A Week of Electric Lessons

It’s been an interesting first week of teaching in my Nissan Leaf electric car. Learners really like driving it and it brings up some interesting thoughts about teaching in EVs and what effect they will have on our roads.

When first encountering the MK1 Leaf Learners are impressed with it’s slightly whacky looks and the high specification interior, it’s the higher Tekna specification with a full leather interior. Turning it on brings up the space age display with lot’s of information about charge and range not seen before in a car and it sings a little tune. The speedo is a large numeric one so easily seen once it’s pointed out. Having come from a hybrid car, my learners are used to silence when pressing the power switch. I don’t really consider it a start button when a motor doesn’t start.

Quick and Quiet

The two things that immediately impress in an EV are the lack of noise and the immediate delivery of power from the electric motor. Learners notice the quietness which makes it a relaxed learning environment, especially for the more nervous pupils. They also notice the immediate delivery of power, some of them like it too much.

Electric motors deliver their maximum power the moment they are turned on unlike internal combustion engines that build up to maximum power sucking in  and exploding fuel then progressing through gears. Even in Eco Mode the Leaf is quick to accelerate at urban speeds. 30MPH seems to be reached instantaneously.

Learning in an EV

Learners are driving with low end acceleration in EVs that was only expected in powerful fossil fuelled cars. As driving instructors (I really don’t like the word instructor, so old fashioned, we train and coach now) we have to train learners to deal with the instant power of an electric motor by encouraging more gentle use of the accelerator, especially when moving off.

They need to understand the expectations of the motorists around them and plan for it. The way a learner in an EV drives is different to a learner in a manual fossil fuelled car. Most motorists pulling up in the right hand lane at traffic lights probably expect to pull away ahead of “the learner” and get in front of them. It’s a bad attitude around a vulnerable road user but common. Little do they expect to see the driving school car disappear into the distance before they’ve got their clutch to bite. We need to consider the possible responses of drivers around us.

An EV is so smooth and quiet the sensation of speed can be lost. Both the learner and Instructor need to monitoring the speedo more thoroughly. Over the years I’ve developed an instinct to know roughly how fast a car is going without looking at the speedo. Even in the Hybrid cars where engine noise was minimal and often not directly related to the speed of the car. As instructors we sense the noises and vibrations. EVs have no noise or vibration from the motor, it’s a different training experience.

Within 5 minutes of driving my Leaf from the dealer I knew there was no way I’d go back to a fossil fuelled car. Teaching in the EV is so much better and pupils love the experience as well. I guess I am Electric Instructor now.


Ready to Fight Range Anxiety

It’s the one big factor most people are concerned about when they think about running an electric car, Range Anxiety. Facing a trip which is longer than my battery range in the first day of Owning my Nissan Leaf I was about to meet Range Anxiety head on.

I’d picked up my Leaf the previous evening. While still waiting for the slow charging roadside points to be installed in a few weeks by Portsmouth City Council, I’m going to be relying on the city’s only rapid charger at the Isle of Wight ferry port to charge the battery. I’d visited it the evening I picked the car up to fill the battery before my trip.

Before becoming an EV owner I was always of the opinion that I’d never run a petrol car ignoring the petrol gauge causing me to run out of petrol in the middle of the road so why should electricity be any different. The car provides plenty of inormation about the battery usage and range. Zap Map has lots of information about charge points for a journey. I was ready to face Range Anxiety head on.


First Big EV Trip

The trip was from Southsea in Portsmouth to Guildford to have the dual brake fitted to prepare the Leaf for teaching. On the way there I was detouring to Basingstoke to visit my parents. An estimated trip of 131 miles with a realistic fully charged battery range of 110 miles. I’d studied Zap Map and knew where rapid chargers are along the route.

After the previous evenings rapid charge I started out with 94% battery and an estimated 114 miles on the Estimated Range Meter, known as the Guessometer, or  GOM. Getting in the car and turning it on  produces instant heat to demist and warm the car on a chilly February morning. Already I can see an advantage of the roadside charging points when they’re installed. The battery will be charged to 100% and the car can be demisted and warmed up using the timer before I get in.

First Rapid Charge with Ecotricity

The first leg of my journey to Basingstoke along the M27 and up the M3 taking me past the services at Winchester where there is rapid charging. I arrived there having done 36.9 miles leaving 49% battery with an estimated range of 59 miles. I didn’t really need to stop at this point as I would have passed Fleet services on the M3 after visiting my parents. With hindsight, a wonderful thing, a stop at Fleet would have been the best thing to do. Charging an emptier battery would have meant I would have only stopped for one charge in the whole journey.

An objective of the day was to learn about using rapid chargers making the stop at Winchester a useful one anyway. Confronted with an Ecotricity pump, part of the Electric Highway, I was pleased I’d already registered with Ecotricity and downloaded the app. It was simple to charge. I read a QR code on the pump with the app and instructions on the pump screen walked me through the process.

Rapid charging gets a lot of electricity into the car in a very quick time. If you can get your mind around it. The charger is charging at 50kW/h. Thats the power consumed by about  17 electric kettles. It charges very quickly up to 90% in the Leaf then the car reduces the charge rate to be nice to the battery. The last 10% would take a lot longer to fill so I left Winchester with 90% battery and an estimated 89 miles range and approximately 94 miles to do.

In Basingstoke Mum made me a cup of tea then I took my elderly parents for a ride in the Leaf. They thought they were in some sort of a spaceship.

Lunch Time and Dual Pedal Installed

On to Guildford where the dual pedal was fitted by Clive of Trade Vehicle Modifications. while I grabbed some lunch at a cafe nearby. The journey so far to Guildford from home was 86.2 miles. I could have got to here without a charge. As I drove away from Trade Vehicle Modifications I noticed a Shell garage at the end of the road with a banner inviting in EV drivers as they had a rapid charger. Hindsight again, I could have got to here without stopping then charged once to get home. It’s all a learning experience.

I left Guildford with the remains of my charge from Winchester, a battery level of 41% with 52 estimated miles. Not quite enough to get home so another quick charge would be needed. Then a few miles down the A3  I saw a signpost saying 38 miles to Portsmouth. I looked at the GOM to see 39 miles left. Could this be Range Anxiety about to raise it’s head. There was a moments thought that there were only two possible Rapid chargers on the route home hopefully without faults. I concede, a moment of Range Anxiety.

Genie Point Rapid Charge

At Liphook services there is only a charger in the northbound services and I was heading south. An easy drive off of the next exit past the services and heading north got me to the Genie Point rapid charger in a Starbucks car park. I’d travelled 104 miles with a battery at 22%, 29 miles on the GOM.

As with Ecotricity I’d already registered with Genie Point. They use a login on their website to get the charge started rather than an app. There was a few minutes of head scratching as the charge wouldn’t start. Then I realised the account needs a prepayment so I had to top up my account. Once done the car charged quickly. It was a lovely unusually warm day for February. With no facility to plug the car in overnight when I got home I decided to bask in the sun and charge to nearly full so I had enough juice to last the next day as well. I spent the time wisely with the Leaf’s manual working out the cars systems.

I took the charge to 100% in in 41 minutes. Total electricity from the charger 20.58kw, two thirds of the 30kW battery. The estimated range was 126 miles. I happily drove home with the Eco Mode button off enjoying the silence and power of an electric motor. Arrived home with 70% battery and 92 miles range left. Total miles travelled 137.2. All of the journey was made using renewable energy and while the rapid charger electricity is expensive for electricity its significantly less expensive than petrol.

What Have I learnt?

What conclusions can be drawn from my first long journey in the Leaf? When I can charge overnight using the relatively slow 5kW charger Portsmouth Council are installing in the street the car will be be preheated while connected to the power and will start off with 100% battery giving a useful few miles extra. It will also mean the last rapid charge on route can be shorter because the car will plug in when it gets home.

Did I suffer range anxiety? With a bit of better planning this would have been a one stop journey rather than stopping for a charge at the first opportunity, mild Range Anxiety maybe. Even in a petrol car I would have stopped at some point on a journey this long for 20 minutes. As a driver trainer I would say that after two hours of driving any driver should stop and take a break. On that basis there’s not much difference between using Leaf compared to a fossil fuelled car. Getting used to a new way of fuelling a car can cause it’s moment of Range Anxiety. However, once I got used to it and was travelling in a very quiet car with instant power at the push of the accelerator I realised there’s no going back to fossil fuelled cars.

Is This The Last Time I Fill Up?

With the Nissan Leaf electric being collected tomorrow, I started to think as I filled my Auris Hybrid up with fuel a couple of days ago, is this the last time I fill a car with petrol, or any fossil fuel? In reality it’s probably not the last time I fill a car but probably the last time I fill up a car I own.

To be fair to the Auris it has been a brilliant car to teach in, like the Prius I had before it. It has consistently returned around 55MPG  because of it’s hybrid power plant. It’s a shame that Toyota, the masters of the hybrid power unit, haven’t got a full electric model available currently and it seems nothing too soon either. While most major manufacturers are about to start producing electric models if they don’t already have them it just seems they’ve been left behind a bit.

It’s not going to be the last time I stop at a fuel station even in an electric car. The oil companies are investing in rapid chargers and rolling them out around their networks of stations so EV owners will not be lost to them. BP own Chargemaster who run the existing network of Polar Rapid Chargers. Shell are also rolling out chargers.

I wonder if we’ll still call them Petrol Stations?

Portsmouth is Rapid

Portsmouth is Rapid

Charged Parking

Automatic Driving Lessons PortsmouthAutomatic Driving Lessons PortsmouthThe Electric Instructor adventure is moving on as Portsmouth City Council have contacted me asking if a parking space they will be designating for EV charging would be suitable for me. It’s across the road from where I live so more than suitable.

A Rapid Solution

One of my big concerns using an EV to teach has been the lack of rapid charging in the city. My choice of car is going to be limited by the availability of dual controls for teaching. This means my most likely choice of car will be one of the previous model Nissan Leafs (or should that be Leaves). With a 30KW battery. It has enough range on a full charge for a days work with a bit of range left. However, on a busy cold winter day it might get a bit short of miles near the end of the day. There’s also the possibility of  the on street charger being faulty or being ICE’ed which would leave me flat for the next day’s work. This is a problem a quick rapid charge would fix.

Until now stopping at lunchtime for a 10 minute rapid charge on a busy cold day would have meant a 20 mile round trip to either of the nearby towns of Fareham or Waterlooville.  That is until now as we have a Polar rapid charger in Portsmouth at the Isle of Wight ferry port. This makes the possibility of stopping lunchtime or easily getting a charge in the evening if on street parking is not available a lot easier. I’m sure this is the first of a few rapid chargers in the city

Recently I attended a Portsmouth City Council Transport Stakeholders Liaison Meeting as a representative of Southern Driving Instructors Association. There was a presentation about the charging points they are going to install. Everything looks positive and I was impressed with the council’s commitment to introduce public charging in a city where off street parking is rare. It looks like a matter of weeks now and I can go EV shopping.

Electric Instructor

Coming soon – the diary and adventures of a driving instructor using an electric car. Probably the first UK instructor to use an electric car and rely on the emerging public charging network.