Power and the Glory

Part 4 — The Evil of Personal Transportation

Disclaimer

While I am quite aware that owning a car is a Very Evil Thing to Do, we need it.

I am loath to, once more, run through the entire reasoning, so let’s just assume that we are adult and have considered the complete plethora of alternatives and convoluted solutions.

We have even considered the use of only one car as well. Dammit, give some credit and stop assuming I’m a mindless idiot. I am well aware of the problems.

To make it brief: we need the car.

This, however, does not mean it has to locomote by oxidation1

Background

When we buy a car, we estimate driving it for 10 years, then rotating it into place as a secondary vehicle. A new one is — meticulously – planned for the primary. It’s a scheme that has worked well for us, and kept the number of cars purchased to a minimum.

A car is around 20,000 quid2 around these parts, and so we use it ’til we lose it, basically.

Our current car is a 2014 Skoda Octavia Estate 1.6 TDI. It’s 8 years old, and due for rotation in 2024.

At this point in time there are several points to consider; some of them are new and came as a surprise to us.

Money

The cost of one Imperial gallon worth of diesel fuel rose to ten pound Sterling during the spring of ’22. To fill our trusty Octavia, we put in 18 gallons. That’s rather a lot of guineas to toss about.

Luckily for our sanity we don’t drive much; about 9,300 miles a year. The car is decidedly non–thirsty as well — we get around 59 mpg. That said, the price of fuel is likely to keep going up, for a variety of reasons, most of them not only good but necessary.

Regulations

It’s not shaping up well for a diesel–scented future.

Environment

Our current car burn oil; diesel specifically.

None of these numbers are good. Time to look at the alternatives.

The Technology

First up: NGV, or Natural Gas Vehicle. Uses either compressed or liquefied natural gas … and burn it to produce power. Releases CO2 and fall into the same situation as diesel. Nope.

How about LPG — or liquefied petroleum gas? Produces less CO2 than diesel, less NOx … but it still pollute. Besides, it’s damn near impossible to find one of those, what’ya’callum, “refuelling stations” around here.

Hybrids? Spoiler: the various hybrid vehicles are out, sadly. It’s a fun tech, this; all based on the idea that an explosion–engine (an internal combustion engine or ICE, using the Otto–cycle, basically) uses the least amount of fuel when it is running at a fixed RPM.

Knowing this, one Can Try To Cheat (the universe) by, for example, construct a car which always run the combustion engine at a fixed speed and kick in an electric motor when more RPMs are needed, for example when hitting a hill. Sadly, it’s not that amusing in real life. The majority of hybrids will run on electricity until the battery is empty, then go further using the conventional engine. Bah.

There are a few types:

All of the above, in a variety of ways, has the drawback of more components and more weight for not too much reward.

Predictably, in a country in love with Volvo SUVs in the 2–tonne range, Sweden had rather good deals with reduced tax on big, heavy cars with hybrid engines that ran on petrol for 90–95% of the time.

This is now changing. Consequently, hybrids are not cheap, doesn’t go very far on electricity, must still be filled at a petrol station and certainly isn’t an end to pollution. Exit stage left.

But there are others. One technique that has gained some traction is to burn something other than oil; something which does not pollute. Enter the Fuel–cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV). Such cars are faster to fill up and normally sport a longer range than BEV and hybrids.

What on earth could be wrong with that? Let’s backtrack just a little bit, say about forty years, to elementary school: the usual fuel for FCEVs is hydrogen (H). It has the singular honour of being the lightest element we know, tend to make metal brittle and is not entirely easy to dig out of the ground.

Burning it in a fuel–cell, however, produce zero emissions (except H2O, but let’s not be sad about that). The handling is difficult; the transport is not without its complications, and the power used to produce it must in itself be clean.

And it can’t easily be filled at home. If you’ve trudged through the previous three parts — and been awake for the process — you’ve noticed that we’ve invested in a reasonably large solar power plant. To follow that with a system to produce and compress hydrogen, with the losses (approximately 40%) that follows, is … folly.

The only reasonable technology available to us is a battery–electric vehicle (BEV)

The BEVs

This isn’t a difficult technology to understand. Build a car. Replace the Otto–cycle with an electric motor. Feed it from a battery. Drive.

No, it’s not quite that simple :)

The principle behind electric motors was first shown by Michael Faraday in 1821; a hundred years later there is a bloody bewildering variety of them in everything from vacuum cleaners to car ferries.

The BEV use either brushed DC or brushless AC motors, depending a little on the manufacturer; some have one or two on the axles, some are experimenting with in–wheel versions.

For the most part they use lithium–ion batteries.

The Market

Let’s get one detail out of the way: the very first electric car is impossible to pin down, but is likely the carriage created by Scottish inventor Robert Anderson some time around 1835.

The first viable BEV appeared in 2010 — the Nissan Leaf. Yes, I quite deliberately and wilfully ignore the Tesla Roadster as it was neither viable nor cost–effective. I will keep ignoring Tesla.

Since 2010 the market has exploded. With the no–longer wilfully ignored climate changes well underway, most people have grasped the following:

  1. If we keep over–emitting CO2 the world will get warmer. This is not a good thing; temperatures around the world are going through the roof — Japan is currently (June 2022) experiencing the worst heat–wave since 1875 and the rainy season has stopped prematurely.
  2. Transport vehicles are by far the worst culprits in the EU when it comes to emissions.
  3. The personal transport vehicle (“car”) is the worst of those, by some 60% of the total
  4. It would be better if we reduced our dependency on the car and used more trains, subway, buses, bicycles and shanks’ nag.
  5. That ain’t happening fast enough in the years we have left to stop CO2 induced climate change.
  6. It is better to phase out petrol/diesel and phase in electricity now than believe in the pipe–dream of the previous point.

To change our communities so that we all can rely on (electric) buses, subways and trains, or be able to cycle or walk to work, grocery stores and so forth, will take a long time and meet tough resistance.

It will, ultimately, mean that we lump ourselves into one, geographically not too dispersed, heap. Back home in Norway there are 15 people per km2. In Singapore there’s 8000.

The claim some “climate activists” make that we desire “luxurious living” is rather a simplification of a situation where people don’t want to exist on top of eachother.

Us

For us — and your mileage may vary — the following applies:

Preferences

In our time we — a combine mileage of a liitle north of 100 years one might say — have owned four cars in total:

That’s it. So we’re a bit all over the place on brands. The Peugeot was – and is — an exceptionally nice car. Sadly, in 2022 they have no suitable electric vehicles — the e–208 is a tad small, the 508 is only hybrid and so on and so forth.

Mercedes … no. We had many years of good use out of own green MB 200; their EQ*–series is nice but expensive. Very expensive. Way too expensive.

The Volkswagen ID.4. was … ho–hum, and J had to sit with his head tilted in the back seat. That’s no way to run a railroad :(

But Skoda, now…. Skoda made their own version of said ID.4, built on the same MEB platform5 and called it the Enyaq. It, being the same, was rather different — and ticked every single non–predictive box in our above list.

This is not to say we didn’t look outside the list :)

So in the end we landed on a Skoda Enyaq iv80 in pretty red. First SUV ever for us … will take some getting used to!

Of course, this one sports an automatic gear–box; first ever for that too. Ever since my Beetle I’ve had the (bad) habit of resting my right hand on the gear lever. Whatever am I going to do⁇

Charging

We are among the lucky ones: we can charge at home, from solar power. But there’s that pesky little detail: do we really want to do so from a 220V socket?

First, can you? Yes. It is quite possible to plug a BEV into a — in Sweden — 230V socket; like most the Enyaq has an 11kW AC charger as standard. However, the charging goes slowly and regular household sockets are not necessarily designed or built to handle long (remember: slowly) and persistent loads. Can one avoid one should. Distinct fire–hazard.

The next best thing is a type 2 DC charger, supplying 11kW still but from a charger and socket designed for the purpose. Our choice is the Fronius Wattpilot — it fits so nicely in the rest of the Fronius infrastructure we’ve chosen.

And, finally, the Enyaq has a 125kW (from 2022) “fast” charger onboard, for those few times we’ll top up when away from home, accepting a CCS plug.

Am I looking forward to starting the day — any day — with a fully fuelled vehicle? Do I ever …


1 Oxidation? You know, combustion? Fire? Burning? The Otto–cycle?

2 Quid? Teapot–lid? One British Pound (Sterling)? Sheesh …

3 What? We’re keen genealogists! Scrub your mind out with a steel brush. Sick!

4 For those not in on the joke, “ludicrous speed” is a concept Tesla lifted from Spaceballs. Same for “plaid”. Yes, it’s that silly.

5 A “car platform” is a common set of design and engineering bits and pieces reused between models from a car brand.

index
2009 — 2013 archive (aka "ye olde stuff")