Zero Carbon Future (low carbon present)

It’s well agreed that in order to avert dangerous climate change we must reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the middle of this century. The next 20 years are set to be an incredibly exciting time as we work hard to switch our energy systems away from fossil fuels to a zero carbon energy system. As climbers, mountaineers and adventurers we can see first hand the damage climate change is already having on the mountains we love.

This transition to a zero carbon future does admittedly sound daunting. The good news is that there is a lot of evidence that this transition can be done in a way that is socially and economically beneficial with no loss in living standards using technology that we currently have today. See the Zero Carbon Britain Report for a tangible plan for how this can be achieved. A key component of every zero carbon strategy I’ve seen is the electrification of transportation and elimination of flying.  It's amazing the carbon reductions that we as individuals can currently achieve with minimal effort.

For example, taking my annual pilgrimage to the 'best crag in the world' in the French Alps as an example:

Replace Planes with Trains

Over the last few years I have managed to avoid flying, instead taking the train to climbing destinations in France, Spain, Italy, Sicily , Greece, Turkey, and even Russia, Mongolia and China! Much of the rail network in mainland Europe is electrified resulting in very low carbon emissions per mile. I actually much prefer train travel to flying, it’s more relaxing and often interesting to see and experience so much more while travelling through the world rather than over it.

Replace Van with Electric Car

In 2010 a quarter of all UK greenhouse gas emissions were due to transportation; personal cars and vans account for over 70% of this. The average person travels 6500 miles in a car / van per year. I’m sure many of us travel many more miles per year. I'm guilty of averaging 17K miles/yr for the past 6 years in a diesel van and diesel car. Last year I decided to do something about it, sell our diesel vehicles and take the plunge buying an electric car (EV): a 2nd hand 2014 24kWh Nissan LEAF, built in the UK!

Nissan LEAF Electric Car above the remote Cemaes Bay on Anglesey, Snowdonia N.Wales

EVs emit much less carbon and cost far less to run than internal combustion engine cars (ICE). The carbon emissions of an EV are obviously dependant on how the electricity is generated. The energy used by an EV can be totally zero carbon if the electricity is generated renewably! A modest domestic solar PV installation (2.9kWp) in N.Wales generates enough energy each year for 8400 miles of zero carbon driving.

In my EV vs ICE comparison below, I used the 2016 average for UK electrical grid carbon intensity. Grid carbon intensity is constantly varying due to a number of factors: see this handy app and website to view real-time grid carbon. Electrical generation is slowly de-carbonising, we have almost stopped burning coal and often a significant proportion of our energy is generated renewably:

As I write this (2pm 14th May) solar PV is currently the largest contributor to the UK grid generating 25% of all our electricity! 

I get my home electricity from Ecotricity energy provider who are 100% renewably matched, however for sake of argument let's assume I charge the EV with standard grid mix electricity:

EVs emits 4.9x less carbon and costs 8.2x less to run per year saving me £2500/yr compared to my van. The EV cost me £9k second hand (2014 model), it should pay for itself in less than 4 years in the fuel and road tax saving. 

See Appendix below for a spreadsheet with my calcs. The EV cost is calculated assuming charging overnight on E7 off-peak tariff.

I've found the transition to driving an EV to be easy and even enjoyable! Es Tresidder recently wrote an excellent article on UKC: Electric Cars - Realistic For Climbers and Hillwalkers? I will try not to repeat the information in Es’s article but rather to give my experience driving an EV for the past 6 months:

How to charge an EV? 

Plug it in! Just like a mobile phone EVs can charge from a domestic 3-pin socket although this is the slowest method of charging. If possible it's best to charge from a dedicated charging station that will allow the car to safely charge at a faster rate. We sell open-source high power fast EV charging stations via OpenEnergyMonitor. There are grants available to install  domestic charging point installations. The charging cable is totally waterproof, it's fine to charge an EV even in N.Wales rainstorms.

Charging from campsite hookups is easy with a three-pin adaptor 

Where to charge an EV?

Having some off-road parking to charge an EV at home is useful. Most EV drivers do most of their charging at home. Unfortunately I don't have off road parking, however, I've not had much of a problem charging on a public street with a rubber mat over the pavement. There is funding available for councils to install street charging points for residents who don't have their own off-road parking space. There is also a similar scheme to help fund workplace charging stations

There is a decent public charging network already in place in the UK:

Public charging stations

The National Trust has done an amazing job putting EV free chargers into every NT property in Wales and lots of remote carparks on the Lleyn Peninsula.

How long does it take to charge? 

It depends how empty the battery is! Very rarely do you charge from 0%, a more realistic charge would be 20%-100% i.e 80%. Using my home charging station the EV takes 2:30hr to charge 80%. Rapid DC chargers that are in almost all motorway services will deliver an 80% charge in 20-30min (depending on battery temperature and state of charge.).

Topping up at NT Hafod Y Llan, powered by hydro. Perfect location for a walk / fell-run up Snowdon

What's it like to drive an EV? 

Driving an EV is like driving any other car just smoother, quieter and more instantaneous acceleration. After driving an EV for 6 months I would say journeys fall into two categories: 

Local journeys:

Local driving usually accounts for most of the miles driven in a year, 17k miles/yr equates to a 23 mile (46-mile return) journey each day. When driving the EV locally after the first week or two of ownership I don't think about range. Every morning I leave home with 70-90 miles of range. I know this will be plenty for the driving I need to do. If I do have some unforeseen extra driving a top-up at work, home or a public charging station is not difficult. For local driving an EV is actually more convenient than a conventional car since you never need to waste time stopping to fuel up! The car magically re-fuels while I'm sleeping!

If your daily commute is more than 70-90 miles return and you cannot charge at your destination then a 24kWh Nissan LEAF will not be suitable. The newer 2016 Nissan LEAF with a larger 30kWh battery can go 100-125 miles per charge. At a similar price the Hyundai Iconic EV can do 130-170 miles and the new 40kWh Renault Zoe 180-240 miles. If your daily commute requires even longer range (I feel sorry for you!) then a top spec Tesla model S can achieve 380 miles per a price!

Topping up and brewing up in Llanbedrog NT beach car park after bouldering in Porth Ysgo

Long Trips:  

In the 6 months since we've had the EV we have driven over 7000 electric only miles. In this time we have travelled to the Peak District, Malham (Yorkshire) and a trip to Fort William / Oban in Scotland.

Here's a video of a 1000 miles trip up to Scotland in our 24kWh Nissan LEAF:

Update: here's a video of a 1500 mile return trips to Fontainebleau Paris in our 24kWh Nissan LEAF in winter...with Bob (the dog) :-) 

For long trips in an EV it's worth doing a little bit of planning to ensure pit-stops coincide with charging locations. We're lucky in the UK that we have a fantastic motorway DC Rapid charge network, almost all motorway services have DC rapid chargers that can give 80% charge in 20-30min. There are also some good online and mobile apps listing locations and availability of charging stations. I use and NextCharge for route planning.

Next Charge web / mobile app is a very powerful EV planning tool, even taking into account elevation, payload and driving speed. 

Here is a map of all the DC Rapid charging locations in the UK:

The UK has a decent DC Rapid charge network (apart from mid-wales!). 
The motorway rapid charging network ran by EcoTricty currently cost £6, however since I get my home electricity from Ecotricity I get 52 free rapid chargers per year plus an EV discount of £40/yr this equates 4700 free motorway miles per year. The situation is even better in Scotland, the government has rolled out a rapid charge network to even the remotest islands and peninsulas and the whole network is currently free! We drove from N.Wales to Fort William / Oban in Scotland for only £6!

Rapid Charging at Glencoe Mountain Ski Centre, what an amazing location for an EV rapid charger! Currently totally free thanks to Charge Places Scotland

Remote Isle of Easdale on west coast of Scotland
With the addition of plywood sheet to create a flat base sleeping in the Nissan LEAF is no problem! 

Extra Benefits to driving an EV 

  • Remote pre-heat: In the winter you can use the mobile app to remotely turn on the heating inside the car! This is super nice to get back off the hill or leave for work on a frosty morning with the screen ready deiced and the inside at a toasty 21 degC. This makes most sense when the car is plugged into a charger since the energy used to heat the car is provided by electricity grid therefore does not affect the range
  • More space: An electric motor takes up less space therefore most EVs have a larger boot and some have a front boot under the bonnet for extra storage. 
Plenty of room for two bikes without removing wheels

Even enough space to fully sleep stretched out!...plywood conversion is DIY optional extra :-) 

  • More convenient 90% of the time (if you can charge at home): You never have to waste time stopping for fuel since the car is always full each morning. 
  • Smooth, comfortable and quiet: and doesn't emit harmful gases and particulates. 
  • Virtually maintenance-free: There is no oil to change, no radiator to flush, no transmission to service, no spark plugs to change and no fuel system to adjust, and because they produce no exhaust, they are exempt from emissions tests.
  • Easy and fun to drive: Since there are no gears or clutch to worry about EVs are very easy and relaxing to drive. Hill starts are a thing of the past! Electric motors exhibit 100% of their torque at 0rpm and have instant response therefore the acceleration from standstill is remarkable. Also since the battery pack (500Kg in a Nissan LEAF) is distributed evenly under the floor EVs have a low center of gravity which improves cornering.  
  • Zero road TAX
  • Regenerative braking: When going downhill or decelerating the electric motor is used as a brake, recharging the battery. On long hills, you can visibly see the battery % and range increasing! This extends the trip range and reduces wear on the brake pads. 
  • Heating can be switched on anytime: In an EV the engine does not need to be running for the heating to be on (there is no engine!). This is great for sitting around waiting in winter. However, it would also be great if you were sleeping in an EV car / van, especially if you're plugged into a campsite hookup to charge. You could run the heating all night. Nissan do make an EV van e-NV200 . This would make an awesome camper van....future project?! 
UPDATE: Nov 2019 

Nissan e-NV200 EV campervan idea has become a reality! See my latest blog post on Nisssan e-NV200 campervan conversion and inaugural trip to Scotland. Expect to hear more of EV campervan adventures in the near future!  


  • Range: obviously an EV would not be a great vehicle of choice to drive to Scotland after work! However, I've never enjoyed that sort of 'endurance' driving; my bladder has a max range of about 2hrs, which is perfectly in sync with charging schedule while on long motorway drives! 20-30min to charge at a rapid charger flies by, once I've had a pee and brewed up a coffee. Like in any car the faster you go the more fuel you use, this is very noticeable in an EV, it would probably be possible to drain the battery in as little as 60 miles if i drove at 90mph. On long drives I usually try and cruise around 60mph to maximise range and minimise charging time, it's faster overall but can feel slow. However, I quickly got used to a slightly slower pace of driving and it's actually much more relaxing. This is probably a positive rather than a negative since EVs force drivers to drive economically, what we should be doing anyway!
  • Public charging networks: I mentioned previously that the UK has a decent public charging network. However, the network is ran by a number of different operators. Starting a charge at a public point usually involves using a mobile app, these apps can sometimes be a be temperamental which can be a little frustrating. The best network for reliability and connectivity in my experience is PodPoint and ChargeYourCar and the worst is Chargemaster Polar. Ecotricity is not bad. ZeroNet ( is also good since all their chargers are free and don't require an app to start. 

Battery degradation 

EV batteries are not the same as the batteries used in phones / laptops, they are engineered and controlled to a much higher standard. Nonetheless, it's a fact that lithium batteries do degrade over time.

Recent real-world research has shown that on average Telsa EV batteries have 92% capacity after 150K miles. 1st gen Nissan LEAFs are known to exhibit 88% capacity after 100K miles and 75% capacity after 200K miles. 2nd gen (2014 onward) Nissan LEAFs should be better still since battery tech has been improved.

Nissan warrants the LEAF's battery for 8 years/100,000 miles. If the LEAF's battery degrades more than 70% in 8yrs/100K miles it will be replaced for free. Apparently, no UK LEAFs have ever had the battery degrade sufficiently to warrant a replacement under warranty. A new battery for a LEAF costs £4k. 

A 2013 Nissan LEAF has clocked up 175K miles being used by a taxi company in Cornwall. Amazingly in 175K miles the taxi Nissan LEAF only had replacement tyres, 2 sets of brake pads,  wiper blades and a single ball joint.

I'm planning a trip to the French Alps in our EV this summer, should be a fun trip!

UPDATE: it was a good trip! See this post of our trip to the French Alps in Nissan LEAF EV.

This post has been about transportation, obviously there are other equally important aspects of our lives which use energy where changes we can easily make with current technology have a big effect on our carbon emissions e.g. heating our homes (passive house + electric heat pumps), growing our food (vegetarian, local) and making our stuff (buy less stuff!).  


Comparing Petrol, Diesel and EV carbon emissions and running costs: 

A medium sized fuel efficient ICE car averages about 50 MPG. This equates to 1.1 miles/kWh and emits 210 gCo2/mile if it’s petrol or 244 gCo2/mile if it’s diesel.

Driving my EV  I average about 4.2 miles/kWh (5 miles /kWh is easily possible on long trips if you keep the speed down), at 2016 UK average grid carbon intensity (300 gCo2/kwh) the EV emits 71.4 gCo2/mi.

Due to the efficiency of electric motors my EV uses 3.8x less energy per mile then a fuel efficient ICE and emits about 3x less carbon than petrol and diesel ICE cars. However, importantly the energy used by an EV can be totally zero carbon if the electricity is generated renewably. Also the current carbon intensity figure is probably lower than the annual average since the EV is charged overnight when the electricity grid is often at its lowest carbon intensity.

See here for in-depth info comparing EV to ICE cars.