Category Archives: Climate Change

Tesla Service

I’ve taken my Tesla to the Dartford Service Centre today to have my camera “calibrated”.

This is needed because I had to replace the windscreen before Christmas after a stone cracked the glass (for the second time in as many months!)

The windscreen was replaced by Autoglass but they can’t calibrate the camera as they do on other vehicles because, they say, “Tesla won’t let them have the software”.

I suspect the reason for Tesla’s reluctance is because of the advanced autopilot system which relies heavily on the front camera for its correct functioning. Any errors in calibration could potentially cause malfunctioning automatic driving which would be something that Tesla would want to avoid.

The actual process is pretty slick – you book the appointment on the Tesla app and all the communication about it is thereafter done through text message.

When you arrive at the service centre you simply drive through the automatic door and then walk through to the adjacent service department to register. The service staff then take pictures of the car to record any damage (for the obvious reasons) and then ask you to sign to consent to the work.

Then, assuming it’s a short job, you sit in the lounge, drink the free coffee and wait until they tell you you car is ready. (If you’re out and about the app will tell you the car is ready.)

This is the experience in the UK but it is already being refined elsewhere in the world.

In Northern California where there are many, many more Teslas YouTuber All Electric describes his encounter with a fully automatic service experience, which, incidentally he wasn’t too thrilled about.

There you drive into the service bay, sign in via the dedicated iPads and get an Uber credit texted to you phone to take you home. Then the app tells you when the car is ready, you get another Uber credit and you can pick it up.

One of the things that frequently happens in the UK at the service centre is that people forget to turn off the pin-to-drive feature which means the technicians can’t drive the car until it has been unlocked with the unique pin you have set. And this can only be turned off in the car itself, not remotely through the app.

It’s not clear how the Californian service centre handles this, or how it deals with any subsequent claims over incidental damage while the car is being serviced in the absence of agreed photographic evidence.

As Tesla’s rapid growth continues it is inevitable that they have to innovate to try to keep up. We can expect more change in the experience in the future.

The figures

I owned my Mercedes E Class estate for nine years and drove it 116,067 miles. I put 14,822 litres of diesel into the tank over that time at a total cost to me of £20,470 or thereabouts.

Much worse than that, though, is that over that time I contributed 39.7 tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere. That is the main reason I wanted to make the switch away from fossil cars.

The Model X was more expensive than the equivalent diesel car (though it’s hard to compare, really, as there is no direct equivalent as any EV driver will tell you once they own one.)

More expensive to buy to much cheaper to run

But servicing and running costs will be considerable lower. The Mercedes, which, incidentally, was the most reliable I have ever owned, cost me about £700 a year in servicing costs excluding tyres and extraneous costs such as body repairs etc.

I would expect my Tesla to be a fraction of this as it doesn’t have oil or oil filters to change and has brakes which don’t wear out.

And running costs will be significantly reduced. I estimate it would cost me £6,134 for the electricity I will consume over the next nine years which means I will save over £14,000 on the running costs of the Merc.

Oh, and by the way, my electricity comes from Ecotricity and is entirely green.

Autopilot issues

Today’s 300 mile journey to Norfolk and back gave me a chance to test the latest over-the-air software update 2019.40.2.1. This one was meant to bring more confident automatic lane changes among a few other things.

My experience today was pretty mixed. Navigate on autopilot was not available for the first half of my drive for some reason and the navigate was, but auto lane changes other than the car’s recommended ones weren’t working at all.

On the other hand when it was working navigate on autopilot was much more snappy in recommending a lane change into both a faster and a slower lane. It felt much more like a human driving.

Hopefully we’ll be getting a patch soon. If it was all working it would be very much more functional that when I bought the car six months ago.

Note: in Europe the rules mean we have to confirm autopilot actions unlike in the US.

Charging

The great thing about electric vehicles is that they can be charged at home overnight. Just as we all do with our mobile phones you get used to the routine of charging and that way the car, and the phone, are always ready. For most people, most of the time this is going to be all the charging you need. It’s cheap and even cheaper if you have a tariff offering cut-price overnight electricity.

If you are out and about locally, say in a local shopping centre for instance, there are often charging points available, which are often free, which can be used to top up.

EV charging at a retail park in Charlton, South London

However, sometimes you are going to travel further and that will often mean charge en route. How frequently, and indeed if, you need to charge will depend on things like how long the journey is and what the range of your car is.

Older and smaller EVs may have a range of 100 miles or so; bigger and more modern cars may have ranges of up to 300 miles.

And it also matters what the weather is like. EVs are more efficient in the warm and dry and less so in the cold and wet, though the effect is nothing like as dramatic as myths would have you believe.

Needless to say, once you get used to it, charging on the road is not much of an issue. The GOMs (“guess-o-meters”) on EVs do a good job of predicting what the range of the current journey is likely to be and to provide map directions to the nearest charger as part of the in-car navigation. Rapid chargers then can recharge a car in typically 20-40 minutes, time for the loo and something to eat and drink.

Ecotricity Rapid chargers like this are available at most motorway services and other companies are busy building their own at sites on popular routes

And then there is the overnight stay where sometimes it is possible to get access to overnight charging – either through a standard plug which provides a charge, though a slow one, or at a “destination charger” (similar to the system most of us have at home) but provided by a hotel, pub, restaurant or whatever.

The number one issue for most people thinking about switching to electric cars is charging. Once you have an EV you realise things are much simpler than you thought.

Waiting for the car

I bought my Model X on March 28th and it was scheduled for production on April 5th.

I had been warned by the Tesla owners I follow on YouTube and Twitter to expect a frustrating wait and I wasn’t disappointed. The Tesla app which you download when you buy your car provides the updates on the status of the car, and the wait for changes in status is agonising.

The next update was a few days later on April 9th when I was given my VIN number (that happens when the car is scheduled for production and is the thing that ties all your future dealings with Tesla together).

April 12th and my app notifies me that my Tesla is now in production. Now for the long wait.

The app have a cute visualisation of your future car, which somehow makes it worse

April 18th and my car is apparently built and in the delivery system en route to the port. Teslas are built in Freemont, California and travel by train to the port at Houston, Texas.

On April 30th I thought I ought to get ready so I drove to the service centre at Dartford to buy a Tesla Wall Connector (they are not chargers and technically the charging is done in the car) and a thing called a Chademo adapter which is needed to connect to Chademo rapid chargers (the only thing available near where I needed it in North Norfolk).

On May 7th I got the notification that my car was on the ship bound for Tilburg and after what seemed an age, on May 25th the app informed me the car was finally at Tilburg in the Netherlands ready for reassembly and then transport by car transporter to Dartford.

On Monday June 10th I finally got the word that the car could be picked up the following Friday.

All did not go to plan on Friday….

I arrived as agreed at 11.30am for my pick-up and hand-over only to find that they weren’t expecting me until the following week. There had apparently been a mix up in communications but the staff were excellent and located the car (stored at Blue Water) and said they could get it ready by 4pm if I was happy to come back, which I was.

I intended to leave just after 3pm to make sure I was in plenty of time, but I had a call about 2.45pm saying there was a large diesel spillage on the M25 and the Dartford tunnel was closed as a result and that traffic would be worse than usual so I should leave now.

It took me over three hours to go 20 miles, the last hour within a mile of the service centre. But the hand-over staff stayed behind in an otherwise deserted building and I finally picked up my car at about 6.30pm.

I should have had a leisurely hand-over and had everything explained to me but with no time it was just a question of getting in and driving off. Lucky I’d watched all those YouTube videos!

Hermes, as I call my new car, with the lights on near the showroom door

All’s well that ends well.

The Decision-making process

Why did I decide to buy a Tesla Model X? Well, I definitely decided that I wanted an electric car in January 2019 and there were relatively few cars available at that time. Mercedes had announced that they would be launching the EQC at some stage, and as a current (happy) Mercedes owner that would seem an obvious choice.

However, there were two big constraints: I travel to Norfolk at least every month which is 150 miles away. As charging options are extremely limited there I needed a car with a big range; I travel with two dogs, two parolets, five tortoises and up to five adults(!), so I need a lot of cargo space.

When the details of the EQC emerged it was obvious that it was a mid-sized SUV and, while it was likely to have the range I needed, it was short of space.

Mercedes EQC just didn’t have enough room

That left Tesla as the only manufacturer who had cars big enough and with enough range to fit the bill. On closer inspection, the Model S, the family saloon, didn’t have a big enough cargo space, so the Model X was the only choice.

There were some positives and negatives to weigh up:

On the positive sides, I loved the fact that Tesla was building electric cars from the ground up and their integrated approach to hardware and software seemed to me the future.

On the negative side, the nearest service centre was in Dartford, 30 minutes drive away on a good day, compared to a Mercedes service centre a short walk from my house (which meant I could drop my Merc in for a service and walk home).

It turns out, though, that the negatives are not nearly as significant as you might think. Electric cars need next to no servicing – Tesla used to suggest an annual service but now just relies on the cars to report when they need work. Because they have many fewer moving parts, there is much less to go wrong, and things like regenerative braking means brake disks and pads are unlikely to need changing for years. The only things you regularly need to worry about are windscreen washer fluid and wiper blades, and tyres.

So, that was it – after a trip to the Tesla showroom in Canary Wharf and a short test drive, I took the plunge and ordered my car.

New Year’s Resolution

Last year, one of my New Year’s Resolutions was to buy an electric car. I’d been thinking about it for a long time, but there were various reasons why the options available were not practical for me.

For one thing I need a lot of space in a car as I need to transport children, dogs, tortoises and now parrots to Norfolk and back on a regular basis!

For another, the cottage we have in Norfolk does not have off-street parking – it’s down a very narrow lane which leads to the sea. This means over-night charging in Norfolk is out of the question, and the county seems to lead the pack when it comes to lack of availability of rapid chargers – the only ones which are really practical for significant charging.

And then, in the middle of the year, things changed. I found out that an enlighted small business in North Walsham, a few miles from Overstrand, had installed a Polar fast charger. Suddenly I had options.

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Polar fast charger at Kelly Clarke Motor Services, North Walsham. Photo: ZapMap user BatVan

So the search for the right electric car began.

Incoherence in Government

A story in this morning’s Guardian perfectly illustrates the policy incoherence that runs to the heart of the current government.

It concerns Britain’s National Cycling network, a linked chain of over 16,500 miles of cycleways which are used by half the number of people who currently use the trains each year.

Sustrans, the organisation responsible for the network, says it would cost £2.8bn to bring the paths up to scratch, as many are potholed or damaged, have difficult obstructions on them, or rejoin highways at difficult or dangerous places.

Meanwhile, we have a Government facing many significant challenges such as meeting the climate change goals, currently likely to be missed, and a National Health Service struggling to cope in the face of an ailing population made sick by obesity and dirty air.

One obvious part of the solution to these challenges is to reduce the amount we drive significantly and to encourage the population to exercise more.

So you would think getting the population on their bikes, as some of our Continental neighbours do so well, would be an obvious part of the plan.

More than half of the UK population lives within a mile of their nearest route and 4.4 million people used the Network last year, making 786m trips.

And each year the network saves the UK economy nearly £90m through reduced road congestion, according to Sustrans. Its health benefits save the NHS the equivalent of 2,206 nurses’ salaries, and leisure and tourist trips contribute £2.5bn to local economies, the charity claims.

The benefits are therefore obvious.

The Government’s response? In his recent budget, the chancellor, Philip Hammond, pledged £30bn for road improvements targeted primarily at motorists.

What about cycling?

Jesse Norman, the government’s cycling and walking minister, said: “This report shows that more needs to be done to make [the network] fully accessible, and that’s why earlier this year the government dedicated £1m to support initial work repairing and upgrading sections of this popular network.”

Doesn’t quite stack up, does it?

Climate disaster and how to avoid it

Today the IPCC came out with its sternest warning yet about the dangers the world faces if global warming isn’t held to 1.5degC.

The thing is, we already know how Governments can do this. They tax the things they want less of and incentivise the things they want more of. This is simple and it works.

Take electric cars. If you want sales to grow fast bring in an effective incentive scheme. Norway leads the field on this. Its electric car policy saw a huge increase in the sales of electric cars. In 2015 22% of new car sales were electric and this is expected to grow to 30% in 2020. This was achieved through low road tax, VAT exemption, free parking for EVs and access to bus lanes, for example.

Or alternative energy.

Solar energy went from virtually nothing to 3% of the UK’s total energy generation between 2010 and 2017, driven by reducing costs for photovoltaics but mainly by Government incentives in the form of the Feed In Tariff

Government actions matter. Concerned about the rising cost the Government changed the policy in 2016 with the result that solar installations plummeted by 74% year on year in March 2016. Solar will continue to grow because the economics are getting better, but more slowly that it would have otherwise.

Windpower is another case in point. Antipathy to onshore wind has effectively stopped dead development of new onshore wind, the cheapest form of renewable energy. Offshore wind is still growing strongly, though, and is now bidding for contracts below that offered to nuclear projects.

Governments all have a balancing act to perform, trading off the immediate needs of the electorate, without whom they will not remain in power, and the longer-term needs of the country. 

To encourage the growth of more environmentally-friendly transport options – cycling, walking, public transport, electric cars – raising fuel taxes is a sensible policy. And yet petrol prices are a sensitive issue with the public so we have not had a rise in duty for nine years

The best hope of avoiding the short term trap is the law. The Climate Change Act of 2008 was a great example of this – in effect the Government willingly making a rod for its own back.

This law obligates the Government to reduce CO2 emissions to at least 80% below the 1990 baseline. This allows citizens and environmental groups to hold the Government’s feed to the fire if they don’t live up to this challenge. This doesn’t eliminate the short term decisions which will have a potential long-term detrimental effect, but it does make it far more likely that course correction is forthcoming. 

It will be interesting to see what this month’s budget tells us about the balancing act.

Climate Change: too true to be good

Great summary today at the RSA of climate change from Environment Agency head Sir James Bevan. He was concise and chilling on the enormity of the challenge of climate change and the catastrophic consequences of failure to act decisively. 

Sir James Bevan, Environment Agency head
Sir James Bevan

Sadly, but predictably, he was less impressive in his assessment of the progress being made in Britain and around the world. As a political appointee it would be naive to expect him to point out the inconsistencies between the current Government’s language and its actions – support for fracking, removal of support for on-shore wind, reduction in financial incentives for solar energy, tax breaks for oil and gas, freeze on petrol tax etc, etc. 

“If we don’t get it right Britain will be neither, green, nor pleasant, nor even have much land”

He says governments have to tread carefully because of their electorates, but that hardly covers it. Still, the fact that he is laying out the challenge so starkly (“if we don’t get it right Britain will be neither, green, nor pleasant, nor even have much land”) is a surely good thing.