To The Top Of The Hill And Down Again x3

Oh, The grand old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men;
He marched them up to the top of the hill,
And he marched them down again.

And when they were up, they were up,
And when they were down, they were down,
And when they were only half-way up,
They were neither up nor down.

As I’ve written here and here, I was at the Israeli Presidents Conference last week in Jerusalem on Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday. As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now I drove up each day in my Better Place Renault Fluence ZE.

Thanks to twitter I had extra passengers along on each trip: I can hear the polar bears thanking me. I’m expecting a congratulatory card from Al Gore to arrive in the post any day now. Not only was I driving a non (locally) polluting electric vehicle there and back from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem: I was stopping other people from travelling in more polluting alternatives! I need a badge, or a knighthood or something.

The return trip each day was around 150km (100 miles) after visiting various pick up and drop off points. That’s more than the comfortable range of the car so how did I do it each day?

The first trip up on Tuesday afternoon came after I’d made a few local trips in the morning. I picked @FloGoLightly up from the Alozorov train station and headed for Jerusalem. We were deliberately early.

Acording to my car’s onboard Oscar system there are recharging spots in the car park under the central bus station just opposite Binyana Ha’Uma so that was my destination. But as this was the first time I was heading to this destination, and I had the luxury of going early, I chose to stop and switch battery on the way there.

This was a “banker” switch. If I could recharge the car in the car park for even an hour or two, that would be enough to get me home safely. Switching battery on the way there just meant I could return to Tel Aviv without any further effort. Had I not switched on the way there, and if I couldn’t charge in the car park, I would still have enough juice to return to Modi’in on the way back and switch.

So @FloGoLightly got to enjoy and tweet about her first switch and we still arrived in Jerusalem with plenty of time for a leasurly coffee at Aroma and to enter the Tomorrow 12 conference.

There is a plus and a minus to parking at the Bus Station. There are four Better Place recharging spots and they are right at the back of the -2 level so unlikely to ever be blocked by normal cars (this is known as “ICE-ing” when Internal Combustion Engine cars block recharging spots).

The minus is that parking here costs an outrageous ₪80 per day ($20). This is very steep. Still the security in that place is strict and I had no particular worries about my car. I also considered fuel for my old car to Jerusalem and back would have cost more so I wrote this off in my mind and I still would have had to pay somewhere else to park.

I’m beginning not to notice how much energy various trips take but driving up to Jerusalem seem to use about 65% of my battery. Driving back needs 45% to 50%. As you can see there is about a 5% or 10% deficit.

I suppose I could drive more conservatively and possibly make this trip without charging or switching but I don’t see the point. All it takes is one or two hours recharging or one switch and you don’t have to think about it. Range anxiety has turned into range awareness.

I started the drive back from Jerusalem that night with a full battery and a full car. Having foreseen this possibility I had left both my childrens’ car seats back at home. This was also the perfect occasion to rip the protective plastic that had still been covering the back seat off. We dropped @daw1975 off at home in Jerusalem and three of us then cruised down the 443 road (briefly leaving “areas under Israeli authority” as Waze so delicately puts it).

Route 443 offers a great chance to see what “regenerative braking” means in action: there is one very long, steady, downhill stretch. With the cruise control set to 90 km/h one gains almost 2% energy back: entering this with 82% you leave it with 84%. Even coasting in a petrol car uses fuel: only with an electric vehicle (EV) do you actually take spent energy and put it back in the battery. It’s like “un-burning” petrol!

As expected everyone was impressed with the quiet, smooth ride in the Fluence ZE. There was also plenty of room in the back for adults and no complaints from @FloGoLightly or @Roopunzel all the way back to Tel Aviv. In Israel, where the Renault mark is probably considered slightly down market, it surprises people to travel in a car that feels more like a Lexus or a BMW.

Day 2, Wednesday morning I wanted to travel up early to make sure I saw the plenary session featuring Ayan Hirsi Ali. Again I picked up @FloGoLightly, this time from close to her home in a part of south Tel Aviv is plagued with atrocious traffic. Fortunately at around 7am it’s easy to get in and out of there.

This time we drove straight to Jerusalem without a battery switch. We were there in around an hour: people who came up later had trouble getting out of Tel Aviv but we saw none of that. My private spot at the bottom of the Bus Station car park was waiting for me and again we had time for an Aroma coffee.

Knowing that my car would be parked all day I knew I would once again leave Jerusalem with a completely full battery. When we did get back to the car, I had a parking buddy as another Better Place car was charging alongside mine.

The conference ended around 20:00 and by then we’d again found a full car load of people to transport. @FloGoLightly and @Roopunzel were there and we added @bloodandfrogs to be dropped in Modi’in as well as an old friend of mine, Gavin Gross, who I haven’t seen in while. Again we left Jerusalem on the 443 road with 5 in the car and everybody was happy. The detour into Modi’in meant that our route back to the highway to Tel Aviv would take us right past the battery switch station.

I asked if anyone wanted to see a battery switch and everybody said yes. My in car display, however, listed the station as out of service. A quick call to the customer service number and they confirm to me that the station was in testing but if I wanted it could be brought back on line by the time I got there. Everyone agreed so we diverted.

While at the station I tweeted that we were swapping battery for fun! This prompted John Voelcker (who edits the pieces I’ve written for Green Car Reports) to tweet back “Which part of the Better Place business plan does users switching battery for fun appear in?”. I guess he has me, but as long as the stations are there and under used, I guess we can chalk that switch up to good publicity and public education.

On the third day I again picked up @FloGoLightly and @Roopunzel from the train station in Tel Aviv but this time at 9am. We had the bloggers’ session with Yossi Vardi and President Shimon Peres to get to at 10:45. The road to Jerusalem can be a bit of a lottery and, as usual, we soon ground to a halt for a variety of pointless slowdowns and rubber neck opportunities. We still arrived in Jerusalem around 10:15 which was good enough to get in and get spots.

Sometime during that day, however, I noticed that my car was not charging up very quickly. It wasn’t a big deal, and by the time I noticed it already had more than the 50% I’d need to get home comfortably. It was predicting that it would need another 9 hrs to finish which is a very long time.

I called customer services during a break and, as ever, they answered quickly and courteously. They couldn’t give me a definitive answer on the phone and said they’d call back: I asked for an email instead. One hour later I had my answer. Someone else was charging next to me and this meant we were both charging slower. I learnt two things: sharing the same charging box is not the best option (some have two wires), better to pick a separate one and if Better Place promise to email or call, they really will do it.

The third night we again filled the car. This time we had 5½ people: our extra passenger was 8 months pregnant!

It is a non story really, car drives from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and back three times in a week. But then so many people just don’t believe an electric car could fit in their lives and they’re so wrong. It’s not complicated and it has some stunning advantages.

And 1600 words is what happens when I don’t have an editor imposing word limits on me!

About Brian of London

Brian of London is not the messiah, he's a very naughty boy. Since making aliyah in 2009, Brian has blogged at Israellycool. Brian's interests include electric cars, world peace and an end to world hunger. Besides blogging here, Brian of London now writes at the Times of Israel. Brian of London also hosted Shire Network News

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  • Jim from Iowa

    So one of the perks in blogging on IsraellyCool is that there is no editorial control. Well, you might reconsider this thought process when you take into account the IsraellyCool readership, albeit a nonpaying readership. I’d like to share these words of wisdom with you, Brian: “Just because it happened to you, doesn’t make it interesting for everyone else.”

    • Brian of London

      You also don’t have to read every post. At least I didn’t mention Islam!

      • Jim from Iowa

        Or Glenn Beck! I’ve already started counting my blessings. Thanks for pointing me in the right direction, Brian.

    • ziontruth

      Just because you think appeasement of Islam with tracts of Jewish land is the way to go, doesn’t mean everybody else thinks that way, Jim.

      • Brian of London

        Can we leave the whole Islam thing out of this for once! Sorry I mentioned it!

        • ziontruth

          Sorry, Brian, I didn’t mean to mention Islam, my intention was just to calque Jim’s quote for my nefarious purposes. ;)

    • cba

      OTOH, some of us found it VERY interesting.

      • Brian of London

        Thank you!

      • Jim from Iowa

        And some people just LOVE Neil Diamond. That’s what makes the world go ’round, I guess. That and the gravitational pull of the sun, nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.

  • ziontruth

    Brian, does your electric car have a Wi-Fi receiver built in, and if so, is it advisable to do wardriving (letting the receiver pick up access points just to look at their often funny SSIDs) with it? The other day, I was riding a bus without a book to read, foolishly, so I settled* for wardriving with my smartphone. It turned out some real howlers, not to mention SSIDs I can neither write nor speak out, but the cost was a speedy draining of the battery.

    * Does this mean I’m a settler? :)

    • Brian of London

      The car has its own GSM connection but wifi, no. And yes, there are some fairly strange SSIDs.

      • Tal

        Actually, you do have wifi communication.
        the Oscar communicates with the battery switch station.
        i believe that in the future, you will be able to use the Oscar as a hotspot and connect a laptop to the internet, using the on-board sim card.

  • Morris the Katz

    You don’t have any of these problems if you drove, say, a Toyota Prius. In fact, you could make three round trips to Jerusalem in one day without filling up the tank. In fact, if you filled up the tank just beforehand, you might squeeze out five round trips. Moreover, you could deviate from your route if necessary. One of the problems with the short range of electric cars is that you have to plan everything in advance, nor pray you don’t get stuck in a killer traffic jam, such as if there had been an accident.

    All this proves that there’s a long way to go before electric cars are accepted by the masses, and are useful for anything other than very short-range driving. I don’t think, “Well, rent a car for a long trip” is a realistic answer either.

    Note that I’m not knocking electric cars. Once the range and quick-charging problems are resolved, they will be the way to go. However, they’re not yet ready for prime time.

    • Brian of London

      Correction: getting stuck in traffic helps range. There is no realistic way that a journey that was possible at normal speed can become impossible in traffic unless one is stuck for many hours in cold weather.

  • Morris the Katz

    Tell me how being stuck charges the battery. Even if the motor is shut off. And what if it’s hot outside? You want to roast in a broiling car for an hour with no A/C?

    • Brian of London

      A/C uses max 2kW when it’s 32C out and 20C in but often less once the initial cooling is over.

      Full throttle scare the children acceleration is 85kW.

      Cruising at 100kmh on the flat is around 15kW. Slower cruise uses less.

      When you calculate range you assume a reasonable speed for the type of road. If you hit congestion, even stop start, you travel slowly and use less power per km. Even the A/C uses very little compared to the traction engine.

      If I drove everywhere at 40kmh I could drive 200 km.

      Heating is a problem, but not in Israel.

  • Morris the Katz

    In a gasoline-powered car, such as my Beemer, I get much better highway mileage than city or suburban mileage, even though I’m driving much faster. For example, on a recent trip to Washington D.C. from my home in NJ, I got 32.5 mpg at an average speed of 115 kph, using the cruise control. In routine suburban driving, which includes a little expressway driving, I average 22.5 mpg, at an average speed of 30 mph, which of course counts all the time I’m stopped for lights.

    Are you saying that the dynamics of an electric motor are that different (not counting regenerative braking, which is why hybrids frequently get better city mileage than highway)?

    In low-speed driving there’s a lot of battery-consuming acceleration from lights and stop signs (some of which is offset by regenerative braking), plus tire friction plays a more important role than at high speeds, where the limiting factor is drag.

    • Brian of London

      Yes, electric cars are complete game changers when it comes to efficiency. Regen brakes are nice but not the main reason.

      You petrol BMW engine at BEST uses 30% of the energy in it’s petrol to move you. If you are stopping and starting in traffic that gets much worse. You generally make mostly heat , noise and vibration with all that fine petrol you buy.

      Electric cars are around 85% to 90 % efficient with the much smaller amount of energy their batteries can store. My bonnet (hood) is cold to the touch after driving and my car does not vibrate or make noise at stand still (or much when moving). Even harsh acceleration (as long as it isn’t matched with harsh braking) doesn’t change my energy use per km much.

      The only thing that really costs me energy is wind drag. You have this too but because wind is the most significant cause of energy use for me it matters most. And that’s before I start actually putting energy back into the battery going downhill.

      And another thing. Each time you start the whole engine must climb to an operating temperature and get oil moving before its working properly. The first mile you travel is massively wasteful of fuel.

      I have none of that, the first km uses exactly the same energy as the last km so many 1km trips are viable. My daily drive is three short hops: 2km to kindergarten, 5km to office 4km home. Massive killer for fuel efficiency in a petrol engine.

      Yes, for motorway cruising long distances, petrol and diesel are better. For everything else (and that includes the vast majority of short trips people make) electric cars will replace them. It’s only a matter of time.

  • Morris the Katz

    Brian, I agree with you on one major point: In the future, maybe within the next 20 years when I’ll still be alive and driving (I hope), electric cars will become competitive with gasoline-powered cars, except if fuel cell technology takes off, and I haven’t heard much about that lately.

    Yes, electric motors are 3x more efficient than internal combustion engines, which is why the argument that “where do you think the electricity comes from?” doesn’t hold water. Until, however, range becomes a non-issue, electric cars will be a niche vehicle; big-city and suburban runabouts with a gasoline-powered vehicle or three in one’s garage (one of which should be a Harley, imho). Right now, the additional premium for an EV car can’t be offset by lower operating costs, and with huge oil supplies coming even as I’m writing this, oil prices are headed lower.

    • Brian of London

      Yup, and I rather think that the huge appeal of electric traction will mean the Chevy Volt style plug in will dominate in markets where nobody invests in putting the infrastructure outside the car.

      Beyond the scarcity or lack of scarcity of oil (I’m inclined to agree we’re not running out) I still believe the other benefits (moving pollution far away from our cities, quiet, smooth ride) are enough to justify the switch alone. Also note the new oil we’re finding is a lot more expensive to recover.

      Fuel cell cars are pretty much identical to battery electric cars except for the source of electricity. I believe the entire hydrogen fuel economy is a myth that doesn’t work but that’s a long story.

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