How Green Is a Tesla?

The history of electric cars is short, but the road ahead is long. The conditions under which we trade resources with the environment have changed since humans first appeared on the planet — and, fortunately, we will eventually see the electric car take over in our lifetimes.


Yuxiang Wan is an entrepreneur in Shenzhen, China. Like millions of people who are struggling in the city, he is curious and receptive to new things. He also has a strong sense of social responsibility.

    “Every year I used to drive a gasoline car home for Chinese New Year, but later I thought it would pollute the atmosphere, so I bought an electric car,” says Wan. So the question is: are electric cars like Tesla really green?

Some people have even argued that driving electric cars simply puts pollution in a different place because China relies more on coal to generate electricity. In the United States, there is a person who even wrote more than 6,000 words to question the environmental protection of electric vehicles.

The EPA(Environmental Protection Administration)’s assessment of fuel economy shows that even if electric vehicles are powered by plants that emit large amounts of carbon dioxide, they still contribute significantly more to the environment in terms of energy economy than gas-fired vehicles. Generally speaking, the power system of a fuel vehicle can only convert 14% to 30% of the energy into power. By contrast, the energy efficiency of an electric vehicle is much higher. Data from Tesla, for example, shows that its Model S designs are 80 percent energy efficient.

    Tesla also did a calculation. West Virginia relies heavily on coal for power generation, with coal accounting for 96 per cent of the state’s energy mix, and if you live here and drive about 65 kilometres a day in a regular petrol car, you emit more than 12kg of carbon dioxide.

It’s not much better if you live in Indiana, Kentucky or Ohio. But if you live in California, where half of your electricity comes from natural gas, the environmental benefits of driving an electric car are clear, and the carbon footprint is much lower. Going further, if you live in Idaho or Washington state, where most of the electricity comes from hydroelectricity, the carbon emissions from using an electric car are negligible compared to these figures.

It would be a step backwards to question the environmental friendliness of electric vehicles by arguing that the burning of coal in the process of generating electricity causes more pollution. In fact, in the face of smog, the most serious problem is still our dependence on coalthe manufacture, sale and use of more pure electric vehicles may be the only way to break the dependence on non-renewable energy, promote the upgrading of the energy structure, and thus truly achieve “zero emissions”.

Renewables have become an increasingly heavy part of America’s energy mix, with coal down to 40%. As this process accelerates, the advantages of tesla and other electric vehicles will become more and more apparent. In addition, many electric car owners have begun to invest in solar power to charge their cars. At the same time, Tesla, Nissan and many other automakers are trying to do the same thing: improve battery efficiency and reduce battery costs. The technology’s progress may not be as obvious — not as exponential as that of computer processors — but it is, after all, improving.

According to data released by Tesla, as of February 2015, the total mileage of Tesla Model S worldwide has exceeded 1.2 billion kilometers, saving 130 million liters of fuel. And according to the national gasoline standard, 1,200 tons of carbon monoxide, 120 tons of hydrocarbons and 72 tons of nitrogen oxides have been reduced, and a large amount of PM2.5 has been avoided.

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