EVs indirectly pollute, and the Tesla Model S appears to result in greater effective CO2 emissions than an SUV
Guest post by Nathan Weiss
The EPA tells us 51% of total CO2 emissions result from motor vehicle use. As a result, many environmentally-aware consumers buy hybrid and electric vehicles, including the Tesla Model S, in an effort to reduce their CO2 emissions. One can easily picture these consumers exclaiming “wealthy Republicans are destroying the planet!” when they find their Prius driving next to a ‘one percenter’ in a BMW.
According to the EPA, the Toyota Prius V generates 212g of tailpipe CO2 emissions per mile driven, while BMW offers a host of vehicles that generate less than 140g of CO2 per km (225g per mile) driven. In fact, there are now quite a few new vehicles on the road that emit between 240g and 280g of CO2 per mile driven, including the Chevy Cruze and the base model Honda Civic. Hop into a Honda Civic hybrid and your tailpipe CO2 emissions fall to just 202g per mile. So where does the Tesla Model S stand in terms of effective CO2 emissions?
Tesla Motors implies that the Model S sedan effectively emits 176g of CO2 per mile driven, although we believe the power consumption estimate Tesla uses for these calculations – 300 miles per 85 kWh consumed – is unrealistic. Furthermore, unlike gasoline-powered vehicles, electric vehicles utilizing lithium-based batteries suffer charging inefficiencies of roughly 10% to 20% and often consume meaningful amounts of energy when they sit idle – especially in cold weather. If we incorporate charging and idle losses, using data provided by Model S owners, we calculate that the effective CO2 emissions of an average Model S are roughly 394 g per mile. It gets worse: Other research shows the massive amounts of energy needed to create an 85 kWh lithium-ion battery results in effective CO2 emissions of 153g per mile over the life of a Model S battery, based on our assumptions. When the CO2 emitted during the production of the battery pack are incorporated, we believe the total effective CO2 emissions of an 85 kWh Model S sedan are 547g per mile – considerably more than a large SUV, such as a Jeep Grand Cherokee, which emits 443g per mile!
Despite the substantial effective CO2 emissions of the Model S sedan, Tesla received $465 mln of low-interest loans from the DOE and the $82,000 average list price luxury sedan benefits from a $7,500 Federal tax credit, as well as various state and local incentives – including a $2,500 tax credit in the state of California. In addition, government environmental credit schemes required other auto makers to pay Tesla more than $40 mln in 2012 to “offset” the emissions of their gasoline engine-equipped vehicles with credits from the more heavily polluting Model S.