and will leak even though solid steel, especially under pressure. Your tank would have to be incredibly thick and therefore heavy to contain it.
This, though makes hauling it about costly and if you do the maths you'll find that you're spending almost as much hydrogen to get it there as the tank contains.

2) A network of pipelines, a hydrogen grid.
Again, hydrogen is not easy to contain and will easily leak out of a pipe hundreds of miles long. The losses would make this solution extremely costly.

3) Generate it on-site at the station.
This is by far the most feasible way of doing it but still doesn't make economic sense.
To generate hydrogen locally, you need electricity - lots of it.
Even the best equipment will not be 100% effective so that in the end you might just as well put the electricity into the cars to begin with and save yourself some money.

Until and unless someone comes up with a better way of moving hydrogen about - and I don't see that happening any time soon - battery-powered electric cars are by far our best bet and the sooner we get the infrastructure in place, the better.
Advances in charging and battery technology can and will still happen, so it's not at all a cul-de-sac.

Anonymous said...

To me, an Electric Vehicle is simply one with an Electric Motor.

How you power that motor is up to you: Battery, Hydrogen Cell, Gas Turbine, Diesel Generator, Mr. Fusion, etc etc.

Maybe the Power Source will become a Factory Option: you choose a Mondeo EV with 115bhp/200nm motor from the Ford range, a Hydrogen Fuel Cell in the boot because you commute long distance and a Solar/Wind Home Hydrogen generator Wall-Box to put in your garage.

Maybe you'll even be able to buy plug-in add-ons or replacements from Halfords.

Either way, ICE as direct propulsion is on its way out.

As for Hydrogen fuel-tax for home-generated hydrogen? Beats what fuel-tax + OPEC profit adds up to.

Dave McCaffery said...

Hydrogen ? Not sure that's the panacea claimed.

Hydrogen has a very low energy density, have a look at the range obtained in H2 vehicles.

The gas is made mainly from hydrocarbons (oil), so we are still dependent on oil again.

The creation process is hugely energy intensive as the gas must be kept super-cooled and compressed at a high pressure. Where does that energy come from ? Distribution method and infrastructure also have to be established, in cooled, compressed lorries no doubt; A million gallons of H2 does not give you anything like the range of a million gallons of petrol.

Hydrogen is a tiny atom as well, and so it would generally leak over time through the walls of the tank.

Batteries are a way of storing energy which can be generated in whatever way is available. So, the purpose of the electric car is to encourage battery research and production to a point where the method of generating the charging becomes the issue of concern, not the means of storing the energy produced.

nates said...

A few problems with your Hydrogen dream.

Hydrogen must be created from water. This reaction is thermodynamically limited around 65%. Current production methods don't break 30%. Converting that hydrogen back into energy requires another reaction, once again robbing around 50% of the energy. Total loss of 85% of the electricity you started with.

Add to this the fact that hydrogen gas is something like 20-30 times more voluminous than gasoline per btu. Sweet! 200 gallon tanks for our cars. "But," you say, "we could store it as a liquid!" Valid point, only 3 times more voluminous now. Just make sure it stays below 10 Kelvin (-260 C), and watch that boil off rate (roughly 5% a day). Imagine transporting that stuff! We would need 3 times as many tanker trucks with gigantic air conditioning units on back. Sure, infrastructure is practically unchanged! And don't leave the car in the driveway for a week. You likely won't have any fuel left.

If that wasn't enough the platinum required in fuel cells pushes the cost 10,000 bucks per HP. No problem. We will just dump another 100 billion in research finding another metal that will do the job, albeit far less efficiently. It will pay off in the long term! I did the calculations on a napkin one time when I was high.

Meanwhile 50% of our electrical distribution infrastructure goes unused. Plants are idled roughly 1/3 of the day. Batteries are dropping in price more than 20% a year, getting lighter, and most importantly charging and discharging faster. High performance Lipo's can charge in as little as 5 minutes. These same batteries can handle thousands of cycles with little degradation in capacity. But no, batteries are dead end technology. Only 90% efficient, and economically feasible today.

Anonymous said...

I don't see a follow up episode. Did it make it?

Anonymous said...


Yes, albeit later than expected.

Still beat the BBC reporter who declined (refused?) to meet up and discuss their different trips.

Good, solid, unbiased journalism that takes in all sides of the story, wouldn't you say?

Mark The Skint Sailor said...

Everyone seems to be avoiding the elephant in the room when it comes to battery power: charging.

Getting the electricity from the grid to the battery is difficult for a large proportion of the population, so how do you stop them being prevented from EV ownership? Yes, you could install charging infrastructure, but you'd need to install it at incredibly expensive densities. Even adding a charging point on each light pole means running a charging lead for several meters down the street. Hardly practical.

You could use wireless inductive charging, but that means one charging station per parking space and also means per-vehicle regimented parking spaces along the street. Again, expensive.

All that expense needs paying for. Who should pay? Shouldn't it be the EV owners who pay because they benefit from the infrastructure?

Another problem with charging is charging rates: as battery capacity increases to improve range, so does the time taken to recharge for a given amperage. Current rapid chargers are already close to the limit of domestic mains supplies, so it follows if charge currents are limited, the time taken to fill a larger battery capacity increases. Using a standard 13A socket would take a hideously long time to charge.

What happens to those that can't afford to buy into EV ownership? Should they be penalised by punitive taxation for owning a fossil fueled car they can't afford to switch to electric? Should those privileged enough to afford the switch to electric be gifted with tax-free benefits?

jgrow2 said...

BTW, it's spelled "ludicrous," not ludacris. That would be the rapper.

Anonymous said...

Great to here that you made it, and as Tim says, pushing the industry forward.

However, you all seem to be having a go at the BBC report, and having actually read it, it wasn't that bad.

What it highlighted was true:
- There are not enough charge points, and this needs to be improved
- Battery life is still a problem, which it is. If you push the Tesla hard it has an abysmal available mileage
- battery charge time is still an issue.

But what they did say, although maybe didn't say enough of, was; "Mind you I expect that Stevenson's Rocket wasn't that good". And it wasn't, it did about 5mph and had a bloke with a red flag in front of it.

What is evident is that electric car travel is not ready for prime time long distance journeys, ... YET. But due to the work by people such as Tesla, scientists at Imperial College looking at new battery technologies, hydrogen fuel cells, and government initiatives on electric fuel stations, we'll get this thing cracked.

And what the BBC show did show, as I've already said; is that the government is not doing enough to provide the infrastructure to make this a viable means of transport.

I'm a big supporter of electric travel; but making smug videos (that don't show how well it ends) about how better they are than another person testing the water, does not help

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