Autovolt Magazine

London to Edinburgh in an Electric Car

London to Edinburgh in an electric car – what’s all the fuss about? Recently, on January the 24th, 2014, David Peilow, Satellite Scientist and Vauxhall Ampera e-REV driver, and Robert Llewellyn, the actor best known for presenting Scrap Heap Challenge and playing Kryten in the Red Dwarf TV Series, set out in a brand new Nissan LEAF from London to Edinburgh. They did not attempt to do the journey as quickly as possible nor did they attempt to save weight or reduce their comfort by turning off the heating. Instead, they did the journey because they could. However, the story was met with just as much praise as it was scepticism by popular media.

At AutoVolt, we had a few people ask us why we didn’t publish an article about the event and the answer is simple. In many ways, it was a non event. Although mainstream popular media feel it necessary to question electric cars at every turn and make a big thing of it, the journey was not really news. There is no surprise that the journey was completed and there was never any fear that they wouldn’t make it. That said, the premise for the journey to be done at all was that three years ago, BBC journalist Brian Milligan attempted the same journey in an electric MINI. It took him four days as he needed overnight recharging stops. However, David Peilow, upon seeing this, decided to conduct the same London to Edinburgh trip in a Tesla Roadster. He managed it in just under 18 hours due to the increased range of the Tesla over the electric MINI.

The resulting question raised, was the BBC journalist making a mockery of electric cars for the sake of a story, or simply demonstrating the lack of electric charging infrastructure available three years ago. Brian Milligan did go on to say that infrastructure would evolve and today we are at that stage where fast chargers exist and are easily found along the major arterieal motorways across the UK.

David and Robert’s wintry adventure this January was completed in a mere 13 hours. This may sound like a long time, but if you consider they frequently stopped to recharge the Nissan LEAF and chatted to people at each of the various stops, which added at least an hour to their journey, the time taken is not altogether dissimilar to that of a conventional internal combustion car with a responsible driver who isn’t speeding and has rest stops every couple of hours.

The questions below are frequently raised when talking about electric cars and we feel they are the core questions answered by the London to Edinburgh trip.

Will the batteries wear out?

Yes, batteries do wear out, but not before the car does. There are far less superior batteries being used in older models of hybrid vehicle that are still going strong more than ten years later. Yes, their range might have diminished a bit, but not by that much – and let’s not forget that petrol/diesel vehicles economy reduces and emissions increase over time too, as they get worn out. Funnily enough, those internal combustion powered cars that are in tip top condition have had parts replaced, so it’s not all that shocking that perhaps at some point – maybe 20 or more years down the line – people may have to replace electric car batteries too. An interesting and important point to make here, is that electric motors only have one moving part so they don’t wear out very often, just look at electric trains. Internal combustion powered vehicles on the other hand are a mess of pipes, wires and lots of moving parts which increases wear and reduces overall efficiency.

Will fast charging affect the range or life of batteries?

No, fast charging won’t affect the batteries – it may actually help them! Although fast charging does introduce heat to the equation, most electric cars have some form of cooling on the batteries. This is similar to the way in which internal combustion engines are kept at a constant temperature to be run at their optimum. Likewise, electric car batteries work worse when they’re cold and better when they’re warm. What is damaging to batteries, however, is fully depleting them and then recharging again from empty. This brings up a further point that recharging times for vehicles are often stated from empty, but in truth very rarely do EV owners recharge their cars from empty.

Will everybody freeze to death as they turn the climate control off in order to save power and increase range?

No, everybody won’t freeze to death as electric cars are much more efficient at heating occupants than internal combustion powered cars. Pardon? we hear you say? Well, yes – internal combustion engines are fantastic at producing heat as that is what they do best. Only 30% of the energy they create actually goes into moving the car forward, the rest is mostly lost as heat and that heat is what’s used for interior cabin heating. However, as stated above, electric cars are better at doing this task as they use electric heaters which are designed specifically for that purpose – to get hot. They have the ability to get hot very quickly, whereas internal combustion engines take a while to warm up all their metal core components and then warm water for it to run through a heater matrix and therefore eventually warm the interior cabin. Electric heaters are more efficient and although they do eat into the range of an electric vehicle, no more so than fuel consumption would increase if you turn the air con on in an IC powered car.

What happens if you run out of power at the roadside?

That’s just it – you run out of power and come to a stop. The misconception is that the car will be a totally dead duck. This isn’t entirely the case as hazard lights, for example, will still work. A recovery firm (of which most have already had their drivers briefed about how to handle electric cars) will be able to tow you to the nearest charge point and your electric car’s owner manual will have instructions as to how they can do this if there’s any doubt. Essentially, it’s no different than running out of fuel in an internal combustion powered automatic car. There are plenty of warnings before you run out of juice too, by the way.

Can electric cars do long journeys?

Watch the video if you need any more evidence – ‘yes’ is the answer if you don’t have a spare 13 minutes. There are plenty more examples of EV owners conducting long journeys in their vehicles, such as one German Renault Twizy owner having done two tours of Europe. One of these trips included going from Germany to Scotland and back again, in their very limited vehicle which is actually classified as a quad bike rather than a car in most countries and only has a 60 mile range… and no windows as standard.

To summarise, electric cars are a viable means of transport and are perfectly capable of travelling long distances. However, if attempting to travel 400+ miles in a car that has a range of less than 100 miles, then the trip will involve several stops en-route where approximately 30 minute charging sessions will be required. The London to Edinburgh trip is not unique or a pioneering achievement as others have done the same trip in electric vehicles before. However, what Robert and David have proven is that the journey is possible and quite simply too, plus with the new infrastructure installed by the likes of Ecotricity, the journey can also be done free of charge. What wasn’t mentioned is that travelling four hundred miles should necessitate a stop every two hours in any car, whatever the power source, to alleviate boredom, fatigue and to relieve yourself.

Ecotricity fast charger at Welcome Break with Nissan Leaf plugged in