Does The Tesla Model S Electric Car Pollute More Than An SUV? Page 4

2013 Tesla Model S [photo: David Noland]

2013 Tesla Model S [photo: David Noland]

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With these new numbers, he recalculates the Tesla's total effective carbon emissions to be 346 g/mi, not a lot more than the 292 g/mi I calculated above.

Weiss also downgrades his SUV bogeyman, pointing out that even at his revised lower figure of 346 g/mi, the Model S is still a worse carbon polluter than the Toyota Highlander, which the EPA rates at 312 g/mi.

What about carbon from gasoline production?

But for all his zeal in exhaustively parsing the carbon footprint of electricity production, Weiss conveniently forgets to mention that producing gasoline also has its own carbon footprint.

According to a 2000 report from the MIT Energy Lab, gasoline production accounts for 19 percent of the total lifetime CO2 emissions of a typical car. Actually driving the car accounts for about 75 percent of its lifetime carbon output.

Thus the carbon footprint of fuel production adds about 25 percent to a gas car's nominal CO2 emissions number. 

Sorry, Mr. Weiss. If you apply the same rules to gasoline cars that you did to the Tesla, your Toyota Highlander just went from 312 g/mi to 390 g/mi.

On this adjusted apples-to-apples basis, the Tesla figure of 292 g/mi is roughly comparable to that of the Scion iQ.

*Other pollutants 

With all the growing concern about global warming and carbon emissions, old-fashioned "smog" air pollution--primarily nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2)--has receded into the background.

Due to strict emissions laws, modern gasoline cars emit very little of these lung-threatening pollutants. The same cannot be said, unfortunately, about coal-fired powerplants.

Weiss calculates that powerplant emissions give the Model S an effective level of NOx pollution about triple that of the EPA limit for gas cars. (I'm discounting his suspect inclusion of vampire losses.)

The situation for sulfur dioxide is much worse. Weiss calculates that effective Model S sulfur dioxide emissions equal that of about 400 gas cars. (Again, the suspect vampire data is discounted.)

Weiss writes, "In many states, including California, if a smog-testing center could measure the effective emissions of a Tesla Model S through a tailpipe, the owner would face fines, penalties, or the sale of the vehicle under state 'clunker buyback' programs."

In terms of sulfur dioxide, gas cars are so clean and coal-fired electricity so dirty that a 60-watt light bulb effectively emits as much sulfur dioxide as an average gasoline car driving at 60 mph.

Frankly, I can't argue with these disturbing numbers, and I have not seen them refuted anywhere. But they say more about the tough emission laws for gas cars and the remarkably lax rules for coal-fired powerplants belching sulfur dioxide than they do about the Model S.

Nevertheless, I'm feeling a bit guilty about the sulfur dioxide spewing out of my Tesla's virtual tailpipe.

At least I live in New York state, which uses coal for only about 10 percent of its power production. That's about one quarter of the U.S nationwide percentage, so presumably I'm "only" 100 times worse than a gas car when it comes to sulfur dioxide emissions.

Fortunately, I'm not alone; the vast majority of electric cars operate in states with low-coal grids like California, Washington, and New York.

And the grid is slowly getting cleaner. As more wind, solar, and natural gas come online and antiquated coal plants are shut down, my effective SO2 emissions will steadily decline.

So in the end...

After all of this, the conclusion seemed clear: I drive a kick-ass, high-performance, five-seat all-electric luxury sport sedan that has the same wells-to-wheels carbon emissions as a tiny Scion minicar with two real seats.

Anybody got a problem with that?

When it comes to virtual tailpipe emissions, carbon and otherwise, the Model S ain't perfect.

But if you ask me, it's a huge step in the right direction.

David Noland is a Tesla Model S owner and freelance writer who lives north of New York City.


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Comments (126)
  1. Weiss also conveniently forgets about the carbon-intensive wars to get oil from people who hate us, the energy-wasting clean ups from oil spills, the transportation of oil and gasoline around the planet - as well as the supercharger network and solar panels people are installing on their rooftops. But hey - When you've got an axe to grind (and a short on Tesla stock), those things don't matter.

  2. Ha! good point... the $1 Trillion spent on Bush's war for oil in Iraq, when they could have bought a Tesla for every American for that money!

  3. $1 trillion divided by 320 million Americans is about $6000 per person, or $21000/family. Note quite enough for a Tesla in every garage.

  4. To respond to my own reply (if it posts), $1 trillion is about $3000 per American or $10,000 per family.

  5. Indeed, even if all the juice my Volt used was generated by burning coal, that would be American coal, mined by Americans, burned by Americans and distributed by Americans.

  6. And, don't forget charging off peak uses wasted energy. I wish more people knew this, but during off peak hours, coal power plants burn coal and waste it. The power plant can not throttle. So when you plug in at night, you are using 100% wasted energy! Not much cleaner than that!

  7. AND the fact that the high polluting coal plants he factors waste energy on off peak demand. Plugging in uses wasted energy!

  8. Weiss also misses the point that you cant drive a gasoline car on sunshine. The grid is getting cleaner by the year and it is absolutely possible, 1000s are doing it, to make your own electricity from sunshine.
    No gas car can ever drive on sunshine.

  9. Not entirely true: you can use energy to synthesize hydrocarbon fuels from atmospheric CO2 and water. It's just more expensive to do so then refining or reformulating preexisting hydrocarbons.

  10. It's also a lot more expensive than just running an EV from solar power. When the price of oil goes sky high, only fools will be synthesizing gasoline from sunlight. Everyone else will buy EVs and solar panels, or just use mass transit.

  11. *Use and/or provide sufficient incentive for their politicians to finally build decent mass transit systems.

  12. @Tom: Hate to say it, but the U.S. has spent 60 years building suburbs that are so dispersed and so low-density that mass transit will NEVER be economical--even if their residents would adopt it, which they likely wouldn't.

    Instead, plug-in electric cars may save those widely dispersed suburbs by eliminating the impact of fluctuating gas prices:

  13. Maybe not, but my old Miata seemed to run better when the sun was out and the top was down.

  14. Technically, all cars run on sunshine, although some fuels are running on sunshine from millions of years ago!

  15. I appreciate all the simple math you've done, but this is a little errant...

    "Actually driving the car accounts for about 75 percent of its lifetime carbon output. Thus the carbon footprint of fuel production adds about 25 percent to a gas car's nominal CO2 emissions number...just went from 312 g/mi to 390 g/mi."

    75% means the lifetime carbon output is 4/3 of the driving output, not 5/4 (this is a common mistake, which is often negligible when it's something like 5% or less, i.e. 20/19 ~= 21/20). So 312 => 415.

  16. sorry, 416

  17. I think you missed something.

    The report, as quoted in the article, says 75 percent of the lifetime carbon emissions come from driving, and 19 percent from gasoline production.



    Thus 94 (driving emissions plus gas production emissions) is 25 percent more than 75 (driving emissions only).

    QED: Gas production increases the driving-only carbon number by 25 percent.

    There ares still 6 percent additional carbon emissions from other sources that were not included in this calculation.

  18. OK, but why not include those 6 percent?

  19. In this section of the article, the subject at hand was the carbon footprint of "fuel" production.

    The other six percent involved the manufacture of the car, which is another topic dealt with later in the article.

  20. What about the manufacture of parts for replacing and maintenance like for instance tire manufacturing footprint?

  21. Thanks for taking the time to refute that article. I find most posts from Seeking Alpha to be similar to Weiss'. Invariably, the posts are trying to convince other investors to either buy or sell a stock to the author's advantage. On the surface many authors are good at making it look like they've "done their homework", but dig in a little deeper and its clear they are merely selectively picking convenient facts to further their agenda. As a patent attorney, I've seen many Seeking Alpha posts about patents issuing or being litigated that demonstrate either gross misunderstandings or deliberate deception. All posts on that site should be taken with a HUGE grain of salt.

  22. If you have the scratch for a Tesla, seems fairly likely you have the scratch to put a 4 KW PV array on the garage to power it

  23. If I were to get a Tesla, I would probably put in a 10kW array. More, faster charging on pure sunlight!

  24. Doing the research now, actually. Am hoping that the array doesn't make me have to delay the purchase for a year since if I get a Tesla Model S (not interested in the Model X at this stage) I want the signature version. I'll also take a quick look at the i3 before placing a deposit, but I just don't see it beating the Model S, although I do like it from afar.

  25. People always seem to assume that batteries disappear from the face of the planet as if by magic, once they are finished in cars! They are actually incredibly useful; grid storage, telecoms towers, off-grid installations, etc... Plus the carbon footprint of recycling a battery is less than mining the lithium, etc... in the first place. Not to mention that the expected lifetime of an electric car that doesn't have its battery replaced is much longer than a comparable gas car (because they are so simple and reliable mechanically), after all 70% of 200 miles is still a perfectly decent range, especially with greater availability of charge points. Take it from someone with a Nissan LEAF!

  26. "Plus the carbon footprint of recycling a battery is less than mining the lithium, etc... in the first place."

    Maybe, and that is a big maybe. Have you ever seen a bloated battery, whose plates have been fused together? The only way to recondition such a battery is to melt the casing, re-mold it, melt the fused plates, purify them chemically in some way, re-cast them... and what of H2SO4?

    The really interesting question becomes: how much energy is required to recondition such a battery, and how much pollution does such reconditioning generate?

    As much as I am an advocate of recycling, I would like to see some numbers before we all get on the happy bandwagon that recycling is always cheaper and better. I want to be sure, not lie to myself

  27. Better than what? Dumping them in a landfill so they can take up space and contaminate ground water? Or worse, spontaneously combust in a garbage truck? Half the point of recycling is so that you don't have to store it somewhere for a millennia. At least when you recycle them you can install proper pollution controls and recoup some money selling the reclaimed material.

  28. Power is plentiful and easy to obtain, ever heard of the sun?

    Fossil fuels however are increasingly scarce and come with a terrible cost in terms of pollution.

  29. Yes, power is plentiful, I have heard of the Sun. And how many recycling facilities use solar panels to generate the power for recycling?

    Do not misunderstand me, I am all for recycling (we recycle everything we can in the household), but what you are implying, which is that recycling facilities run on clean energy, I simply do not believe.

    Could it work? Yes, it could. But I do not believe that is the case at this time.

  30. I was hoping someone else would think of this too. A traction battery that has lost too much capacity to be of use in a car still makes a fantastic place to store solar-generated power for use at night or gray weather days. How much carbon footprint is being taken back from the car once it's battery is repurposed? I suppose it varies, but it could be quite a considerable chunk.

  31. Great points... but I sometimes wonder why these billionaires building cars for the upper middle class ($75,000+ cars) and space trips rather than or along with helping average Americans by building more refineries... which are controlled by a monopoly.

  32. I think the growth of EVs does far more to help this country and the world long term than adding refineries. And what part of those $75K+ vehicles coming down in price like every other technology (granted, not at the same rate, but still coming down) don't you intend to consider?

    Refineries are not owned by a monopoly, either, of course. Often, there are actually several companies sharing refineries, which is the not even close to a monopoly, of course.

    To the other 99% of people here, we understand that Tesla may be focusing on the expensive end first, but the volume, lower-cost EVs are not that far behind. Look up the next generation vehicle plans for Tesla first before assuming the company is only interested in making $75K+ vehicles.

  33. That said there are better solutions then the ones mentioned for producing cleaner grid energy. Namely LFTR(liquid fluoride thorium reactors), Solar panels specifically using double gyriod nanotechnology, and vehicles for mining thorium using clean hydrogen(hydrogen produced from water electrolysis power by electricity as opposed to current techniques of splitting the hydrocarbon of fossil fuels to produce hydrogen). LFTR could provide the mass energy need to efficiently do electrolysis all while converting the current nuclear waste transuranic plutonium stockpiles into batteries for NASA satellites and medical isotopes for combating cancer. Plus non-mechanical safety of LFTR for a meltdown incident, less dangerous radiation, reducing radon

  34. The model S does start for less than you are quoting ($69K). Add the federal rebate and its 62K. Factor in another ~$20K in fuel savings if the car is on the road for 10 years. There are many other cars ~$42k on the road. Tesla's goal is to build sustainable transport. This car's frame and body are made from aluminum and won't rust away after 10-15 years here in the rustbelt states. I just replaced break lines and repaired a major rust hole on my 2000 Chevy Tahoe, and it's developing severe frame rust. Due to the lack of wear and rust prone components I'm expecting my model S to have far greater resale value in the long run, even if the battery needs replaced 12-18 years from now.

  35. @Sean: The list price of the Model S starts at $69,900. That's the amount for which a buyer must write the check, or finance.

    We consider it deceptive to quote the price net of the Federal income-tax credit, which not every buyer qualifies for and which can take up to 15 months to be realized.

  36. Seems like we should represent both sides of that argument. As I understand the code, the credit is good for all Tesla Model S vehicles so long as the buyer is paying more than$7500 in federal income tax. The new vehicle price is $69.9K as you state, but the cost of ownership is arguably much less than a comparable $69.9K vehicle. I wouldn't have bought the Tesla had it not been comparable to a mid-$40K SUV in long term ownership costs. Like many Tesla buyers, I'm not in the 1%.

  37. @Sean: The cost of ownership may well be considerably lower than a comparable $70K, depending on financing, miles driven, per-kWh cost of electricity, and so forth. No argument there.

    But cost of ownership is a different issue from the stated list price, which is the amount the buyer actually has to *write a check for* long before realizing any Federal tax credit or getting other incentives.

    That was the only part of your comment I was debating.

  38. Horse, meet the stick that killed you. And repeat.

    Also, anything out of Seeking Alpha is completely out of touch with reality.

  39. The non-environmental externalities associated with fossil fuels are obvious to everyone.

    I use my local Supercharger and am installing a solar installation on my roof that will charge my S without recourse to the grid.

    Pity the shorts. They have lost a lot of money by now.

  40. I don't pity the shorts at all, they got their just rewards.

  41. Good job. As a retired South Coast Air Quality Management District engineer, I can tell you that the NOx emissions from from the extremely clean power plants in Southern California to power a Model S would only be about 0.015 grams/mile, not considering clean power from renewables. Current CA standards are 0.05 LEV and 0.02 SULEV. SOx emissions are inconsequential due to natural gas fuel of power plants.l Many electric car owners, like me, have solar PV systems to supply all or part of their EV's electrical needs. Gasoline fueled car's emissions degrade with time, while power plant emissions will improve. I love my new red Model S!

  42. With apologies to Upton Sinclair, it's difficult to get a man to understand something accurately when his job, and/or stock valuations, depend on not understanding it accurately.

  43. Thanks for using a personal favorite quote, Jeffrey. Well stated, of course.

  44. Not sure how this figures into it, but I am having solar installed on my roof by SCTY that will take my house off the grid (in the city) and probably fuel an electric car. What if the electric comes from panels on my roof and not coal burning plants? Also, they have a product that allows you to draw from your car at night and power your house. $900 from Ecototal and the Tesla battery is your backup,still under warranty.
    Solar was subsidized, but less than $5k and $40/month for 20 years. I am trying to find a hole in this real life plan....someone might.

  45. The numbers to consider there would be: environmental cost to get materials for the solar system, to make the panels, to make the wire. And it's a one-time hit, unless you replace the panels at some point.

  46. It's an aside, but you should consider very carefully before going off-grid with solar. The grid works very well as a reservoir for your produced electricity, and allows you to charge your EV at night without having yet-another-battery as a go-between.

  47. "On this adjusted apples-to-apples basis, the Tesla figure of 292 g/mi is roughly comparable to that of the Scion iQ."

    Anybody with half a brain will understand that. What I take issue with is the electric car advocates constant claims that electric vehicles have zero emissions. It is frustrating, when I can clearly see that is not the case, as you just dissected in detail. How can the electric car advocates not see it, or is that a case of "I really want everyone else to drive electric cars at all and any cost"?

  48. With electric cars it is possible to drive a vehicle that is completely carbon pollution free. In other words, they have the potential to be part of a completely carbon neutral energy economy. That simply isn't possible with gas vehicles! That's why they deserve our support and promotion, they are the future manifested (though granted it will take time to fully get there).

  49. Sorry, but with the initial carbon emissions hit to make the vehicle, one will never be able to reduce that hit to zero, because in order to do that, one would somehow have to generate more energy with the electric vehicle then what was put into it. As far as I can see, that is currently impossible.

    To be truly at zero, the creation of an electric automobile would have to cost zero in terms of emissions, in addition to being zero during the life time of the vehicle, and that includes any servicing work and materials.

  50. 1. EVs have zero "tailpipe" emission.

    2. EV owners have a choice as far as the "upstream" emission goes, where ICE owners don't have any choices...

  51. There are a significant percentage of electric car owners who do charge their vehicles essentially from the solar power they collect on their own PV installations. That should be included when doing overall calculations of the big picture.

  52. That is what I do. 6.88KW of solar, Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S are our only vehicles, zero electric bill since 2009. The rest of our electricity here in the Pacific NW is clean hydro. But still driving almost 30K miles a year, for free is so awesome, if gas went to $10/gallon tomorrow it would still cost the same for me to get to work, zero. The side effect of this is that I have less emissions but for me it is more about keeping the maximum money that I can away from any oil company, and nothing beats that.

  53. Well, not _zero_, but a certain amount based on the solar panels' amortization schedule, until they're paid back by power delivered. And in the PNW I'd think that that amortization would take rather longer, isn't hydro pretty cheap (

  54. It might cost you zero in terms of energy, but only after you have amortized the cost of the solar panel investment, generated enough energy for your vehicle AND generated enough energy for your entire household.

    Also, driving to work will never truly cost you nothing, unless your time is completely and utterly worthless. If you also happen to bill by the hour, it becomes even more expensive.

  55. what? you are running out of arguement.

    The Tesla S is still a blast to drive than any of that clunky diesel that you propose. In fact, NOT a single diesel car in that class is faster than the Tesla S. Not to mention the fact, each mile that Tesla S is driven, it is completely emission free at the point of the car.

  56. "what? you are running out of arguement."

    Which argument? That service and parts for the lifetime of the vehicle would also have to be zero in terms of emissions? Do you mind explaining why you believe that is not the case?

    "The Tesla S is still a blast to drive than any of that clunky diesel that you propose. In fact, NOT a single diesel car in that class is faster than the Tesla S."

    Nonsense. Utter nonsense. Go to Germany, drive any diesel Mercedes or BMW, then come back to discuss your findings, and how fast they go. Until then, you have no business telling me that they are clunky or slower than Tesla. What utter nonsense.

  57. In fact, the Tesla model S specification page does not even specify what the top speed of that vehicle is:

    so you have no evidence to support your claim that model S is faster (or slower) than any diesel vehicle.

  58. @Annatar: Motor Trend and several other outlets have clocked 0-to-60-mph acceleration times of 3.9 to 4.5 seconds in Tesla Model S Performance cars.

    And the top speed is at least 130 mph:

    For the record.

  59. There are more comments in this thread
  60. I charge with solar so I think I'm doing better than 98% of most driver's worldwide. I love the Model S!

  61. Just as the full potential of Ferrari is best appreciated on a smooth Italian road and does not reach its full potential it a state that has potholed pavement and gravel roads, the Tesla reaches it's full potential in states that have a low carbon grid. Those states also tends to be where most of the them are sold as a constituency that votes for low carbon policies appreciate low carbon technology.
    I would like to see Tesla report actual grams/mile carbon of the cars sold as most seem to be sold in California and to people who are more likely to be charging them with solar panels.
    If the rate of increase in renewable wind and energy production continue then the increase in the use in electric cars will keep pace with the greening grid.

  62. Yikes! Greed vs The Public's interest.
    What an Evil MF.

  63. Simple solution to the absurd analysis brought to us by Mr.Weiss and the folks at Seeking Alpha:

    Reroute the exhaust system of your SUVs into the vehicle's interior. Get in. Drive away.

    Now we're talking apples to apples.

  64. Coal power plants can - and *should* have scrubbers, etc. making them a lot easier to make less dirty.

    We can get SO MUCH electricity from renewable sources, we won't know what to do with it all. The next generation of PV panels and wind and tidal turbines etc. will be made with renewable power produced by the current renewable systems.

    Eventually, the energy overhead of electricity will be moot.


  65. These types of "analysts" should be made to work in a rock quarry for life. But, hey, it's a free country, so he spew his venom all day long (unless we lock 'em up in the aforementioned rock quarry.)

  66. Did Mr. Weiss accounted emissions of changing filters, oil and spark plugs? I believe he forgot it.

  67. The overhead of these disposables has to also include the transportation energy used to move them around, etc.

    The bunker oil used in supertankers, and the solvent used for bitumen has to be produced - just so it is possible to pump this crap through a pipeline...

  68. Mr. Weiss make another strong argument for stricter regulation of coal power plants and more renewable energy. My power is 100% generated by my PV panels, so no carbon or other pollutants from that when I get my EV next year

  69. About 24 states have de-regulated electricity production, meaning one can choose a green (wind, solar, hydro) energy supplier vs. the utility for their electricity needs.

    In my state of Delaware, the 100% green electricity from the supplier I chose costs LESS than the brown (coal, nuclear) from the utility! It's free to switch, takes about minutes via an online form, and doesn't require investing thousands on solar panels or my own windmill!

    So when I get my Tesla S, all arguments about "soup to nuts" emissions issues will be moot!

  70. Ditto here in PA. I pay a few more cents/kWh (~10 vs. I think 7.5 teaser rates), but I think it's well worth it. That completely eliminates a big chunk of the carbon emissions of my Volt.

  71. I do the same here in Michigan, Christophe for my Volt. It's a little more expensive here and I'm still nowhere near 100% green energy but it's the best I can do right now in a state still dominated by coal for a little while longer. As I've stated elsewhere here, I'll get solar panels in 1-2 years and am researching solar arrays and local options now.

  72. We did the same just before taking shipment of our 60kwh Model S. Its guilt free driving that's hard for the naysayers to argue against. I recommend all Model S drivers consider this approach to help make our case.

  73. I actually brought up many of those points on seeking alpha:
    1: Apples to oranges comparison (EPA for 1 and vs real world for the other)
    2: Winter driving using more
    3: Poor assumptions on mileage driven
    4: Vampire load
    5: Car configurations (21s decrease efficiency)

    You did forget to mention that he mentioned two studies in his paper..
    Lomborg- the widely discredited politcal scientist
    Hawkins LCA- so bad that Hawkins had to print and addendium and retraction for using grossly incorrect numbers

    Here's a very throrough scientific rebuttal- pots 532

  74. more obfuscations from oil company sycophants....
    Their sophistry would be laughable if it wasn't so absurd...

  75. Nice article. So I wonder what the math would be for me who drives a Leaf and charges it entirely with the large solar system on my roof?

  76. I would love to understand the NOx and SO2 claims. I thought there were industry caps through the Acid Rain Interstate Trading program. And total amounts are going down regionally as the grid is getting cleaner. Does anyone have any knowledge to confirm this understanding or show where I'm wrong?

  77. It is pretty telling when the reason Tesla was profitable is the money they raked in by selling carbon credits. I saw one report that $32000 for each Tesla Model S delivered. It would be nice if they could pass that on to the consumer in the future, but as a stock holder, I am happy with the current business model.

  78. What most people fail to mention is, no matter how dirty coal-fired electric plants are, they run all night polluting the air *anyway* and most of that power is totally wasted. IMO, a case could be made that EVs charging at night actually reduce overall pollution, since they are using essentially free electricity already produced for motive power and produce no tailpipe emissions themselves. Gas cars have to have gasoline made for them to use, with all the energy usage and creation of pollutants that entails.
    Perhaps if this Weiss person had the tailpipe of his car coming out of his steering wheel, he'd have a better understanding.
    Breathe deep, Turkey!

  79. Oil funded research is entertaining... the grid is becoming cleaner anyway due to less coal and more natural gas being used...


  80. The biggest issue that I have with this study is the fact that the current "dirty" grid has been around long before any Tesla or other EV is here. So, none of that EV has contributed to those pollution. Now, if you look up the EIA's energy and grid report, you will see that in the last 5 years, the amount of renewable energy has increased considerable. It is about 10x the amount that 100,000 EV would need on daily basis. So, the increase in renewable energy alone has MORE THAN covered the "increased" load on the grid by the EVs.

    Now, the last point is that I can't do anything to clean up that gasoline emission (with an ICE car), but I can do something about the electricity by installing solar panels on my roof.

  81. If that big beautiful Tesla only generates as much pollution as a little Scion, the Focus Electric I am considering leasing must pollute next to nothing! I think I am sold on electric.

  82. "Nevertheless, I'm feeling a bit guilty about the sulfur dioxide spewing out of my Tesla's virtual tailpipe."

    This is absurd. One point you fail to notice is that gas stations are open 24/7 all over the world. These facilities use a lot of electricity - enough to charge you car for its lifetime, as well as many others. Weiss of course did not factor that fact in either. Add that to the equation, along with the delivery processes of electricity versus fuel and you will find the footprint of the EV's are far below any other vehicle being offered today. No coal power plants have been made to fuel your car - they were built to keep the lights on 24/7 so people can buy gasoline. Go solar if you feel the need. I did and drive free.

  83. It is an acknowledge fact that manufacturing causes pollution (period). If Mr. Weiss did a Life Cycle Analysis of himself, I can assure you he's produced more emissions than building an electric car by far, TESLA or otherwise! Let's focus on transportation fuel emissions - scientific data shows electric cars produce the least. I drive a LEAF with a 'zero emission' label so to eliminate the long tailpipe argument, I installed solar panels that offsets the electricity required to power my car. I am also installing a sub-meter on the EVSE to charge my LEAF so I can compare power in and out to determine the overall efficiency. By the way Nathan, what do you drive?

  84. Shouldn't a holistic carbon comparison of an EV vs. an ICE vehicle account not only for the production of the batteries vs. gasoline production, but include the production of the internal combustion engine and all that comes with it?

  85. Yes, Robert, good points of course. But since the overall nature of the article is clearly not meant to be objective, you're expecting too much from Mr. Weiss, I am afraid. But seriously, fewer parts, not just the engine, make your point very valid and I agree completely. And that's not even including all the power consumed by gas stations and the endless wars we fight for fuel.

    Did I say wars for fuel? I meant wars for "freedom," of course...

  86. The cost of running an SUV in both environmental and economic terms is only going one way UP. The harder OIL is to extract the more impact it will have and we will increasingly rely on the Sh*t that comes out of "countries" like Venezuela and Iran as the light crude is going to run out first.

    On the other hand the cost of running an EV has the potential to fall and reading some of the posts already has fallen to very low when one considers the very low cost of capital these days.

    Our society is based on the future potential of things, what is the stock market if not a monetised crystal ball. So as sensible capitalists we should always migrate to the future benefits that EVs gives us.

  87. what are these numbers like with pure solar?

  88. I may also add there is a little deviousness in Nathan Weiss's article, may be hidden to most people, BUT he used the emission and CO2 data from 2006, and a grid mix from 2011.

    We all know the grid has gotten alot cleaner in the last 8 years and the worst offenders of the high CO2 emissions have been taken off line

  89. Trusting Seeking Alpha for environmental info is like relying on the SPCA for tax advice.

  90. Another non-trivial factor that the author of this "analyst" left out is the energy overhead for maintenance on an ICE - the oil and the filter and the other materials that are used briefly and then thrown out.

    As several people have pointed out - it takes a lot of electricity to find and drill and extract and transport and refine and transport again and store oil and gasoline. The estimates I have seen are between 7.5 and 8.5kWh per gallon of gasoline. Now with tar sand bitumen and deep water wells and other non-conventional heavy crude oil - it takes far more electricity than that, in all probability. And all oil takes a lot of natural gas - which itself takes a lot of electricity to get.

    All that overhead negates the conclusion...

  91. I think those estimates of 7.5 and 8.5kWh of energy per gallon of refined gasoline are credible (I've seen DOE numbers of 21,000 BTU, equivalent to 6.1kWh), BUT (unless I am mistaken), they are the heat equivalent (which take into account not just the grid electricity that the refineries consume, but all the energy they use in the process, including their co-gen), not necessarily what would be available to charge an EV. One has to take into account the efficiency of converting those kWh of, for example, Natural Gas to electricity, and that would be significantly less.

  92. Every day, the US sends a BILLION+ dollars to foreign countries for oil. Nevermind the military budget required to defend our oil supply. Tar sand bitumen is proof we have passed peak oil.

    ALL the money spent on electricity stays in our local economy. Nobody can monopolize the sun, and it will be shining for the next 5 Billion years, or so.


  93. Tesla, and all EVs, do far more for to soothe the egos of those who buy them than the environment they're meant improve. It's the great canard of the 21st century at a taxpayer premium of $7,500 per.

  94. And yet you don't seem to have even one rational response to the many legitimate criticisms of the laughable methodology used by Mr. Weiss... Your comments are ridiculous, of course, but since facts aren't of interest to you, I won't waste my time here.

  95. What about the taxpayer and the weapon industry for oil purposes?

    What about the taxpayer and the invalid soldier that comes back from war?

  96. The other major problem with Weiss's report is that it is comparing EPA-produced emission numbers from gasoline cars against real-world energy usage numbers for the Tesla. If your gasoline car is getting its EPA-rated mileage then you must drive downhill both ways to work and back. I'd like to see real-world numbers for carbon emissions for the vehicles that the Teslas are being compared to.

  97. From my own experience of people I've met, eco-conscious drivers tend to beat the EPA estimates. But you are probably correct that on average, people do the same or worse than the EPA estimates.

  98. Shouldn't we compare cars in the Tesla's Class also? That is cars with similar size, performance and power, right?

    Tesla would have blown them away...

  99. Of course living within a couple miles of your place of work and primary community can eliminate powered vehicle miles all together - convert to walking and biking.

    Then you can start dealing with food Calories and the 10 petroleum Calories needed to produce one food Calorie in our modern food system.

  100. Weiss should also be comparing real-world fuel consumed by conventional vehicles to the real-world electricity consumed by the Tesla model S.

  101. If you want the carbon footprint of gasoline, shouldn't you also use a carbon footprint for the production of the coal used in a power plant?

    And shouldn't we be using the carbon footprint of the marginal production of electricity? The Telsa adds to the demand for electricity, therefore the last plant online is the carbon footprint that we should be comparing it to.

    This would almost always be either a coal or natural gas powered plant (hydro and nuclear are baseline electricity producers that are almost always in use- the coal and gas plants come online to support peak demand)

  102. Actually, you are only partial right. Coal is actually a backbone powerplant similar to nuclear.

    However, NO Coal power plants has been built in the US in the last 35 years. So, marginal new plants are mostly natural gas plant which is FAR cleaner than coal.

    secondly, the power plants are here LONG before EVs are here. They are producing powers regardless whether there are EVs or not. So, it is NOT fair to include the production of coal in the power plant.

    Also, if you look at the last 10 years, far more renewable power has been online and they produces 10x more power than what current 100,000 needs. So, in a way, those EVs are actually enjoying newer and cleaner power mix.

    Also, did anyone include carbon footprint of oil changes?

  103. By charging at night the EVs don't increase demand. Night time is "off-peak"

  104. Hmmm ... Nolan admits he has experienced vampire losses and even continues to experience them to date. And yet, he decides to ignore them because at some point in the future Tesla promises a software update to eliminate them. There is no doubt that Weiss was over zealous in his calculations to boost the Tesla's equivalent emissions number, but hasn't Nolan done exactly the same thing in his favor? Oh well!

  105. Kurt, have you read the comments by the author regarding the degree of losses? In a sense, you have a point, but considering the huge degree of dishonesty of Mr. Weiss, as is noted by many here, the impact of the vampire losses is negligible, I would argue in comparison.

    You know, as opposed to completely ignoring the energy used by gas stations, our endless wars for fuel, the fuel used to make and transport ICEs, etc...

    Again, you're not wrong, but I think you're missing the bigger picture, but just my opinion.

  106. Thanks David for the analysis. Weiss' article is terrible. I'm surprised Elon Musk didn't attack it himself like he went after Broder and the NYT article

  107. @Joel: I'd suggest that, first, SeekingAlpha is a relatively unfamiliar site beyond active stock traders; and, second, Musk (or his Comms/PR people) may have learned a few lessons about how you tackle a well-known media outlet like the NY Times during the process. My 2 cents.

  108. A lot of oil wells have natural gas too and for a lot of them is not economical to commercialize that gas.

    So, the natural gas associated to production oil that cannot be reinjected is simply burnt.

  109. Also, doesn't the EPA rating xxKWh/100 miles already include charging loss?

    I believe that is the case. So, some of the examples have already "double counting" that charging loss...

  110. Wow! The CO2 generated to manufacture the LI Batteries? What about the CO2 to manufacture the gas engine, the exhaust system, the radiator, and the gas tank? What about the manufacture of oil from tar sands; probably higher than coal overall. This guy obviously has an agenda.

  111. Using 367 Wh/mile as a reasonable average for the Tesla Model S, and my electric utility's (PG&E) website that they produce 0.524 lbs CO2 per kWh, I calculate 87 gm CO2 per mile for the Tesla Model S. With California's Renewable Portfolio Standard mandate, this will get lower over time.

    I also calculate:
    231 gm CO2 per mile for my 42 mpg Jetta diesel
    550 gm CO2 per mile for a 16 mpg Ford Expedition
    176 gm CO2 per mile for a 50 mpg Prius

    Using electricity from PG&E, a Tesla Model S has the CO2 emissions of a 101 mpg gasoline engine car.

    Tesla's website uses some outdated data on the US electrical grid. In 2012 coal was 37% of US electricity production, down from the 44% Tesla's shows for 2009.

  112. Mr. Noland,

    Why not put this argument to bed, at least at your home? is the largest installer of solar systems in the US; they're in New York too.

    All their estimates are at no cost, and I think you might even get paid for the excess power you produce in New York.

    I'm in Texas; my first electric bill (last month) was a CREDIT! First time that's ever happened and I think I could get used to that . . . .

    A Tesla and a PV System go together like peanut butter and jelly; this is a no-brainer.


    Mark Peters
    Hurst, TX

  113. I agree with Brian P. here, people who argue that electric cars are not as green as we think: 1) have ulterior motives 2) don't take gas production, transportation and distribution into account (most electric car owners will only need to plug in at night most of the time, charging stations used only on long trips) 3) don't take crude oil drilling and spills & cleanup cost & environmental cost into account 4) don't take into account the whole motor oil thing that electrics don't have (producing, oil change cost, disposal cost & environmental cost), 5) power steering (not hydraulic, but electric on EV), oil filter, air filter, drive belt, timing belt, all these things and more are not taken into account when they look behind electric cars.

  114. PLUS, some people have solar power. PLUS solar & wind power will overtake other forms of electricity and be the majority very soon. They tend to take the worst case scenario (coal power plant) and use that in their (fake) numbers instead of averaging it out.

  115. Perhaps I missed this in the article or comments... but what is the g/mi if you charge your car entirely from solar?

  116. Building solar panels is not carbon free to be sure, but the next generation of solar panels can be built with energy from the first. So, over time all renewable energy gets cleaner and cleaner and cleaner.

    While fossil fuels get dirtier and dirtier and dirtier.

  117. If you're going to waste time factoring in the footprint cost of manufacturing the battery, you may as well factor in the footprint of the electric motor, AND the entire assembly of the gasoline engine system. Those aren't free either.

  118. What about carbon footprint to run and operate gas stations and their electricity? Aside from global oil transportation, what about the fuel that gas trucks use to refill the filling stations?

  119. Hey ... what about those of us who have solar panels on the roof of our home? Doesn't that count for anything ... or nothing? I can drive my Model S anywhere for absolutely no cost, forever, without any additional carbon, sulfur or any other footprint. Add this to your list, please ... and be aware that 38%+ of Tesla owners have solar panels! At least it should help lower your calculations ...

  120. If you are counting battery production, then you must also include production of the ICE engine. Aluminum takes a *huge* amount of electricity to smelt from bauxite ore.

    You must also count regular maintenance - producing the crankcase oil, and the filters, etc. all will add to the carbon footprint of ICE's.

    The electricity used to produce gasoline is anywhere between 7.5kWh/gallon and 13kWh/gallon for tar sands bitumen. The Model S can travel between 23 miles and 40 miles on this alone - and none of the gasoline is required. The natural gas used during all this ALSO has electricity and other carbon overhead, too.

    The long tailpipe argument is MOOT.


  121. Seeking Alpha appears to have made a bet a while ago - Short Tesla, the hype can't possibly be real if we hadn't predicted it ourselves right?

    I think they made the mistake of basing models off of traditional car companies & ever since then, they've tapped into a rich well of media coverage by appearing to be anti-Tesla. I suspect it's part link-bait, part being contrarian. As their audience is not engineering focused, they can get away with a few salacious headlines & nothing more. Some times they even include links to supporting articles that, if read in context actually depose their own argument. But, that doesn't matter, they've got eyeballs & ad. revenue.

    We do need to reach their audience though with the truth.

  122. @Michael: Seeking Alpha doesn't make bets. Its various authors do. The site is a platform for differing views, and I've seen both pro- and anti-Tesla articles.

  123. Just a dumb question here. In the apples to apples argument in this article he is comparing the emissions to produce a battery for electric engine to the emissions to produce fuel for a gas engine. Shouldn't he also include the emissions for production of the 12v battery used to power the start of that gas engine?

  124. ... this is old news. While there's merit in the assertion that any electric car that charges up on electricity generated from coal puts it on a par emissions-wise with petro-pigs, in states like California, where electric cars are popular, coal is a small part of the energy mix. Coal-fired power plants are closing or converting to natural gas fairly rapidly. As long as NG stays dirt cheap, that'll continue.

    Consider the source: the guy's advocate short-sale of TSLA. I'd LOVE to sell it short AND make money. But, the stock doesn't drop unless something adverse happens, like car fires clustered in a short time and a possible NHTSA investigation.

  125. In Norway nearly 100% of our electricity comes from hydro power. The 4,000 Telsa's and 11,000 Leaf's sold here as of March 2014 pollute little if at all. Countries with smart grid schemes allow users to purchase renewable energy and those that do also have 0 GHG emissions as their fuel source. The energy mix supplied to Tesla's is more a reflection of a given countries energy policy rather than upon Tesla itself. Just as cars existed by horse drawn carriages for quite some time, so will transportation fueled by ghg emitting non-renewables co-exist next to transportation fueled by 0 emission renewable energy. Countries that lag behind the transformation to sustainable societies are basically giving away their competitive advantage...

  126. Not to mention that every mile driven in a Tesla frees up about 4-5 miles worth of gasoline for other uses, which might include the generation of electricity much more cleanly than with coal, which can then be used to power 4-5 other Teslas.

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