Is Tesla's Model S Bad for the Environment?

If electric vehicles have a reputation for anything, it's that they're better for the environment than their gas counterparts and they'll save you money on gas. However, while it's true that EVs are generally better for the environment than say, a truck, when you factor in variables like a battery's carbon debt, and what goes into charging that battery, the "better for the environment" part goes right out the window. That's especially true for Tesla Motors' (NASDAQ: TSLA  ) Model S -- and it's a reality that may come back to bite it. 

Photo: Tesla Motors, via Wikimedia Commons. 

Sorry, not polar-bear friendly
According to Climate Central, when cars are manufactured, gas-powered vehicles are initially better for the environment than EVs, because when the battery that powers EVs is manufactured, it creates a 10,000- to 40,000-pound carbon debt, which can be overcome only by charging the car on green energy and driving it for tens to hundreds of thousands of miles.

Complicating the matter is that different states generate power from different energy sources. For example, West Virginia gets a majority of its electricity generation from coal, while Vermont relies on nuclear, Idaho uses hydropower, and Rhode Island consumes natural gas. As a result, EVs' CO2 emissions vary depending on what energy source charges their batteries. And for the first 50,000 miles of an EV's life, when it comes to CO2 emissions, in 39 states it's actually better to drive a gas-powered hybrid, such as Toyota Motors' (NYSE: TM  ) Prius, than it is to drive the least-polluting EV.

For luxury sedans, the numbers escalate. In 46 states, it's better for the climate to drive one of Toyota's Lexus ES hybrids for the first 100,000 miles than it is to drive Tesla's Model S.

In fact, of all the EVs available, the Model S is the least climate-friendly EV, and it's worse than all but two hybrids when it comes to CO2 emissions and 100,000 miles of driving. And before you blame coal, keep in mind that only 13 states get a majority of their electricity generation from coal. 

The reality of CO2 lifecycle emissions
Taking into account that each state generates electricity from different sources, Climate Central combined vehicle manufacturing emissions with an average mix of electricity to evaluate the lifecycle emissions of every EV and hybrid available, for its report "A Roadmap to Climate-Friendly Cars: 2013." The study found that hybrids -- like the Prius -- have lower overall CO2 emissions than all-electric vehicles. In fact, the Prius and Prius Plug-In ranked first in every state as the most CO2-friendly. The Prius hybrid's pounds per CO2 equivalent per mile is 0.67, and the Prius Plug-In's is 0.64, based on 100,000 miles of driving. 

That's in comparison with the 60 kilowatt-hour Tesla Model S, whose pounds per CO2 equivalent per mile is 1.14; and the 85 kWh Tesla S, which comes in at 1.34, also based on 100,000 miles of driving.

Why this should matter
When driving emissions are calculated without manufacturing emissions, many EVs are better for the climate in states that rely on green energy. However, when manufacturing emissions are included -- and they must be to factor in overall climate impact -- EVs are not as environmentally friendly as some would have you believe. As Climate Central states: "In many states the rapid substitution of coal with natural gas and the adoption of substantial amounts of wind power have measurably decarbonized the grid from 2010 to 2012. These changes have shifted the balance of carbon emissions in favor of recharging electrics vs. burning gasoline in high-mileage hybrids like the Prius, if car manufacturing emissions are excluded." (Emphasis mine.)

In other words, even when EVs are powered by green energy, they're not necessarily the most climate-friendly option -- and that's in large part because of the battery.

That raises two big concerns. First, batteries, by their nature, lose charge over time -- it's unavoidable. Eventually, you'll have to replace the battery or buy a new car. Second, as I've written before, lithium is an alkali metal and isn't naturally occurring. It has to be refined after being extracted through salar brines (the most common approach) and mined hard rock. More pointedly, a study by the European Commission on Science for Environmental Policy states: "Although there is no immediate shortage of lithium, its continued use needs to be monitored, especially as lithium mining's toxicity and location in places of natural beauty can cause significant environmental, health, and social impacts." 

To put it succinctly, what this all should mean is that the push toward all-electric cars needs to be re-evaluated by including lifecycle emissions, and not just "well-to-wheels" emissions.  

What it actually means
Because the Environmental Protection Agency is pushing for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and has put in place new regulations, car manufacturers are pursuing ways to make their vehicles more "green." However, when people make an argument for the environmental benefits of EVs, they're probably unaware of overall lifecycle emissions. There's also a great deal of money being invested in battery-powered cars -- both by the government, and by vehicle manufacturers. Consequently, EVs will probably enjoy growing success -- until science bites back. 

For Tesla's Model S, this could be a problem. Right now, the Model S is winning accolades and standing ovations for being a brilliant EV. And it is. Make no mistake about it. But the fact remains that it's worse for the climate than every other EV, and all but two hybrids.

What to watch
Tesla's current valuation is based in large part on the idea that it's the carmaker of the future and that eventually it'll make an EV that the masses can afford. That idea, in turn, is based on the idea that the masses will want an EV. Those are some big ifs, especially given that EVs rely on batteries that generate a huge carbon debt, rendering them anything but polar bear-friendly.

Yes, Tesla makes a beautiful car, but is the Model S the "green" car of the future? Frankly, I don't think so. There are better alternative-energy solutions than batteries -- which I'll address in my next article.

Tesla's Model S may not be great for climate change, but car manufacturers can make a great investment! There's also good reason to believe that the most successful investors over the next few decades will be those with exposure to China's massive and growing population of domestic consumers. And there are few things that these consumers are likely to purchase with more enthusiasm than cars and trucks. In out brand-new free report, our analysts get out in front of this trend by identifying two automakers that are poised to surge along with China's middle class. If you want to be among the smart investors who get rich from this growing trend, then you'd be well advised to instantly download our free report on the topic by clicking here now.


Read/Post Comments (46) | Recommend This Article (21)

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  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 9:41 AM, AlaaSadek wrote:

    It is not only bad for the envirnoment but it is a very UNSAFE car.

    It is bad because you charge it from the sun for free thus the oil boys will get angree and start a war! As for being unsafe, well some will drive it and think that they are 100% safe and drive head on to other cars and thus kill the ones in the other car!

    I think you should short it.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 9:48 AM, TMFCheesehead wrote:

    Great article Katie. These are thoughts I've often wondered but hadn't investigated.

    Brian

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 9:51 AM, bobthegoodone wrote:

    Seems the big 3 are scared ? I have seen the same mileage being offered for the past 40 years , now that someone is making them look silly they are being made to look bad by everyone who doesn't have a better idea

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 9:57 AM, JSyrah wrote:

    Where did you get all of this "empiricle" data? I remember when the Prius first came out and we were treated to "the Prius pollutes more than a Humvee" did you forget to include the carbon footprint in creating a tank full of gas?

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 9:59 AM, workingstif wrote:

    When you factor in drilling for oil,transporting and refining would building a battery still be less green?I think once batteries wear out they are recycled to make new battery that should cut down footprint.

    Even if the electric car runs on coal power it's from a domestic source which cuts out the refinery process and quits giving Arabs endless streams of cash that hasn't turned out too well.

    From what I've seen of comments alot of people have an idea that somehow an electric car is unAmerican but it is a domestic product run on domestic power what could be more American?

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 10:02 AM, tigerade wrote:

    One thing I don't think was calculated here, how much pollution is created to drill, extract, shipe and refine gasoline? I am pretty sure it will negate any advantages you cited.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 10:17 AM, ckgod wrote:

    Oh the old and tired bs from oil backers and EV haters now are used by the Tesla shorties. Electrical motor is fundamentally so efficient (~90%) than ICE (~30%) it produces only half the carbon foot print even if ALL electricity it uses is from coal firing plant. Another fact these people never mention is coal power plant has been slowly replaced by other less polluting or zero emission generating plants. Another fact they try to ignore is Lithium batteries will not be thrown away. Either the battery, Elon Musk proposed to us them to store energy for solar generators, or lithium in the batteries can be reclaimed. Yet they use the worse case scenario that battery will be thrown away every few years to get these numbers. ALL scientific organizations and government agencies recognize EV as environmentally friendly so you better stop spreading this bs.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 10:22 AM, tigerade wrote:

    Yea, another thing that needs to be taken into account. With the Tesla Roadster, even at 100k miles, it still has about 90% of it's original range left. There isn't much battery degradation at all. To suggest that you need to throw away the battery is laughable. Why would you do that? Even if you did want to swap it out with a new battery, the old battery could certainly be reused as local energy storage. The idea of discarding the battery is asinine.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 10:24 AM, ckgod wrote:

    Also the fact that they have to use hybrid for comparison made the whole argument self defeating. If EV uses only batteries is bad then shouldn't hybrid uses partial batteries be worse than ICE that uses no battery at all?

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 10:29 AM, TMFKSpence wrote:

    Thanks, Brian! :)

    Fools, total emissions for obtaining gas were evaluated. Hence the "well-to-wheels" approach.

    Fool on,

    TMFKSpence

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 11:03 AM, KenH2013 wrote:

    What's the matter Katie, because you drive a foreign toyota, you want to keep spreading the toyota propaganda, why not publicize the American car manufacturers models?

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 11:10 AM, DKlos81 wrote:

    Good info, but seems to be a little misleading. As I read it, the Tesla is less green until you hit 100k, then it's "green-factor" increases. Granted, many states get their energy from coal-fired plants, but that it changing and EVs allow you to run on a variety of energy sources.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 11:16 AM, afleetfeet wrote:

    This article brought to you by ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, BP and dozens of other fossil fuel sponsors.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 11:16 AM, raptorred wrote:

    Tesla's safety ratings are beyond reproach. I regard over zealous environmentalists as a "safety" threat to our national fabric as an extension of some form of utopian Marxist claptrap, but only a true Luddite would fail to see the exquisite engineering embodied in the Tesla S.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 11:18 AM, Donny68 wrote:

    Looks like you can get maybe 7-8 years out of a li-ion battery, but you have to have it recycled at a special location in the country, the battery itself is very toxic to the environment, and VERY expensive to replace. Not to mention the big capacitors that store energy, from a accident point of view poses a huge electrocution risk if there is water on the ground. I just don't think these hybrids are as "green" as people perceived. In Europe I never saw one hybrid car, only tiny diesel circus cars that get 80 mpg and are new clean diesel. I think we have been fooled by a bunch of hippies pushing bad science.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 11:22 AM, Ustauber wrote:

    Katie,

    What happens on your Toyota Prius when you

    Run out of battery( 68 miles) , does the car still

    Green after is running on gas?

    Just be proud of Tesla been American !!

    Tell me what happens with the old parts,filters,

    Used oil and old motors of the Prius, you think

    They go to " heaven"?

    Lol

    thxtsla

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 11:32 AM, DeaneCO wrote:

    Wow, where to start. The Climate Central CO2 analysis was sloppy... it didn't bother to consider the CO2 footprint of manufacturing a conventional vehicle and used a very high estimate of battery manufacturing emissions. But even so, Climate Central didn't conclude that the Model S is "bad for the environment", just that it isn't as green as a Prius or other hybrid IF you use dirty (coal) electricity to charge the car. I live in Colorado and charge my Model S with the solar panels on my garage roof, which provide more than enough power for for the car and my house. So even though Colorado has one of the dirtiest power profiles of any state, I am still able to drive CO2 free, and that's a wonderful feeling.

    The Model S is an amazing American car, and Katie I think your article has done Tesla a disservice by exaggerating the conclusions of the already sloppy Climate Central analysis. The Union of Concerned Scientists did a much more thoughtful EV vs. ICE analysis and concluded that EV's powered entirely by dirty electricity are still cleaner than any conventional gas vehicle that gets less than 30-35 mpg. Not sure I can post a link here but the UCS article is titled "Electric Vehicles’ Global Warming Emissions and Fuel-Cost Savings across the United States".

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 11:36 AM, archsteve wrote:

    There may be some truth to the article, but lets remember EV's get an equivalent of 100 mpg+. Most products use the most energy in the use phase, not the production phase.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 11:47 AM, TMFKSpence wrote:

    Hi DeaneCO,

    Thanks for reading. You might want to read the Climate Central report before you bash it. First, it included manufacturing emissions for a conventional car. Second, it analyzed cars powering on green energy. Third, from what I read, the Union of Concerned Scientists didn’t include manufacturing emissions in its analysis.

    Fool on,

    TMFKSpence

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 11:51 AM, TMFKSpence wrote:

    *battery manufacturing emissions.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 12:02 PM, californiaev wrote:

    I'm all for a healthy debate here, and it's good to see this article started one.

    That being said, there are some serious problems with the report that the article refers to for the basis for much of its analysis.

    As others have noted, the Climate Central study is based largely on a single document, the Hawkins paper, and has some rather alarming issues in its estimates used for EV manufacture, ranging from the motor to the battery. I'd encourage all of you to follow the reference chain in the original study and reach your own conclusions; compare them to actual, typical EVs, including the Leaf, and plug-ins such as the Volt.

    Then there is the issue of useful life of the electric vehicle, which seems incredibly short (50,000 miles) and heavily biases the underlying basis for several of the conclusions.

    Finally, the paper assumes that the 2012 emissions levels will stay the same in its go-forward projections which sit at the basis of the model. This seems counter to public policy, even in the most dirty energy states, given moves at the Federal level.

    Then there is the rather odd conclusion that's drawn relative to lithium ion battery manufacture, particularly given many hybrids have such a high percentage of rare earth magnets. These are particularly awful to mine both environmentally and politically. The human cost of their extraction is several times higher.

    The Model S in fact uses a standard 3-phase AC induction motor, which interestingly enough, as no reliance on these materials.

    But perhaps the most glaring miss is that domestic vehicle manufacturing in one of the greener energy states (or countries) doesn't favorably bias the footprint for the vehicle.

    Is the car perfect? Of course not, nothing is -- but it's a start. And I would rather see a focus on moving in the right direction as opposed to simply remaining at a stop awaiting perfection.

    Let's not allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. :-)

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 12:03 PM, sranger wrote:

    There are so many flaws in this article it is hard to know where to start..

    1) They did not take into account the CO2 (and other pollutants) emitted to build the ICE engine, cooling system, and fuel system in a typical car. This will offset the batteries anyway you look at it...

    2) They used an outdated battery report for Nickel metal hydride batteries and NOT Li batteries.

    3) They COMPLETELY failed to point out how much energy is used to refine gasoline. Refineries take Huge amounts of grid power to refine gasoline. They are usually the second or third largest user of power in ay state. They also have to burn large amounts of fossil fuels to create the heat and steam necessary to refine the gasoline. (Often they burn coal because it is cheaper than using a portion of the crule oil) They typically also use the steam to also generate even more electrical power internally to refine gasoline. The net result is that it take about 6Kwhr of electrical power (or it's emission equivalants) to make ONE gallon of gasoline. This would drive the Model S at lease 20-30 miles..

    4) In simple terms a gallon of gas has the equivalent of 33Kwhr of power. To do a fair comparison, you have to add in another 6Kwhr for the pollution emissions for the energy require to refine that gallon of gas. Call it 39KWhr. That will drive the average ICE car 20-30 miles. The SAME amount of energy will drive an EV 120-170 miles. Which one do you think produces less pollution??????

    Item #3 alone renders ALL of these "it is powered by coal" arguments idiotic...

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 12:09 PM, ToddRLockwood wrote:

    "...when the battery that powers EVs is manufactured, it creates a 10,000- to 40,000-pound carbon debt, which can be overcome only by charging the car on green energy and driving it for tens to hundreds of thousands of miles."

    Katie, I'd like to know where you got your data. Perhaps you referenced the Carnegie Mellon study, which has been used as the basis for similar articles. That study has been refuted by the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology which did a more recent study. The Swiss study found that the "Environmental Impact of Li-ion Battery for BEVs is Relatively Small; The Operation Phase is the Dominant Contributor to Environmental Burden"

    http://www.greencarcongress.com/2010/08/notter-20100810.html

    In other words, charging a BEV is a bigger environmental issue than manufacturing its lithium-ion batteries over the life-cycle of the vehicle.

    While a BEV is fundamentally more efficient than a gasoline powered vehicle, the source of the electricity plays a role in how much environmental benefit is realized. We must keep converting our electric grid over to renewable sources like solar to get the maximum benefit from BEVs.

    As an aside, I seriously doubt the validity of your argument for one simple reason: if it was true, Elon Musk would not have gone down this road. His primary mission is sustainable transportation with minimal environmental consequence. You can see it in everything he does. I would hesitate to think I'm smarter than this rocket scientist billionaire.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 12:21 PM, TMFKSpence wrote:

    Dear Fools,

    You’re looking at last year’s Climate Central report. The Aug 2013 report addresses all of your concerns, and then some.

    TMFKSpence

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 12:31 PM, tigerade wrote:

    Here is the report Katie is referring to, and the commenters are ripping it up for the same reasons:

    http://www.climatecentral.org/news/a-roadmap-to-climate-frie...

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 12:39 PM, DeaneCO wrote:

    Katie: I did read the Climate Central report, that's how I know it was a sloppy analysis. They didn't include any estimated manufacturing emissions for conventional vehicles that I could find, apparently God delivers them to Planet Earth by parachute. If you want to understand why the Climate Central report is flawed I recommend Mark D. Larson's take-down of the article, which you can find on the web. Also check the EPA fuel emissions calculator for EV's vs. average new American cars. (http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/Find.do?zipCode=80503&yea.... ) In Colorado, a Tesla Model S charged with our (unfortunately) dirty coal electricity produces 370 g of CO2 per mile, but on average across the US the Model S CO2 emissions are 250g/mile. In contrast, the average new American car produces 500 g CO2 per mile. By using predominantly solar power to charge my EV my emissions are about 5% of a conventional car.

    Re my earlier statement that Climate Central used a too-high estimate of CO2 emissions produced in EV battery manufacturing, the authors of the original study had to write a correction of their analysis, which Larson links in his take down of Climate Central. I stand by my earlier statement: Climate Central was sloppy, but even they didn't conclude that the Tesla Model S was "bad for the environment"... simply that it isn't as clean as a Prius IF you use dirty electricity to charge your car.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 12:48 PM, TMFKSpence wrote:

    DeaneCO,

    http://assets.climatecentral.org/pdfs/ClimateFriendlyCarsRep... pg. 24-26 for manufacturing emissions. Pg. 23 for GHG emissions associated with obtaining gas.

    TMFKSpence

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 12:51 PM, essrigr wrote:

    there is a major flaw in the use of electric cars and this flaw is what applies to all cars, that we simply do not have the resources to build a car for all people to drive as a single occupancy vehicle. those days are over, it is said within 10 years (or less) we will run out of the raw lithium to make the batteries, the largest untapped reserves are in Afghanistan, sound familiar, now we can go to war over raw minerals to make these electric cars. the only solution is to get away from individual use cars and to public transit or other sours, I do use an electric vehicle, its called an electric bike and it works great, I have reduced my car driving by 70%, so why all the hype about how electric cars will save the world, they will not save the world, they will save and make billions for the manufactures that produce them and that is what all this about, to continue to make billions for industry, not save the planet.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 12:54 PM, JustBanjoJim wrote:

    Am I the only one who thinks that Katie felt the need to 'get back' at Elon Musk because he wouldn't give her a free car for writing a positive story about him and his fledgeling company? Tesla is an American Company, whereas Toyota is still a Japanese owned company. Any money on her driving a Prius, new and gratis? I know her actions do not reflect the practices of the management of Motley Fool.

    I am surprised that Texas(God bless her) 'forbids' Tesla to sell her automobiles in Texas. There by trying to force us to pay a commission to the car salesman, the extra fancy showroom cost to maintain, the salesman's manager, who makes sure the fool salesman isn't giving the vehicle away just to close a sale. The business manager, whose other job is to convince you you need the extended insurance package, along with the windshield protectant, which by the way, lasts no longer than a great product called Rain-X, the sound deadening undercoating and a few other very high profit items.

    A good choice for an ICE for Tesla would be a CNG car designed from the ground up.

    Meanwhile, I'll see if this article makes it through the 15 minute delay.

    Com'on Texas, step up to the plate and do the right thing. Lets all support a new American product, who has already taken on the big guys and so far has given them a bloody nose.

    To thxtsla, I believe China, Japan and S. Korea are buying all the wrecks. Every wreck those countries buy from us is worth it's weight in many dollars. Free research.

    While the 'S' model is a bit out of my price range, I don't hate them for that.

    Lets see if this comment makes it past the 15 minute delay.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 1:01 PM, ashaskevich wrote:

    This article is total BS for one reason.

    GLOBAL WARMING IS A HOAX!!!!

    http://www.globalwarminghoax.com/news.php

    Faulty data is being used to perpetuate a myth.

    Reason to buy a Tesal and use electric vehicle?

    You don't use oil from the Arabs, which eventually ends up having a jet airliner crash into your nearest skyscraper.

    Also when gasoline reaches $9/gallon, like it is in the Netherlands, a Tesla will pay for itself in fuel saving after 150,000 miles.

    You bought the car for free.

    http://www.teslamotors.com/goelectric#savings

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 1:07 PM, dharralson wrote:

    A BEV is always more polluting that an IC vehicle.

    Modern IC vehicles are SULEV or PZEV, or the pollution generated is often less than ambient.

    A BEV is close to zero while being driven. The problem is when the BEV recharges. The electric utility is a complex and sophisticated business, The electricity it furnishes is some combination of lowest pollution and lowest cost, among other variables.

    When the BEV plugs in to recharge, the electric utility is already using the lowest cost or polluting power for higher priority existing customers. It has to furnish to the BEV the highest cost or polluting power it has. If it has to bring more power on line, this is even higher cost or pollution. This situation just gets worse and worse as more BEVs recharge. There is no way to finesse this issue.

    In addition, the BEV pays at the average cost the electric utility charges its customers while using the most expensive power. If enough BEVs use electricity, the electric utility needs to increase their rates to reflect the higher average cost of supplied electricity. I hardly think the average electricity user would appreciate this.

    This barely touches all the negative effects of BEVs. As long as BEVs are a meniscule percentage of the automotive population, we can exist with the negative side effects. But if BEVs were to take a substantial percentage of the automotive population, we would have to deal with these negative side effects.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 1:09 PM, Gasman24 wrote:

    Maybe we should look at another fuel. MNGA look it up. Magna Gas uses our waste products to make the gas that burns clean. Just a thought.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 1:26 PM, DeaneCO wrote:

    Katie, okay, buried deep in the Climate Central analysis they report that both EV's and gas powered vehicles have manufacturing emissions, with a typical EV's being about 10,000 lbs higher. Burning a gallon of gasoline generates about 25 lbs of CO2, 19 directly from the fuel and 6 or so from extraction and production. A conventional 25 mpg car driven 12,000 miles in a year thus generates 12,000 lbs of CO2. In one year!

    Charging a Tesla or any EV on solar power or even natural gas electricity is much better than driving a gas powered vehicle anywhere. Even using dirty coal electricity EV's are cleaner than the average gas powered vehicle.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 1:39 PM, heraldlau wrote:

    What is SOLARCITY for ? Where does it get its energy from and Who invented it ? TESLA and SOLARCITY are meant to compliment each other in the long run at least in the US if not around the world.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 1:55 PM, laibach wrote:

    To me, the currently trendy argument that EV's are actually bad for the environment is nothing more than an argument for cleaning up the grid with more renewables. If you look at the grid mix not by comparing whole states, but by comparing population centers, the outlook is much brighter, since the East and West coasts tend to have cleaner electricity portfolios (and getting better all the time).

    Besides, in most places, your utility offers you clean energy, mostly wind, for an incrementally higher cost. I drive a 2012 Nissan Leaf, and we buy wind power. Lots of other ev drivers I know have rooftop solar pv, as well.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 2:08 PM, Carfan79 wrote:

    This problem has been addressed many times. The model S is a very clean vehicle and I will prove it. There are two places in which a car can pollute the air: The making of the vehicle and its parts and the making and transporting of the vehicles fuel.

    The Model S has the POTENTIAL to use completely renewable energy that doesn't release CO2 into the air, while ICEs do not have this potential. Since most of our resources are limited, we will be switching more and more to renewables, making EVs cleaner.

    Also Lithium ion batteries are recycled after the owner is done with the car and chooses against reselling it and or chooses to replace the battery.

    Lets not forget one more thing, just like coal pollutes the air, so does the extracting, refining, and transporting of oil to make petroleum.

    So in the end, electrics like the Model S are cleaner.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 2:48 PM, StephenPace wrote:

    People have already pointed out the science errors in this report, but I'll go one more. While lithium is completely safe (you can even eat it in small quantities) and the batteries are EPA certified as landfill safe, few Tesla batteries will ever end up there. In 10 years I'll still have plenty of range left for my daily driving needs; however, if I wanted to swap my battery with a new one, I can, and the old battery (which will still have residual value in 10 years) and likely have 70% of the current range, can easily be used for solar grid storage for another 10 or more years. In fact, if there is an option to do this with your own battery at that point, I'll probably do it just to annoy people like this author that not only quote bad science, but don't dig into any of the available counter evidence before writing an inflammatory article.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 4:31 PM, luckyagain wrote:

    "Is Tesla's Model S Bad for the Environment?"

    It really depends not on the car but how the electricity is made. Since electricity can be made with zero carbon emissions or use a coal-fired plant, the amount of emissions depends upon how the electricity is generated. This also means that as more and more electricity is generated with zero or low carbon emissions, the electric car will have zero or lower emissions. An ICE car will always be burning gasoline or diesel or natural gas.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 4:48 PM, Fatherofifty wrote:

    What bothers me is that the author professes to be "a fan of defense stocks -- especially given recent world events."

    What happens to defense stocks when EV's gain enough market share to convince the US (and other governments) that we no longer need to send soldiers to sacrifice their lives for oil interests?

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 7:00 PM, PeterS123 wrote:

    I need to read all the comments here, but I wonder if the article takes into account:

    1. Lithium is mined along with co-products. It would be unfair that all the energy to mine lithium is counted towards EV carbon costs because those other co-products would need to be mined another way.

    2. Li-ion batteries will almost certainly improve in energy density. Perhaps even 3x denser, based on lab experiments. You certainly won't see this improvement is petrol-based solutions.

    3. What about all the costs and energy of manufacturing a power plant? That would include mining the materials that produce the power-plant itself (probably a negative for EVs)

    4. Does this article account for the fact that Li will be recycled? So the carbon cost of mining should be amortized over a very period.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 8:53 PM, TecnamTwin wrote:

    The Tesla Model S should be compared to cars in its class, NOT with Priuses (okay, Prii), which is the ultimate insult to one of the world's most highly acclaimed cars.

    When compared to cars in its class such as the BMW 5 and 7-series cars, Mercedes E and S-classes, Audi A6s and A8s, Jaguar XF and XJ, etc.; the Tesla Model S is WAY more efficient, and lets not even talk about the extremely pollutive M, AMG, S, RS, and R branded cars.

    If you want a good comparison, pit a Honda Fit against a Honda Fit EV. It gets the equivalent of 132 mpg in the city and 105 on the highway for a combined rating of 118 mpge; and has a small 20kwh lithium ion battery pack (good for 82 miles EPA) that will last 8-10 years with about 80% degradation.

    At that point, the battery components are reused for various purposes. Once fully utilized, a lithium ion (or poly) battery can be over 90% recycled. Throwing one away is just stupid because it is still worth a lot. It is also worth noting that lithium ion batteries contain no toxic, heavy, radioactive, or rare earth metals.

    Automotive-grade batteries are rigorously tested and are completely safe. As far as catching on fire, you have a much greater chance of catching on fire in a gas car than in an EV. The Chevy Volt that caught fire after testing happened to have been stored vertically for 2 weeks before the leaking battery finally shorted out and caught fire.

    There are just so many inaccuracies in this article that I'd have to write my own article to counter all of them.

    I'll just compare the Model S Performance's CO2 output (grams per mile) per EPA (which by the way I don't care about) to the BMW M5, Audi S8, and Mercedes E63 AMG.

    Model S Performance: 250 (US average)

    BMW M5: 629

    Audi S8: 557

    Mercedes E63 AMG: 544

    The numbers speak for themselves. Hybrids are better, and electrics are even better. EVs give you the choice to go truly zero emissions, and many owners have done that with solar, wind, and sometimes hydro. An ICE can never be zero emissions.

    Honda Fit: 311

    Honda Fit EV: 190

    Ford Focus: 324

    Ford Focus EV: 210

    Fiat 500: 318

    Fiat 500e: 190

    Honda Civic: 308

    Honda Civic Hybrid: 202

    Mazda 3 Hatchback: 309

    Dodge Dart Aero: 309

    Nissan Sentra: 293

    Volkswagen Golf TDI: 330

    Just for FUN

    Bugatti Veyron: 1005

    (0-60 in 2.5 sec., 356 miles est.) $1,300,000+

    Rimac Concept One (EV): 125-491 (.225-.885 kwh/mile; 554.29 grams/kwh US average)

    (0-60 in 2.8 sec., 375 mile range.) $982,310

    I finish this lengthy post by pointing out that the majority of the US population lives in the states where EVs are comparable to or better than hybrids. Also, almost all of the EVs sold, are sold in those states. Because of those two crucial facts, this article is pointless.

    EVs are not a perfect, but they are the best and continuously getting better; so don't bash 'em, esp. if you have never driven specifically the Tesla Model S.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 9:04 PM, weaponz wrote:

    Unfortunately this article is flawed because it relies of flawed studies. The study "A Roadmap to Climate-Friendly Cars: 2013" used as a base the Hawkins 2012 study for their calculations.

    Problem. Hawkins 2012 study only studied Nissan Leaf chemistry in the calculation. Which is LFP and NCM. Tesla's NCA chemistry was never calculated.

    On top of that Hawkins 2012 admits that:

    1) There are multiple studies that they used for the battery wells to grave calculation and chose to go with the worst numbers to try to calculate the worst possible potential. The discrepancy between best and worst numbers is 4X difference.

    2) The based assumption was that gasoline is already processed and delivered. The natural damage of drilling, processing and transporting the gasoline is not calculated.

    And then there was an error in the study, particularly they calculated the motor to be over 10x their actual size. Because they used an industrial factory motor as a basis instead of a car motor.

    Also, the Hawkins 2012 study was funded by the oil industry. The professor even got a reward from the oil companies.

    There are better studies done by more neutral sources. For example, try the study funded by the UK government.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 11:04 PM, colleran wrote:

    Electric cars may not be the short term solution to global warming, but they are the long term solution. The move to renewable energy in electricity production is going to move faster than most people think. I think of the report as a snapshot in an industry (power production) that is changing as we speak. I am convinced that 10 years from now nobody will be talking about electricity from coal or even natural gas.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 11:38 PM, TecnamTwin wrote:

    Over 76% of the US populace if they drove Leaf (most popular "affordable" EV) would generate less CO2 than a Prius (most popular hybrid) which is the best convention hybrid (for efficiency) out there. That's a huge improvement! and the grid's only going better.

    Like a said before, the Tesla Model S is a luxury/sport car, not to be compared with anything lesser. Even when compared to the hybrid versions of its competitors, it destroys them in efficiency and performance.

    BTW, the Lexus ES is not a Model S competitor; not even close. It's an entry level luxury car. The Model S is near the top end of the Luxury car market.

    BMW Activehybrid 5: 23/30 mpg; 0-60 in 5.7 sec.

    Mercedes S400 Hybrid: 19/25 mpg; 0-60 in 7.2 sec.

    Lexus LS 460: 16/23 mpg; 0-60 in 5.4

    Tesla Model S 60kwh: 94/97 mpge; 0-60 in 5.1 sec. (as tested)

  • Report this Comment On August 25, 2013, at 11:33 AM, drax7 wrote:

    This article is pure misinformation , and should be retracted . Where is the common sense.

    Cigarette smoking is actually good for you should be included in the tittle.

    The pollution generated in producing and burning gasoline is way higher than producing electricity.

  • Report this Comment On December 02, 2013, at 2:46 PM, RichardMcNixon wrote:

    I got as far as "tens of thousands" so you mean like 30,000 miles? 50,000? 70? 80?

    Most cars end up seeing hundreds of thousands. If tens is what's required to pay off the footprint - then consider it paid *ten fold*. Factor non-green energy into there and you've got carbon paid.

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