June 8, 2022

Ep90: Robert Llewellyn "From Red Dwarf to Fully Charged Media Giant"

Robert Llewellyn is the joint CEO of the Fully Charged Show.

Robert Llewellyn is most commonly known for playing the role of Kryten for 30 years in the BBC hit series Red Dwarf. He hosted the Channel 4 series Scrapheap Challenge for 10 years, along with 8 series of How Do They Do It for Channel 5.

More recently he has taken his career to YouTube with The Fully Charged Show, the series has over 870,000 subscribers and now receives an average of 4 million views a month.

On the Fully Charged Show Llewellyn and his co-hosts investigate the rapid development of electric vehicle technology and anything from solar panels to alternative energy sources.

He is the author of seven fiction and eight non-fiction books, Llewellyn, who is of Anglo-Welsh ancestry, learnt to drive at age 11 (having been taught by his older brother in a go-kart); formerly a "petrol-head", he is now a widely acknowledged electric car and renewable energy/clean tech advocate and frequently presents talks on the subject.

Further reading:  




Michael Liebreich: Before we start, if you're enjoying these conversations, please make sure that you like or subscribe to cleaning up. It really helps other people to find us. Cleaning Up is brought to you by Capricorn Investment Group, the Liebreich Foundation and the Gilardini Foundation. Hello, I'm Michael Liebreich and this is Cleaning Up. My guest today is Robert Llewellyn, founder and Co-CEO of Fully Charged Show, a YouTube channel dedicated to electric cars and electrification in general. He has a long career in broadcasting, and those outside the energy transition might know him best as Kryten from the UK hits series Red Dwarf. He's also hosted many years of Scrapheap Challenge and also, How Do They Do It. Please welcome Robert Llewellyn, to Cleaning Up. So, Robert, thank you so much for joining us here on Cleaning Up.


Robert Llewellyn: It is my pleasure, believe me, I'm a regular listener. So, it's a great honour to be here.

ML: Now, we've got a very interesting audience, I hope we'll have a good audience for this episode, because there'll be some of your fans and some of mine, and some of them will know what you do and what Fully Charged Show is. But there might be some that come from my sort of, you know, ethereal wonkish government, regulation, hardcore finance area that wouldn't know. So let's start with that. What is Fully Charged Show?

RL: Well, the Fully Charged Show started 12 years ago, 2010. Very much at the beginning, when we talk about cars, electric cars, which are really, they barely existed. So in 2010, I had a Mitsubishi i-MiEV, very early electric car for a year. And it was like at the end of that year, and I driven it, I think 15,000 or 16,000 miles that year, and I went, okay, this stuff does work. And this was with no public charging infrastructure of any sort anywhere. There was there was a rapid charger at the Mitsubishi headquarters that didn't, generally didn't work. And the instructions to use it were in Japanese that no one, it's really, you know, in the UK could speak it, which is sort of embarrassing. So, there was it was a very extreme use, because I couldn't go very far in it. So, I used it for local trips or school, picking up my children from school, they were still at school then, and you know, go to the shops, that sort of thing. But I was really impressed with how well it worked. Considering you know, and I just charged it at home. That was the thing. And all those little things I learned in that first period of time driving it was, you know, people say how long does it take to charge. In reality, about four seconds, which is how long it took to plug it in, you are not waiting, not standing there waiting. And it's that psychological thing that I got, this is going to be really difficult, this change. I did get that early on this is a lot of people are going to find this impossible to adjust to or it felt like that there was such huge resistance to it in every aspect. You know, I mean that by then there were you know, the guys on Top Gear had talked about electric cars and how they'd never work. And James, which was the nice one, the one with a long hair, I always forget their names.

ML: Captain Slow.

RL: Yeah, let's call him Captain Slow. He just said they're ridiculous. They'll never work. Hydrogen is the future. That was the first time I ever heard that term. We'll get onto that later. So there was quite a lot of resistance. And I just thought it's worth doing something. I actually pitched the idea to the BBC, with a producer who had worked on Top Gear, it was a guy that I knew and I'd worked with. And they weren't horrible or negative, but they just didn't know what we were talking about. They went well we do Top Gear, why would we do another show about cars that was completely different. It's the antithesis of Top Gear. Didn't work, gave up. And then sort of did it on YouTube. And it took a long time to get traction. It was very, very slow. So, it took I think it took over two years because I remember telling my wife, I've had a million views on Fully Charged, aggregated. That took two years to get to a million views. We now average about a million views a week. So, it has transformed. But you know, that is a long time.

ML: I'm all excited because we're moving through on the podcast and YouTube. We're just moving through 6000 a week, which is about 300,000 a year, but it's taken us two years, but I suppose that is my ethereal, you know, wonky regulat-y, hardcore finance, you know, type audience, they're not quite as enthusiastic to jump on the latest trend even as your slow start.

RL: Yeah, I mean, it was I mean, I think I did have that advantage of having done you know what I would call oldschool TV, you know, so I've done a lot I done a lot of time doing that, before I did anything on YouTube and, and I also had previously tried another show sort of as an experiment on YouTube called Carpool where I just gave people lifts, you know, in a Toyota Prius, and with cameras in the car and recorded, I did 118 episodes of that, I think, and it was quite a lot of comedians that I knew. But also, I had brain surgeons and civil engineers.

ML: I had no idea because of course, nowadays, what is it Comedians in Cars, the chap who had Barack Obama and it always comes up in my timeline. Okay. But now, just fast forward. If you don't say you've now got, you get a million views a week you said.

RL: It depends. Not every week, not every week. But we have done with, you know, that is why we have had many of those weeks, but yeah, last week definitely not.

ML:  And, you've also got something called Fully Charged Live. You can also talk about what you have, or what do you do on the show, just for completeness, for those who are not familiar? What is a typical episode look like and what is Fully Charged Live?

RL: Right. So it is, I mean, I think we are proudly saying this is not my technical skill by any means. But we have a crew that produce really, you know, broadcast quality episodes, they look like television, they're very well shot, they're very well edited. They're very well, they're, they're very finessed. And that, you know, it's been an amazing achievement to do that on the budget we work on is which is miniscule in comparison with a broadcast budget, but with so they are very, they could be about the batteries in my house, or the solar panels on my roof, or on someone else's roof, or how a company is managing, charging a load of electric delivery vehicles, but there could also be a review of a new car. So we've certainly done a huge amount of reviews of cars, of electric cars from all over the place. And where we have contacts, now we have presenters in Norway, the Netherlands, South Korea, China, United States, and that really makes a huge difference We've had a lot of episodes from a wonderful man, Eliot Richards, who lives in Shanghai, he can't do anything at the moment because he's locked in his apartment. But eventually he'll be allowed out, I'm sure. And he's reviewed, amazing Chinese cars that we would, some of which we will never see in the West. But many of those are coming here. So we get very early glimpses of that, but also infrastructure in China. So he's actually shot an episode. We haven't seen it yet about the Three Gorges Dam, and how much electricity that produces about renewables in China, about the train system. So, we've had amazing videos about the bullet trains in China and the investment that has gone into that and all that stuff. Which causes sometimes a little bit of critical comments that were supporting the Chinese Communist Party, but then I go, well, your t-shirt is also supporting this because it's made in China. Anyway, that's another topic. So they vary very widely. Also electric bikes, trucks, boats, and then most recently plane so we haven't put the plane <inaudible> yet. But I went, I flew in an electric. It's a training plane for pilot training, a pipistrelle.

ML: Is this a pipistrelle?

RL: Yes. Yeah, very, very small. And it was a very, very windy day and has the wonderful pilot who saved my life said that flight was at the very limit of what this plane is capable of. But thankfully, he said that after we landed, he didn't speak of it when we're in the air bouncing around like a ping pong ball.

ML:  Well could we could we could go off on a whole thing about electric aviation and I’ll watch that episode. Maybe we should, we should, we should do that. But the point is that it doesn't just it's not just test driving cars. So it's not really a Top Gear, you know, analogue. And do you notice patterns in that viewership? Where the ones with cars, get more viewers and the ones with you get more viewers than the other presenters? Or is it is it unpredictable, what will take off?

RL: It's kind of a bit unpredictable. And we try not to let our choices be governed by whether it will get a lot of views. If we think it's an important topic, we'll cover it even if, and we've been proven right, we think this probably won't get a lot of views. But let's do it anyway. And then it doesn't get lots of views. But you know, I kind of feel overall that the views are high enough for it to keep sustaining and keep growing. But it's certainly not. Not I don't get more views than say, the other people who present, it depends. It really depends on the topic. And so one of the things we've noticed is now particularly for European and North American cars, if we're doing a review of another big heavy electric SUV, or a large car, the views are lower than if we do a review of a smaller, cheaper, lighter, more compact electric car. Very interesting. That is where really a lot of interest is and so many comments about when we do that. I think it's fantastic. Audi e-tron which is a big car and I test drove that and I said: useful a man my age can get out without grunting. That's a big plus. It's really beautiful car, beautifully made goes like stink, if you want that, all those things, uses a staggering amount of electricity each kilometre it travels. It's not an economic vehicle to drive. But if you buy one of these, that's not why you're buying it bla bla. And that got quite a lot of negativity, because you've got “yet another big heavy car. Why can't we have small light ones?” You know, that's a very common comment.

ML: Funny thing that the Mitsubishi i-MiEV was so seminal in this history and it was a small car. So I went to an electric vehicle test driving day. And it would have been around probably 2012 or 2013. Because there was, everybody was very excited because there was the first Tesla Roadster and then there was a big queue to test drive that and I thought I'm not standing in a queue. And I drove the Mitsubishi and thought it was absolutely fantastic. That sort of thing that I used to zip around in London, and came away having not even made it to the front of the queue for the Tesla Roadster. But completely convinced, I already been convinced before but completely convinced that this was the future of transportation because of driving the i-MiEV. That is a historic vehicle that's underappreciated, I think.

RL: Absolutely right. Yes. And I actually had one the other day well, while my wife's car was being serviced, they loan to <inaudible> It's actually a Citroen, but it's exactly the same car, identical car. And it made me laugh so much driving back up because I live up a hill and that was being serviced down in the valley. And it took me back to those days when I knew I could get into Cheltenham, ot is our nearest town, which is where the service centre is. And I could get into Cheltenham on using virtually no power, you know, the rarely used any of the bars on the little battery thing. But coming back, it just destroys, absolutely wipes out the range going up a hill, but very, very cute to drive again. And it's so easy to park it and turn it around. I mean, it's got amazing turning circle, tiny little car. Great, great little thing.

ML: Right. So now your response that it's not just your episodes that do well suggests that you built quite, a you know, you're building a media property. It's not just a vanity project. And it's not just a celebrity project, you know, that your, you know, intimately could only work around you. So how have you extended that, the Fully Charged Shows, the Fully Charged Lives are an extension of that, what do they do?

RL: Well, they kind of make in effect the business work, you know, because you can't you can't I were reliant on you know, I don't have a private income from any anywhere else. And so, and for many, for many years, I funded Fully Charged Show myself because from doing public talks and other events and other media stuff that I do from back in the day. And so that's what kept it going for the first five years. So you know, it was very, very sporadic. It wasn't on the same level as is it now. But the even with YouTube advertising, and Patreon, which were our two kind of key things that have made us survive this long. It's really the live shows that allow us to plan ahead if you like, and work out what we're going to be doing this time next year, and how do we get them to come we have a studio, you know, we've still working in a tiny office where everybody edits. And of course, we worked at home for two years. But that's sort of coming back now. And so, the live shows fund that process and it's even with that, it's not enough, you know, when you when I think of working in broadcast television, the budgets we had on those were eye watering, you know, I don't tell the crew that we worked with now, what sort of budgets that you have on broadcast television, because it's a lot more you know, so we're making say 20 minutes of television for the same cost as you'd probably make one or two minutes of broadcast television. It’s that different you know, so that is a key part of it. So the business effectively is the live shows, fund the video shows to a large extent and we're now doing them all over the world effectively. You know, we've done one in America just before lockdown two years ago and so that really knocked us for six not doing the live shows was difficult to get through that period. We've managed to keep everyone that we want that is in business. And then since we've been able to do the live shows again, so we're about to do one in Amsterdam, which will be in May, after this will have happened by the time this goes out. But then the next one is San Diego in California in September following that is Sydney, Australia in March of next year. Then two more in the UK, one in Amsterdam and one another one in San Diego and one in Vancouver next year. So we're doing five I think next year, which is mind boggling.

ML:  So it's not just a media empire, it's a global media empire.

RL: It's a huge global media empire. And that is literally run on a very frail shoestring. A strong one.

ML: Presumably at some point, Netflix will sort of swoop and say, here we go, how about we multiply your budget by a factor of 4800. And then you can sort of...

RL: I mean, the weird thing is, and I mean, I would never say never to anything, but what it what it has done, I think this is the advantage I have from having worked in broadcast TV for a long time, is the freedom and that we can cover what we want. And we're not, we're not having to be anyone's sort of editorial strictures, that's really been an amazing, liberating experience, and it makes you prepared to work for less money, because you can, you've got that control over it. And I think I'd be very low to give that up. So it might be that we do something for a broadcaster or a Netflix or an Apple TV or whatever. But it will be a separate production in effect. So, we'd keep Fully Charged Show going. You know, the danger with it is that we're completely in the hands of YouTube and Google if they change their, if they decide to close YouTube down, we're finished. So there’s that danger, but I think it's unlikely to be honest.

ML: So I'm always behind you with Cleaning Up but I hear you entirely on the you know that the support is basically me, I have a little foundation. The Gilardini Foundation has also been very helpful if there's a friend of mine who has who is Gilardini, and who supports a little bit, but has but has made it very clear he doesn't want to change anything editorially. Right, and you know, I do what I want, and the production costs are probably a 10th, even of yours, because all I do is sit in this chair and talk to the most extraordinary people. But talking of extraordinary people. You've mentioned a few times your career in broadcasting. And again, not everybody listening to this on my side of the of the you know, from my audience base would know about your background. So, you were Kryton in Red Dwarf for how many years did you do that?

RL: Well, I mean, if you can't, from when I said yes to doing it to 2020, I can't work it out. 34 years. But I mean, we had some there was some long gaps in that 34 years was where we didn't make it but...

ML: How many episodes I mean that’s aa staple. I mean, that's part of at least UK’s cultural heritage, and it's not quite Monty Python, but it's not. Bu it's in the peloton, isn't it?

RL: Yeah, no, it is. It's been amazing. I think we've done I guess it's full, it works out. It's sort of 14 series in that time. I thought that's what it is. And I don't know just about hundreds of episodes. I don't know how many, I've never counted. So a lot.

ML: And then you did the you did the famous Scrapheap Challenge. And then and then I've got to get the name right.

RL: How Do They Do It.

ML: Yes, How Do They Do It. And is this a kind of fascination with engineering, steampunk kind of ethic that goes through from Red Dwarf through to Fully Charged Show?

RL: Well, yeah, so in a way, the Red Dwarf is the anomaly for me. So that was like, an acting job if you like. And I mean, I was never. I actually auditioned once for the Royal Shakespeare Company. And it was like having a fabulous lesson in how you understand Shakespearean language, but there's no way I was going to get the part. Because, you know, you need to train for that. And I've never trained I've never been to drama school. It wasn't something, when I was at school, I painted the set for the school play. I didn't want to be in it, but I had so I had none of that kind of showbiz ambition at all. And it was really through writing that I've accidentally fell into performing and then enjoyed it when I did it. I'm not saying that. But it was a very roundabout route that I got there. It wasn't a kind of childhood passion that I followed.

ML: What sort of thing were you writing that got you into Red Dwarf?

RL: I wanted to write books, and I didn't know how you did it. And so I wrote a funny, like people talking to each other, which I then realised that was a script. I mean, I'm ashamed to say these things I should be. But that is true. You know, I just didn't know how what I didn't understand the structure is I mean, I didn't go to university I left I was asked to leave school, slash expelled at the age of 16. So it was a rather unruly pupil, but not, I think quite an academic one, but frustrated by the structures of the school I was at. So, you know, I missed out on a further education which might have explained to me this is how publishing works. This is how you write a script.

ML: But it's interesting because then even Red Dwarf I would I still think there's a sort of steampunk engineering, absolutely, certainly a geeky kind of, you know, feel to it. And then what you've done with you know, Scrapheap and, you know, all the way through. So, are you an engineer <inaudible> or an author <inaudible>?

RL: No, and I think it's over a long, long period of time. I'm an engineer <inaudible>. And for instance, my brother is a proper engineer and automotive engine. He's retired now, but he was, you know, he he would be able to build an engine with metal, give them a load of metal. Four years later, you've got a functioning engine, I mean, really, really skilled, built gearboxes for Formula One cars, built exhaust manifolds, and a lot of scientific research into proving you know, combustion engines works for Formula One teams in his time in his career, built fuel tanks with Formula One teams, all that sort of stuff. He now is building an electric supercar, which is very amusing because he's the most petrol head man I've ever known. But he's very keen on it, and it'll take him years, you know, he doesn't work fast, but he works brilliantly well. So that is in the blood. I mean, I've learned to drive when I was 11. In a go kart that my brother built, he's three years older than me, with a lawnmower engine at the back, but my God, because I was so skinny and small, it really it really shifted. There wass no extra weight. You know so that has been a lifelong interest and passion without that.

ML: So, in fact, I'm an engineer <inaudible> as well, because I studied engineering, I went to engineering, I never worked as an engineer, and I never became a member of any of these engineering. You know, I don't have the letters after my name. Anybody who's listening to this and wants to give them to me, I'd be happy to be an honorary whatever. I found myself doing more engineering, you know, since I founded New Energy Finance, and I've had to get my head around, and I've probably had more impact on the engineering world through what I do than had I gone off to be an engineer. So we both <inaudible>. But now see you touched on your brother's building this electric supercar. So we start with the i-MiEV, the little tiny Mitsubishi sort of motorised shopping trolley, and you end up with the with the supercars as they are now, and you've sort of tracked that all along. When you started, did you see that coming?

RL: No, not at all. I think it has the kind of key for me, the key cars that that twisted it turned it to fully on, this transition. Right at the early stages were the Nissan LEAF, the Tesla Roadster. And the Tesla Roadster because when I first drove that I did drive that they lent me one for a couple of days and we filmed it. I just went this is extraordinary because I'm in a car that's at the very limit of how of performance cars that I've driven. I hadn't driven lots of I haven't driven like loads of Ferraris. But I've driven a Porsche. I've driven a Lamborghini once you know, it belonged to people I met, they let me have a go or being on a track often through my brother, I drove some fast cars. So I understood that fast cars are fairly terrifying. Getting a little roadster which was pretty uncomfortable. It's a very uncomfortable car to drive a long way in. But the performance in it was extraordinary. So, then I went, oh, okay, electric cars can have very impressive performance. And then the LEAF I picked up because it was the first production car built as an electric car wasn't converted like the i-MiEV was a petrol car in Japan for many years before it was electrified. And I think that and then the Renault Zoe, those ones kind of showed that there was a commitment within the within sectors of the automotive industry to make this work. And I mean, we've got to take a hat off to Carlos Ghosn, I mean, a very extraordinary, I've interviewed him and an extraordinary life story.

ML: Otherwise known now as the fugitive known as...

RL: Yeah, hiding in Lebanon, you know, just the most extraordinary story but what an amazing guy. So I mean, in in terms of those early pioneers that pushed through the determination, Musk and Ghosn, were really critically important at that period.

ML: Have you ever driven a GM EV1? Do they still exist?

RL: They do still exist. So when we had our show in the last Fully Charged Live show in America was in Austin, Texas, an amazing woman called Chelsea Sexton brought down and EV1 she had worked for GM when they were producing that car when they weren’t you know, selling or leasing that car. And so we did get one. So, I've sat in one, but it had died many years before I sat in it. It wasn't functioning it there's only a few of them left. Someone was in, I think, the University of Oklahoma in Tulsa, Oklahoma, somewhere like that, where and it's used by students to take it apart and put it back together. So, it wasn't a functioning vehicle. But it's really impressive when you, I actually think one of the, they should bring it back. It's only a two-seater. But if you use today's battery technology and software in that car, you'd have a 500-mile range, two-seater car, you know, it's a fantastic little thing. And it’s small, it’s very small.

ML: And for those who are not familiar with the story, who are in the audience, that this was the car that was launched by GM in what was it sometime in the late 90s. And they then wouldn't, they wouldn't sell them, they then gathered them all back in and crushed them because they were worried that it would just that it would make the point that Elon Musk ultimately and the Nissan LEAF and so on made but the electric cars can actually compete on a level playing field. And so you've probably driven most of the big models of electric cars that we talked about. Any other highlights? You've mentioned the LEAF, you mentioned a few there, the Tesla Roadster. Which ones other than that, would you pick out as being that kind of readjusted your views on the sector?

RL: I mean, I think it's very difficult not to highlight Tesla. So, I've had a Tesla Model S when that came out. And now I have a Tesla Model 3, and I didn't particularly like the Tesla Model S as a car because it's so big. And I just it was, when I've driven one in America, it felt normal. But when I went on, I live on a very narrow country lane in Gloucestershire. That was basically I gave up turning right out of my house, because that's a very narrow bit of like, I turn left and go around the block if I need to go on because it was it's just too narrow. It's when both your wing mirrors and brushing hedges on both sides, you know, that's a very, very wide car.

ML: The Tesla X is even wider. Yeah, we had that one on loan, and it just felt like driving. I mean, it was, I don't want to be I don't want to get like into trouble and have every all the Tesla heads, hating on me and hating on you. I don't need to put you through that. But let's just say I did not like the X at all. I liked the S, but I don't like the X at all.

RL: No, but the difference was, you know, when we had so we went from Nissan LEAF, the original model, essentially, which if you were careful, I think I did do about 85 miles on a charge without it running out. And when I deliberately ran it out to see what happens. We filmed it took hours to run out, I actually did 103 miles. So actually, it will do 100, but you know, that's a whole other story. But then we had a Model S and we went to Italy on holiday in it without a second thought and that was the difference. You go this is extraordinary. Because of the and it was yes, it's got the range I mean realistically on freeways and highways 250 miles realistic range in that, though it said 300 and but the supercharging network in in Europe, which is now double the size it was when we did that so it's a few years ago. Just meant you didn't the last thing you worried about was charging. You worried about where are the loos? Where can I get a coffee? We need a baguette for our lunch. Those things are all then oh, charging. Yeah. Yeah. So that did make a big difference.

ML: And what about the, so I'm waiting and actually did an episode with Pasquale Romano who's the CEO of ChargePoint where we got into a bit of to and fro about when I might switch because I am still driving a Volvo XC90 4.4 litre petrol. You see, this is the reaction always. What happens is, I'm very green in most of what I do, the bad things I do is a bit of flying mainly for work. And that car and I can't replace the car yet because I need a seven-seater. That can get me from London to Switzerland, you know, without going through conniptions. And also, at the end of it can drive up a steep slope that could be covered with ice with seven people inside and skis somewhere because that's what I do. And I’m waiting for the really big, big Merc, big Rivian, Ford F150 Lightning, something like that. So yeah, I might be the part of your audience that doesn't care about the little ones. I kind of yeah, that's great. We've got an ID4 for it's not quite the little one but we were waiting for the seven-seater SUV.

RL: Yeah, I mean, I think the Rivian I mean, we because we had the Rivians in live show in Austin. And they were extraordinary, so I didn't drive it. So I sat in it and then there's a Rivian pickup truck, but there's also the sort of SUV.

ML: I think that’s the R1S which is the one I need to look at.

RL: No, it's stunning and they've been really beautifully made. And so the big thing with that I've got my fingers crossed, as I talk about them is that they survive. And they actually manufacture a lot of cars. Because as you know, I now understand a lot more about the automotive industry than I did 12 years ago. I.e. it's quite, it's not that hard to build a very glamorous looking car that you take to a car show. One. And then and then you go, and when we start manufacturing these in our fabulous factory that’s empty, we will, you know, you'll be able to buy them. And that the difference between that one sample if you like, and 10,000 a week coming out of the factory is huge, as we now know. I mean, the fact that Musk has done it with Tesla is a remarkable achievement. You know what other car companies started up since the war, if you like, that has been a success. I can't think of any I mean, it's, it's the first one for a long, long time. So it is an amazing achievement. But yeah, there's lots of things about him. I don't want to talk about Musk. Mainly annoying, but incredibly talented.

ML: There was one funny thing that I having started up his factory, and remember, there was a whole thing when he said it was all going to be automated or going to be robots, turn the dial, get them work, and then turn them on. They'll just go really, really, really fast. And then it didn't work. And he said something about how humans are underrated or something like that.

RL: But possibly by you, Mr. Musk, maybe not the <inaudible>

ML: Mainly I find him annoying as well. Yeah, but he has certainly helped to change the world here. You've also done lots of other sorts of vehicles, which we talked about earlier that you haven't just done cars. What are the most? What's the most fun you've had on an EV? Was it driving a car or was it a beach buggy or a lawnmower? Or some other? What else is fun?

RL: Yeah, so I'm terrified of motorbikes so that I'm not very good at going very fast with only two wheels. I like to be in a box with four wheels. But we have had amazing motorbikes on the show, and some more coming. Andy Torbet is a daredevil; he'll do things like that, ride fast motorbikes. But I think there are two that jump out immediately well, from the smallest which is my, I've got a battery-operated lawnmower, Bosch lawnmower. We've got quite a lot of grass, not cutting at the moment because it's no mown May my wife reminded me and I was desperate because it’s all grown up really fast. But that that has been proven itself over what now five or six years just to be... Why did I have petrol lawnmower? Such a pain. I charge the batteries here. You know, it's just so easy to use. It works very, very well. And it's, you know, that sort of next, that sort of second generation of electronic device with batteries. Oh, they work now. They used to be a pain in the ass, now they work. You know, that's so it's been very good. There's that and then I went on a battery powered ferry that goes between Northern Denmark and Sweden. Not a very big distance. It goes from what would call Elsinore Castle. Helsingborg.

ML: I did a lot of work on battery powered ferries for Latin America with the IADB the Inter-American Development Bank. And we took the business model or the economics of the Ellen and then applied it to the different countries of Latin America. That's a no brainer that that's going to be very end up like short distance ferries. It's very difficult going over about 100 kilometres.

RL: Yeah, but what was remarkable. I think what I had in mind, this was part of another. We were filming lots of different things up in Norway in Sweden. So, I was going, oh, brilliant, electric ferry. And I think I had the idea that it would be like once I've been on to Scottish Islands, where you drive on a sort of flat tray with a thing where there's a man steering it and there's like four cars and one caravan. This was huge. There was like a whole queue of trucks. It is a proper big ferry that you go over the channel in from Dover, you know, that scale. And then we sat in it, and then you heard and felt nothing. And then you'd look up and it was quite disturbing, because you'd suddenly see the landscape moving past you. And it started making no noise at all. No vibration, no, nothing at all. really remarkable. And the recharging was extraordinary. It's 1.5 megawatts when they plug it it's a robotic arm that plugs in and charges it. And it's charging at 1.5 megawatts. So that's a lot more than a supercharger. I was impressed with that.

ML: Have you driven any HGVs. I'm now doing a lot of work on freight. Because, you know, people have now decided that freight you know, everything will go electric except maybe the heavy and long distance. And I'm not convinced that they're right at all. And so I'm doing a lot of modelling a lot of work and actually have put together a team to potentially, you know, invest in electrification of freight. Have you driven any electric trucks, big trucks?

RL: Yeah, so I mean, right early on, I drove the Modec van which is a big van is bigger than a transit van. It's quite a large vehicle. That was really slightly, and it was a brilliant British company. It did go out of business because it was a bit early. But UPS still, occasionally in London, I'll see one, UPS use them. And they've been using them now for it's got to be like 12 years minimum. And they've been very reliable trucks. So I actually drove one of those many years ago, and then more recently, I've been in a Volta truck, which is a new British company, but I think they're made in Germany. Anyway, that I drove it in Wembley, and that was very impressive, but I didn't drive it there was a proper truck drivers and that’s a battery powered truck.

ML:  So you haven't been in the big Volvo truck?

RL:  No. But I want to.

ML: Or the Tesla, what do they call it? The big rig, or whatever. Or the famous Nikola which only works downhill apparently.

RL: It's fine. As long as your distribution depot is at the top of a hill and where you take it to the shop is down the hills, brilliant, works really well.

ML: Well, I love the business case, which I heard about in New Zealand, and I'm not sure if it's yet been done or not, which is logging trucks that don't need charging. Because they come down the hill with a load, regeneratively charge and then can drive back up under their own steam. I suspect they've got a plug somewhere just in case.

RL: They took it a bit too far. But there is an example of that in Switzerland. Now the mine that is up a mountain. And they've got a massive like, 500 tonne carry capacity, huge mining truck, but electric. And that is a, that is a generator basically actually dumps the power into the grid at the end of the day. So that drives up along hill gets filled up with rock and when it comes down, it produces way more electricity than it uses going up empty. Well, all the quarries I'd been the truck go down into the quarry empty and then climb up full. And that's a very different model. But regenerative braking is, on that scale, when you've got a huge amount of weight and a long way to go there. It produces like one and a half megawatts as it's going down the hill, which is mind boggling really. So we desperately want to go and I want to go and have a go in that because I've driven one of those on other TV shows. They are monstrous things, you climb up ladders to get into the cab.

ML:  I spend quite a bit of time in Switzerland. So, if you do get to go to Switzerland to do that, I've not heard of it. But I'd love to come along, my engineering…

RL: I'm recording that because I think that Michael, that would be such a brilliant episode to have you there as well, because you'd be able to explain what's going on much more than I could, we could both have a ride in it.

ML: Absolutely let's definitely, let's work on that. And we can't get through this episode without talking about since I've sort of I've given you the leading question, talking about HGVs and freight, we cannot do this without mentioning hydrogen. All of this is of course, just an evolutionary dead end. Because really the answer is hydrogen, right?

RL: Yeah. I've heard that many times. And also what I think is interesting is it goes in waves. So there was definitely a time, certainly when I first started, everyone said, well, yeah, these are all well and good, your fancy battery cars, but they won't last, you have to throw the battery and hydrogen is the future. That was the kind of standard response. And interestingly, the second car I ever drove on Fully Charged, was the Honda Clarity. I drove it in Germany with Quentin Wilson. In fact, the two of us went and we both, there were two of them. And we drove one each, beautiful,  one of the nicest cars I've ever driven, the Honda Clarity, just in terms of regardless what if it even if it was diesel, it would just go wow, this is a really well designed car. It's really easy to drive. The visibility is beautiful. It's very fast, it's smooth and all those things. But that was a hydrogen fuel cell car that I think cost about one and a half million euros if you could buy one, which you couldn't. And we went to a hydrogen refuelling station which was next to a chlorine factory. And hydrogen is a sort of a waste product in the process of producing chlorine. So we filled it with hydrogen, took about 15 minutes. It wasn't as quick as filling it with petrol. It was expensive. It costs slightly more per mile than a petrol car would have at that time. So that was a kind of, it was fascinating to see that and I've since driven the Toyota Mirai. Again beautiful car to drive and Hyundai Nexo. Those are all hydrogen fuel cell cars. They all have batteries. I just want to point that out. Not as big as you'd have in a Tesla but they do have fairly chunky batteries. So they've got all the disadvantages of batteries and incredibly complex piece of machinery, I mean, beautifully done. Absolutely. Hats off to the engineers that put those things together. But the one clue I got when I drove the Nexo across South Korea, so from Seoul to the Winter Olympics site, on the other side of Korea, so it was when the Winter Olympics were in Korea. And then halfway there was a restaurant with a hydrogen refilling station. And we didn't need the hydrogen refill, but it was just part of the press package that and when we got there, there was yellow tape around the hydrogen fueling station because it didn't work. And I know, that's happened with electric recharging. There's been problems with that. I'm not saying it, but it was so symbolic. But the good side is we could carry on our journey, it had enough range to get us to where we're going. So, it didn't matter. But it was difficult to not notice that, it's a complicated, it's a technically complicated way of fueling a car. Petrol and diesel is really easy. It's just a liquid, pour it in, off you go.

ML: You know, I think you and I could disappear down that rabbit hole, and start listing all of the reasons why it's not going to be hydrogen. For cars, buses, taxis, scooters, motorbikes. And as I said, you know, in my view, probably most of freight, but we'll be here, you know, we've only got, we've only got six more hours to go on this on this show. So, we should probably not do that. But I just want to go into a kind of rapid fire round if I could, because there's a whole bunch of questions, which you must have had a million times and I'm sure you've rehearsed the answers therefore. Do you worry about minerals? You know, because these cars are a bit heavier and they do involve nickel and copper and lithium and rare earths and so on? Do you worry that the minerals supply chain will either just not materialize, not be there or it'll be so filthy that we shouldn't do it?

RL: Definitely worried about it. I mean, it's definitely a big issue. And it has to be. I mean, this is one of the critical things that I think the two critical arguments that have come out of my experience from Fully Charged is one, our relationship with cars might need to change, you know, and this is going to be generational. I think people my age might find this very hard. I.e. do you really need to own a car privately, that's your car? And that you use for between 5% and 10% of the time that you own it, it kind of seems a little bit of an odd..

ML: I must point out, although I have confessed to my Volvo XC 90, I will say that I do not use it most of the time I'm in London. And in London, I'm a member of a car club. I have been since 2002, or something like that. And I don't use a car in London. I don't need to.

RL: Yeah, I mean, I think this is a really critical thing is that when I've seen successful, well thought out car sharing scheme. So the two things the first one is always in Berlin. Second was, more recently in Utrecht, all electric cars. And I met enough people who were I don't know how else to explain it. wealthy middle-class people, university graduates who have owned cars, and have gotten rid of them, because they that the service that they experienced with the car sharing is a better experience. You know, they haven't done it to be tree hugging or, you know, environmental, they've done it because it's better. You know, when they want a car for the kids with car seats in they can book one when they want a car to go to see Granny at the weekend, they can get one of those when they want to go to the shops up the road, they can get a little Renault Zoe, you know, whatever it is, and they're all because it's they're good at dense populations in the Netherlands, everyone, they all ride bikes.

ML: This could just be further proof that the next sort of evolution of humans is happening in Utrecht?

RL: I think so, I think they are evolutionary  step ahead of us. I mean, they have bicycle motorways, once you have a bicycle highway, suspension bridge that's built just for bikes over a big canal, amazing bridge. I mean, a big investment, isn't a bit of old wood over a ditch. It's a proper big bridge. But all that aside, that's all better. That means, you know, if you look at the statistics of how that could work, it would mean we would have less cars on our streets that aren't being used. I.e. all the streets in London if you think what street in London, what do you think, houses, loads of cars parked on either side, you know that's, that is normal. Imagine if that was reduced by 80%. Still would be one or two cars, but there'd be far less it would be a nicer environment to live in. But also, the minerals thing I think is is a huge challenge. One mining engineer I spoke to a couple of years ago said that we have to stop digging. He was Australian, he said we have to stop digging shit up by 2050. You know that we have to recycle. I mean, recently, JB Straubel, who was a founder of Tesla, who now runs Redwood Materials, has successfully started to really produce a lot of material for batteries from old batteries. And we need that proof of industrial scale recycling, which he is pushing. And there's plenty of other I mean, I think British Volt, I'm really pleased to hear British Volt, the new factory being built here. At Northvolt, up in Sweden, they have a section of the factory from the ground up building from the ground up to recycle their batteries, they know what's in them, and they know how to break them up and reuse them. And I think that's, that's got to happen. But I think we are facing a really big change, because in a sense, we need terawatts of storage. With all the cars and vehicles and buses, you know, it's on a scale. And I think the one glimmer of hope is there will be one of the many, many alternatives to sort of lithium ion as we know it now, will work, you know, a solid state battery, which using different materials, something will, one of them will work, I wouldn't put money on any of them yet. I think it's too early. So, I think eventually, we may have carbon batteries that are made of carbon. I mean, they already exist, but not on a commercial level. So, I think in 20 years' time, it's quite possible you could have a battery. And if someone says what, how do you recycle? You go, you don't because it's made of carbon, you sort of mash it up. And you're <inaudible> you know, you compost it.

ML: But I think you've touched on essentially the different solutions, which is cleaning up mining, which is reducing demand, which is innovation and technology. And the answer is we're going to need all of the above. But it also feels to me like there's going to be this big bulge of demand for minerals, but then ultimately it will kind of with recycling, it will ultimately kind of roll it's got to go down all the way ultimately. So yeah, what about the grid? Because the other thing you hear a lot in the UK is you need 60 more nuclear power stations to charge all these cars. And everybody knows that, except that we just had John Pettigrew, the CEO of National Grid who kind of dealt with that one quite a bit. But what's your… How do you answer? How do you encapsulate a good answer to that question?

RL: I mean, I think the way that I understood it the first time was to look at the demand graph, if you like the daily usage of electricity in the UK, and that those enormous dips and peaks of the way that we consume electricity now. Human beings are very annoying, we don't we don't use electricity at the same amount all day. And when you when I sort of had, I was at the National Grid Control Room in Reading, when that when that was explained to me, and I kind of knew that that happened, I didn't know what it meant. And that peak, the top of that peak is the dirtiest and the most expensive electricity that we ever use. And even that's got a bit cleaner in the last 10 years. But it's still when we have to turn everything on. And when you have to turn everything on, that means that that stuff that's being turned on to fill that peak isn't running, when it's down low, it's not on, and it's not on during the day, when the average use is lower, you know, it's on at that peak, that means you've got to keep that thing ready to go 24 hours a day, how do you do that? You pay people money. What does that mean? It means energy costs more. How do you get rid of that? By not using electricity in that peak? You know, that makes sense to me, I understand that. And one way of doing that is certainly don't plug your car in and charge it at five o'clock in the afternoon, you know, between 4:30 and 7 o'clock. And that's been my ambition since I've understood that is I never use electricity from the grid at that time, so that I've got batteries in my house. But the next step I think is vehicle to house, I'm not sure about vehicle to grid yet. I'm not completely convinced, although the car sharing scheme I mentioned in Utrecht, all those cars have bidirectional charging, and they have that they have the biggest vehicle to grid experiment currently in the world in Utrecht. And it you know is that it's on that scale when it's not a privately owned vehicle, I think it could work on commercial vehicles, all those things. That aside, you know, if I could run my house, off my car for three or four hours, it's like 20 miles range, you're not like draining it to nothing. And if my house makes no difference, a million houses would reduce that peak demand we'd have so the I think the argument at the end of the day is when enough electric cars on the road and they can connect like that and that is I think going to happen, we will have we will need less generating capacity, not more, because we can spread it out and run it more efficiently, constantly rather than in peaks.

ML: And definitely, so smart charging so you can move it around and put it at the right time of day is an absolute, you know, without that, that huge peak. If everybody comes home and it get worse, then clearly it's going to be a problem. But vehicle to grid is an interesting one. I used to be very sceptical because the batteries only had 1000 cycles. And it's like, why would you do sort of $40 worth of damage to your battery taking out one cycle and only be paid a buck or two for that? But now that batteries do not 1000 cycles, but 10,000 cycles? Yeah. And so you're not doing $40 of damage, and the costs have come down. So you're only doing in a sense $1 of damage, and you might earn $1 or $2, or $5, why wouldn't you do that? So I'm now much more of a believer in vehicle to grid. Also, what's very interesting was to see how that Ford F150 Lightning, one of the reasons, one of the ways they were marketing it is saying, go on a camping trip and use this car to drive everything or if there's a power cut, because of the <inaudible> libtards have made your grid unreliable, but you will have a Ford and the Ford will run your house. And that's how Americans do things. It's tremendous.

RL: Yes. It's freedom. Yeah, no, I mean, I did see a panel last year, where when a Ford executive explained the sales increase when they put that advert the commercials over on the TV commercial on the Superbowl, you know, he said it's 100,000 orders came from that one moment where you saw the guy turn the lights on in his house, and people went, yo, that's the one I want.

ML: That's great. And you know, you can sort of turn that 100,000 orders into, you know, that's not a cheap vehicle. So that's a good, that's a good few million being unlocked there. It brings me to the last topic that I thought I'd love to get your thoughts on, which is, you meet lots of people who love this stuff, right? That's your crowd. They love it. And they go to a Fully Charged show and they, you know, they watch all your videos and so on. But there are also a lot of people who absolutely hate it. Why do they hate it so much? What is the human, what is it in the psyche of humans that makes people hate something, you know that you know, it's not perfect, and it's, it doesn't give everybody meaning or whatever it all it is at the end of the day is a car or a technology. Why do people hate it so much?

RL: I mean, it is fascinating. I think it is the… I had, even at Fully Charged Live. So a woman asked to…No, that was another talk it wasn't at Fully Charged. But you're right, that is that is talking within the bubble at Fully Charged. But a woman just was asking me questions about the battery and having to throw the battery away. And she wasn't being nasty, or anything she was worried about it, she'd read that you can have an electric car that has a battery, well, she's had batteries in her phone that die after two years, she had maybe batteries in a tablet that dies after two or three years, or don't die, but like fade so badly and then you get a new phone and that and that's our experience of batteries. And to explain that isn't the way that a car battery works. There is a different technology, it's using different software that runs it blah, blah, blah. You know, it’s a long, detailed explanation. It's a very hard one and also that we melt the grid. And you know, she had all those concerns. And I just said and she said what about wind turbine blades being recycled? And I went you're absolutely right, they've got to be now the latest versions of them are built out of materials that they know they can recycle. And they that's now the waste plastic is now mixed in with road tarmac, to make roads, all of those I could come up with all those things. But then I did say to her, have you ever worried about the recycling of materials in a coal burning power plant of which there are many millions of tonnes or in a gas plant or in a big electrical substation, when that comes to the end of life? We have to recycle that too. I said, I don't know if you have thought about that. I know I never have, it never crossed my mind. I never worried about recycling the petrol cars I had, I never worried about what would happen to the old oil that came out of my endless petrol cars that were breaking down and I had to drain the <inaudible>, you know, we've learned we, I think we're right to be suspicious of a new technology, because that makes the people who are producing it go, we're not going to get away with it, like we have done for the last 100 years, that we need to be aware of those impacts, you know that that is an important aspect of it.

ML: It's a good way of putting it that what it means is that the new there's the onus on the new technology is to be not just a bit better, but a step change better. But I do find it extraordinary that you get these people who are terribly worried about the child labour because of the cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is a horrendous, challenging issue. But they've never worried about it when that cobalt or the coal was going into their mobile phone. And so you wonder why they are harping on an issue only in respect to EVs or renewable energy. And that just makes it fundamentally intellectually dishonest. But why is it happening?

RL:  I mean, I think it is an unfortunately a peculiarly American or a primarily American thing that it's become… An electric vehicle for reasons I'm not entirely sure of became a political football in the United States. If you want if you drove an electric car, you were bi-coastal libtard, you know, gay rights supporting, you know, all those things. I mean, the long I've had those tweets from people in America, which are just a list of sort of cut and paste things from extreme right-wing blogs about...

ML: Plus the Daily Mail.

RL: Plus the Daily Mail. But then I don't feel it is quite the same in the UK. I think there is a very big attitudinal shift where the people they might go, they're too expensive for me now. But I know my next car… The amount of times I've heard, I know my next car will be an electric one. I accept that. They're not read for me yet is a very common thing I've heard.

ML: But do you think that it is a sort of human nature, suspicion of the new political, to what extent do you think it is, has been actively promoted by the car industry and the fossil fuel industry because I normally are not the biggest believer in I tend to believe the cockup theory, not the global what theory about most things. But I then caught what I call Astongate. I don't know if you recall, there was this leaflet that had been produced by a marketing company about how e-fuels were going to be better than battery electric, and in fact that everything was going to be better than battery electric. And I poked around one Friday night, as one does and discovered that that marketing company was actually run by a nurse, very strange, who happened to be the wife of the Government Relations Director at Aston Martin, with funding from Bosch. And so, I can say that there definitely is misinformation being propagated by the incumbents, there just is. Is that do you think that's been effective or not effective?

RL: I think it has been effective. I think that I've always seen it. I think that I'm very influenced by the extraordinary book that's actually in that pile of books on <inaudible> the Merchants of Doubt. I don't know if you've ever read that.

ML: By Naomi Oreskes, yes.

RL: Yes, yes. Yeah.

ML: That was about smoking and the process of prolonging the life of the tobacco assets, yeah.

RL: And I think that's the same thing we're seeing now. Because in a sense, I think the tide of history is on the side of cleaner technologies and of more efficient technologies. And you know, that not just the cars and cars are a sector of a much bigger pie of how do we power ourselves without burning stuff, essentially, it comes down to that sort of level. And I think that all they're doing is delaying, and that they can do that very successfully, proven it many times, asbestos, unleaded petrol catalytic converters, you know, the list goes on and on. It is the same group of lobbyists, particularly in the United States, the same companies that are doing that lobbying that are funded by the fossil, and not the whole fossil fuel industry. You know, it's very specific aspects of it. And I think that's almost public. You know, it's not like a hidden secret cabal, it is, I run a big oil company, and people are starting to buy less oil, I'm going to tell them that the alternatives don't work. And they'll buy it for longer. It's, I just think it's, I've always defended their right to do it. I think it's in their business interest to maintain that. And I mean, I've had a recent experience of removing an LPG tank from my garden, that was the last thing of fossil fuels that runs my house, you know, so for our central heating, we've now changed everything. And so we're 100% electric. And that has caused some difficulty and I actually have been upset with the company that that I was dealing with. But they clearly have never had to do this before. You know, they put they put a tank in your garden, and they fill it with gas. And their whole thing is to make sure you don't run out. That's bad PR for them. So they've got a system in place that tops it up, and they've got sensors and all that, which is fine. But then when someone doesn't want it anymore, there is no system in place to allow that to happen. And they really fought long, hard, dirty and bitter to keep me having gas. And it's been... It's been resolved amicably. But it took a long time.

ML: That is a very interesting point because by Christmas, I will be off gas here. This is a famous house because I have a fuel cell. And it got written up in the FT and it got written up in The Economist and I had all sorts of problems because it was the first of its kind and this was Notting Hill Gate’s largest power station. And now we have the Notting Hill Gate climate related flood, which means we're not a power station anymore. And I've just thought right to hell with all of that. I'm going electric and I want them to take out the gas and the gas metre and everything gas related. Now you you've told me that I'm going to face a fight, which is an interesting point.

RL: It's hard because there's no, there's no precedent, you know, there's no system in place. No, no process. And it's very complicated. And I didn't, I didn't say in my I was always I always tried to be very polite, I did get a bit moody. But I've always said, you really need to sort this out, I might be the first I might be an idiot, you might look and say I’m a fool. But I'm not the last, you know, there's going to be a lot of people. I've heard loads of people doing exactly the same thing.

ML: I can feel the next Economist and FT article about the Liebreich residence coming on, which will be the fight to remove the gas. And you know, I love talking to you, because you obviously love this stuff, and you enjoy it. And you have this optimistic view. And I just think it's so it's so tremendous, it’s been one of the themes of almost everybody coming on to Cleaning Up that they are essentially optimistic, maybe we won't get the perfect outcome on everything. But we are moving in the right direction. And it's just a joy to talk to you. So I really thank you for your time here today.

RL: No, it's been it's been a real joy. And one last very quick thing I want to say is that I attended, just before the lockdown panel discussion day I was I was just in the audience, about the grid, and energy generation, it was all it was National Grid and Eon and British Gas, all of those people there. And I thought to myself, as I sat in the audience, and entranced by what was being discussed, I thought if I'd gone to that 20 years ago, I wouldn't have gone, it would have been the most boring conference you could possibly go to. This place was alive with enthusiasm and optimism and challenge really difficult things they're dealing with. And engineers that were really excited about what they were doing. And that that went that is this is a really important moment. You know, it isn't, how do we support our customers? You know, it wasn't all that stuff that they've been doing for years. It's like how on earth do we integrate millions of solar panels on different people's roofs? We can't, it’s impossible! Oh, my God it’s a nightmare! But also it's a fantastic opportunity.

ML: How does the quote go? Bliss it was to be alive, but to be working on the net zero transition is, you know, etc. I don't know. I don't know the quote, we’ll put it into, there'll be all sorts of things you need to work on. Yeah, we'll need to work on that. But we'll put it in the show notes maybe. And there'll be all sorts of things that will link to there for the audience. But it's been an absolute joy and bliss and a pleasure. Thanks very much. Bye. Bye, Robert.

RL: Thank you very much. Bye bye.

ML: So that was Robert Llewellyn joint CEO a Fully Charged show, and of course Kryton from Red Dwarf. My guest next week on cleaning up is Hannah Jones. She was the Chief Sustainability Officer for many years at Nike and is now the CEO of the Earthshot prize at the Royal foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Please join me at this time next week for a conversation with Hannah Jones. Cleaning Up is brought to you by the Liebreich Foundation and the Gilardini Foundation.