She’s gone electric

Just returned from a few days well-timed break on the mainland, firstly for a lovely week’s holiday and secondly to bring home our new car: a brand new, fresh out of the box, Storm White pearlescent Nissan Leaf. If you don’t already know, this is a fully electric car: no diesel/petrol engine; no exhaust/emissions; no oil. Just a battery (and automatic transmission). Oh, and, pleasingly, a ‘start’ button just as it appears on your computer. As far as I know, we are the proud owners of only the second fully-electric car on the Uists (though there are also a few hybrids running around – cars with both a battery and a ‘normal’ petrol engine). Here it is, sat tonight on its new driveway:

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(It seems I have become an early adopter, after all, albeit by default, when for the majority of my life I have most definitely been a laggard.) And, when researchers were talking only last week of petrol cars being obsolescent (in the US) in eight years, this was also a very timely purchase.

We’ve been researching this for some time, having been alerted to the idea by a hybrid-driving colleague some months ago – as a committed non-driver I’ve recently spent more time in car showrooms and talking to car salespeople than I really would ever want to imagine. Or indeed repeat. (Though I should also say that my recent experience of the latter is that the car salesperson is, in comparison to the legend, an unfairly maligned figure.)

There were two reasons for our purchase: clearly environmental considerations, especially in the context of the previous car having been a diesel although BMW was far from the worse performer in the emissions scandal; but also, secondly, simple economics: electric cars are far cheaper to maintain in terms both of getting them on the road (zero emissions mean there is no vehicle tax) and then keeping them there (in terms both of the ‘juice’ required to run the things and also in there being less mechanically to go wrong. With a purely electric car consuming no traditional fuels in its operation, it is as green as the electricity which is used to charge it (which may be darker or lighter green, depending on your supplier). And, of course, to manufacture and maintain it.

Early experience (a return trip from Perth to Glasgow airport – c. 71 miles in each direction – followed by a one-way trip from Perth to Mallaig yesterday for the island ferry, of about 142 miles) has been pretty favourable (we did, of course, take a similar model for an extensive test drive prior to purchasing). I don’t drive so performance questions are better directed elsewhere although it seemed to me that acceleration (from a standing or rolling start) was as you would expect from any ‘normal’ car and certainly there were no problems in building the speed required for overtaking. For someone whose earlier awareness of battery-powered cars had been with what the Highway Code used to call ‘invalid carriages’ (and now calls ‘powered wheelchairs‘: the law still calls them carriages), this was particularly notable as I did have a few doubts beforehand.

If you have any questions about electric cars, let me know below and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Going electric is not entirely a worry-free experience since the range of the Leaf on a full charge is about 120 miles (although, interestingly, Nissan’s claims are for 150+). This is absolutely fine for running around the Uists but, for longer distance trips, especially those involving ferry connections, a degree of planning around the location of charging points on your journey, and a degree of finger-crossing that no-one is already there when you get there, is required. Yesterday, our return home entailed two stops (at Crianlarich and Fort William), and the adoption of a different (and longer) route in order to take advantage of more charging opportunities, when we have frequently done it otherwise in a single hop.

Here’s a few observations on our experience with charging the car so far:

1. in the course of the last two days, we actually visited seven charging stations (there is quite a lot of them around: here in Scotland, for example). For much of the time, it was raining (Scotland – and indeed the rest of the UK – does get quite a lot of rain). I have spent some time on petrol station forecourts and I have rarely got wet since they have usually managed to put some sort of canopy over them. In contrast, six of the seven charging stations we used were in the complete open air. When you also have to stop and download an app, as we did on one occasion, this is potentially a miserable experience which clearly needs sorting out (we did see one station which was encaged in a glass box: well done theĀ  The Green Welly Stop).

2. The seventh station was in a multi-storey council-run car park in Perth so was indeed under cover. However, we did note that the charging points here were in the paid area of the car park, which did raise question marks that blue badge holders would, exceptionally, have to pay to park to use the machines since the blue badge parking bays were located on a different floor outwith the paid parking bit.

3. Longer distance journeys are going to require the installation of more rapid charging opportunities if electric cars are going to take off in the way the US researchers suggest. A typical charging station is composed of one or more petrol pump-style installations having a number of different connectors also with a resemblance to petrol pumps (some electric cars use AC, some DC – and, of course, different manufacturers are using different connectors: the joys of the riotous nature of innovation under capitalism). One of these will be a ‘rapid’ charger which is capable of charging the Leaf’s battery to about 80% of capacity in about 30 minutes. But you wouldn’t want to wait around for someone else’s charge to finish, still less be in a queue to do so. And neither would you essentially want to double the length of your journey time every time to allow for planned, and potentially extended, charging stops (we did allow 7 1/2 hours yesterday – for a journey of 140 miles, that is a little excessive). That by itself is likely to limit the extent to which ‘normal’ cars do become obsolete in the medium-term. (However, I can easily foresee a situation in which people have electric cars for everyday use and the ordinary commute, and then simply hire a ‘normal’ car when required for a longer trip.)

4. People are likely to want to have something to do, or to eat or drink, when charging. This is likely to indicate some opportunities for retail sellers to engage in providing charging facilities alongside their existing outlets, and make a little extra money when doing so. From my limited experience so far, a lot of charging stations are council provided and that is of course absolutely fine – but they do tend to be located around council buildings or sites, including recycling areas, park and ride schemes and other public car parks, as a simple public amenity and it seems not so much thought has yet – at that level – gone into providing attractive additional facilities.

5. Meanwhile, on our journey we were waved at a few times by other electric car drivers; and one other driver – not noticeably having gone electric – gave us a double thumbs-up. That’s unexpected.

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Il faut cultiver notre jardin

A proper May Day Bank Holiday but, with no demos or rallies to join here on the islands – remember folks: the struggles of the labour movement brought you bank holidays and weekends, and we’d like to give you more, too – choice of BH activity was a little closer to home.

After the hiatus of a few days away in Brussels, the first part of 2017’s biannual battle against the invasion of the dandelions needed to be re-engaged with some alacrity, while plants bought fairly recently in Perth were starting to show some signs of needing planting out. I managed to get underway with our plans for our east-facing garden in Uist – essentially re-instating a rockery garden forming a middle way between a grassy strip at the top and a ‘wild’ area at the bottom – a couple of weeks back by stripping out moss and grass overgrowing the rockery’s retaining stone wall. This bank holiday’s project has been to start digging out the grass (and dandelions) from the old rockery, lifting and relocating daffodils as required, and planting out some new spring (and autumn) colour via heathers, sedums and other ground cover plants such as spreading conifers and junipers. Here we are with some progress:

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Retaining wall with overgrowing greenery removed. The rockery will be the sloping section upwards as far as the flatter grassy area at the top – a quite substantial area given that it extends more than the full length of the house, other than a small apron connecting strip off pic to the left, and is about 8′ in width.

IMG_5387 (Custom)Some grass dug out, and a few plants put in. More will be added.

The garden fence (which admittedly does need a lick of paint) is looking otherwise resplendent in the late afternoon sunshine – and it was indeed a gorgeous day today here on Uist: a high of 18.1C at 5pm puts it quite comfortably the hottest day of the year so far and, with little or no breeze in the late afternoon, it was also just a touch too early in the year for the midges to be thinking of doing any damage. ‘Make hay while the sun shines’ goes the phrase – to which, we might add, especially when it shines on a bank holiday; so, I did, accompanied by bubbling lapwings sky-diving, the call of larks ascending and the gentle braying of eiders in the bay (think of a slightly excited Frankie Howerd), as well as bees intoxicated to have found some new heather to buzz through. (By the way, here is the unparalleled Met Office forecast for the Range for the week ahead, featuring a sunshine graphic all the way. I have literally never seen that before.) And accompanied also by the stillest, most perfectly milky blue sea, seen at low tide’s distance. We are keenly awaiting the arrival of our corn crakes when, to some degree alas, idyllic peace will be once again deferred (the male’s ‘crek crek‘ call – akin to the teeth of a plastic comb being scraped across the edge of a matchbox – can feature up to 20,000 times a night, over some six hours. And especially between midnight and 3am). Reports are here of corncrakes already in Askernish, to the south of us; and we had two, sometimes three, around the house, including one spotted running (actually, to be fair, probably more high stepping) through our ‘wild’ grass, last summer.

Furthermore, there was 15 1/2 hours of daylight today and sunset – at 9.14pm tonight – will, in about ten days or so, be visible from our lounge window looking north as it sinks into the sea.

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Ardivachar beach, picture taken 21:07.

After a damp and cloudy spring, and some cold northerly winds last week which sent the wind chill factor to below freezing, it seems like summer may have arrived.