Spotlight on electric cars in Peterborough: If Peterborough is truly to grasp the concept of a 21st Century green city there are several more roads to travel, and one of those is embracing the idea of the electric car.
While once charging times were measured in days rather than hours now you can now take a totally flat lithium-ion battery and prime it to 100 per cent in three to four hours.
On Saturday Peterborough City Council and car manufacturing giants such as Nissan, Toyota, Vauxhall and Renault encouraged drivers to see what all the fuss is about, at a promotional event at Serpentine Green.
Ever keen to track the city mood the Peterborough Telegraph joined the electric revolution by borrowing a couple of cars for a few days, kindly supplied by Smiths Renault in Bretton.
My first drive is the Twizy, and a picture really does paint a thousand words when it comes to this uber-chic monster.
Only 2.3 metres long and 1.2 metre wide, the Twizy has a top speed of 50mph and a maximum range of about 37-62 miles depending on how it is driven. But with zero emissions, this literally is a breath of fresh air.
After a simple introduction to the two pedals, and two buttons on the dashboard (Drive and Reverse, both together for Neutral) I am free to go.
I press the D button and roll out. The engine makes no sound, and several times over the next two days I will be unable to drive off, simply because I am confused as to whether the engine is on or not.
Once it starts off the 17hp engine propels us along, mimicking a Scalextric car sound as it whizzes along.
For those who enjoy the breeze blowing in their face the journey is a joy. For those who don’t, tough – there are no side windows, presumably for safety reasons as the doors open upwards to minimise space.
You have to think of the vehicle as a quadricycle, an open-air vehicle where the driver is outdoors rather than in a car - you can even get a doorless version.
It looks like a bubble but with the suspension of a brute; the speed bumps near The Peterborough School, for example, fire up through the occupants’ spines even at 10mph. Literally every pedestrian takes a lingering look, a big grin spreading across their face as they see someone is driving what appears to be Optimus Prime’s head along Bourges Boulevard.
One girl on Thorpe Road spontaneously decides to take a picture of her pal, including plenty of space over her friend’s right shoulder as I creep past.
I keep feeling for the gearstick. There isn’t one. Then the radio. There isn’t one. The heater? There just isn’t one.
Maybe looking for these items is to miss the point; this is just a splendid urban frolic, not for those conscious about themselves, but definitely for those conscious about the environment. The roundabout of doom outside the PT offices is joyously taken and on Elm Street I jink through a gap which would cause mass carnage if I tried it in my own car – and that’s only a Mini.
One would assume that a taller person will struggle to enjoy iy, but even a 6ft 4” ogre like PT sports writer Alan Swann fits quite comfortably into the snug front seats.
The charging is easy, just a normal household plug at the front of the car (three 1/2 hour full charge) and for an additional fee anyone buying the car can have a point installed outside their house, courtesy of British Gas,
On Saturday morning I glumly drove it back to Bretton, to swap it for the Fluence – a real car. I am no driving expert but I can tell this is a super-smooth drive, gliding along the parkways and through town effortlessly. I even brave a motorway.
The readout gives data on how the power is distributed, and also how you can feed charge back into the battery by intelligent driving. You can even set it to email you with battery charge information.
It isn’t as exciting as the Twizy, but is a lot more sensible, with a range of up to 115 miles depending on conditions and driving. Again this car can be charged from a 3-pin plug, but I wanted to use some of the external points – and this is where I encountered my first issues.
The council bay at Car Haven is easy to operate, although for some reason I have to use the 3-pin plug and not the specialised, faster lead – not ideal in the pouring rain, but Google assures me it is safe.
An enquiry with the city council informed me that it may have been because the card was not left on top of the charging point for long enough; for the more powerful charge you have to hold the card on top of the charging point for at least three seconds.
I looked online for points across the city, and it seems that not all of the websites give the same data. Clearly, Dobbies has electrical points, but they don’t appear on all of the maps. I encounter another minor hiccup at the garden centre, where I am totally unable to charge the car – although this later turns out to be a simple lack of awareness from staff.
EDF installed the points but left its position in the store two weeks before I visited, and in its absence Dobbies staff did not realise a fob was needed to access the power.
The Twizy on the road price RRP is £6,690, while the Fluence will set you back £17,495. Not cheap, but there are £5,000 ‘plug-in grants’ available for the Fluence, and other vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf and Vauxhall Ampera.
In addition drivers must rent the batteries, and this starts at £45 per month. To charge at some points you also have to be a member of Source East, costing £10 a year.
Julian Mullins, of Smiths Renault said: “In London there are far more because there are no congestion charges, because there are no emissions.
“The Twizy is not a vehicle to be used for commuting distances. It would be legal to drive it on a motorway – but you wouldn’t want to, especially with no windows. There are lots of benefits, the main one being the lack of pollution. We have been talking with some local builders who are planning to install charge points in new homes, for no extra cost.”
There is still a long way to go. Apparently, up until August, only 989 electric cars had been purchased this year in the UK, and while most drivers will clearly charge at home, the lingering issue of distance driving lurks.
But next year’s new Zoe model is one of several that will feature superfast charging - of just half an hour.
More manufacturers are encouraging battery swapping; you contact a station to pre-warn them you will be arriving, your nearly-spent battery is swapped for a fully-charged one. The rules are changing – and fossils and their fuel are becoming a thing of the past.
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Charging posts are free to use
l Recharging posts have been installed by Peterborough City council as part of the East of England Plugged in Places project run by EValu8-TI Ltd.
l Grants for the installation of the first three charging posts in Peterborough came from EEDA and The Plugged in Places project. They cost approx £7,500 each to install, but this can vary.
l There are three points in Peterborough centre on City Road, Park Road, and at Car Haven car park. A fourth is going to be installed on St Peters Road.
For these posts parking is currently free of charge but you have to become a member of Source East to access the posts and there is a membership fee.
l The three recharging points in Peterborough also form part of a wider network of recharging posts across the East of England and feed into a national network.
l Peterborough City Council is also co-ordinating an Electric Vehicle Trials day as part of the Business Focus Event at Peterborough Arena, East of England Showground, on October 17. More information is available at www.businessfocus.uk.net