Robert’s LEAF diary – Week 1: Zero trouble, zero emissions at t’mill

It really did arrive on the back of a truck; I knew it was coming but it was still a bit like Christmas.

By Robert Llewellyn on April 27, 2011 8:55 PM

A brand new Nissan LEAF, well, not quite brand new, it’s been driven a bit. Heavy footed automotive journalists had driven over 700 miles in the car before it arrived at my gaff.

How do I know about their foot weight? Well, the LEAF is clever and it has a memory. It was delivered fully charged but the range estimate was 62 miles. It had calculated this figure based on previous driving styles. With a full battery it would achieve 62 measly, range anxiety-inducing miles.

The following two days the Mrs and I did the usual teenage taxi service, shopping trips and obviously Yoga, that’s the Mrs doing the Yoga. If the house is a tip, kids hungry, dog sick on carpet, never mind, drop everything, it’s time for Yoga.

But as she rightly said as she waltzed out of the door, it is now ‘low carbon’ Yoga.

When I got in the car on the third morning, freshly charged overnight, the range indicator said 93 miles. So the way we drive is clearly not the way bullish male automotive journalists drive, the LEAF had learned. Our more experienced electric car driving style had increased the range by over 30 miles.

I was glad of this because I had arranged to go and look at a water mill in Somerset. Yeah, I know, crazy exciting stuff.

The mill is 58 miles from my house according to Google maps, so I set off early so I wouldn’t be in a panic and have to drive too aggressively. That’s all it takes, accelerate gently, don’t brake hard, allow the car to slow well before you need to stop, maintain the legal speed limit, bish bash bosh. It’s very easy.

The car’s built-in sat-nav and Bluetooth riddled interior is very pleasing, the car handles exceptionally well, it’s quiet, smooth and if you do need it to be, very quick. All was deeply relaxed, after 14 miles the range indicator had increased to 98 miles. It’s confusing I know but I live quite high up and the majority of those 14 miles are downhill. I’d used a tiny bit of energy and the trip calculator had adjusted accordingly.

After about 35 miles I passed a sign that said ‘road closed ahead’… this was going to ruin my carefully worked out route. I might be stuffed! Normally this would be frustrating and you would deploy the standard solo driver’s list of expletives. I did that, but I added some nervous buttock clenching curses.

The detour added 15 miles to the journey, what had been 59 miles would now be over 70. In a car with a tank full of gas, you wouldn’t give it a second thought. In a car with a laminated, state of the art lithium-ion battery pack, your imagination runs away with itself and hides behind a bush.

Not only that, the route from the north Cotswolds to Somerset is very pretty rolling countryside. Note the use of the word rolling, that means hills. Some of those hills you have to go up and that hammers the batteries.

However, with a bit of judicious short cutting, I got to my destination on time and I’d only driven 68 miles. The range indicator said I had 17 miles left, but the battery was still a quarter charged.

I plugged in as soon as I arrived using the supplied recharge cable. I have learned that this cable only carries 10 amps, not even 13 as in the standard UK socket. I am assuming this is because the wire was designed for the US where voltage and amperage is lower.

What this means though is the LEAF charges slower. Slower than the Mitsubishi i-MiEV I drove last year. Overnight you’d never notice, when you are visiting a water mill in Somerset for a few hours, you worry.

Why did I drive to the watermill? Well, Tellisford mill has been converted to a micro hydro-generation plant. The owners, Rachel Feilden and Anthony Battersby have installed a seven-ton German built water turbine that generates around 400,000 kWh a year – my back-of-a-fag-packet calculations tell me that’s enough electricity to power the LEAF to the moon and back three times. Obviously there are certain other obstacles to making that particular journey, though.

The mill has a three-phase system built in, which means with the right cable (believe me, I’m getting one) I could have re-charged the car in 20 minutes.

As it was, Rachel and Anthony were very kind and hospitable. The mill was open to the public that day, I went on the tour and heard about the trials and tribulations of converting a 1,000 year old Saxon wool mill into a state of the art micro generating station.

They were also thrilled as the LEAF was the first electric car that had charged using their power. I spent a lovely afternoon walking in their meadow, talking about renewable energy, the oil lobby, the future of energy production and electric cars. I had tea and homemade cake and watched the water slowly driving through the turbine and generating serious juice.

After five hours I had enough power to get me home and, weirdly, the return journey was entirely range anxiety free. My total journey that day was 138 miles (I dropped in to see some old friends on the way home), which was done easily on the battery power I had.

In fact, for the last 10 or so miles, driving along roads I know well, I did allow the car to just break the speed limit. Without question, if you want points on your license the LEAF will help you get them. It is not a slow or sluggish car and on longer journeys it remains very comfortable. The car allows excellent visibility for the driver and it has all the best and latest electronic gubbins.

Not only that, the return journey was entirely smug powered. No question about it, I felt superior to other road users. All the electrons stored in the batteries had come from rainfall dripping onto the Mendip hills, gathering in streams, feeding the Frome river to be captured by the turbine before flowing down to the sea. Just about as zero carbon as you can get.

Okay, manufacturing the car and turbine creates a chunky carbon footprint, as does any other car or energy generation system, but in actual measurable carbon release on the day of my trip, no fossil fuel-powered car will ever achieve what Tellisford Mill and the LEAF did that day. Never.

Watch a video of Robert’s trip here:


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