Are Teslas and other electric vehicles perfect for the environment?
The answer is “no”, since nothing can be perfect. Electric vehicles are still a source of GHG emissions as a result of the manufacturing and raw material extraction processes. Further, and more importantly, lifetime emissions for electric vehicles also depend on the sources of fuel used to power the local grid.
So Is Driving a Tesla Better for the Environment?
Today’s infographic, which looks at the well-to-wheels impact of electric and gas vehicles, was created in association with Delbrook Capital, a financial services company that has launched the CO2 Master Solutions Fund.
Together we explore the latest data on the lifetime emissions of gasoline and electric vehicles, and how they compare depending on the state you live in:
Is driving a Tesla better for the environment than using a comparably sized gas-powered vehicle? In the majority of places, the answer is “yes”.
However, the true environmental impact depends greatly on the specific power sources that the local grid uses to generate electricity.
The Power Mix
According to a study done by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the average new gasoline vehicle generates the equivalent of 29 MPG of emissions over its lifetime. The study found that the average electric vehicle has emission equivalents in a range between 35 MPG to 135 MPG depending on the local power grid of the state it is driven in.
Electric cars driven in the Pacific Northwest states, as an example, have the emissions of an equivalent 94 MPG gas-powered car. This is miles better than a new Honda Fit (36 MPG) or even hybrids such as the Prius (50 MPG) or Honda Accord hybrid (47 MPG). This is because 52% of all power in the region comes from hydro.
In Colorado, about 70% of all electricity is coal-fired. This means that the electric car has the equivalent emissions of a gas-powered Honda Fit with 35 MPG. In Florida, natural gas has replaced coal usage, and now accounts for two-thirds of all electricity generated. Powering an EV on Florida’s grid for an estimated 51 MPG equivalent is better than driving a hybrid such as a Prius (50 MPG) or a Honda Accord Hybrid (47 MPG).
The Future of Emissions
Today, the study by the Union of Concerned Scientists concludes that 66% of Americans definitely would generate less emissions by driving electric vehicles based on the compositions of their local power grids.
In the very near future, plugging in will be better in 100% of places in America. Here’s why:
- Battery technology will continue to get better. More efficiency means lighter and better cars.
- Coal is falling. It’s gone from 44% of all U.S. power generation in 2009 to 33% in 2015. It’s forecasted to fall to 22% by 2020.
- Many states also have committed to specific targets for green energy as a portion of their energy mix. More renewables for the grid means less emissions.
For investors, these changes will create many opportunities for investors.
As the electric car era is ushered in, some experts are predicting that entire power grids will need to be re-wired to accommodate. Automobile dealer networks will be profoundly affected.
Car part manufacturers will also have to adapt. How many pieces are in a typical gas-powered vehicle? According to energy expert Gianni Kovacevic there are about 100.
In an electric vehicle, which only needs about 20 components, many of these parts such as pistons and spark plugs will become antiquated.
Animation: U.S. Electric Vehicle Sales (2010-19)
This stunning animation visualizes the last nine years of U.S. electric vehicle sales. We also look at who will lead the race in the coming years.
It’s challenging to get ahead, but it’s even harder to stay ahead.
For companies looking to create a sustainable competitive advantage in a fast-moving, capital intensive, and nascent sector like manufacturing electric vehicles, this is a simple reality that must be accounted for.
Every milestone achieved is met with the onset of new and more sophisticated competitors – and as the industry grows, the stakes grow higher and the market gets further de-risked. Then, the real 800-lb gorillas start to climb their way in, making competition even more fierce.
Visualizing U.S. EV Sales
Today’s animation uses data from InsideEVs to show almost nine years of U.S. sales in the electric vehicle market, sorted by model of car.
It paints a picture of a rapidly evolving market with many new competitors sweeping in to try and claim a stake. You can see the leads of early successes eroded away, the increasing value of scale, and consumer preferences, all rolled into one nifty animation.
The Tesla Roadster starts with a very early lead, but is soon replaced by the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt, which are the most sold models in the U.S. from 2011-2016.
Closer to the end, the Tesla Model S rises fast to eventually surpass the Leaf by the end of 2017. Finally, the scale of the rollout of the Tesla Model 3 is put into real perspective, as it quickly jumps past all other models in the span of roughly one year.
The Gorilla Search
While Tesla’s rise has been well-documented, it’s also unclear how long the company can maintain an EV leadership position in the North American market.
As carmakers double-down on EVs as their future foundations, many well-capitalized competitors are entering the fray with serious and ambitious plans to make a dent in the market.
In the previous animation, you can already see there are multiple models from BMW, Volkswagen, Honda, Fiat, Ford, Toyota, Nissan, and Chevrolet that have accumulated over 10,000 sales – and as these manufacturers continue to pour capital in the sector, they are likely posturing to try and find how to create the next mass market EV.
Of these, Volkswagen seems to be the most bullish on a global transition to EVs, and the company is expecting to have 50 fully electric models by 2025 while investing $40 billion into new EV technologies (such as batteries) along the way.
The Chinese Bigfoot?
However, the 800-lb gorilla could come from the other side of the Pacific as well.
Source: The Driven
Chinese company BYD – which is backed by Warren Buffett – is currently the largest EV manufacturer in the world, selling 250,000 EVs in 2018.
The Chinese carmaker quietly manufacturers buses in the U.S. already, and it has also announced future plans to sell its cars in the U.S. as well.
How will such an animation of cumulative U.S. EV sales look in the future? In such a rapidly evolving space, it seems it could go any which way.
How Much Oil is in an Electric Vehicle?
It is counterintuitive, but electric vehicles are not possible without oil – these petrochemicals bring down the weight of cars to make EVs possible.
How Much Oil is in an Electric Vehicle?
When most people think about oil and natural gas, the first thing that comes to mind is the gas in the tank of their car. But there is actually much more to oil’s role, than meets the eye…
Oil, along with natural gas, has hundreds of different uses in a modern vehicle through petrochemicals.
Today’s infographic comes to us from American Fuel & Petrochemicals Manufacturers, and covers why oil is a critical material in making the EV revolution possible.
It turns out the many everyday materials we rely on from synthetic rubber to plastics to lubricants all come from petrochemicals.
The use of various polymers and plastics has several advantages for manufacturers and consumers:
- Easy to Shape
- Flame Retardant
Today, plastics can make up to 50% of a vehicle’s volume but only 10% of its weight. These plastics can be as strong as steel, but light enough to save on fuel and still maintain structural integrity.
This was not always the case, as oil’s use has evolved and grown over time.
Not Your Granddaddy’s Caddy
Plastics were not always a critical material in auto manufacturing industry, but over time plastics such as polypropylene and polyurethane became indispensable in the production of cars.
Rolls Royce was one of the first car manufacturers to boast about the use of plastics in its car interior. Over time, plastics have evolved into a critical material for reducing the overall weight of vehicles, allowing for more power and conveniences.
Rolls Royce uses phenol formaldehyde resin in its car interiors
Henry Ford experiments with an “all-plastic” car
About 20 lbs. of plastics is used in the average car
Manufacturers begin using plastic for interior decorations
Headlights, bumpers, fenders and tailgates become plastic
Engineered polymers first appear in semi-structural parts of the vehicle
The average car uses over 1000 plastic parts
Electric Dreams: Petrochemicals for EV Innovation
Plastics and other materials made using petrochemicals make vehicles more efficient by reducing a vehicle’s weight, and this comes at a very reasonable cost.
For every 10% in weight reduction, the fuel economy of a car improves roughly 5% to 7%. EV’s need to achieve weight reductions because the battery packs that power them can weigh over 1000 lbs, requiring more power.
Today, plastics and polymers are used for hundreds of individual parts in an electric vehicle.
Oil and the EV Future
Oil is most known as a source of fuel, but petrochemicals also have many other useful physical properties.
In fact, petrochemicals will play a critical role in the mass adoption of electric vehicles by reducing their weight and improving their ranges and efficiency. In According to IHS Chemical, the average car will use 775 lbs of plastic by 2020.
Although it seems counterintuitive, petrochemicals derived from oil and natural gas make the major advancements by today’s EVs possible – and the continued use of petrochemicals will mean that both EVS and traditional vehicles will become even lighter, faster, and more efficient.
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