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Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

“Winter is Coming”? No, yesterday, on the last day of November, Winter arrived in Belgium. We had a few minutes of sun in the morning, and then after 12 o’clock snow started falling. Wet snow at first, and then as the afternoon progressed, temperatures dropped almost to freezing and the landscape actually turned white – at least in the “Pajottenland”. Which is where I happened to be, some 60km from our house. It took me two hours to get back home, over slippery and congested roads.

Waiting to inch forward, around 18:00 somewhere in Lennik (Belgium)

Unfortunately, all that snow also meant that our solar panels fell just shy of producing 55 KWh in November. At least 99% of the November mean is quite good, compared to the previous months.

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So far, I have driven our new Audi A3 g-tron for almost 700 km. I’m still adapting to the S-tronic automatic shifting – this as, after all, my first car in 40 years that does not have manual shift. But other than that it’s a pleasant experience to drive this vehicle, with all its little extras that make life easier behind the wheel.

All the time the car has run on CNG. What does that mean in practice? Well, current fuel consumption is about 5.3 kg per 100 km. At today’s price that means it costs me less than 5€ to drive 100 km. Compare that to my previous A3 (a 2005 model with the 1600 petrol engine) than consumed about 7.5l per 100 km, costing more than 9€ for that same distance. And not only is this one cheaper to run, it’s also cleaner: less CO2, less fine particles, etc.

Getting ready for new winter tyres!

Audi claims that this car has a range of 400 km when running on CNG, and many publications reprint that number without much discussion. One thing is clear: that estimate is very optimistic (as usual, no?). I drive mostly in a very urban environment, with relatively short runs. That makes my range in reality something like 250 to 270 km. That’s better than most electric cars in this price range, and I still have a 50 liter petrol tank as a backup. I’m not complaining!

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On my g-tron overview page I have only published a stock Audi picture. Here’s a first picture of the car we actually bought, just after we took it for a test drive.

On this picture it may look aggressive, but in reality it isn’t that much of a beast. It’s just a very nice car ;-)

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Since many years I have been interested in vehicles powered by electricity. I’ll admit to being prejudiced: e-bikes have a lot more chance to capture my attention than cars… but in the real world, where fossil fuels are increasingly menacing the health of nature and climate, cars and trucks are much more important than motorcycles. So when the time came to start talking about replacing one of our cars (both more than a decade old), my wife and I investigated the possibility to purchase or lease an electric vehicle.

I’ll spare you all the pros and cons, as well as the debate over the practicability of an e-car during our vacation and the complications to load its batteries. It turned out that we could not afford such a car.

Going hybrid then? Well, what’s the use of a car that can do perhaps 30 or 50 km on electricity and then has to guzzle petrol, if it still has to spend hours to recharge? How is that friendly to the (and our!) environment?

In the end, and after a lot of reading up on the subject, we settled on a car than has a reasonable range on a fuel that is a lot less polluting than petrol and diesel: a (second-hand) Audi A3 Sportback g-tron. Like a few dozen other cars from multiple brands, it runs on methane in one of its forms: compressed natural gas (CNG), biogas (made from “agricultural waste”) or “e-gas”. E-gas is the name Audi gives to the methane it produces using electricity from windmills or solar panels, plus CO2 from the atmosphere.

Methane may not be the ultimate solution to our pollution problems, but in my view it’s a great step away from coal and petrol. Not just because it is a lot cleaner to burn, but also because it can use mostly existing infrastructure to be distributed and used, at least in countries like Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.

I’m still looking for a more scientific comparison of methane vs. petrol as a fuel for cars, in terms of pollution, but everything seems to point in the right direction: a car powered by CNG will produce a bit less CO2, less NOx and much less fine particles than its petrol and diesel siblings. For us, it’s a big step in the right direction – and the next one step will come when we have to part with our second car in a few years time. Will we just do away with it? Will we replace it with a small e-car? Or will there be even more clean and efficient CNG-powered cars by then?

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Today is a very nice day in Belgium, at least when we speak of the weather: the sun lights up our autumn garden.

(Click to see a larger version on Flickr)

But the sun did not do so well in October, according to our solar panels. Perhaps today is the first day of a sunnier period?

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Ten days ago, I spotted a new visitor in our garden: a couple of long-tailed tits stopped by and sampled the peanuts. Wikipedia says that they are not exactly scarce, so I hope to see them more often.

A long-tailed tit feeding in our garden

A long-tailed tit feeding in our garden
(click for a larger version of the picture)

PS. In Dutch the long-tailed tit is called a “staartmees“.

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A Pessimistic Solar Update

I have updated our solar electricity production numbers with the lowest yield for any September for our installation. 2017 will probably turn out to be a “bad” year for our panels.

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