Aidan here, back on UK soil at long last. It’s been an interesting whirlwind of a trip through Asia, but it feels good to be back, even if the weather remains the same cold and wet unpleasantness that I left to escape. It’s a bit silly now, it’s June and we’re still using central heating. (I hear it got very nice in London for a week or so while I was away, but I didn’t observe it so it didn’t happen). A shortish blog from me today – it’s been an astonishingly busy week, and UKERC is decamping en masse to Warwick next week for our Summer School and Annual Assembly. It’s going to be, as always, a great event, but a very busy one – so apologies, but there won’t be a NERN newsletter next week. If you’re coming to the school as a student or to the assembly as a UKERC researcher, do stop and say hi though! Next week is also the first week of our new Knowledge Exchange Manager, Dr Mike Weston. He’s picked quite a week to start, but it’ll mean he gets to meet and get up to speed with UKERC’s research, researchers and activities as quickly as possible – so make sure to give him a big welcome to his new role!
So, I’ve included a picture above of me slouching manfully against a car. That, however, isn’t just any car. Oh no, that car is the British Embassy Tokyo’s prized Nissan Leaf, one of the first commercially-available mainstream electric vehicles. You’ve probably heard of the Nissan Leaf before, as a fair amount of fuss has been made over it, both in terms of its capabilities but also its range (about 100 miles) and price (pretty high). Nissan donated the one in the photo to the British Embassy in recognition of their Sunderland plant being the European centre for manufacturing of the Leaf, though production won’t start here until 2013. About 13,000 have been sold in Japan so far, but only a couple of hundred over here. It’s fairly easy to understand why just in terms of feasibility – there simply aren’t enough charging stations around, especially out of major cities, to make the car flexible enough for most people to consider a purchase. The Leaf you see there is confined to Tokyo for the foreseeable future.
Not being someone to resist a free ride, I gladly accepted the offer of a lift across town to the EU Delegation, where I was giving a talk last Friday. Here the Leaf, and indeed, the advantages of electric vehicles, really shows itself off. The thing can accelerate like the clappers – no lag time between pushing the pedal and going, but sheer, unadulterated force. It looked like a joy to drive, fast, responsive and fun, and everyone in the Embassy who’d taken it for a spin raved about it. It’s also whisper quiet. The Leaf has a noise synthesiser built in to it to warn pedestrians and approaching vehicles – this sounds a bit like a horde of mosquitos, a sound Nissan says it designed to attract attention without being annoying. I’m not entirely sure it succeeded, but you have a switch to turn it off. Without the noise, the car is almost dangerously silent – you can (and we did) sneak up on people with the Leaf and laugh at their expressions as they turn around to find a great big car parked inches from them. Somewhat worryingly, UK doesn’t allow hazard sounds to be on at night-time, so no Leaf in the country has a pedestrian warning sound. An interesting legal omission that I smell a tabloid headline coming out of at some point!
The car is also very hi-tech, with a GPS map which can find charging points, integrated Bluetooth and smartphone applications and a GPRS connection that allows Nissan to find you with some sort of recharging car if you ever run out of juice. Apparently it also makes some sort of horrific warning siren should you dare to run your battery down to less than 20% - something I luckily didn’t see. The on-board computer also calculates your range and adjusts it if you stick the aircon, stereo or other power-guzzling device on. It’s all very slick.
Car of the future? Maybe, if they sort out the infrastructure problems. A lot of emissions reduction scenarios depend on electric vehicles, and if they don’t catch on we’re going to be in a lot of trouble. However, I think the general public don’t yet understand how fun these electric vehicles are to drive, and that combined with the cheap price of fuel (the Leaf costs about 300 yen per 100 mile charge – that is around 1500 yen’s petrol), may begin to swerve people around.
That’s enough from me for one week. See you in two weeks, unless you’ll be in Warwick next week. In which case, I’ll see you then!