Here’s a challenge to the Hay festival organisers. Something to set up for the 2012 event, perhaps?
Start a campaign to make it possible for at least some of the very many celebrity guests to travel from London (where I assume most begin their journeys) the 184 miles to this small town in the Welsh Marches by electric car.
The Hay Festival is a wonderful and unique thing, an 11-day celebration of words, writing and ideas (with a little music) – intellectually stimulating, inspirational, and downright good fun, even if the coffee is a little expensive.
One of the reasons it works so well is because all those writers, journalists, opinion leaders, politicians and academics are drawn together into such a tight space, a collection of marquees in a field. I doubt if any similarly sized stretch of grass in the world contains so many creative people at one time.
But as I joined the celebrity-spotting on my first visit last weekend, I had a serious nagging concern. How do they all get there? It’s a question that wouldn’t bother you at a cultural event in London. People would have walked, taken a taxi, bus or the underground. Increasingly people would have cycled there. But in Hay on Wye, you can’t dodge the plain fact that most people, journalists, publishers, speakers and the general public, travelled a long polluting way by car.
If organizers were casting around today for a place to found the world’s biggest literary festival in our CO2-challenged times, they would probably not choose a beautiful but far-flung town way beyond Gloucester.
To be fair to the festival organisers, they push public transport hard. So I’m sure a fair number did make the three hour 20 minute train journey from London to Hereford, then joined the shuttle bus for the last 22 miles leg to Hay.
But, apart from the Duchess of Cornwall, who came by helicopter, a big number, surely the majority, did not heed the call to use public transport and instead journeyed the 184 miles by road. (The AA times that at 3 hr 43 minutes, making the total time about the same as the rail trip.)
The Festival already has a keen commitment to the environment, which should help. All the energy on site is from renewable resources; the water for the catering facilities is heated by solar panels and low energy light bulbs are used in the marquees. All rubbish is recycled. People are encouraged to drink good fresh tapwater, not troll around all day with those effete plastic bottles.
In an article for the festival’s principal sponsor, the Telegraph, Geoffrey Lean reported on the deep green consciousness in the villages around.
The small village of Talybont-on-Usk, 20 miles south, is generating energy from a turbine on the water feeding a nearby reservoir. Since 2006, villagers have sold electricity to the grid, funding electric bicycles and solar panels, to generate more income. The village of Crucorney has set up its own energy company and installed solar panels on its village hall. As for Llangattock, it aims to be carbon-neutral within five years. By later this year , a quarter of its 420 homes should be generating solar electricity from their roofs.
So plenty of potential support then for that symbolic electric journey from London. Now one car, the very expensive Tesla Roadster, could make the journey already as its battery has a 200 mile plus range. But if you take a more mainstream model such as the Nissan Leaf, which has a range of less than 100 miles, and closer to 60 miles according to some, there are going to have to be battery charging stops on the way.
But the good news is that we are no longer talking an eight-hour charge, via a wire out of somebody’s kitchen window (that’s Level 1: 120 volts). It’s not even four hours (the 240 volts charger, or Level 2). An electric car battery can be be replenished up to 80% of its capacity, here and now, in between 20 and 30 minutes through the new 480-volt Level 3 DC charger.
So the trip from London to Hay Festival is probably going to have to incorporate two stops of about half an hour each to give the vehicle enough power to reach the festival site comfortably, without some concluding “Will we, won’t we” range-anxiety panic along those beautiful twisty roads through the foothills of the Brecon Beacons.
Fanciful? Certainly not. 480-volt Level 3 DC fast-charging stations are already being installed. There’s one, for example, outside a Walgreens in Dallas, Texas. More are going to be sprinkled along Interstate 5 in Southern Oregon this year, the first stage in a proposed “Green Highway” along the the West Coast from Mexico to Canada.
And the Irish government is pushing ahead with a programme to install the electric vehicle (EV) charging points all over the country. It wants every town with a population of more than 1,500 to have 30 or more DC fast chargers.
One answer would be for the Highways Agency to install fast electric chargers at each service station down the M4. Alternatively they could be placed in hotels on the A40 (the alternative route west) where visitors could stop for a break while the car was charging. (David Peilow has really shown how this can be done, promoting a network to charge the Tesla the length of the UK. Click here.)
The local council, the festival organisers, the people running camping sites, hoteliers, and the nearby, and seriously dark green communities can take a slice of the action, by installing the less expensive Level 2 charging stations. (Once people are there, they won’t have the pressing need to recharge quickly.)
There is the opportunity, too, to meet the other objection to electric cars, that they simply shift the source of carbon from the petrol pump to the electricity meter. EV drivers are already demonstrating that their cars can be powered using energy from renewable sources. (Robert Llewellyn’s blog.) There’s a new type of solar canopy (yes, the sun does shine occasionally in Hay), a bit like an open bus shelter, from the company Use the Sun.
Its structure consists of a steel canopy covered with 45 photovoltaic panels. Power is fed to six chargers at any one timer from solar and mains electricity.
And applying the “dog not only the Christmas” argument, this pretty little town is a draw throughout the year. Fitting electric charging points immediately gives hotels, restaurants and other local businesses a touristic advantage.
But how does a little place in East Wales go about lobbying for a electric car charging infrastructure to be set up on the road from London? More easily than you might imagine. Studying the programme on my visit, I was amazed by the list of speakers, men and women of such political influence and media reach, who journey to Hay. It is an annual pilgrimage of movers and shakers with very few parallels anywhere. Enlist their help. The issue could ignite the Islington dinner party circuit.
My hunch is that some kind of kind of EV charging infrastructure will be be firmly in place in five years time on the way to Hay. But why wait? Set something up by the next festival in May 2012, and steal a two-month march on the the London “green” Olympics.