• BirdForum is the net's largest birding community dedicated to wild birds and birding, and is absolutely FREE!

    Register for an account to take part in lively discussions in the forum, post your pictures in the gallery and more.

Is the future of birding electric? (1 Viewer)

kb57

Well-known member
Europe
I'm kicking off this thread in response to a couple of questions posed in the Rare Birds forum about the possible impact of the upcoming requirement in UK (and elsewhere) to phase out internal combustion engine (ICE) cars and make us all drive electric vehicles (EVs). I've not attempted to cross-post the quotes, so I hope the authors will chime into the debate, but to paraphrase, concerns were expressed both that the cost of EVs would exclude more people from car ownership, and range limitations would make them impractical for birding / twitching purposes, the example being given of driving from London to Aberdeen at short notice (a distance of 528 miles / 850km). I'm not setting out to refute or challenge these concerns - they are very legitimate and understandable - but instead to just provide some information about my own experience and hopefully get some input from other EV-powered birders, and answer a few concerns and questions from others. There's clearly a whole broader environmental debate about the whole life-cycle impact of EVs, lithium mining etc. which will no doubt kick off, but I'm starting it from the perspective of cost / practicality as a means of getting to birding sites.
I've driven an EV since October when I started leasing a Hyundai Kona through my business - for the previous 2 years I'd driven a PHEV (plug-in (petrol) hybrid) BMW 2-series, and in the past a self-charging diesel hybrid Citroen DS5. I've wanted to switch to EVs in the past, but like many was concerned about range as well as cost - I occasionally have to drive long distances for work, and although I try and use trains this isn't always possible. I don't travel long distances to twitch rarities, but I do the occasional birding trip to southern Scotland or the Northumberland coast which may reach around 200 miles return.
The reasons I wanted an EV were both altruistic and selfish:
(1) I wanted to reduce the amount of pollution my travel generated - not primarily CO2 (a debate we'll surely get into) but oxides of nitrogen, ammonia, and particulate hydrocarbons which are major contributors to excess nitrogen deposition in natural habitats like woodlands and heathland, and major contributors to poor urban air quality with its effects on human health
(2) I wanted to pay less tax and pay less to put fuel in my car. In UK, cars provided by your employer are taxed as a 'benefit in kind' - you are taxed on a % of the new, capital cost of vehicle, the % going up depending on the CO2 emissions, so that a real gas guzzler pumping out >170g CO2/km will be taxed as a benefit worth 37% of its value when new, every year you drive it (unless its a pick-up truck, which is another story...), at a tax rate of 40% if your earnings are over a threshold. In contrast for the 2020-21 tax year, electric vehicles are taxed at 0% of value, rising to 1% next year and 2% the year after.
(3) As well as tax savings, our office landlords provide two 7kW chargers free of charge, powered by the large wind turbine which supplies the building - so not only is the daily commute free, it is unequivocally green (but please lets not get into a wind energy debate, I saw a kestrel killed by it once so yes, I know they can kill birds...).
So, what about cost barriers (purchase / leasing / maintenance) and practicality (are you stuck by the motorway with a flat battery when you should be watching that mega)? I'll come to those in turn below (after I've cooked myself some food - it's 9pm GMT and I haven't eaten yet!)
 

kb57

Well-known member
Europe
In terms of cost, I'll admit that I'm in the relatively privileged position at the moment of being able to lease car through my business. This doesn't give me freedom to spend a fortune though, and I couldn't for example, justify the lease costs of a Tesla (which rose significantly last year) or a Jaguar. I got a reasonable lease deal on the Kona, but to buy it list price would've been £40k; cheaper versions are available, but I wanted the top of the range model because it had heated seats and steering wheel - with EVs, this is not the indulgence it seems, as you can keep the fan heater off and extend the range by about 25 miles.
As far as maintenance is concerned, I didn't buy a package, as over the 2 year lease period it will only need one service - its had a recent recall which of course is covered under warranty. Long-term reliability isn't my concern either, and I know people have questioned this about EVs, although I did have an interesting conversation at my local garage when I went to get the winter tyres fitted. The proprieter was discussing my car, and I was surprised when he told me he'd driven EVs for years, since the Nissan Leaf came on the market; he currently drove an eGolf, and had the new Mustang on order. He reckoned they were more reliable than ICEs, basically because there was less to go wrong, remarking somewhat ruefully that he wasn't doing his vehicle repair business much good by admitting that!
Obviously battery life (and battery warranties) may be an issue down the line, but as more people buy EVs a decent second-hand market is bound to develop, and s/h prices will drop as supply increases, especially now we have brands like VW getting in on the act with cheaper models. The 'city cars' are going to be cheaper still, but these won't tick many boxes for birders who need a vehicle suitable for longer trips.
There's also the cost of electricity to factor in once your out on the road, but thats best treated under practicality...
 

Farnboro John

Well-known member
Range, effect of four birders and gear, can you keep it warm all through a winter night with minimal effect on range, how long does a full recharge take?

Cheers

John
 

Had.enough

Registered User
Supporter
Range, effect of four birders and gear, can you keep it warm all through a winter night with minimal effect on range, how long does a full recharge take?

Cheers

John
Imagine heading twitching, and waiting for your battery to charge somewhere along the way.
I'd have thought we'd go down the route of going into the fuel station, taking your flat battery, and paying to swap it with a full one. Which would just click into place.

Like when my campervan runs out of gas. (Although the swapping over of gas bottles involves copious amounts of swearing, and grazed knuckles)
 

kb57

Well-known member
Europe
OK, how practical is my EV? In terms of size, its plenty big enough for me, a kind of compact SUV size that's smaller than a Qashqai but gives you a better driving position than a low-slung Tesla. Fine for my needs, but if I birded with mates, I wouldn't buy it - not much room in the back - but the Kia eNiro is a stretched out version of the same car, I just don't like the layout of the controls as much and don't think it looks so cool! Its great to drive, in Eco mode its plenty fast enough for me and can beat most ICEs away at the lights...just don't try and race a Tesla!
I topped it up at work this afternoon to 100% and it showed 245 miles range at 10C temperature - in the cold spell we had when it went down to around -3C it was closer to 220, in October it was up as much as 280. Based on my experience with a PHEV, I fully expect to get back to those figures in warmer weather, maybe even hit 300. In terms of fuel consumption, I started off at 4.5miles/kWh, and I'm now down to 3.9m/kWh - these figures are going to become much more commonplace in the future - the Kona is, as you'd expect, much more efficient than a larger Jaguar. Motorway consumption goes up, but I thought it would be worse to be honest, so long as you don't go too far over the speed limit.
I've done over 3000 miles, mostly because I'm still going to work once or twice a week, I'm in a bubble with my partner about 20 miles away, and we've been running a few errands for less mobile friends. I've only had to do two longer trips - a day trip to Rotherham of about 260 miles return (i.e. greater than current range) and a return trip over two days to Dunfermline area of just under 300 miles. These were both site visits where Zoom meetings were of no use!
Charging up on the road is, I have to say, not yet a totally pain-free experience, but is a lot better than with a PHEV. With the latter I was always on the hunt for a charger to avoid using the inevitably inefficient petrol engine that had to haul both car and heavy battery around. A lot of the older AC chargers put in to encourage takeup of EVs are quite frankly not very good. In my area you buy a CYC card, which is supposed to work on Charge Place Scotland units, but doesn't, so you have to use the app, which is a bit flaky...and I couldn't get a Charge Place Scotland card because I've already got a CYC card, which is supposed to be the same...with an EV you need to find a DC charger, which are mostly newer, work better (though not always perfectly) and of course are a lot faster. At 50kWh, my 64kW car can charge from empty to 80% in an hour, and you can do it largely without the need for dedicated cards - just swipe your debit card to start...
However, you will be dismayed, but I suspect not surprised to learn that rip-off motorway service fuel prices have extended to their electricity supplies. On the way back from Rotherham I called into the new services on the M1 near Leeds to top up at the Ionity chargers - 69p a KWh is I calculated the equivalent of over £2.00/litre for a diesel getting 50mpg... It was better on the Fife trip, I called into a garage in Rosyth and charged up at 35p/kWh for 40 minutes, enough to get me comfortably home while I sat in the car with my pie and coffee, with everything functioning well despite heavy snow. There are cheaper fast chargers than this - but the nearest was the aforementioned Charge Place Scotland network, which I didn't fancy waiting in a blizzard for my iPhone to connect to. There are even one or two totally free ones, which you don't need to log on to, in places like Morpeth town centre...but these are understandably popular.
I may have to travel further this year for work, perhaps to Hampshire. That's a 315 mile trip, meaning if I leave with a full battery I'll only have to stop once for about 40 minutes to reach 80%, provided of course I can charge at the other end!
 

Farnboro John

Well-known member
I live in a courtyard environment where my house is forty yards past council houses from the nearest place i can park my car (which due to timing of my arrival after work often translates to 80 yards) so home charging is right out and therefore so is an EV. I'm pleased to hear ranges are getting close to the 300 miles I used to think was OK before I discovered diesel, though.

Contrastingly, my Skoda Octavia 1.9 Tdi can be filled in a couple of minutes and will then go from Farnborough to Aberdeen on one tank, avoiding the need to pay motorway prices on any UK journey.

Of course making journeys/days longer is a safety issue, especially if a day out is quite long already (e.g. Taiga Flycatcher and Rufous Bushchat in a day starting from Farnborough.) So multiples of 40 minute charges are very bad.

Obviously some way to go yet for the next generation to catch up with the present one.

John
 

Sangahyando

Well-known member
IMO, electric cars are more pleasant to drive in some contexts (once you've gotten used to the handling) than the ones running on more conventional kinds of engines. However (given the factors listed above, and probably more), I'm doubtful as to how much better (less destructive) their net impact on the environment really is. Also, the range really is an issue. I'm sure that if something could be done about the latter issue and if there were a denser network of recharging stations, more birders would eventually opt for the EV.
 

dantheman

Bah humbug
Guessing electric may be an interim measure before hydrogen ... (aluminium somewhere in there too?)

Presumably range will increase and charging times decrease too ...
 

kb57

Well-known member
Europe
Range, effect of four birders and gear, can you keep it warm all through a winter night with minimal effect on range, how long does a full recharge take?

Cheers

John
Range I've dealt with - I think once you get to 300+ miles you are in business (the Kona is nearly there and I think the VW ID3/4s will exceed it, perhaps not with the models which are out now).
Effect of four birders and gear - that's a 'don't know' from me, obviously at present - my partner weighs less than 60kg so she doesn't have a measurable effect on consumption! Incidentally this is why hybrids are a flawed concept - you're always shifting a dead weight around, either the ICE or the battery
Can you keep it warm on a winter night - at a cost to range for sure - I've not considered that use case, but in theory if you found a council car park with a free charger you could plug in keep it warm while you slept for free...
40 minutes gets you to 80% and filling up to 100% on DC power isn't recommended for the battery...if you're only stopping to swap drivers then clearly its not so good, but driving alone you'd want to stop at some point for safety reasons...it does need a bit more planning though, you need access to a reliable AC charger so its reasonably full at all times in preparation for a longer journey. Clearly a diesel with 600 mile range still has the edge for twitches
Imagine heading twitching, and waiting for your battery to charge somewhere along the way.
I'd have thought we'd go down the route of going into the fuel station, taking your flat battery, and paying to swap it with a full one. Which would just click into place.

Like when my campervan runs out of gas. (Although the swapping over of gas bottles involves copious amounts of swearing, and grazed knuckles)
Problem is a 64kW battery is big and heavy, you probably couldn't lift it even if it wasn't integrated into the chassis of the car. As I said above to John, it is not the solution if you habitually drive very long distances without stopping. I don't generally twitch unless convenient, so I don't have that anxiety about stopping and normally like to take a break or two on a long drive anyway, but I understand what you mean.
 

MikeInPA

Well-known member
I recently watched a program called Long Way Up (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_Way_Up). Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman rode electric Harley's from Ushuaia at the tip of Argentina to LA. The support vehicles were also Rivian electric trucks and looked really nice. It was a very interesting series and well worth watching because they had real issues at times, particularly in cold weather.
 

Trystan

Well-known member
Thanks for the thread.

I'm in a one car family by choice.

Until covid, I was on public transport in the week, my wife used the car. I would have it for birding weekends.

Now she is working from home and I use the car, for work.

We have considered the switch to electric, it would be ideal for commuting, but my sometimes, long round trips at weekends would not be practical so we'd end up keeping the existing car for that, and overall I don't think the planet would see any benefit from this arrangement.
 

opisska

Jan Ebr
Poland
I guess it doesn't come up so often in UK landscape, but one reason for which I would love an EV is the silence (unless they completely botch it for pedestrian safety...) A car that makes no engine noise must be great for watching wildlife from it!

On the other hand, range is really an issue. Not just the "have to wait for an hour on a highway" problem, which I find mostly to be a bit of a childish fit because "it's not the same as we were used to", but the real problem when EVs start to dominate everywhere: you can't easily take a spare barrel with you. In Africa we were driving a 4x4 with an extra tank and the 1500 km range came quite handy in some places, what do you do with an EV?
 

Andy Adcock

Well-known member
England
Guessing electric may be an interim measure before hydrogen ... (aluminium somewhere in there too?)

Presumably range will increase and charging times decrease too ...
All the new buses here in Nottingham, run on 'Bio gas', free wifi and USB charging points etc.

 

Essex Tern

🦆🥋🏃🏻‍♂️📷🎹🎸
Supporter
Europe
Supercapacitors are touted as a possible future technology - much quicker to charge and not chemical reaction based, in layman’s (me) terms they hold the charge statically between two plates. - similar to batteries they need to increase capacity though, i.e. be able to make them big enough! but also be able to make them so they hold the charge for a long enough period as they could be flat if left alone for a week, but in some ways that wouldn’t matter so long as you could quickly charge them back up in minutes rather than hours. The ability to flash over a large current would also be very difficult for most homes currently.
 

DMW

Well-known member
Living on a small island (9x5 miles), electric would be ideal in theory. It's simply been a question of cost for me. There's no way I could ever justify the high cost of an EV for the relatively tiny mileage I do. The pollution of manufacturing a car would probably massively outweigh the lifetime emissions.

However, I get the sense that the market is moving quite rapidly and prices are dropping as more alternatives hit the market.

I'm actually thinking about buying an electric scooter. These typically have a range of around 30-60 miles, and top speed of 30-45 mph. You can easily remove the battery to charge indoors, and spare batteries double your range for around £1000.

I do wonder whether electric is the best future, and whether hydrogen fuel cells might be preferable. Interested to hear thoughts on this.
 

DMW

Well-known member
I guess it doesn't come up so often in UK landscape, but one reason for which I would love an EV is the silence (unless they completely botch it for pedestrian safety...) A car that makes no engine noise must be great for watching wildlife from it!

On the other hand, range is really an issue. Not just the "have to wait for an hour on a highway" problem, which I find mostly to be a bit of a childish fit because "it's not the same as we were used to", but the real problem when EVs start to dominate everywhere: you can't easily take a spare barrel with you. In Africa we were driving a 4x4 with an extra tank and the 1500 km range came quite handy in some places, what do you do with an EV?
I agree with all these points. Living on a busy road, the idea of no more engine noise is very appealing, but would need to be accompanied with better tyre tread design and quieter road surfaces for maximum benefit.

Range could easily be dealt with in the longer term by having standard battery dimensions and fittings. You would just rent batteries, pull into a service station and a robot arm (or surly teenager) would automatically swap out with a fully charged battery. It's a question of infrastructure and common standards rather than technology.

Places like Africa and inland Australia are probably never going to be suitable for EVs unless there's a currently unforeseeable advance in technology and infrastructure.
 

Had.enough

Registered User
Supporter
I live in a courtyard environment where my house is forty yards past council houses from the nearest place i can park my car (which due to timing of my arrival after work often translates to 80 yards) so home charging is right out and therefore so is an EV. I'm pleased to hear ranges are getting close to the 300 miles I used to think was OK before I discovered diesel, though.

Contrastingly, my Skoda Octavia 1.9 Tdi can be filled in a couple of minutes and will then go from Farnborough to Aberdeen on one tank, avoiding the need to pay motorway prices on any UK journey.

Of course making journeys/days longer is a safety issue, especially if a day out is quite long already (e.g. Taiga Flycatcher and Rufous Bushchat in a day starting from Farnborough.) So multiples of 40 minute charges are very bad.

Obviously some way to go yet for the next generation to catch up with the present one.

John
I have the same parking/charging dilemma.
To the point where we have thought, should we sell our house and move before this becomes a real issue.
There are solutions being talked about, such as charging points on lampposts, or in the kerb.

The friendly neighborhood drunk staggering home from the pub could cause £thousands(!) of pounds of damage in the future!!
 

Users who are viewing this thread

Top