Going Ultra Low!
When Kent Scouts Media Manager and former Centre Manager of Lower Grange Farm (Kent Scouts eco-friendly activity centre), Simon Corrigan was given the chance by the Scout Association to drive an Ultra Low emission vehicle for a few months he jumped at the chance. We caught up with Simon to find out how he got on…
I’ve always been keen to try out new technology and from my time at Lower Grange Farm have taken an interest in renewable energy. I’m far from an eco-warrior but have pinched a few simple but effective ideas from the farm for my own house including rainwater harvesting and solar energy. Essentially I love a gadget that saves some money and helps the planet at the same time – so when I saw the Scout Association were offering the chance to drive an ultra low emission vehicle I sent in my application straight in.
My role in Kent Scouts means that I frequently travel across the County to different meetings and visit events and activities taking place. Whilst Scouting in Kent I actually currently live near Southampton in Hampshire so complete a regular 200+ mile round trip journey for my voluntary roles. Having looked at electric cars in the past I was interested to see the difference one could make to this commute, if it could cope with the distance, and more importantly Scouting!
Having been chosen I was paired up with the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid – a vehicle that combines an electric motor with an internal combustion engine. On long journeys you can use it as a normal car with a fuel range of 500+ miles. On shorter journeys the on-board batteries drive the electric motor for around 15miles at speeds of up to 62mph. Once the battery has been depleted the car goes into normal Prius mode where a secondary battery deals with the start stop driving of town with the petrol engine kicking in where needed.
The first thing you notice when turning the car on (apart from the plethora of displays, which I love!) is that it’s silent. In fact I had to turn it off and on again to make sure I’d pressed the button correctly despite knowing electric cars are meant to be quiet, I still wasn’t quite expecting it – and thereby falling further into traditional car subconscious worried that by turning the engine on and off repeatedly would in some way have harmed the battery (as this isn’t good for an ordinary car) – of course all of this was nonsense. Instead of starting an engine, the car is simply in standby waiting for the driver to put their foot on the pedal. It is a strange sensation as you drive off for the first time- opening the windows, all you can hear is the noise of the tyres on the road!
Over the course of the loan, the car has visited a number of County events and meetings and it’s been great taking leaders for a drive – I found there were various preconceptions about the range, speed and comfort – ultimately it is like a normal car, but with built in efficiency.
I showed the car to some Beaver Scouts and asked if they could see what was different about it. One very quickly noticed it had a fuel cap on either side of the car. I then showed them how one was for Petrol and the other electricity. They loved the idea of an electric “eco” car, although I know they would have enjoyed climbing over any car!
So how has it been?
As previously mentioned, I love a gadget or two. The car is filled with clever tech, some of which is just convenient such as the in-built sat-nav, reversing camera and Bluetooth phone connection. Others provide information about your driving and can make efficiency a little obsessive! The screens and windscreen heads up display tell you your real-time energy use and miles per gallon as well as charting performance over time. One of the clever elements of the Prius is its ability to recover energy. As the car engine brakes down hills or you slow to a junction, the energy transferred to the brakes (which would normally be lost) is put back into the battery. Again the screens show this information and you can visibly see the battery range increase, which is quite satisfying knowing you haven’t wasted energy letting a car out or breaking in traffic. It also made a recent drive around central London incredibly fuel efficient.
On long journeys I’ve found that the electric vehicle mode gets me to and from the motorway doing the inefficient parts of the journey solely on the battery. My normal car averages 36mpg; by comparison in the Prius Plug-In I average over 80mpg for my normal Kent-Southampton journey – over doubling my fuel efficiency and cutting the cost dramatically. On journeys locally to Southampton (around 20 minutes from my house) I can do them on 100% electric power and have been able to plug it in in local car parks to charge up. Whilst charging points are not everywhere, there are a surprising number popping up and growing all the time, so with a little planning (and once you know the good spots) they are easy to find! The novelty of stopping the car at the end of a short journey and seeing the summary of 999mpg (essentially 100% electric) still hasn’t worn off.
One of the questions I’ve been asked a lot is “how has it affected my electricity bill?” – there has to be a downside surely? The answer is not by any noticeable amount. As part of owning an electric vehicle you can have a charging point installed at your home which the car plugs into. It’s no harder than plugging in a mobile phone. The Prius Plug-in has a max charge time of 90 minutes and can be charged off a normal plug socket (as well as a special electric vehicle socket) – so it’s easy when travelling around to plug it in. A full charge takes about 3kwh of electricity. On my current energy tariff that equates to 33p per charge for a 15 mile range – significantly cheaper than petrol for the equivalent distance.
As an experiment it’s been very enjoyable to drive and way over halved my fuel bill for the period I’ve used the car. I’ve learnt a lot more about the variety of electric vehicles out there and it’s clear that there are different options available suited to different lifestyles – whether a long or short distance driver. As long as you have a driveway or garage where you can plug the car in, you could have an electric vehicle. The biggest jump I’ve found is that you need to see them in use to realise they could be your next car – I’d certainly like one to be mine!
You can find out more about ultra low emission vehicles at www.goultralow.com