FreakoutITGeek's Blog

Random IT postings from Freakz

Category Archives: Green

Our Friends Electric

My car is on it’s last legs.

After 5+ years of driving to and from work, in heavy peek time traffic (often stop-go) on Scotland’s M8 and M74, is starting to take it’s toll on the poor machine. The last few visits to the garage, to have it’s annual MOT test, have come with another list of at least £500 of repairs needed.

To be honest I’ve never seen the point in purchasing a car that’s pristine, shiny and just off the sales floor, with a massive price tag that drops as soon as you get it home. I often try to find a car that’s a few years old for around £6K, with my last car (A diesel Seat Altea) being roughly 5 years old when I took ownership of it.

The Altea has been a great car, with loads of space (deceptively so at times) for those odd times you need that extra space for moving PCs for work, moving old furniture from the house and going to the local recycling centre with garden rubbish. The Altea has found a place in my and my better half’s hearts because it’s the only car I’ve had that we can use to take us and our nice, nephew and all the baggage required for a short trip for both Alton Towers and still have space and still allow the same group to take a 3 day camping trip in the North of Scotland without needing a roof rack for our 5+ person tent.

Now I’m finding out that the Altea is starting to show it’s age, is struggling with the 108K and growing miles on the clock and this is showing as increased garage bills each year (not to mention the fuel costs which until recently have been continually increasing, year on year if not month by month).

I have now started the search (starting on-line) for a new car around the £6K mark and found that the price of second hand cars, in the estate/family car range, is way out my league. But I have found something strange.

Before I go on, I’d like to say that I am surprised to find that over the last 5 or so years that Electric or even hybrid cars have not become more mainstream, especially given the high cost of fuel and the low milage most people do on a day to day basis. I’ve always wanted to own an electric car, for environmental and economic reasons. My view is that there are fewer parts to go wrong and if you can generate your own electricity (eg solar Photovoltaic cells) they should be really cheep to run.

Whilst searching on the internet I first came across a Citroen electric car for only £8K, capable of 100+ miles on a single charge. Since my daily commute to work is currently just under 30 miles one way, even if I needed to use the car for a few miles for work use, it would be feasible to run the car and charge it at night (even with a 6+ hour charge from the standard 250V mains socket).

After a quick search, after a vague remembered discussions from TV or Radio, (or maybe Robert Llewellyn’s excellent Podcast on Electric cars ?) I found that you can currently get an external charge point installed for free via a UK government grant and The Scottish Energy Savings Trust will also pay for the install of a high Amp quick charge power point at the same time.

So after some quick calculations, I believe that it currently costs me between £2-3k ( fuel, road Tax, repairs) at present to run the Altea. At the suggested £2 rate per charge I estimate that the cost or running an Electric car would save me at least £2K a year.

The downside is that the car is “Compact and Bijou”, ie good for commuting but not much else. Therefore whilst it’s an electric car it’s not really suitable for my needs. ( although I could always hire a car or van for the trips that the electric car is not suitable for).

Then my search came up with 2007 & 2008 Toyota Prius (as driven by Brian Griffin in Family guy and featured in a Southpark episode about hybrid cars and “smug”). The Prius is a hybrid car, using the electric motor for slow speed travel (ie traffic jams and non motorway driving) with a petrol engine for the motorway driving (anything over 40 MPH, I believe). This is the best of both worlds, at lest a way to save money on travel, without needing a charge point. It may also be good for those long trips, but may not have the space for camping etc without digging out our old roof rack.

Inquisitive, I then went to find out how much these cars actually cost new. I was floored to find that most electric cars are still selling for around the £24K mark!!? I even tried Nissan’s Leaf “how much could you save” calculator and it said that a new electric car (and battery hire) would cost me £200 a month, over £2k a year !!!

The I was thrown another curve ball.
A second hand Renault Fluence, for £6K!!
Back in 2012 I had the opportunity to try out a Renault Twizy electric vehicle during their EV tour in Glasgow’s George Square. Whist the Twizzy was a great wee run around for short journeys it clearly wasn’t suitable for my travel needs as it’s a 2 seat vehicle with no boot and a Max Milage (range) of 50 miles. I had tried to get a test drive of the Fluence but the promotional team were too busy (chatting) to deal with my request, despite having at least 3 vehicles free.
After a bit of checking the Fluence (which was originally sold in the rest of Europe as both an electric and Petrol versions) is no longer in sale in the UK, which is a concern as the batteries were (as is currently the standard) rented from Renault. So the car is either for sale with no batteries (no mention of that on the car dealers website) or the batteries may not last ( with no indication that there are any replacements available) or Renault may demand the battery(s) back. Whatever Scenario is the reality it’s an expensive gamble which could end up with a car that won’t run and nothing that can be done.

Whilst the Fluence is a full electric car, long journeys would be possible to Alton Towers as many motorway service stations now have quick charge stations, which charge up to 80% in 30 minutes (ie a bathroom / lunch break). I’ve spotted these in the past from companies such as Ecotricity and others (charged via a solar cell or small wind turbine).

At present I’m no further forward but Renault have advised that the Fluence’s battery hire would be about £127 per month for my 18K annual mileage. It could be a good option, depending on the actual size and space for storage for longer trips and if that’s good news then a call to the dealership may be in order, although it does appear that the car in question is presently a few hundred miles away in England, which makes a test drive more of a long (possibly wasted) trip to try a car that may not be suitable or if it is I’d still have to organise finance and get it shipped to my home.

So it looks like, whilst an electric car is becoming more feasible, there are still a lot of hurdles to be jumped for those who would be interested in purchasing an electric car as their next vehicle.


Our friends electric / driving in my car

Recently I was given a chance to drive the Renault Twizy around the streets surrounding George Square, Glasgow as part of Renault’s ZE tour.

To be honest the Twizy is not really suited to my needs as I travel roughly 50 miles a day from home to work and back again, so the Twizy would be nearing it’s maximum range every day.

My short drive of the Twizy was nice, on a decent Saturday afternoon with dry roads the Twizy surpassed what I was expecting of it and apart from feeling every one of the bumps in the road, due to the suspension setup, it was a pleasant ride and draws a lot of attention from people wanting to know what it is or how to hire it for the day.(money making opportunity ?)

Anyway there wasn’t enough time for me to try out Renault’s estate car, the Fluence, which would have suited my requirements better, but I was impressed with the little Twizy, especially the way it took on the hills at the University and once I had got used to the low ‘biting point’ I was really comfortable with it, possibly in part due to driving my wife’s automatic.

Anyway, around the same time I had a slight bump and my insurance company organised a loan car for me to drive whilst mine was in for repairs.

The loan car was a Peugeot 107 and it was terrible. It is the worst thing I have driven. I kept comparing it to an old family metro, from the 80’s which didn’t even have a sprung gearbox & would often go into the wrong gear but in comparison, the metro still won hands down. Even my old company car in the 90’s, a classic Mini cooper in racing green, was at least fun to drive and could go round corners in a way that made you feel like you were in a rally or on the Italian Job and you even forgave it on freezing Scottish winters when the heating barely defrosted the front window.
Then I thought about the Twizy… I would have loved to drive the down the M8 & M74 and probably I would have been going only a tad bit slower than the Peugeot, despite the Twizy’s 50 MPH limit (BTW the speedo on the Peugeot goes up to 110, you would kill the engine in seconds even trying to get to that speed, and with no rev counter and a tiny fuel tank I wonder what they were thinking). But really, when you’re driving a fun vehicle, what’s 5 or 10 minutes extra on a daily commute? I think I would have enjoyed it far more and would have got to work in a better frame of mind, ready for work and looking at things from a better perspective.

For all the faults with the Twizy I would take it any day if it was a trade off between it and the Peugeot 107. Not quite as fun to drive as a classic mini cooper but then not much is 🙂


The irony of someone called Trump complaining about wind power has not passed me by but I won’t use it as a cheep joke.

For those in the world who have not heard, the million/Billionaire Donald Tump got planning permission in Scotland to build yet another golf course, despite the concerns of various parties including some concerned with animal and environmental protection.

Now he is complaining because there is a plan to build off shore wind turbine farm that will be visible from his new golf resort ( I believe that the actual resort building has not been built yet).

His concerns appear to be that the turbines will blight the landscape (or seascape), that wind turbines cause bird deaths, that the tourist trade of Scotland will be affected and that the turbines will be produced by Asian countries ( I think he said china but I could be wrong).

Whilst Mr Trump may have loads of money, I do wonder how he made that
money and whether he has lost touch with reality and the realities of the normal working person, specifically the Scottish public and the tourists that visit Scotland.

I am quite sure that if the average tourist realised that the energy they use came from natural, low carbon sources such as wind (yeah I have taken into account that wind power does use CO2 in it’s production, if not whilst it produces the electricity) they would far prefer visiting Scotland than other non environmentally friendly locations.

Although the initial cost of such installations may be high, once in place maintenance costs are low and this means low cost electricity generation and although Mr Trump may not care about how much he pays for his power I’m sure that most of Scotland do and our tourists certainly will be put off by high costs of goods, accommodation etc if Scotland doesn’t start moving to more sustainable forms of energy.

With the growth of electric vehicles and the move away from fossil fuels, not only for environmental reasons but also because of the cost and health implications, the demand for more environmental methods of generating power for the growing demand should increase.

As for any risk to bird population that Mr Trump mentions, I’m sure that studies of existing wind turbines have indicated that this is a myth, which is constantly brought up by people against such installations. To be honest if you consider how birds deal with all sorts of man made objects it’s a bit insulting to suggest birds can’t cope with wind turbines. Animals are very resilient creatures, something that anyone will agree on after seeing deer at the side of the M8 or other of Scotland’s motorways. There are probably more bird deaths from other man made and natural sources that those produced by wind farms. If I am not mistaken Mr Trump was less concerned about the plight of wild birds when he built his golf course and how many birds has he killed with his international ‘jet’ set life, flying around the world, I wonder?

Any small impact to the natural ecosystem of the Scottish landscape, either at sea, land or air, from such installations will be small but the impact to the worlds natural animal and human population of not going ahead with such installations is far greater.

Finally, Mr Trump probably would be much happier if a company he owned or held shares in were building the turbines and I feel he has a grudge against those companies that are investing in Scotland’s green energy sector. These companies are working with the Scottish workforce, bringing back much needed engineering industry and skills we have lost from shipyards etc over the decades.

Has Mr Trump not realised that all these business people like golfing and do a lot of their networking on the golf course? They want to come and visit a country that is not just implementing these turbines but developing and testing other green forms of energy creation. Scotland could be a world leader by utilising our universities and natural resources including our labour and creative spirit not to mention our determination in creating better and more efficient sources of environmentally friendly power.

If Mr Trump wants to pull out of Scotland that’s his choice, but for me Scotland has a bright green future ahead of it and I’m proud to be Scottish and proud of our environment, every part of it, from wind turbines to the great glens, munros and our wildlife.