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!


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 is an indigenous rights activist fighting for indigenous people who’ve returned to their ancestral homelands and built great things.