Tesla, for a Green America

My wife read the post where I said that if I won the lottery I’d buy a Tesla. Then she called me and said, “No, you won’t.” You see, I watch Top Gear and she watches Home and Garden TV. What I meant, of course, was that I’d have to win a lot of money to even think about buying an electric vehicle, and that the Tesla S seems like the best of the lot right now. And that of course she could also buy her new kitchen and endless pool … and squeeze them into my earthship.

Hey, we’re not the only ones that are dreaming. In, The Tesla S and World Peace: Can American Green Energy End the Gulf Oil Wars? Juan Cole thinks buying electric vehicles is a patriotic decision. Cole even posts a ten minute Motor Trend Wide Open Throttle youtube praising the Model S.

A quick US transition to hybrid and then electric cars, and fueling them with electricity produced by renewables, is necessary to combat increasingly dangerous global climate change. But it might also make the Persian Gulf/ Arabian Gulf geopolitically irrelevant. A green America would be energy self-sufficient, and its many wind turbines and solar panels would be impossible for an enemy to target. The US would be both much more secure and also much less aggressive if it were green. There would be no reason for a green America to care very much about security in the Gulf. The behind-the-scenes push by Big Oil for war to open new fields would be deflated. The US would be freed to move the Fifth Fleet HQ away from dictatorial little Bahrain. It could let Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Yemen go.

In this connection, it is very good news that the Tesla S electric car, created by Silicon Valley, has won the Motor Trend ‘Car of the Year’ award. Some models of the Tesla S are less than $50,000, and the car has the longest range of any electric car. Its price should fall over time, and its range will grow. In states where renewables produce a substantial proportion of the electricity, as in Idaho, Washington State, Maine, etc., running an electric car or a plug-in hybrid much reduces a consumer’s carbon footprint. But it may also reduce the likelihood that a couple’s son will be sent off to fight in some godforsaken desert to protect US control of the world’s energy.

You can buy a Tesla S for under $50K, but it won’t have that “longest range.” Also, Tesla has one set of range estimates for the car driving at 55 mph, while the EPA’s five cycle test yields lower, but respectable, range values.

85 kW·h 300/265 miles $69,900
60 kW·h 230/187 miles $59,900
40 kW·h 160/125 miles $49,900

As we have learned from the Leaf, though, those ranges will decline with the age and use of the battery. Tesla offers an eight year warranty, but I haven’t seen any data on how rapidly their battery will decline. If the battery is abused, range will decline sooner, but Tesla claims that nightly topping off will not harm the battery. And the good news is that Tesla has included temperature management.

With all respect to Mr Cole, I expect that the Tesla, like the Leaf, will sell well to a niche of true believers, then run into issues of cost and practicality among the average well-heeled buyer. Now that the US is supposedly becoming the new oil superpower (ha) it will be even harder to wean those wealthy enough to buy the garage and chargers necessary to maintain an EV away from the luxury internal combustion cars that they can also afford.

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