6 april 2016

[4C Note: Because of the potential importance of the new Tesla electric car, we've posted more of this WP article than we normally would, including in particular the paragraph at the end, on the need for a renewable power source. ]

Tesla’s Model 3 orders are through the roof. Here’s what that means for the planet.

By Chris Mooney, The Washington Post, April 6 2016

It’s being hailed as simply extraordinary. Since introducing the Model 3 sedan — a far cheaper electric vehicle, aimed for broader consumption, than the Model S — Tesla saw a stunning 276,000 orders in just two days.

Tesla aims to sell 500,000 electric vehicles per year by 2020 — an ambitious goal but one that, based on these numbers, doesn’t sound so unachievable. (That number presumably includes sales of all Tesla models, not just the new Model 3. Deliveries in 2015 were around 50,000 of all Tesla vehicles, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.)

Clearly, part of the appeal of the new vehicle is not just its sleekness or new range, but rather, its environmental promise and symbolism. One key question, though, is what this surge in Tesla sales means for a critical parameter that will determine the planet’s future: By electrifying transportation (and thus, powering cars not with gasoline derived from oil, but rather, with an electricity supply that itself is getting greener), how fast can we start to bring down the United States’, and the planet’s, emissions?

Current transportation emissions, on a global scale, were 6.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide in 2010, or about 23 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions related to the use of energy, according to the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The number rises to 7 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalents when other greenhouse gases are included. The majority of that was for road-based transportation, though the figure also includes shipping, aircraft, rail, and other sources. (In the United States, transportation makes up about 25 percent of emissions.)

Decarbonizing the transportation sector has long been regarded as a fairly difficult endeavor, since these are mobile rather than stationary sources of emissions, and since emissions from cars and other transportation sources are expected to grow so much in the future. Thus, the 7 billion tons in 2010 are projected to be 12 billion per year in 2050, barring major policy shifts.


When it comes to how fast electric cars can drive down emissions, a key issue is exactly what kind of electricity they’re getting — which fossil fuels are being burned to power them, or, whether they’ll be charged using a mix of electricity that is heavily sourced from renewables. “By and large, EVs still compare favorably in all but the most dirty grids. But the grid gets cleaner over time,” said McKerracher. Thus, the growth of clean electricity and the reduction of vehicle emissions turn out to be closely linked.


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