Tesla, have you ever heard of him? Nikola Tesla, the inventor who brought us the alternating current (AC), wireless lighting and of course the Tesla coil. He also happens to be the namesake to a much more recent re-invention– Tesla electric cars. They’ve taken a century-old idea of the electric automobile and managed to turn them into forward-looking albeit expensive modern marvels. What once was nothing but an environmentalist’s pipe dream is now a reality for both the wealthy and now the middle class with the Model 3. Through time, Tesla hopes to make electric cars affordable to the entire market thus curbing car emissions and pollution. Or so they say. In the last few years, we’ve seen great strides for electric cars and arguments against those same cars. So, are they really going to save our burning planet?
I was having a conversation with a friend about electric vehicles (EVs) and he brought up a statistic about electric cars being worse for emissions, not better. The emissions from making an EV is much higher because the batteries required for these cars are large and full of chemicals. Turns out, he was right. The Union of Concerned Scientists (I just learned that was a real thing) did a study which showed that in fact a mid-size EV with an 84-mile range resulted in 15% more emissions from production and a larger car with a 250-mile range (a Tesla) was as much as 68% higher. So then, are EVs worse for the environment than gas-powered vehicles? Still no.
What this logical fallacy fails to account for is the total emission for the life of the vehicle. The same UCS study then goes to look at the total emissions in the average lifetime of the car. Within months all versions of the EV made up for their emissions by running on cleaner and cheaper electricity. In a state like Vermont where non-renewable energy accounts for only 1.2% of electric production, these cars would make a come back in as low as two months. Even in West Virginia, where about 95% of electricity comes from coal, EVs still were cleaner than standard combustion engines within two years.
So okay, they’re cleaner and better for emissions, great news! So what about the fact that there are still not that many EVs on the road. If there is only a small percentage of vehicles electrically powered, then does it really make a big enough difference? Well, many climate scientists argue that even the smallest change matters. Even so, the market of the EV is growing and is projected to continue.
Currently, the EV represents only about 1.8% of all vehicles in the US. While this seems small, remember that just a few years ago, EVs weren’t even a full percent of all US vehicles. In 2018 EV sales were up by 81% and as of 2019, there are more than 1.2 million EVs on the road. A large factor in this bump is due to the availability of long-range EVs with an affordable price tag. Yes, I’m talking about the Model 3, the Chevy Bolt, and the Nissan Leaf, all with an MSRP in the $30,000 range and three of the top EVs by units sold. Clearly, there aren’t a whole lot of electric cars on the road right now but the long-range affordable EV hasn’t been available for more than a few years. And now with more manufacturers such as VW and Ford coming into the electric vehicle field, we’ll see even more options.