Known for its sports car-like performance, the Tesla Roadster was the first product that Tesla Motors released. The fact remains that some readers may not realize that we plan to offer a variety of models, including an affordable family car. Tesla Motors’ overarching purpose (and the reason Musk is funding the company) is to speed up the switch from an oil-dependent economy to a solar electric one, which is seen as the primary, but not exclusive solution for achieving long-term sustainability.
A no-compromise electric car is essential to this goal, which is why the Tesla Roadster is designed to compete head-to-head with a Porsche or Ferrari. It has twice as much energy efficiency as a Prius, on top of that. Yet, some will wonder if it really makes a difference. Could we really benefit from another high-performance sports car? Do global carbon emissions actually change as a result of this?
Actually, it’s not a lot and not much at all. That is irrelevant, though, unless you understand that secret master plan mentioned earlier. For electric cars, this is no different. Almost all new technologies have high unit costs in the beginning before they can be optimized. By entering the high end of the market, Tesla aims to attract customers prepared to pay an excessive premium, and then the company drives down prices and unit volume with each successive model as quickly as possible.
The second model will be an affordable four door sporty car at about half the price of the Tesla Roadster and the third one will be even more affordable. To drive down costs and ensure a timely introduction of the follow-on products, all cash flow is plowed straight back into R&D by a fast growing technology company. Tesla Roadster customers are paying for the development of the low cost family car when they buy a Tesla Roadster.
The two most frequent arguments against electric vehicles – battery disposal and emissions from power plants – are addressed. To answer the first question, you need a bit of math, and to answer the second, you need more information:
Environment friendly batteries!
It’s not what is recommend for dessert toppings, but the Lithium-Ion batteries from Tesla Motors aren’t classified as hazardous. In any case, throwing them away would be a waste of money, since the battery packs can be sold to recycling companies (unsubsidized) after they have exceeded 100,000 miles in design. At that point, the battery has a smaller range but it is not dead.
“The Long Tailpipe” refers to power plant emissions
Electric cars are rebutted by the argument that they simply emit CO2 from the power plant rather than reducing carbon emissions. Obviously, there are renewable energy sources such as hydro, wind, geothermal, nuclear, solar, etc. that do not emit CO2. Consider for a moment the scenario in which electricity is generated with natural gas, which is the most popular fuel source among new power plants in the United States.
Natural gas is converted to electricity by General Electric’s H-System Combined Cycle Generator at a 60 percent efficiency. A combined cycle is one that burns natural gas to produce electricity and then uses the waste heat to create steam that drives another generator. 97.5% of natural gas is recovered, processed, and then transmitted over the electric grid with a 92% efficiency. This gives us a well-to-electricity-outlet efficiency of 97.5% x 97.5% x 60% x 92% = 52.5%.
The Tesla Roadster requires only 0.43 MJ per kilometer of electricity despite its body shape, tires and gearing designed for high performance rather than maximum efficiency. Approximately 86 MJ of electricity reaches the motor per 100 MJ of energy used to charge the Tesla Roadster’s battery during the full cycle charge and discharge.
When we add everything up, we get a value of 1.14 km/MJ = 2.53 km/MJ x 86.5% x 52.5%. This can be compared with a few energy-efficient options, such as the Prius.
Taking the energy content of gasoline (34.3 MJ/liter) and subtracting the refinement and transportation losses (18.3%), well-to-wheel efficiency of gasoline-powered cars is equal to the miles per gallon or kilometers per liter multiplied by the energy content. The Prius’s energy efficiency is 0.56 km/MJ at 55 mpg, which is based on EPA ratings. In comparison to a “normal” car such as the Toyota Camry with 0.28 km/MJ, this is an excellent number.
It is a misnomer to refer to today’s hybrid cars as hybrids. As gasoline powered cars with little battery assistance, they usually have to be recharged by the gasoline engine unless you are one of the few with an aftermarket modification. Therefore, we can consider them as undergoing a slight improvement in terms of gasoline efficiency. It is indistinguishable from a regular car accomplishing 55 mpg if the EPA certified mileage is 55 mpg. Despite the fact that Prius drivers are the majority in the world, the world is 100% addicted to oil.
Every source fuel has a known CO2 content. Oil has a carbon content of 19.9 grams per megajoule, while natural gas has 14.4 grams. When these carbon content content levels are applied to vehicle efficiency, including reference to Honda’s combusted natural gas vehicle and Honda’s fuel cell vehicle, pure electric is the clear winner.
Assuming US power production produces averaging CO2 per joule, the Tesla Roadster remains the clear winner. While coal and natural gas contain higher CO2 content than hydro, nuclear, geothermal, wind, solar, etc., their CO2 content is negligible. Natural gas is used as a yardstick here because the exact mix of power production varies from one part of the country to another and changes over time.
Making the switch to energy positive
It is important to note that Tesla Motors is partnering up with other companies to market sustainable energy products in conjunction with the car. As an example, let’s offer an affordable solar panel from SolarCity, a company that produces photovoltaics (where Musk is also the principal financier). Despite its small size, this system can be installed on a roof in a location that is not easily accessible, or it can be used as a carport and generates about 50 miles of electricity every day.
Traveling fewer than 350 miles a week will make you “energy positive” as far as your transportation is concerned. The result is actually more energy being put back into the system, than is being consumed for transport – this is a step beyond conserving or even eliminating energy for transportation!
So, basically, the plan is to:
- Construct a sports car
- Make an affordable vehicle out of that money
- Build a more affordable car, (an excellent way to use that money)
- Provide options to generate zero emission electricity as well
That’s it! Keep it a secret.