Electric dreams

Ok, despite my anti-consumer credentials, I must admit that I have become a small time fan of electric vehicles.

I have become more convinced over recent months that electric cars, vans and motorcycles are an important part of a cleaner, greener future. I dont mean that we should all just jump in to electric vehicles to do the school run – there needs to be more walking and cycling generally, and better use of public transport.

One of the things I like about living where I do, is that many people dont have cars, they cant afford them. So they make better use of bikes and legs, and of buses too. I often see the kind of sights I used to only associate with trips to India and other developing nations – incongruous loads balanced precariously on push bikes. I’ve seen all kinds of things carried on handlebars and cross bars, including more than one passenger, bags of compost, vacuum cleaners and in one memorable case, a large road sign.

But reality is that we cant expect to do everything by bike or on foot, it’s simply not going to happen – and in many places we can’t always rely on public transport either.

So realistically there needs to be a ‘mixed economy’ of transport solutions – for us that involves public transport (we took the train from Grimsby to the south of France this year – great way to travel and amazingly cheap in comparison with car or train) and also some car hire (for longish car journeys where train or bus travel doesnt work for one of various reasons).

That’s why I’m basically in favour of electric  vehicles, be they motorbikes which you can charge up in your house by plugging them into to your mains supply (8p per charge, up to 30 miles range, 25mph all the way, ideal for a commute) or larger vehicles.

Certainly at the moment there are various problems with the electric vehicle industry, they are basically cost, range, speed, charging, and power generation, but I think these are on their way to being tackled.

Cost – the new cars are out for around £15,000 – £30,000 which is a lot, but as things progress prices will come down for sure. You can buy an electric scooter/motorbike for less than £1000.  Prices are bound to level out as other factors are sorted out and demand increases.

Range – the cars will go about 100 miles on a full charge, which isnt far enough for many people, although with average journeys being somewhat less than 20 miles, its surely enough for many of us. The scooters will go for about 30 miles, which is plenty for getting around town. The likelihood is that solutions will be presented before too long in the shape of places where you can simply swap out your battery, just as if you were filling up with petrol. That and better battery technology should mean range becomes less of a problem.

Speed – the electric scooters on the road are generally not getting up to 30mph, topping out about 25mph; the cars with their bigger batteries are apparently hitting 85mph+ which is pretty impressive. To be honest a push bike around town will go at about 25mph tops for a person of average fitness, wheras the scooter doesnt require any level of fitness – and will maintain its speed for the whole journey (except going up hill). So, this thing of speed is not really an issue, its simply a matter or perception and expectation.

The elephant in the room is power generation, if we’re just burning coal to power these electric vehicles then they are basically powered by fossil fuels – so what’s the difference? In the first place these vehicles are technologically advanced, and use less power than a conventional car, so in the first place they are estimate to equate in terms of emissions to the most fuel efficient of petrol/diesel cars. In the second place, the UK is rapidly developing its renewable energy sources, and before too long there should adequate to good supplies of wind power, enough to allow us to run electric vehicles at considerably less carbon cost.

The big question for me is about tax – at the moment electric scooters are tax exempt, and electric cars are considerably cheaper to tax than their petrol counterparts. But if there’s a big shift, the government are going to need to raise their vehicle tax revenue some how, and a considerable amount of the cost savings one can gain from running an electric vehicle will be cut back. There is also an issue of second hand vehicles, unless the batteries are standardised, and one is able to swap them in and out as per the above – people arent going to be keen on buying a second hand electric car as they will know the battery is likely to be pretty ropey.

So yes, I do think electric vehicles are part of the solution to our transport needs, and I think we need to invest time and money into developing them – they arent the panacea, they wont cure all ills, but they are part of the solution for sure.

Then, perhaps, we will indeed be together, forever in electric dreams.

Electric dreams

more low tech wonder

Just breaking my own holiday based embargo (I depart tomorrow – hooray) to mention some marvelous stuff again on Low Tech magazine’s site. This time its stationary bicycle based, absolutely wonderous.

Start here, then go here, and finish here.

http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2011/05/pedal-powered-farms-and-factories.html

more low tech wonder

Vaude win award

The outdoor sports company Vaude has just been honoured for their commitment to social and environmental responsibility.

To be honest, I have been quite impressed by the commitment shown by a number of outdoor sports companies, to social and environmental responsibility. Patagonia are an obvious ‘name’ which has pushed the environmental agenda, Rohan are another big company which is making serious strides in that area too, and there are a number of others which can also claim to have pretty decent environmental cred.

But I am particularly impressed by Vaude, a German company whose reputation for social and environmental responsibility throughout their design and production is pretty much impeccable.

As I say, they have just scooped another award or two, this time at the ISPO, an industry trade show in Munich. They won an overall award for their company wide social/eco activism in regards to their production, and a product award for the Vaude Blue One tent – which is a two man tent I think, I’ve yet to see one. All I really know is that it’s made of a poly cotton, which is 65% organic cotton and 35% recycled polyester (PET1).

They are a pretty impressive company, the sort of people who remind you that there is really no excuse for other companies of a similar nature not to be walking the same path. Among other things they say about themselves:

“VAUDE is mindful in its dealings with people and the environment. Due to our constant inner reflection and unwavering idealism, we are quick and courageous to seek out contact with contemporary subjects and explore our own potential – leading to stories worthwhile in their making.”

Sport equipment and clothing is high specification stuff, the good stuff lasts a long time we still have a Vaude rucsac that has been going strong for some time, a veteran of a number of overland expeds and other voyages – other cheaper rucsacs have not fared so well. If you are buying new, which I accept with this kind of clothing or equipment is often the most effective way (ahem – unless you go on ebay – ahem) – then buying from the most responsible producer you can is important. Check out the maker before you buy, and dont let yourself be glitzed by the fashionable looks of a particular jacket or piece of kit, that look will be old in a year or two’s time, while the item itself should have many years of life in it.

So well done Vaude, I’m genuinely impressed. I have asked for more info about the Blue One tent, and if and when I get it, I shall share it.

Vaude win award

New Year cycling, spam and music

Well the last few days have seen me back at the pedals, commuting to and from meetings etc in the customary black cycling gear, I reckon that over the winter I probably didnt even touch the bike for about six weeks – no wonder my legs are a tad sore.Three days of cycling, and I’ve almost been bashed twice – the second time by another bike! The Kona travels at such a lick that people seem to misjudge how fast I am going and think they can cut across me. Tsk tsk.

Also back in my life is spam, for some reason it seemed to stop around Christmas time, I’m sure it wasn’t my imagination, the spam genuinely seemed to be much less – but now its well and truly back. Hey ho.

Meanwhile I have been changing my general listening habits, current favourites are the Avalanches ‘Since I left you’ – classic album, can’t believe its nearly a decade old already! Frontier Psychiatrist is still one of my favourite tracks, and the whole album is a work of art.  Manu Chao’s ‘Clandestino’, superb, I can’t imagine Bongo Bong will ever sound old. I found eldest offspring with the track on repeat in the living room the other night, beating seven shades of blue out of a small drum. That’s my girl.

Also on the go is the most recent edition of the Johnny Cash ‘American Recordings’ series – ‘Aint no grave’ – beautiful stuff, that really is a wonderful set of albums. Ska Cubano’s ‘Ay Caramba!’ really seems to capture their live sound, I love it. And finally Tony Allen’s ‘Secret Agent’ – what a great piece of work, contemporary Afrobeat at its brilliant best.

Having said all that, I must now admit that at the moment Kel is away from home, and last night when I went to bed, I put on some Mozart. What on earth has happened to me?

New Year cycling, spam and music

More low-tech madness

At the risk of provoking a similar kind of outburst as the post about humanure (poo) I am yet again inspired to link you – dear reader to the ineffable Low-Tech magazine, who this time have provided a lengthy treatment of the ‘Velomobile’.

There’s a velomobile user local to me, who rockets along the main road every day in his supercool recumbent. What worries me about him is that he is not very visible. As someone who has been hit by a car while riding a large, brightly coloured mountain bike, I am concerned that drivers are less likely to see the velomobile, and that they are at ‘crushing’ level – rather than bonnet ‘bashing’ level. In otherwords I’m concerned the car would actually go right over the velomobile, rather than sending the rider over the bonnet – the former seems to me to be a nastier way to go.

But that said, I’m very impressed by the energy saving stats, apparently it uses three to four times less energy- nice! Cruising speed of 25mph doesnt sound massively faster than my cruising speed, but I guess the issue is how long it can be sustained for.

On the other hand, one of the things I love about bikes is the ability to dodge traffic, to get round slow cars, to blast away at junctions and so on, I feel this would be less possible in a velomobile.

But if you are looking for a replacement to the car for a daily commute (I only have to commute to the spare room) then this looks like a good option.

Worth a read anyway, especially if you’re interested in bikes – my real burning question is not really answered: can you do stunts in them? Answers on a postcard please.

More low-tech madness

Daddy, what did you do in the bike wars?

I got this wound, my deary… when a car (remember them? They burned oil!) hit me and knocked me flying! Ah yes I remember it well, funnily enough it happened on almost exactly the same spot as the great seedling massacre of 2009…

“That must have made typing awkward daddy!”

It certainly did, and gardening, and cycling!

“Any other injuries?”

Yeah… rather embaressingly…

Not all glamour those bike war days…

Daddy, what did you do in the bike wars?