Elon Musk and Tesla offer a gripping corporate tale and coveted electric cars, but when it comes to climate change, they are a rather minor subplot.
Why it matters: Numerous other factors and technologies influence whether electric cars are actually green. And no matter how green they are, they’re still just one, relatively small part of a many-sided, global problem.
Background: Let's put aside the whiplash news of Musk mulling via Twitter about taking Tesla private and then deciding not to over the weekend. A key number to remember is Tesla announced last month it had passed the 200,000 mark for total vehicles sold in the U.S.
Between the lines: Third Way, a centrist think tank, crunched some numbers for me to put that figure into context. To think of the carbon dioxide emissions avoided by Teslas versus clean sources of electricity, here's some comparisons:
- A nuclear reactor replacing coal = 541,353 Teslas.
- Natural gas replacing one coal plant = 98,940 Teslas.
- 100-megawatt wind farm replacing natural gas = 8,267 Teslas.
The bottom line: It takes a lot of Teslas to equal the emissions savings of a carbon-free nuclear reactor, and to a lesser extent other clean energy sources.
For the record, a Tesla spokesperson said in a statement: “Tesla exists for one reason: to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy."
- The spokesperson’s statement continued: "It would be a shame if anyone reading this article came away with the false impression that driving an electric vehicle or owning energy storage or solar products doesn’t have a meaningful effect on climate change."
Electric vehicles have a green reputation, but an important reminder is that they are only as green as the electricity they are using.
- The International Energy Agency has found wide ranges in electric cars’ net climate benefits over internal combustion engines, according to its 2018 outlook.
- That's after factoring in how carbon-intensive a country’s electricity is, as well as the emissions associated with batteries and other manufacturing of electric cars.
Go deeper: Read the whole column in the Axios stream.