Writes Alex Epstein at Forbes:
[…] It is commonplace to contrast gas-powered cars with “electric cars,” but the electricity in an “electric car” must come from somewhere–and that somewhere is usually fossil fuels: coal, oil, and natural gas, which produce a combined 67% of electricity around the globe, because they are so cheap, plentiful, and reliable. And the role of fossil fuels is increasing, not decreasing; in the developing world, 80% of new power plants use low-cost coal.
To his credit, the salesperson at Tesla knew that the electricity had to come from somewhere–but not to his credit, he didn’t want to acknowledge how often that means fossil fuels. He awkwardly responded that, well, theoretically the Tesla can run on fossil fuels, but actually it’s designed to run on “something else”–namely, solar and wind. Here, he is repeating the gospel of Tesla founder Elon Musk, a vocal supporter of fossil fuels restrictions who says the Tesla will ”help expedite the move from a mine-and-burn hydrocarbon economy towards a solar electric economy.”
Unlikely. How much of the world’s electricity do solar and wind produce? After decades of subsidies, less than 1%. The reasons for this have been well understood for decades. Because sunlight and wind are low-density energy, they require vast land and material resources to capture. And worse, because sunlight and wind are unreliable energy, they always need a backup, which is almost always fossil fuels.
If Teslas take over the world, they will do so as mostly coal cars–or natural gas cars. And not just because of the energy it takes to run them, but because of the massive amount of energy it takes to manufacture them. The Tesla’s state-of-the-art materials, particularly that $30,000 battery, take a massive amount of energy to build–and that energy comes from fossil fuels, particularly coal. In fact, some studies argue that the Tesla battery takes so much fossil fuel energy to make that the car over its lifetime emits more CO2 than a gasoline-powered car.
Does that mean the Tesla is no good? Absolutely not. The fact that the Tesla uses a lot of fossil fuel electricity should not be used to damn the Tesla–it should be used to celebrate fossil fuel electricity.