California's Dirty Secret Means it Needs Tesla More Than It Thinks

Source: Wikimedia Commons, Tewy. 

California's tree-hugging, solar-roofing residents have a dirty secret: Their state emits more carbon dioxide than 48 others. With Tesla Motors  (NASDAQ: TSLA  ) offering zero-carbon cars, here's how this automaker could help crush Cali's carbon conundrum.

Carbon crush
With 38 million citizens and an economy the size of Italy, California makes Texas look tiny. The Sunshine State is a leader on several environmental fronts. It's installed over 145,000 solar panel systems -- more than seven times second-place Arizona. It is almost always the leader in pushing for new federal environmental and fuel efficiency standards. And last year, frustrated by national inertia, it started its own carbon cap-and-trade system. 

But despite its best efforts, only coal-centric Texas tops California on the list of carbon dioxide emitters. In 2011 (most recent available data), California pushed out 346 million metric tons of CO2 -- that's more than the 15 cleanest states combined. 

Ticket to ride?
But Tesla Motors, may hold Cali's ticket out of pollution. Petroleum products consumption in the transportation sector accounts for a whopping 198 million metric tons -- 57% of total emissions.

According to Tesla Motors, its electric cars offer zero-carbon emissions -- for the careful consumer. Since Tesla Motors, vehicles are entirely electric, the transportation sector can chalk up a big, fat goose egg for petroleum product emissions from the Model S, Model X, and whatever's yet to come.

Source: Tesla Motors, Inc. 

But Tesla cars might fall short if an owner's electricity comes from coal, petroleum products, or natural gas. Luckily, California's 145,000 solar panel systems have their part to play. 

Dr. Rob Wilder, CEO of WilderHill Clean Energy Index, Wall Street's first clean energy index, is practicing what he preaches. In a Tesla blog post, Dr. Wilder describes how he gets 72 miles per day from sunlight.

Wilder owns two solar panel systems that boast a collective capacity of 6.65 kW. That provides him with around 24 kWh per day of solar power. And while that's not enough to fully fill up his 2008 Tesla Roadster's electric fuel tank, it's enough to drive him 72 miles. 

Even in California, which boasts three of the top 10 worst commutes in the U.S., that goes a long way. Wilder refers to his cutoff as "72 MPS," or 72 miles per day of sunlight.

And for those who can't or don't want their own solar system, California's utilities are continually investing large-scale solar farms. There's currently no way to pull power directly from solar, but the state's scattered solar projects continue to push clean power to Californians all around.


Taking the guzzle out of gas
If every Californian were to drive a clean-power Tesla, the state's transportation sector would cut carbon emissions by a massive 199.3 million metric tons. That's roughly equal to Indiana's total carbon emissions. 

With no transportation pollution to worry about, California's total emissions would clock in at 147 million metric tons -- the same as Kentucky's -- dropping the state's pollution place to 13th. 

If California is serious about its clean and green image, it needs to take control of its transportation sector's carbon addiction. And Tesla Motors may just be the answer it's looking for.

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Read/Post Comments (29) | Recommend This Article (4)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2014, at 3:49 PM, StanO6 wrote:


    California: The Golden State

    Florida: Sunshine State (However, in recent times: Gunshine State is more fitting).

    You're welcome.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2014, at 4:03 PM, Ustauber wrote:


  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2014, at 4:35 PM, fire2000K wrote:

    More proof that CO2 emissions can be drastically reduced without harming the economy.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2014, at 4:50 PM, vet212 wrote:

    The problem with California is that like the water I wastes so freely most of the Electricity it uses comes from outside the State makes it look cleaner than it is it's economy is in ruins because of benefits for illegals

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2014, at 5:47 PM, scott4402 wrote:

    Californian's need to start seriously thinking about investing in large scale "elevated solar electric facilities" in the local deserts, to also reduce their thermal footprint, which is also contributing to their prolonged drought condition. By reducing their thermal presence, systems will come their way much more often. It's no different then the effects of deforestation on a region. It will take a huge investment, but the returns can also be huge. To the climate, the quality of the air, the local economy and the environment.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2014, at 5:52 PM, scott4402 wrote:

    educing LA's atmospheric thermal contribution is important, but so is reducing it's aquatic thermal footprint or contribution, because a warmer ocean also alters the natural flow of oceanic systems and the climate, plus it adds to aquatic warming. Sewer waters need to be utilzed, not dumped into the ocean, especially while contaminated with abnormal amounts of thermal waste.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2014, at 6:04 PM, NoiTall wrote:

    Wow, I could also drive a Nissan Leaf powered by solar panels and save ($75,000?)

    Enuf to buy some solar panels with.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2014, at 6:07 PM, weaponz wrote:

    Even powered by coal, petroleum or NG an EV is more efficient than a gasoline car. That said the grid is rarely powered by petroleum and coal use is dropping.

    The use of solar will definitely help offset peak loads.

    Though to note, solar PV is not the only utility-grade option. California recently went live with a solar thermal plant for example.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2014, at 6:22 PM, scott4402 wrote:

    As for Tesla. If they want to help make a difference in LA and the rest of the world. They need to build a more affordable electric vehicle that travels much further on a single charge. The will require them to build into their designs, vehicles that can also help to charge themselves to some degree. Small efficient two or three cylinder charging motors that can run one of the electric motors by itself, and progressive generators that are linked to the braking system. And maybe even solar voltaics built into the body panels, and or a discount solar panel systems that charges a battery powered charging system, that then charges the car battery, even at night. Such systems can be linked to housing solar systems that might produce extra electricity. Plus the cars electric system, should also be adaptable to be utilized in the home to some degree, to help extend battery life, by not letting it sit stagnant for long periods of time.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2014, at 6:31 PM, mehoron wrote:

    California CO2 emissions per capita put California at 48th. The only states with lower CO2 emissions per capita are DC and New York.

    It's like comparing Vietnam's CO2 emissions to America's and saying Vietnam is way better because their total CO2 emissions is lower, despite having no regulation and not being able to breathe in certain cities.

    This article is kinda foolish. It's like trumped up articles saying "California has most of the debt!" They also have most of the profits, and a lower debt to income ratio than MOST southern states.

    This kinda thing isn't all black and white.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2014, at 7:18 PM, exhon2009 wrote:

    Thoughtless article. The author claims that carbon emissions drop to zero with an electric car. How about the emissions from generating the electricity that is recharging that car?

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2014, at 8:21 PM, OriginalPoster1 wrote:

    It's hard to separate the accomplishments of this company from its valuation, but investors have to do it. The giga factory seems more like an admission that battery prices are not where they need to be (less than $200 per kilowatt hour) than a real opportunity. There is a good article the site that gets into this and rips apart some of the assumptions around the tesla valuation. I doubt can read this article and still explain why it makes sense to invest

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2014, at 8:22 PM, OriginalPoster1 wrote:

    sorry folks, I got so worked up about the valuation I forgot the link

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2014, at 8:23 PM, singaporenick wrote:

    This is a hopeless article in that it would take forever for all the vehicles in California to become Teslas,and would never happen anyway,no matter how much Tesla can ramp up vehicle production.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2014, at 8:27 PM, ashaskevich wrote:

    Article is not that great. Yes owning a Tesla is good for the environment and California pumps out more CO2 than any other state. But more people live in CA than any other state.

    But the real reason to own a Tesla Model S, is that it is a great car. Consumer Reports top rated vehicle 2 years in a row.

    Yes, electricity is cheaper. Yes, electricity is cleaner. But I want a great car. And that is what Tesla has, and that is the real reason to own one.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2014, at 9:27 PM, kathyswell wrote:

    California caters to their Hispanic working underclass and that includes the endless 2-stroke yard machines and resurrected junkers dirtying the air that had prior to the politically-motivated amnesties been clean. Shame on America for letting Californians down!!!

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2014, at 9:52 PM, Ronmc2 wrote:

    "It is almost always the leader in pushing for new federal environmental and fuel efficiency standards."

    That costs us an Extra 10% per Gallon of gas for the last 40 years(currently 40 cents-70 cents of tax per gallon for 16 Billion Gallons-$11 Billion per YEAR) "The excise tax funds highway and mass transit", but the Dems continue to Steal it to provide Free Stuff.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2014, at 10:11 PM, Ronmc2 wrote:

    @ashaskevich-"Consumer Reports top rated vehicle 2 years in a row"

    There have been about 30,000 total Teslas sold(Toyota-70X more EACH year). Exactly how many Teslas are owned by Consumer Reports subscribers, who THEN fill out the Questionnaire?

    Was it Motor Trend's, JD Powers, Edmunds Car of the Year?(MT, JDP, Ed & CR are all Agenda-driven) Don't you question anything?

    BTW-I think Tesla is a great car.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2014, at 10:47 PM, bigfoot wrote:

    Kathywell sums it up perfectly. Sounds like she lives here.

  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2014, at 12:17 AM, Beauvance wrote:

    Please do not refer to California as 'Cali'. It's uncouth and something only a lower class, uneducated person would say. Motley Foo' does y'all has a dictionary or learnin' employees?

  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2014, at 12:28 AM, captincarrot wrote:

    The only problem the at writer forgot to mention, is when he said "Petroleum products consumption in the transportation sector accounts for a whopping 198 million metric tons" He forgot to mention the majority of that is due to shipping. Not your daily commuters.

    2nd largest port in the world is LA and that takes lot of petroleum to move all those products around.

  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2014, at 2:17 AM, ceevee wrote:

    The article does not say California's CO2 output is the highest per capita. That is the fair way to compare. Let us see those results. Yes California has the greatest population, it is only expected that CO2 emissions would be high, however, Pennsylvania running coal powered plants might have a much greater per capita CO2 output.

  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2014, at 3:59 AM, 2cmorau wrote:

    With Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA ) offering zero-carbon cars, here's how this automaker could help crush Cali's carbon conundrum

    sorry, to produce this car , solar and windmills you will have CO2 output nobody accounts for the production of this, you have to dig in the dirt end of story it's called mining

    CO2 is not a polutant, it is nesseray for our exsitance on this planet

    look into what materials a tesla is constructed you will find it's very anti-green

  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2014, at 7:39 AM, HenryHayne wrote:

    According to UK government studies, electric vehicles, when combined with the making and powering produce more carbon dioxide than gasoline cars. Admittedly much of it is elsewhere,

  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2014, at 7:58 AM, Kjosefschmidt wrote:

    The headline on called California "The Sunshine State". Actually, California is known as The Golden State.

  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2014, at 11:30 AM, clutch58 wrote:

    It should be called something else, Kjose-because "all the gold in California is in a bank in the middle of Beverly Hills in somebody else.s name."

  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2014, at 5:47 PM, Killbot619 wrote:

    No one who lives in California refers to it as 'Cali.'

  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2014, at 9:07 PM, traderjoe68 wrote:

    Articles like this only help increase the stock price artificially. When we have clean power generation i.e. nuclear or Fission power clean energy and about 30+ years away reducing all of our electricity, this will be a true clean car .......until then this is not a 'zero carbon' car. Anyone who writes this in any article is part of more 'bad Journalism'. The only reason that coal is being used less is because wacko president has killed the coal industry based on science fiction. It's good to be clean for the future generations but it is all still a business case study If you have to subsidize clean energy based on bad science it should be stopped at once. No one has produced 1 ounce of evidence that reducing carbon output in a huge state of 50 in a single country that produces less than 2% of the worlds output of carbon dioxide has any effect on the global climate. It is all complete lunacy.. So please do continue with insane non facts.

  • Report this Comment On March 04, 2014, at 12:18 AM, True411 wrote:

    Another out-of-touch story from the Fool. A Tesla model S costs over $70,000. The solar array in this article would cost another $30,000. Where would "every Californian" come up with $100,000 to buy a Tesla and a solar array? Ridiculous. Even if such a thing were affordable, where would they put these roof-sized arrays? Most Californians now live in apartments and condos.

    The Fool would be just as credible if they were to suggest that every Californian should ride a unicorn instead of driving a car.

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