Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/11/05/dale_vince_nemesis_fail/

'Hippy' energy kingpin's electric Noddy-car in epic FAIL

Dale Vince bummed out in Clarkson bitchslap mishap

By Lewis Page

Posted in Science, 5th November 2010 14:04 GMT

An electric concept car commissioned by soi-disant "hippie" energy-trading biz lord Dale Vince specifically to “blow the socks off Jeremy Clarkson and smash the stereotype of electric cars” has unfortunately done neither, as on its first public outing the "Nemesis" abruptly ground to a halt in busy traffic and had to be pushed.

The Nemesis concept battery car from Ecotricity. Credit: Ecotricity

Powered by wind. Well, hot air

The embarrassing breakdown - which really seems to have reinforced the stereotype of electric cars rather than smashing it - was described as "a real bummer" by Vince, showing off the car to the Guardian this week ahead of its official unveiling last night. Sensibly, Vince had not invited a motoring journalist but rather Graun environment editor John Vidal - a bit of a hippie himself.

Even Vidal couldn't quite forgo a mention of the Nemesis' sudden halt during his trip, but the unfortunate hiccup was buried deep at the bottom of the piece below the headline "'Smashing the Noddy stereotype' – UK's first green supercar takes to the roads" and 11 paragraphs of praise and quotes from Vince.

Vince and Vidal describe the Nemesis as "powered only by renewables". Before the car broke down, Vince assured his Grauniad fellow-traveller that it would be good for "250,000 maintenance-free miles", and Vidal himself adds that it "knocks the technical socks off the much-hyped electric American wunder-car, the Tesla Roadster".

But Dale Vince has a bit of a reputation for putting the very best possible spin on things - to put it mildly. His energy-trading and windfarms firm Ecotricity has been slapped down by the Advertising Standards Authority in the past for misleading advertising. It has previously made excellent-sounding claims such as "for every £1 you spend with us through your electricity bills we spend another £1 building new sources of green electricity... that's not a promise, it's a fact" and "One in six of all the wind projects in England today were planned and built by Ecotricity. Or looking at in another way, we produce more than 12 per cent of England's wind energy..."

Except it was only a fact if you spent less than £387 pa with Ecotricity over the last five years, and as England is not a significant place for wind the real picture at the time the latter claim was made was that Ecotricity produced less than two per cent of UK wind (well, UK wind energy, anyway).

Then, even assuming that Vince charges up the Nemesis using Ecotricity 'leccy, this absolutely does not mean that it is "powered only by renewables". The company admits that less than half its juice comes from renewable providers, and indeed the proportion of green to brown in the mix actually fell last year.

The Nemesis spec sheet claims zero CO2 emissions "when charged with green electricity from Ecotricity windmills" - a classic Dale Vince-ism, as this is a practical impossibility and as an Ecotricity customer you would be using mostly-brown energy. In general, a driver would actually be responsible for less carbon emissions having bought one of various kinds of modern fuel-sipping combustion-engined cars as opposed to a battery one, as recent analysis by Swiss government labs has shown.

Still, the idea of electric cars is not that they're the greenest thing now, but rather that they might be in a future where electricity was green - though most proper analysis suggests that this cannot be done solely using renewables. What's definitely true is that people like Dale Vince who make their living by selling electricity love the idea of electric cars.

OK, no bitchslap for Clarkson. Does it sock-knock the Tesla, at least?

And maybe the "made in Green Britain" Nemesis (batteries from Korea, engines from America) really does "knock the technical socks" off the Roadster. It bloody well ought to, in fact, as the Nemesis is a one-off custom concept car and the Roadster is a production model - pretty much the only advanced electric production car on offer, in fact.

So how do the two vehicles compare?

Well, the Nemesis is ahead on raw horsepower with 330 bhp to the Roadster's 288, and 600 Newton-metres of torque to the Roadster's 400. Vince also claims a much higher top speed for the Nemesis - but the Roadster's unambitious 125mph limit results purely from artificial governing to preserve battery life, which isn't a consideration for the Nemesis. Far from being driven 250,000 miles, Vince admits that the plan is to retire it soon and start work on a "bigger, faster, louder" version.

None of this is technical sock-knocking stuff: the Roadster has all the torque, speed and horsepower any normal driver could need. Where an electric car beats another electric car of the same class is on the amount of energy it can store and the range it can deliver from that.

Here the Roadster is an easy winner, with its advanced battery pack holding 56 kilowatt-hours compared to the Nemesis off-the-shelf Korean cells with 36 kWh. Vince claims "100-150" miles of range "depending on driving style": Tesla claims 211 at the moment. Vince says his machine will charge up in "8-9 hours with 13A overnight charger".

The reality for the Tesla car is that it gets nothing even close to its rated range; worse, even the car's onboard systems cannot predict with any accuracy how far it will go from a given state of charge, leading to the recent "range anxiety" brouhaha.

Tesla does admit very quietly, however, that its car will actually take at least 48 hours to charge up from a normal US wall socket (110 volts, breaker rating 15 amps). If you can't find a specialist high-power outlet, a Roadster with a flat battery will take days, not hours, to get back on the road.

UK 13A wall sockets can deliver a practical maximum of around 3 kilowatts: there is no way that Vince's suggestion that they will charge up a 36 kilowatt-hour battery pack in 8-9 hours can be true, even if the process were perfectly efficient. Doubtless he is assuming that the car will cut out well before full discharge to preserve the batteries, but nonetheless this is a foolish claim on the face of it. You wouldn't expect to hear this from the Graun: Vidal and the subs there plainly don't really know what a Watt actually is.

UK wall sockets are roughly twice as powerful as feeble US ones, however, and Vince's car only holds two-thirds the juice that a Roadster can. Giving the Nemesis the benefit of the doubt and assuming that its charging electronics are as efficient as the Roadster's it might be able to recharge to full from flat using a normal UK socket in as little as 16 hours. The reality is probably much worse. Hardly "overnight", as Ecotricity claims.

None of this really matters, as the Nemesis isn't going into production and thus it has no real significance. The car won't be sold to unsuspecting consumers: it's just a PR effort for Ecotricity and a ("less than £1m") toy for Vince.

But even so examining the claims made for the Nemesis is worth doing, as it tells us something about all the claims made by Vince and Ecotricity. Extrapolating from the "renewables powered" car, we can conclude that Ecotricity is not really green, is not really a significant UK energy player - and that Dale Vince is about as much like the normal idea of a "hippy" as Gordon Gecko is.

And the Nemesis' unfortunate debut, it has to be said, has solidly reinforced the Noddy stereotype of electric cars. Jeremy Clarkson must be rolling on the floor laughing right now. ®