Is the Tesla Model S Green?

English: Tesla Model S Prototype at the 2009 F...

Tesla Model S Prototype at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.



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Lance Wallace

So it IS green–puts out more plant food!

…many environmentally-aware eco-sanctimonious consumers buy hybrid and electric vehicles, including the Tesla Model S, in an effort to reduce their CO2 emissions feel greener-than-thou.

David Walton

Didn’t we discuss this sort of chain-of-energy 5-7 years ago before WUWT became the internet phenomena is so richly deserves to be? (Congratulations on the 3 year consecutive Best Science Blog award, by the way)
Nothing has changed. As true today as it was back then, even without the chain of loss to deliver electrical energy.

Here’s Canada’s newest entry in the two door golf cart market…the ZENN ! ! !
Zero Emissions…No Noise….holds cases of beer AND two sets of golf clubs !

Jim Smothers

To see the innovation of the Tesla S compared to the 1956 Citroen DS19, the most inovative car of the last century, watch Motor Trends Head to Head competition. You will have to watch the entire 12 minute segment to see which car wins >>

To top it off, Fiskers is having financial problems and may become an automotive Solyndra. As if we taxpayers need another Solyndra……
I do love the car’s styling though.


And they just fired most of their workforce.

J Martin

Windmills increase co2 instead of reducing co2, and now we find that electric cars do the same. In addition the use of ethanol increases co2 emissions. I wonder if there is any so called green technology that actually does what it’s protagonists claim. Maybe LED lighting is the silver lining to the green party cloud.
And then we have power stations converted to wood chip burning by shipping the wood chips across the Atlantic. I’d sure like to see a comprehensive co2 audit for that idiocy.

Ben Wilson

In all fairness, they should also calculate how much CO2 is used in the production of the typical non-electric, non-hybrid car. . . . .

Never mind my last post. I got Tesla and Fiskers confused.


Lady Thatcher had a minor degree in chemistry. I know of no other politician that has had any background in science (not including social science) beyond high school. Therefore governmental agencies act within a void of scientific knowledge and reasoning. Idealists can promote their venue with little or no pragmatic challenge. Where are today’s Benjamin Franklins and Thomas Jeffersons ?

Silver Ralph

And take one of those Teslas north, into a Canadian winter, and turn on all the heating, seat heating and de-misting, and then see what happens to your effective MPG and CO2 production.
I did go onto the Tesla site to see what they say about heating, but it is not mentioned. I am assuming that the waste-heat an electric motor cannot heat a car interior (otherwise an electric motor cannot be 98% efficient). That means battery heating, and I would suggest that will halve your range and double your CO2 emissions? Any more accurate calculations for this?

Government subsidizes a rich person’s plaything. Just one of the many major distortions and abuses rampant in our government.


A Tesla weighs more than a Jeep Grand Cherokee. It is also longer. A Jeep Grand Cherokee can haul more people + cargo, etc. The JGC no need for government grants. There is no energy density problem with Jeep products, and of the fuel tank goes dry you will not be required to buy a new fuel tank. Parking a Jeep at the airport for a month will not cost $30,000 in repairs.
On the plus side for the Tesla, many places are looking at programs that will partially recharge your battery at a discounted rate but will not partially fill your Jeep tank. This makes no sense to subsidize a Tesla owner.

Green logic is always superficial – if something “looks” green (like wind or solar) it assumes that
it IS low carbon. Looks, as they say, can be deceiving.

At a hefty 4,000 plus pounds, the Model S is going to use a goodly amount of energy, regardless
of where it comes from.

Tom Moriarty
JM VanWinkle

Zenn abandoned their lead acid powered golf cart and laid off all their employees except for executives and their secretaries. Sounds like Fisker? At least with subsidies Tesla is still in business making a product. Did I say nicely subsidized?

Silver Ralph

Despite these woeful energy consumption figures, Professor David Mackay, a UK government advisor, is still pushing the lie that electric vehicles are 5x as efficient as fossil fueled cars.
Free pdf book on renewable energy (for government ministers):
Claim is bottom of page 120.
What the disingenuous professor has done, of course, is to ‘massage’ the figures:
a. He has assumed the fossil fueled car is a US gas-guzzler.
b. He has assumed that the electricity for the electric vehicle comes free – with no costs or inefficiencies of electrical power generation.
Now that is plain deceitful. And since Prof Mackay is the chief scientific adviser to the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (sic), and this pdf book was designed for government advice, this is tantamount to “Misconduct in Public Office” and the good professor should be charged under that statute.

John Slayton

@Ben Wilson
You beat me to it, Ben. How much CO2 was released to manufacture that gas tank, fuel pump, carburation/injection system? How much for the oversized, periodically replaced non-regenerative braking system? Etc, Etc. The comparison gets really complicated in no time at all.

Ed Barbar

“The EPA tells us 51% of total CO2 emissions result from motor vehicle use.”
The EPA says 1/2 of the world’s auto C02 emissions come from US cars.
US vehicles, including boats, planes, etc., produce about 1.2 Billion metric tons of c02, annually.
Electricity generation causes about 2.4 billion metric tons of C02, annually.

John Parsons

How much CO2 is produced building that SUV drivetrain? This author has an ax to grind. Instead, he should be sharpening his pencil. JP

Silver Ralph

And yet still we have Professor David Mackay, the chief scientific adviser to the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (sic), claiming that electric vehicles are 5x as efficient as fossil-fueled cars.
Free pdf book from this site.
The claim is on p120
What the professor has done here, is to assume that:
a. The fossil-fueled car is a bit of a gas-guzzler (not a diesel).
b. That the electricity for the electric car come free, with no costs of inefficiencies of production from fossil fuels.
Claims like this are highly disingenuous, to say the least, as in normal circumstances an electric car is actually some 30% less efficient that a European diesel. (And that is without taking the lithium battery manufacture and inefficiencies into account.)
Since the professor is a chief scientific adviser and the publication is for ministerial usage, it is likely that Professor Mackay is guilty of ‘Misconduct on Public Office’, and should be charges accordingly.

The EPA tells us 51% of total CO2 emissions result from motor vehicle use.

The IPCC AR4 SPM tells us that transport is responsible for 13.1% of emissions. WUWT.

Mike McMillan

“$82,000 average list price luxury sedan”
Hmmm. Time to trade in the DeSoto.


Ben Wilson says:
April 10, 2013 at 10:46 am
“In all fairness, they should also calculate how much CO2 is used in the production of the typical non-electric, non-hybrid car. . . . .”
Ben, the point is electric and hybrid are advertised as C02 free or reduced which they are not, by a long shot.

Joe Public

It should be easy to extend their range:
Simply hook up a trailer full of spare batteries. 😉

Not ready for prime time

Well worth reading the full report. Excellent display of critical thinking and analysis. Why cant the greens do this? The author has given Tesla the benefit of the doubt at almost every turn and the results are still wildly unfavorable. He could have included an allowance for the lack of robustness of the batteries which could require replacement sooner than the 8000 mile interval claimed by Tesla. It would be highly interesting (and I suspect most revealing) to see a detailed profile of who is buying these things!

george e. smith

So I have spent a good amount of time in the Santana Row Tesla showroom; even spent $26 on a Tesla hat; but only because it happened to be Subaru blue.
But I do have to say, I was quite impressed with a lot of the Tesla model S design, and I told them so. But I also told them what a silly idea it is, when you can store so much more energy in a gallon of gasoline.
One incomprehensible design choice, didn’t make sense to me, and stll doesn’t. If you look at the rear of the chassis (they have a complete body less chassis there), you will see they have two electric motors axially arranged behind the step down trasmission gears that drive the two rear wheels.
Well that is what you think you are seeing. The two L&R step down gears, are actually a perfectly ordinary differential, except direct drive to the cage, and no right angle drive. So why the hell the complication, and inefficiency of a differential, when you have two separate motors.
Well the answer is simple; you DON’T have two separate motors. You only have one motor in fact, a 290 KW three phase AC motor. The other “motor”, is actually a DC to three phase AC rotary inverter. It’s about 60 years, since I knew exactly how to do that, so I don’t know, what that is all about.
Well you see, if they had just put in the parallel step down gears, sans differential, and two identical brushless DC motors; they probably would have to change the name to the model S EDISON.
So any of you modern electric geeks out there (I know you are there), can yo splain to us, how the rotary inverter works, and why go that way, rather than brushless DC ?
I did ask why they didn’t go with in board disk brakes at the rear, just like the 1954/5/6 Mercedes W196 formula one GP cars, and the 300SLR sports cars of the same vintage. I’m thinking they also went inboard brakes at the front, but my mind is fuzzy on that. Yes I know I can giggle it up and find out.
Naturally, the Tesla chap had absolutely no idea, why the hell you would want inboard brakes on a sports car, even if only on the rear. I can see eschewing them on the front, so you don’t complicate the steering; but Tesla brags about their astronomical tree climbing torque. So if you have so much drive torque; it likely equals or exceeds the maximum breaking torque; both of them being limited by the tire coefficient of friction.
So then you don’t have to worry about braking torque shearing the drive shafts, if you put the brakes inboard. Well they still didn’t understand why you want to do that if you have room.
So when you build the model GES Tesla, Mr Musk. I’d like a no differential twin brushless DC motor job with in board rear disk brakes. I’d also like it if your engineers, can find a less vulnerable crash resistant location for the modest battery cooling heat exchanger (radiator).
It’s a very nicely done car: but it is still a silly idea. But the capitalist in me says people with more money than sense, should be separated from it as fast as you can clean them out. But how about giving us taxpayers a break, and make your yuppie customers foot the real bill for their spendthrift ways. And I really liked the old Roadster model too. You should build it again.
Makes the chevy Corvette look like the piece of junk, it is.

Rud Istvan

Interesting but a little fact challenged. A quick check of today’s EPA website shows 34% of CO2 emissions from electricity generation, about 29% from all transportation. Perhaps you meant 51% of transportation emissions are from cars?
And, you cannot add the CO2 in making the battery to the Tesla without also adding the CO2 from making a comparable car engine/ transmission. Fruit salad comparison.
The stronger point is that at current relative efficiencies, electric vehicles are about a wash when powered by coal generated electricity, while still horrendously expensive and range limited when compared to today’s autos and hybrids. Which is why the Nissan Leaf is a failure, Fiskers is near bankruptcy, and I suspect Tesla will be too once everyone at the Googleplex has bought their expensive toy.
All that said, there are still a range of hybrid like ideas that make economic sense at present and probable fuel prices in most places, and which should be seeing much wider adoption. Here, the US lags Europe in idle off, DCT, regen braking, electric turbo, and similar innovations that do not even require a traction battery like the Prius has. Up to 25%. Fuel savings at minimal ( few hundred rather than few thousand) of additional vehicle cost.


With all the talk of “green” vehicles lately, I was beginning to feel a bit guilty about driving my large pickup truck and two 500+ HP Porsches, but now I will sleep soundly!

Hugh Davis

It can take four days including a recharging stop every hundred miles (or less if you drive with the lights and heater on!) of up to 10 hours each to drive the new all-electric Nissan Leaf from London to Edinburgh. As Christopher Booker has pointed out, In the 1830s, a stagecoach could do the same journey in half that time.
P.S. DarrylB Angela Merkel was also a chemist.

Lee L.

I am confused.
I am Canadian and I live in Vancouver which is under siege from the likes of Suzuki Corporation err .. I mean Foundation. The ‘Sustainability’ zealots are working hard to ‘get us out of our cars’ and have managed, for now, to grab hold of the levers of municipal government so that ANYTHING for bikes and against driving is lauded and paid for with my taxes. But.. just for a minute.. let’s imagine they succeed in removing every single fossil fuelled car off the road in all of Metro Vancouver.
A single car manufactures, according to the EPA, about 5 tons CO2 per annum.
Our government run insurance scheme reports about 1.6 million motorized vehicles in all of Metro Vancouver, so taking ALL of them off the road would offset 1.6 million x 5 tons = 8 million tons CO2 per annum.
Right? Well not exactly.. you see, except for aviation fuel which is refined right here, most of the fuel we are burning is refined in the USA and imported into Vancouver. So we would not only have to take all the cars off the road, but we would have to continue to buy the gasoline and diesel from those Americans and store it somewhere in tanks FOREVER, since you could never be sure that those business minded Americans wouldnt sell it to themselves instead of us, or failing that, ship it off to the largest consumers of automobiles on the planet… the newly well heeled Chinese. Neither would sequester the fuel, methinks.
Now… displacing a gasoline car off the road with a Tesla, amounts to the same thing. Unless the fuel you WOULD HAVE burned is sequestered forever, then surely it will eventually be burned somewhere else, maybe next week or maybe next year, but it will be burned.
So here we we’d be smug in Vancouver..feelin’ green, pedalin’ bikes in the rain, and destitute since we can’t do business anymore, and have to pay massive taxes to finance public transit ( electric buses, elevated trams and subways only dont you know ).
Meanwhile…let’s look at what taking all our fossil burners off the road would accomplish..
1 coal fired electric plant emits somewhere between 10million and 20 million tons CO2 per annum.
For the sake of argument, let;s peg an ‘average’ coal fired electric plant near the middle at 16 million tons CO2 per annum.
So that means if this medium sized city and all its municipalities took every single car off the road AND sequestered all the fuel they would have burned, then and only then could it offset the CO2 emissions from 1 half of 1 average coal fired electric plant.
Now according to the Guardian(Tuesday 20 November 2012, Damion Carrington), a green/left leaning organ, China is in the process of building a planned 363 coal fired plants while India plans 455 coal fired plants. The Chinese alone bring an new one onstream every 5 days.
So we could get ourselves ‘out of our cars’ 100%, build some tanks to hold the fuel we would continue to buy and sequester, and then we really can proudly choose which half of one coal fired plant will offset of the 1200 or so being planned worldwide. .. Half a Chinese one? or Half an Indian one?
Perhaps the optics would be better than if we chose one of those new German ones. You know.. the ones they are building to use when the wind doesnt blow since they are closing down the nuke plants.
So.. I am confused. What happens to the fuel when you buy a Tesla?

george e. smith

One other defect that electrics have; if you weigh the car, before and after driving 300 miles, you will find it still weighs the same. My Subaru Legacy weighs about 45-50 pounds less after driving 300 miles; wonder what causes that.


There have been about 5000 Tesla cars sold sold far, the lowly Chevy Cruze has sold 250,000 units in 2012 alone. The thing is, everyone seems to like electric cars but almost nobody actually buys them.
If electric cars ever become competitive with gas/diesel cars I’ll but one, but I don’t expect them to become competitive for at least another 20 years.


Of course, none of these comparisons of which vehicle is “greener” matter at all unless you truly believe that CO2 in the devil incarnate. If it finally becomes clear that CO2 has a miniscule effect on climate (as I believe) none of these “green” things will matter or be needed. No more solar, wind, or Teslas.

Paul Sery

The CO2 produced by each subsidized dollar also needs to be factored into the total equation. People and companies consume energy in order to produce the wealth that is taxed and then subsidize the vehicles. It’s worse when you consider that much of that money is borrowed from less efficient places like China. Borrowed subsidies effectively continue consuming CO2 because it takes energy to produce the dollar to pay the interest. It goes on and on.

John F. Hultquist

John Slayton says (@11:22 am) responding to Ben Wilson:
“The comparison gets really complicated . . .”

Hi John,
Best reason I know to keep politicians far away from the process of picking such things to support with tax-payer money. They haven’t done well with “climate science” either.
Another question: Is there an electric pick-up that will pull a 4-horse trailer and all related gear from Biggs Junction [el. 67 m] on the Columbia River south to Madras [el. 683 m] and the grasslands to the southeast.? That’s only 97 miles with most of the elevation gain in the first 25 miles. That’s only half the “get there” part of the trip, and then you are in an open field with no electricity. Perhaps the future will not allow such activities as horse camping or just camping, boating, fishing, mountain climbing/hiking and otherwise visiting remote locations. Sad.
DarrylB says:
April 10, 2013 at 10:48 am
“Lady Thatcher had a minor degree in chemistry. I know of no other politician that has had any background in science (not including social science) beyond high school.

Read this and you will know of two:
There were and are others.


John Parsons says:
April 10, 2013 at 11:24 am
“How much CO2 is produced building that SUV drivetrain? This author has an ax to grind. Instead, he should be sharpening his pencil. JP”
John, there is a reason EV’s are at least 2.5 times as expensive as comparable ordinary cars (comparable as longs as you don’t wanna drive more than the battery makes; and it is warm enough to not need a heating, and cool enough to not need an A/C, I should add). Part of that reason is the resource usage; and the price of any resource is a direct expression of energy usage in getting and processing the resource.
So, if E/Vs needed, say half the energy in the making than an ordinary car, I would expect them to be about half as expensive. And in that case I would already own one, because I need to be thrifty. Besides, I would love driving a vehicle with an electric motor due to the simplicity, robustness and high torque starting at 0 rpm.
Unfortunately, no EV maker will sell me a new car for 5000 EUR. Instead they want 25,000 EUR (if they actually grant you ownership of the battery). Some of them are desparate to sell EV’s – they made so many of them, you know. Renault and Nissan for instance.
So why can’t they sell them for 5000 if the resource usage is as low as you claim, John? Enquiring minds want to know.


There’s a significant error in the g/kwh calculation on the low side – you can’t use mixed sources to calculate the emissions from an electric car, you have to use incremental. Incremental is going to be quite a bit higher, because it’s pretty much all going to come from natural gas. Calculating this way will result in a significantly higher g CO2/mile.


And I should add, the mechanical simplicity of an EV should give it even more of a cost advantage.

Obviously, george, your Subie doesn’t get enough exercise and is sweating too much.
Remove the taxpayers subsidies from those pretty electrics and if they are competitive, they will survive and flourish.


The “greenness” could become more true if the electricity was generated by nuclear facilities. I once believed this was Sam Bodman’s motivation for going ahead with the ridiculous ethanol subsidies while he was Bush’s second term Secretary of Energy. I just imagined a behind the scenes quid-pro-quo of “I’ll subsidize corn gas if you get serious about nukes”.


Rud Istvan says:
April 10, 2013 at 12:03 pm
“Here, the US lags Europe in idle off, DCT, regen braking, electric turbo, and similar innovations that do not even require a traction battery like the Prius has. Up to 25%. Fuel savings at minimal ( few hundred rather than few thousand) of additional vehicle cost.”
The first thing you have to do to catch up with us is double the price of gasoling through taxation.
Still keen?


Just another White House (desperation sets in months before Der Führer and the High Command commit suicide in the Richard M. Nixon situation room) propaganda urban legend.

george e. smith

Well when I read ” Tom Swift, and his Electric Car.” as about an 8 yr old, I thought it was a nifty idea. I also thought leaping from the top of a 150 ft pine tree and flying, was a nifty idea. But I really liked the view from the top, and the flying part never worked too great at lower altitudes, so I never did try that. And I got my A*** whacked every time I climbed that tree anyway.

Good move!

“even spent $26 on a Tesla hat;”
No doubt a far better investment than the vehicle itself. You will be able to sell this on Ebay a few years from now for thousands!

Richard Sharpe

You beat me to it, Ben. How much CO2 was released to manufacture that gas tank, fuel pump, carburation/injection system? How much for the oversized, periodically replaced non-regenerative braking system? Etc, Etc. The comparison gets really complicated in no time at all.
We can approximate the comparison with a comparison of the weight of the respective vehicles, I imagine (similar amounts of energy used to manufacture them per pound/kilo.)
So, what are the weight comparisons?

Well done for doing the maths and publicising it. I always wondered but have never seen it laid out so clearly


Looks white to me 🙂