Tobi Kellner was Energy Modeller during the research phase for the latest Zero Carbon Britain report. As one of CAT’s renewable energy consultants, his work takes him to unique locations that often require unique transport options.
A few days ago I had a chance to get a first-hand experience of what rural transport in a Zero Carbon Britain future might look like. An invitation to do a talk about renewable energy options for a group of Welsh hill farmers in the Brecon Beacons brought a bit of a dilemma for me: The event was to be held at a very eco-conscious remote hill farm and B&B with working biomass boilers, hydro turbine and solar panels – a great place, but almost impossible to reach by public transport! This is the all-too-familiar dilemma for the environmentalist working in a rural area: can you justify using a car to promote a fossil fuel free future? Fortunately, in this case there was a better option: a combination of train and electric car!
The Eco Travel Network offers visitors to the Brecon Beacon area the opportunity to rent one of six funky little Renault Twizy electric cars to get around. So I decided to give it a try, booked a train ticket to Abergavenny and arranged to pick up the Twizy from a local hotel there (for a charge of £45). It has to be said that if the aim of the scheme is to convince people that electric cars can be ‘just as good’ as petrol guzzlers then the Twizy is probably not the best choice of vehicle. Described as an “urban compact two-seater” without windows to protect you from the Welsh rain (zip-on windows are available as extras), this is not a ‘grown up’ electric vehicle. But at around £7,000 (plus £45/month battery rental and road side assistance), this is a (relatively) cheap and cheerful transport option, and it’s great fun to use!
The 6kWh of lithium ion batteries store less energy than a single litre of petrol, but due to the efficiency of electric motors that gives you around a 50 mile range (though maybe a bit less in the steep hills of the Brecon Beacons), and it very rapidly accelerates up to 50mph, great fun overtaking tractors! What’s more, whereas normal cars ‘destroy’ energy when you break, this one actually puts the power back into the batteries, so you recharge when you’re going downhill. At the end of your journey you just plug the vehicle into any normal three pin plug (no special charging points required for the Twizy) and it recharges in a few hours.
As the vast majority of all daily journeys are less than 50 miles the battery range shouldn’t be much of a problem. But if you need to go a bit further then you can always do what I did: pull in at a local pub, get them to throw an electric extension cord out the window so you can plug in, have yourself a nice cup of tea while both you and your vehicle re-energize. Electric cars charged with renewable electricity are a great zero-carbon transport option for remote rural where public transport isn’t available, and I definitely enjoyed my glimpse of the future or rural transport!