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Tesla’s Claim For Environmental Friendliness Under Attack

Tesla’s Claim For Environmental Friendliness Under Attack.

“The reality is that EVs in places like Hong Kong will emit 20% more CO2 over their lifetime than conventional gasoline cars”

Whisper it to the home crowd whooping and hollering every time Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk said “sustainability” and “CO2 reduction” at the reveal of the Model 3 prototype, but it seems lifetime carbon dioxide from electric cars is actually not much different from conventional internal combustion engines.

Until most electricity is generated by clean, renewable sources, claims electric cars are saving the planet are hollow.

That’s the view of Bernstein Research, which studied the car market in Hong Kong. Bernstein Research said because Hong Kong, and China’s, production of electricity is carbon intensive, mainly from coal in other words, electric cars are increasing rather than reducing pollution. And worse, the government subsidizes the rich to do this.

Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist and Cool it, said over a 150,000 kilometer (93,000 mile) lifetime, a Tesla Model S will emit about 13 tonnes of CO2. The battery production will add another 14 tonnes, with 7 more from the rest of its production and decommissioning. This total of 34 tonnes compares with what he called a similarly performing diesel-powered Audi A7 Sportback, which emits 35 tonnes, Lomborg said in an article in the London-based Daily Telegraph.

High carbon intensity
Bernstein Research analyst Neil Beveridge said because of the high carbon intensity in Hong Kong, electric cars will likely emit 4.4 tonnes or 20 per cent more CO2 than equivalent gasoline cars. Beveridge used a BMW 320i for his comparison. This has a two liter engine, so isn’t really comparable with the Tesla Model S, but would be a direct competitor to the Tesla Model 3.

“While EVs (electric vehicles) may be part of the long term solution, they are currently more of a problem. The reality is that EVs in places like Hong Kong will emit 20% more CO2 over their lifetime than conventional gasoline cars, given the high carbon intensity of electricity production and battery production. Taxpayers are being asked to pay for this, which is ironic given that EVs tend to be driven by those on higher income levels,” Beveridge said.

In Hong Kong, described by Musk in January as a ‘probably the leading city in the world for electric cars’ this is a big deal because conventional cars are taxed at 36% of the sales price, while electric cars go free.

Lomborg agrees that because China’s electricity production is so dirty, electric cars make local air pollution much worse. Subsidizing them makes no sense.

“It is daft to waste billions of public money on rich people’s playthings that kill more people through air pollution (because of the electricity production method) while barely affecting total carbon emissions,” Lomborg said.

Sanctimonious
“Before unveiling the (Model 3 prototype) Musk sanctimoniously declared that Tesla exists to give the planet a sustainable future. He pointed to rising CO2 levels. He lamented that 53,000 people die from air pollution from transportation. Tesla, so the story goes, is a lifesaver. Like other electric cars it has “zero emissions” of air pollution and CO2,” he said.

“But this is only true of the car itself; the electricity powering it is often produced with coal, which means that the clean car is responsible for heavy air pollution,” Lomborg said.

As the Financial Times’ Lex column put it – “Thinking of buying a Tesla to help save the plant? Think again – at least if you live in Hong Kong.” Lex might have added China, and any other country which produces the majority of its power using fossil fuels.

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