Renault’s UK network digital switchover is complete

Renault ConTact (Image: Renault)
Renault ConTact (Image: Renault)

The switchover to digital TV is already complete across the UK, and similarly in recent months, Renault have been busy behind the scenes upgrading their own network.

Bringing its car showrooms bang up to date, the forward-thinking French brand has now all but completed the rollout of its new interactive system, “ConTact” (short for tactile configurator), across over 140 sites.

Enabling Renault dealers to bring the customer experience alive on screen, as well as face-to-face, the new initiative uses state-of-the-art Apple iPads and LCD HD TV screens. The main benefit being that it allows them to take existing and potential Renault owners through an innovative 3D configurator. The system is mobile too, so, sales staff can show buyers around a specific model’s features, potentially next to a similar showroom display model, to help them visualise, or even alter, selections they have made, before signing on the dotted line.

Every new or facelifted Renault car within the past year, featuring the brand’s new visual identity, is included in the software, meaning Twingo, Clio (including Renaultsport 200 Turbo EDC), ZOE, Captur, plus the new Scenic range, including the new XMOD which joins soon, all figure.

The beauty of the system is immediately apparent. Firstly, customers can tailor their preferred car to their exact specification. Of course, that’s hardly new, buyers tend to research their shortlisted cars online before they even set foot in a physical showroom. However, what is clever is that the iPads are wirelessly connected to a 42-inch TV screen. So, customers can instantly see a more life-size view of their creation, plus 360-degree interior and exterior views of the car they’ve just configured. At a touch, they can simply adjust their personalised specification as they see fit, from the colour of the alloy wheel inserts on a Clio, right down to the type of roof decals they might want on a Captur. The system includes everything from core specification, options, accessories and systems such as R-Link with its innovative App Store.

While the system has been introduced principally for the benefit of customers, naturally, the clever functionalities also work in the hands of the sales staff. ConTact helps Renault’s sales executives generate bespoke brochures and promotional material for sending onto the customer electronically. Plus, the more interactive approach enables them to highlight a myriad of real-time information on everything from pricing, performance and options to showroom visitors.

The new system is being made available across the brand’s full UK dealer network over a three-year period, with Renault assisting dealers with a proportion of the set up costs.

Darren Payne, Renault UK’s Director, Sales, said:

“We’ve been rapidly renewing our range over the last few months, receiving great reviews for all of them from Clio, Captur and ZOE. The style of each of them is immediately apparent, but there’s never been a better time for us to showcase their other talents, plus the wealth of personalisation, options and technology on each. We felt it with our new line-up, it warranted a brand new way of engaging customers, making their showroom visit stand out even more. It’s anticipated in the future that we’ll be able to expand the capabilities of the iPads for even more uses, maybe even greeting customers.”

Chris Norman, General Manager, Renault Wolverhampton, the first site to come on stream initially, said:

“We were delighted to have been chosen as the first dealership in the Renault UK network to get the iPads and all of the sales staff here have been excitedly showing off the system’s features to our customers. Renault has always been famed for leading the way in technological innovation and ConTact will make a hugely positive contribution to the customer experience.”

The Renault ZOE Will Be a Great Success!

ZOEs Take Over the World – Lisbon Launch (Image:
ZOEs Take Over the World – Lisbon Launch (Image:

There, I’ve said it: The Renault ZOE will be a great success. It’s public, so we can come back next year and argue about whether I was right or not!

First of all I should probably qualify what I mean by ‘a great success’. I’d love to say that it will sell in huge numbers and revolutionise personal transport as we know it. While I think that’s a possible outcome, I don’t think it’s a likely one. The reasons are not technical – the ZOE is a fantastic design and engineering achievement – it is cultural. Most people are just not ready to drive an electric vehicle – certainly not in the UK, and probably not in most of Europe. I see a lot of hostility even to the idea of EVs in the British media so I know we have a long way to go in that respect.

Instead of ‘cultural’ above I nearly wrote ‘political’ but actually, in this instance, I don’t think it’s fair to criticise politicians – in both France and the UK they are generally significantly ahead of the population in preparedness for a change to electric transportation. It’s worth pointing out that the UK has particularly strong cross-party political support for EVs, something that isn’t true in the otherwise politically similar US, for example. Here we have a £5000 subsidy at point of sale on the car, plus a 75% subsidy on a home charge point; these are both very generous. Plus beyond that there’s free car tax, and exemption from congestion charges.

So anyway what I mean by ‘a great success’ is that it will achieve at least the same status and similar levels of sales to those in the club of leading electric vehicles in the world: the Nissan LEAF, the Chevrolet Volt (alias Vauxhall/Opel Ampera) and the Tesla Model S. I include the LEAF and Volt as they are leaders and pioneers in the field and have sold significant numbers around the world (60,000+ and 40,000+ respectively). I include the Tesla as its relatively low sales numbers (10,000+) are made up for by astonishing aesthetics and technical design, and its future sales potential. I exclude the Mitsubishi i-MiEV as its relatively healthy sales (20,000+) do not make up for its often poor performance when reviewed against the other vehicles, and its apparent current dramatic sales decline.

I expect to see significant monthly sales of the ZOE across Europe, though particularly in France and the UK, and I expect to see the sales numbers increase over time. The reasons are simple: it’s a fantastic electric car, it’s cheaper to buy than an equivalent internal combustion engine (ICE) car, and it’s cheaper to run and maintain than an equivalent ICE car.

However, not everyone agrees. According to this week ‘Falling Renault Zoe Sales in France Could Indicate Zoe is Suffering From Twizy Syndrome’:

“Although we would have liked to see more growth, it seems that Zoe may be suffering from ‘Twizy syndrome,’ which we define as high initial sales in the first few months of availability, followed by declining sales in the months that follow.”

Similarly says ‘Much disappointing sales for the electric Renault Zoe in France’:

“It looks like the Zoe in France stands where the Nissan Leaf was in the U.S. in early 2012. Once all the early adopters got their car, demand just slowed. What nobody expected for the Zoe was that demand would slow only a few weeks after the car’s launch.”

The argument seems to be that low sales in France during May indicate that everyone in France who wanted to buy one has now done so, and demand has permanently dropped. I think this is wrong on three counts:

  1. I believe sales are supply limited. The ZOE is officially launched in the UK and Germany early this month. This means that during May Renault had to deliver, as a minimum, a large quantity of demonstrator and test drive ZOEs to these two countries – as well as ideally a quantity of examples that can actually be sold. These have to come out of the May production supply. Since the ZOE is built on a shared production line with the Clio – and that’s selling pretty well – there is a limit on the total number that can be built in a month. Therefore there must have been fewer available to sell in France during May.
  2. EV sales are notoriously intermittent, they come in fits and starts. It took time for sales of both the LEAF and Volt to take off and they did so to a large extent through word of mouth. They have unusually high scores for consumer satisfaction, and very often new customers come to them from meeting and talking with current customers. The same will happen with the ZOE – and certainly initial indications from the French ZOE forum are that current customers are extremely pleased with their ZOEs.
  3. Renault are doing very little to promote the ZOE. In fact, it is the poor relation in the Renault family. Its French launch was put back in preference to the Clio launch, so that it wouldn’t distract attention from the Clio. In the UK its launch this month coincided with the launch of the Captur. The Captur had a big launch event yesterday, with the TV wildlife presenter Steve Backshall fronting it at the Westfield shopping centre. The ZOE? Nothing. Real meaningful sales numbers will only kick in once Renault begins to promote the ZOE seriously – I trust that it will do so at some point (but see below).

The ZOE is a great car – arguably the only real competitor to the LEAF for most people in the market for an all-electric – but with better looks, range and charge technology. I expect increasing total sales across Europe, strong and steady growth, but with sales in any particular country being variable with economic and other fluctuations. Overall I would like to see by the end of the year sales of 3000-5000 vehicles per month, significantly higher than the LEAF has achieved so far.

So, returning to the bigger question, could the ZOE usher in a new and radical shift in electric transportation across Europe? Could it be the new iPhone (or BBC Micro, to those of my generation!) breaking down old barriers and entirely changing – or arguably creating – a marketplace? I would love that to happen, and I believe it still could happen. As touched on above, compared to a fossil car it’s cheaper to buy and run, looks good and provides a better driving experience (quieter, smoother, non-polluting, no smell, no unnecessary trips to refuel). So it should succeed. All it lacks is range – is that such a deal-breaker? Well, from online articles and comments it seems that is the sine qua non, that everything else counts for naught if it can’t go 300 miles without a break. However, it may only take another petrol price hike for that attitude to change.

What I think is actually the biggest barrier to the success of the ZOE is not the usual suspects. I think it’s Renault: if ZOE succeeds it will be despite, not because of, Renault. It is in a similar situation to its partner Nissan with the LEAF – its primary business is combustion vehicles and within that market it’s probably fair to say that Renault’s greatest strength is its engines, as demonstrated by its engine dominance in Formula One racing. It is almost certainly the case that Renault makes more money from a conventional car than an electric one, and a sale of a ZOE must often cost it a sale of a Clio. The push for EVs is coming from the top – from Carlos Ghosn alone, perhaps – and doesn’t seem to be reflected across the company. Many of those trying to purchase a ZOE have reported a common experience of poor communication, support and enthusiasm in dealings with Renault dealers and other representatives, in France and the UK.

Renault dealers are in the front line – every sale of a ZOE likely costs them a higher margin sale of a Clio. Worse, however, is that dealers often have very low sales margins anyway that are compensated for, in part, by the servicing income they get for each vehicle they sell. If the ZOE turns out to have as low maintenance requirements as has been demonstrated for the LEAF and Volt then they have the double whammy of little income at point of sale and low recurring income afterwards. Where then is the incentive for a Renault dealer to make the effort to sell the ZOE, especially as it likely requires additional investment in training, charge points, diagnostic equipment, and so on?

It could be argued that Tesla is going from strength to strength precisely because it doesn’t have this problem – it only makes EVs. Also, it’s interesting to note that at the inception of its EV program BMW realised there would be tension with its existing combustion business. It didn’t come up with a sophisticated solution – instead it created a whole new business. According to the Guardian, Uwe Dreher, the head of marketing for their electric car, said this was necessary in case traditional engineers unintentionally sabotaged the project:

“So we had to create a new platform. We got the power from the board and they told us to come to them if we were having problems, if people in the business wanted to kill it. It has been sitting aside as a separate structure in the company to protect it.”

It may take an approach as radical as this – for Renault ZE to be split off as a separate, independent business – for the ZOE to be the great success it has the potential to be.

The future of oil consumption in the UK: Why electric cars are appearing on the market now

The future of oil consumption in the UK:
Why electric cars are appearing on the market now

Alister Hamilton (Electric Ali)

The Renault Range of Electric Vehicles (Image: Renault)
The Renault Range of Electric Vehicles (Image: Renault)

In my first blog post on this website, I took a brief look at UK fossil fuel production history. As the UK had recently become an oil importer again, I then considered oil exports to the market as the UK will have to acquire oil from those markets in order to continue with business as usual. Now consider what might happen to the availability of oil in the UK in the future. This should help explain why electric vehicles are appearing on the market and why they are appearing now. It should also help to explain why we are in for nothing like “business as usual”.

UK oil production has been in steep decline since production peaked in 1999, with production in 2012  less than one third of the 1999 peak – a production fall of two thirds in just 13 years. Recent production declines have been particularly steep and 2012 was no exception, with a 14.3% decline. While there has been recent increased investment that may produce a short term “bounce” in UK oil production, it is reasonable to assume that production will continue to decline. The average decline rate in the period 1999 to 2012 was 8.2%. In order to model what might happen in the future, let’s assume a more benign future decline rate of 7%.

UK oil consumption has also been in decline since oil prices started to rise in 2005. The reason for this price rise was explored in a previous post.  The average UK oil consumption decline rate was 2.6% in the period 2005 to 2011. Again, in order to model what might happen in the future, let’s assume a slightly lower future oil consumption decline rate of 2%.

Using data from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy until 2011 and then projecting production and consumption trends out to 2030, future UK oil imports (Figure 1) can be estimated.

Figure 1: UK Oil Production, Consumption and Imports: A Projection based on current trends (Image: A Hamilton)
Figure 1: UK Oil Production, Consumption and Imports: A Projection based on current trends (Image: A Hamilton)

As oil production is currently less than consumption and the assumed future rate of decline in production (7%) is greater than the assumed future rate of decline in consumption (2%), imports of oil should increase. If the decline in consumption is less than 2%, or if consumption is flat or rises, the UK will seek to import more oil. A production “bounce” may ease the situation, but this is likely to be temporary. The bottom line, is that the UK is now an importer of oil seeking to source oil in world markets. Note that the assumed consumption decline in the 2005 to 2030 period is of a similar magnitude to the oil shock induced consumption declines of the 1970’s and early 1980’s. These trends are discussed in this interesting video.

We saw in a previous post, that the amount of oil on the world markets is in decline. This is due to the combination of a production plateau since 2004/2005 by oil exporters and increased internal consumption of oil by oil exporters. When recent increased demand from China and India was taken into account, the oil on the markets “available” to everyone else peaked in 2005 and was down 12.38% by 2011. Jeffrey Brown, a Texan oil geologist has taken the concepts discussed in my previous post a great deal further. He has estimated the future cumulative total amount of oil “available” to oil importing countries other than China and India based upon current trends. We can think of this as a very, very large fuel tank out of which all future oil imports will be drawn for all countries other than China and India. Jeffrey Brown estimates that this tank now had 87 GB (giga-barrels) left in it post 2011.

OECD countries will seek to consume most of the “available” oil on the market in future. In 2010, OECD countries imported 28.49 million barrels of oil per day. Even if we assume a 2% per annum decline in oil imports for this group of countries out until 2030, then they would still seek to import a total of 149 GB of oil in the 2013-2030 period.  That’s 71% more oil than is in Jeffrey Brown’s very, very large fuel tank. The UK is part of the OECD and, based upon my projection in Figure 1, will seek to import 4.9 GB of oil in the 2013-2030 period, or 5.6% of the oil in the tank.

Given that there is not enough “available” oil to satisfy OECD demand in the 2013-2030 time frame even when demand is falling,  competition for the remaining “available” oil will increase. This is likely to increase price. Increased oil prices are likely to slow economies, creating further recessions which in turn may ease pressure on the oil price. Oil prices are therefore likely to be volatile. Reduced oil consumption will tend to cause economic contraction.  Since the financial system needs growth to remain in good health, the stability of the financial system will come under threat. Financial collapse may result in an oil price collapse in a world of plentiful oil that no one can afford to buy.

But now there is every indication that the production plateau that oil exporters have been on since 2004/2005 cannot be maintained for very much longer. Russia for example is the second largest oil exporter with 7.3 million barrels per day on the market in 2011. Looking at Russian oil production using BP data (using this tool) tends to confirm the opinion of many that a Russian production peak and decline is imminent. Projections by Professor Kjell Aleklett from the University of Uppsala, available in his book “Peeking at Peak Oil” indicate that Russia will cease to be an oil exporter by 2038 (in his most likely scenario). Similarly, a number of projections predict that Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest exporter (8.3 million barrels per day in 2011) will cease to be an oil exporter at all by the mid 2030’s due to increasing internal demand for oil.

In 2011, Russia and Saudi Arabia produced 25% of the oil on the export market. The next largest exporters in 2011 were UAE, Iran and Kuwait with around 2.5 million barrels per day each. It is unrealistic to expect production declines in Russia and increasing consumption in Saudi Arabia resulting in decreased exports to be fully offset by increased oil exports from Iraq or by production flows from non-conventional sources (shale oil, tar sands etc) in the USA, Canada and elsewhere. And when Russia enters decline, it will not be the only country in production decline and Saudi Arabia is not the only oil producing country with rapidly increasing internal oil consumption.

The UK Industry Task Force on Peak Oil and Energy Security which includes the companies Arup, Buro Happold, Scottish and Southern Energy, Solar Century, Stagecoach Group and Virgin have been warning (since 2008) of upcoming tightness in the oil markets and a peaking of world oil production in the middle of this decade. There are associations for the study of this phenomenon, for example the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO).

The upshot of all this is that, unless there is some dramatic change, the UK will continue to be forced to function with less and less oil each year. And that oil is likely to be more volatile in price, potentially unaffordable, rationed by price or by government and ultimately unavailable. In the end, as the oil export market dries up, the UK will have to rely on indigenous production, what there is of it. While an accurate prediction for future UK oil supply is not possible, the trends in the data are crystal clear.

The government will want to keep the economy and public transport running, basic services operational and food in the shops. Oil will be prioritised for these purposes in an increasingly faltering economy. Discretionary use of liquid fuels – petrol and diesel for personal transport and recreational use will be squeezed.

The obvious solution to a liquid fuels shortage is electrification of transport. As there are no realistic alternatives to jet fuel, air transportation will go into decline. Expect to see more electric cars – the liquid fuels crisis outlined here is the reason electric cars are beginning to appear on the market now. Public transport will replace personal transport. Railway services to remote communities whose services were cut to make way for the motor car will be restored (the Borders Railway restoration project is a fine example of this). And expect to see electrification of more railways. But prepare for hard times as oil is the lubricant of the modern economy.

However, the problem with running an economy on electricity is that you need to be able to generate electricity in the first place. In the UK, a lot of electricity is generated by burning natural gas. And just like oil, natural gas is a finite resource. UK natural gas production peaked in 2000. World natural gas is predicted to peak in the 2020-2030 timeframe or even earlier. And before you say shale oil and shale gas are the answer, read this report and ask yourself who is likely to benefit from shale gas production in the UK?

Powertrain for new electric Renault ZOE supplied by Continental

Renault Electric Vehicles Equipped with Continental Electric Motor (Image: Continental)
Renault Electric Vehicles Equipped with Continental Electric Motor (Image: Continental)
  • Continental supplies drive motor, power electronics and EV controller
  • Long range and agile performance thanks to optimized overall system efficiency

Regensburg/Berlin/Nuremberg. The international automotive supplier Continental is contributing to a new milestone in electric vehicle (EV) development by supplying the electric powertrain for the new Renault Zoe, the first mass-produced European electric car with an overall concept designed from the ground up for all-electric operation.

Xavier Pujol, Head of Continental’s Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV) Business Unit, says:

“The Renault ZOE demonstrates the great potential of electric mobility. We are delighted that with the help of our extensive expertise we have been able to make an important contribution to this pioneering project.”

As with the Renault Kangoo Z.E and Fluence Z.E, all of the powertrain components – the drive motor, the power electronics and the hardware for the electric vehicle controller – are being supplied by Continental.

Renault’s newly launched EV has been hailed by the trade press and general media as a pleasantly quiet, agile urban car offering stress-free driving and brisk acceleration. These qualities are largely down to the electric motor from Continental, which in the Renault ZOE offers 220 Nm of torque and develops peak power of 65 kW (88 hp) and a maximum continuous output of 43 kW (59 hp). The externally excited synchronous motor, which features an integrated transmission and differential, is ideally suited for use in a battery electric vehicle, because it achieves high efficiency across virtually the whole operating range and can quickly deliver significant power. The motor uses copper coils in the stator and rotor, instead of rare earth metals. As a result, it can be used either as a motor (for driving the vehicle), as a generator (for charging the battery while driving) or as a transformer (for external charging at the mains).

Hilko Hakvoort, Director Customer Center Renault, Business Unit Hybrid Electric Vehicles, Powertrain Division, says:

“We were able to meet these and other specific powertrain requirements quickly and cost-efficiently, because all of the components are derived from a flexible component platform.”

The power electronics too are based on a modular system. The mass and size of this second-generation mass-production power electronics module from Continental have been reduced by around one third compared with the previous version. At the same time, power density has been increased significantly. The improved overall system efficiency helps give the five-seater a best-in-class range of 210 km (NEDC).

The electric powertrain is not the only Continental technology on board the Renault ZOE. Continental is also supplying the airbag control unit, side- and up-front sensors, the wheel speed sensors, the radio and the keyless access and driver authorization system.

At Last – Contact From Renault UK

(Image: Jerry King/
(Image: Jerry King/

Today I was contacted by Renault UK for the first time (I’m not counting the handful of automated emails or gifts I received last year, or contacts I have made to the local Renault dealer) – I got a call on my mobile at work.

I was contacted because of my pre-registration for a ZOE. The ’phone call seemed to have four main aims, to:

  1. Inform me that test drives are now available. I mentioned that I’d already had one.
  2. Confirm my address and let me know that I’m eligible to receive a free Renault ZE jacket. These are available in 5 chest sizes: small (40”), medium (42.5”), large (45”), XL (47.5”) and XXL (50”). One is now on its way to me.
  3. Let me know that my local dealer would contact me about getting a charge point installed.
  4. Tell me about the Renault 4+ Package (4 years of warranty, roadside cover, servicing and option finance) if my dealer hadn’t already.

After that I was able to ask some questions. I asked whether those who had pre-reserved were really getting priority and was assured that this was “absolutely” the case. Those who had pre-reserved would get their cars before any new customers. However, the order in which pre-reservations were delivered could depend on the options ordered, as ‘just as with any Renault car’ those with the same options and trim levels were produced together in a batch.

This contact is surely an encouraging sign that Renault is finally waking up to the UK launch and are serious about doing some customer service and making sales. Whether Renault will make up for lost time – and a year of slipping delivery dates and poor communication – remains to be seen.

Sebastian Vettel visits Paris to share past and future successes

   Sebastian Vettel visits Paris to share past and future successes (Image: Renault)
Sebastian Vettel steps out of a ZOE (Image: Renault)

After his performance in the Spanish Grand Prix, the triple world Formula 1 champion Sebastian Vettel (Infiniti Red Bull Racing) flew to Paris to meet up with Renault’s teams.

The Renault engine-equipped driver swung by the Renault Sport F1 plant, visited Ile Seguin and the Z.E. Center and made a pit stop at Renault’s headquarters, which fronts the Seine River. The reigning champion tried out Renault’s electric vehicle range and had fun aboard the ZOE and the natty Twizy Renault Sport F1.

Sebastian’s day began with a photo and interview session at the Viry-Châtillon plant, where the Formula 1 Renault engines are built, including the V8 RS27 unit that powered him and the German team to victory in the 2010, 2011 and 2012 championships. He also chatted with his engineering team, which gave him a glimpse of Renault’s F1 future in the shape of the new V6 turbo power unit, which will equip Infiniti Red Bull Racing next season.

He then took to the wheel of ZOE (see video), Renault’s new full-electric compact car, and drove to Île Seguin in Boulogne-Billancourt near Paris. He got to discover the historical site, part of which is now dedicated to the Z.E. Center, where the general public can find out more about Renault’s electric vehicles and even drive them on a special track.

Sebastian went for a spin in the incredible Twizy Renault Sport F1, equipped with the same KERS as his F1 car! With its extra 80 hp, the Twizy Renault Sport F1 can race from 0 to 100 km/h as fast as Mégane R.S., Renault’s highest performance production model! After trying out the unique vehicle on the test track, Sebastian posed for a few photographs and gave a press conference for the French and international media.

The Joy of Solar 4: A Second Installation

8 of the 16 Panels in Place – Including One on Dormer (Image: T. Larkum)
8 of the 16 Panels in Place – Including One on the Dormer (Image: T. Larkum)

Today is a big day as we’ve having a second solar array installed – this should provide sufficient electricity to cover the remaining usage for the house, plus enough left over to charge the ZOE.  The rear roof of the house is completely covered by the existing system so this one has to go on the front. That means it will be north facing so I’m prepared to have a lower than average yield. However, the predictions I’ve seen imply that it will still be economic, it will just take a little longer to pay off – perhaps 10-11 years rather than 8-10.

Rewiring Around Consumer Unit (Image: T. Larkum)
Rewiring Around Consumer Unit (Image: T. Larkum)

Last night after the scaffolding went up I cleaned the moss off the roof tiles – not necessary, but the only opportunity I’ll get to do it. I finished that this morning just before the installers (Greenday Renewables) turned up. It’s now the afternoon and so far most of the panels are up on the roof, and the inverter is in the loft, and currently all the connections into the consumer unit/fuse box are being made.

Two Hours Later – 15 Panels in Place (Image: T. Larkum)
Two Hours Later – 15 Panels in Place (Image: T. Larkum)

Update: It’s now the evening, the installers have gone, and I’ve finished tidying up. The weather was foul for most of the day, with almost non-stop rain from late morning, which made things harder (and a bit messier) than usual. Nonetheless the system is complete and working, although the amount of energy being generated at the end of a day when the sky is overcast is relatively small, making it harder to confirm that it is wired and operating correctly.

Inverter and Isolators in Loft (Image: T. Larkum)
Inverter and Isolators in Loft (Image: T. Larkum)

The inverter in the loft is fixed to a wooden upright as the prime location (the end wall nearest the consumer unit) has the inverter for the existing solar array. I made up a wooden board and that went across the upright to mount the isolators.

View Along Roof Ridge – New System (North-Facing) on Left and Old System (South-Facing) on Right (Image: T. Larkum)
View Along Roof Ridge – New System (North-Facing) on Left and Old System (South-Facing) on Right (Image: T. Larkum)

This time around the system includes the addition of a Wattson Solar Plus Energy Monitor. It displays total solar generation less usage, so you know how much ‘free’ electricity there is to spare (which might prompt you to switch on the dishwasher, etc.). More on Wattson in a later post – suffice to say for the next few days I’ll be switching things on and off to see the real-time effect on our usage and so work out where in particular our energy (and therefore money) is currently going.

Bouygues Gets a ZOE

Ghosn gives ZOE keys to Bouygues (Image: Renault)
Ghosn gives ZOE keys to Bouygues (Image: Renault)

Renault ZE made an announcement today on Twitter:

“Today, Renault CEO C. Ghosn gave Renault ZOE keys to CEO M. Bouygues. Congratulations to him for being an EV driver!”

Martin Bouygues leads the Bouygues industrial group, a conglomerate with interests in construction, telecoms, energy and transportation.

Grid Electricity Usage

Domestic Electricity Imported from the Grid (Image: T. Larkum)
Domestic Electricity Imported from the Grid (Image: T. Larkum)

Looking at how much electricity our solar array has generated prompted me to look at how much electricity we’ve been using over the last few years. I was able to dig out most of my energy bills back five years and used those in a similar process to graph our usage – see the chart above.

One of the first things that is obvious is that there is only data for the four quarterly bills in a year, there is no data per month never mind per week. This general point highlights how poor are the systems in place for tracking energy usage. I didn’t realise it before this exercise but our meters are only read about twice per year (typically in May and November) so there’s no real indication of how much energy you are using at any time, and the bills in between these readings are just based on estimates.

Of course the government has plans for everyone to get smart meters installed to give better tracking of energy usage. However, the start of the rollout was planned for next year and has just been delayed by a year. They won’t be fully in place before 2020 which is a long time to wait. In the meantime to address the issue of a lack of detailed information on energy usage I have started to manually record the electricity (and gas) meter readings once per week.

Anyway, back to the chart. Given the lack of data, and its questionable accuracy (since it includes estimated readings) it is dangerous to deduce too much from it. It fairly clearly and as expected shows higher electricity usage in winter months compared to the summer – presumably from more use of lighting, and perhaps more time spent indoors watching television, etc.

I would also like to conclude from it that our usage of electricity from the grid has reduced since installing solar, i.e. that the values for 2011 and 2012 are lower than previous years. However, that is not obvious, and in particular the usage for Jan/Feb 2011 is particularly high. It would probably be wishful thinking anyway, since we are often out (and hence electricity usage is low) when the sun is shining brightest. So what can be done to get more benefit from solar?

There are three key income elements to the government’s solar feed-in-tariff system:

  1. You get paid a generation amount for each unit of electricity generated.
  2. You get paid for each unit exported to the grid. However, since there are no smart meters in place yet this is done notionally: you get paid an export amount for exactly half of what you generate as though you exported it.
  3. Given that the export isn’t metered, you can use the electricity you generate for whatever you want for free.

This means that there is a clear economic benefit to using as much of the electricity you generate as it is being generated, since it deemed to be exported but is actually available to use. This ignores, of course, the complex moral question of whether you should just export it anyway so as to reduce your neighbours’ carbon footprints regardless of the economic cost to yourself, and I may return to this question in a future post.

Anyway, assuming for now the aim is to get the best economic benefit from the solar array, I have been considering some ideas on how to achieve it:

  1. We need to defer our electricity usage to the times when most electricity is being generated. This means, for example, operating the dishwasher and washing machine during the day rather than in the evening (and so using their timer functions if we are out during the day).
  2. Use some electricity storage such as batteries. However I believe such systems are still too expensive to be economically justifiable.
  3. Heating our water electrically to save on gas usage, i.e. operate our electrical immersion heater from solar during the day. There are some technically advanced systems for doing this such as Immersun but they are expensive and so payback would take a long time. I am currently looking into simply running the immersion heater from a timer during the summer months so it operates during daylight hours.

As well as economic benefits I am determined to reduce our family’s carbon footprint – getting the solar array and the ZOE are the key elements to this. There are also other approaches and lifestyle changes that I will be investigating; others are further along this road than I am and I recommend anyone interested to research further. I have put some starting links on the Links page, for example the excellent Earth Notes site.

News and comment on the Renault ZOE electric car – quiet, lively, and non-polluting for £300 per month including fuel.