My dear wife Kathy reported to me this morning a tweet from Elon Musk announcing that today marked the 10th anniversary of the first appearance of the model S, no longer Tesla’s biggest seller, but still attracting 158,722 buyers in the first quarter of this year (1). Next week, 29 June 2022, marks the 12th anniversary of something maybe even more important at Tesla (2). Not the formation of the company in July 2003 by a couple Silicon Valley engineers (Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning), or Elon Musk’s drive in the first Tesla Roadster February 1, 2008. That first drive was a touch-and-go affair. The car itself was built by Lotus in the U.K., based on their sporty, pricey 2-seater Elise. It was shipped without a battery and got stuck in L.A. customs en route to its American debut and Tesla’s San Carlos facility. Red tape was untangled, and a battery installed in San Carlos in time for Elon to hop in, press start, and go for a joy ride through Palo Alto.
And what a ride it’s been since. That 10th anniversary date marks the first public offering of Tesla stock, clearly Elon’s most successful product to date. You could get a share of Tesla stock for $17. With TSLA at $716.38 as I write this (6/23/22), that’s 4,214%. That’ll buy you a few rockets. Tesla’s market capitalization (share price X # shares held) is sixth highest of all publicly traded companies and the most valuable car company by far. April before last its market cap was S635 billion, 8 times that of GM ($83 billion) and almost 11 times that of Ford ($50.7 billion) (3). In the ensuing 14 months TSLA is up ~5%, GM down 17.4%, and F up 16%, yielding market caps of $742.1B, $48.14B, and 46.3B.
All this Tesla-envy was sparked by getting to ride around in my friend Ken’s new blue S when Kathy and I were visiting him in La Jolla last May. I got digging into E.V.’s and posted something a month ago. The title – “smoke and mirrors”- alluded to the obscure fashion that data about driving costs and environmental impact of these cars are sometimes portrayed. I messed up some of the calculations and vowed to repost a corrected version. In the interim, I collected some other info about driving and owning E.V.s. Kathy’s telling me about Tesla’s “10th anniversary” inspired me to do some more digging and get this puppy out in time for the celebration. I’ve left the cost-of-driving calculations based on gas at 5/20 levels; you can calculate percentage increase based on current prices and apply that to the final cost numbers. Realize that electricity prices can only change every year, as regulated utilities must present their case for any changes to a board. Next year could be eye-popping. Remember what Obama said about “necessarily skyrocket”?. While the CO2 numbers aren’t as eye-popping as before, I think what’s here should help you put electric vehicles in a better perspective.
My friend Ken gave me a ride in his new Tesla (model Y (4)). the other day. Pretty fine car: beautiful deep blue, sleek clean lines, simple spacious interior, and plenty of power (though Ken says those surges are tough on the battery). Ken’s position as a UCSD professor places him square in the service class of La Jolla but with enough dough to keep him in nice cars. He says his Tesla was cheaper than his previous ride, a Beemer. Of course, he enjoys driving right by those $6/gallon California gas stations. Ken’s a lib, but not a mouthy one, so of course he gains satisfaction from his low carbon footprint. This week, the temp in LJ has not crept past 65 and the sun is rare, so we could use a little global warming around here, but it’s not coming from the likes of Ken.
Or is it? I remember Rush (God rest his soul) calling electric cars “coal-fired”. Although such cars don’t even have tailpipes, the energy that powers them comes from generators that have to burn something to make that electricity. I’ve wanted to get into the nitty-gritty of how those putt-putt plug-ins are powered, and Ken’s Tesla provided the impetus. So here’s what I found out about the costs and consequences of this ever more popular way of driving.
The full recommended charge for a Tesla on a home unit (which Ken paid $2500 to install) goes as follows. The home unit provides 240 Volt, 80 amps of current. This charges a Tesla much faster than the 20 amp 120-volt charger. With a 240-volt connection, you can charge a Tesla Model S completely in between 6 and 30 hours. The 240-volt charger adds between 9 and 52 miles of range per hour of charging. Power companies charge per kilowatt-hour. Watts=voltage X current (amps). An installed 240 volt Tesla home charger running at max uses 19,200 watts, or 19.2 kilowatts. Running that puppy the 6-30 hours it takes to fully charge a Tesla will then consume 115.2 – 576 kilowatt-hours. I found a source with much more precise numbers (5), and have used those in my calculations. The ranges mentioned above have reflected different starting and stopping points for charging.
San Diego has the highest electricity rates in the country (6), but few customers actually pay them. Residents have 3 tiers of rates depending on time of day, with “off-peak” 9-midnight and “super off peak” midnight to 2 PM. So you plug in as late as possible. Standard residential rate is $0.39206/kw-h. So that “fill-up” will cost Ken – with his fancy, top of the line NEMA 14-30 3 prong 240V – $32.67 in La Jolla. Costs for charge may be lass, as few run the battery to completely zero before plugging in, and charging above 80% capacity is less efficient. My Michigan rate from DTE is $0.041760/kw-h, so my costs will be less than a 10th what I’d pay in LJ. And our gas is only ~25% cheaper. Per the Tesla web site, the Model S gets 396 miles on a full charge, which comes to 8.3¢ /mile. Other non-company tables list range as low as 303 mile, which would bring the cost to 10.7¢ /mile. To compare, my rickety but beloved ’11 Jeep Patriot gets ~18 mpg, so with the $4.20/gallon Michigan gas that’s 4.29¢/mile. Even with California gas, I think you can see the vinner here. Plus, my Patriot was paid for long ago and I don’t even want to think about Ken’s car note.
San Diego Gas & Electric offers 3 special packages for electric car owners (7). The best deal, at least as regards base rates, for a mere $16 month will lower your charges to 42¢/37¢/10¢ for basic, off-peak (9 PM-midnight, 6 AM – 4 PM), and super off-peak (after midnight). Rates rise to 66¢/40¢/11¢ in summer. So you still have to wait till 9 PM to plug in to even get close to the standard rate.
But there’s other ways to juice up your Tesla. Virtue-signaling municipal governments everywhere have thrown up “free” charging stations (guess who’s paying for the juice?). Where’s my free gas pump? But such stations are ever less useful as more embrace electric cars and demand for those plugs expands. The short charge is never more than a top-off. Commercial charging stations have popped up all over in Southern California (8), but are already overtaxed. Ken keeps a map of all the charging stations in the region, but as the market for juice remains fluid, stations come and go, sometimes making that map a disappointment.
Tesla has its own changing stations which promise to add 200 miles in 15 minutes. For commercial and municipal charging, they recommend carrying around a couple adapters in your trunk (9). Commercial chargers do not yet have uniform fee schedules, but are moving from charging by time plugged to charging per unit of energy. Right now, drivers in California may expect to pay 30 cents per kWh to charge on Level 2, and 40 cents per kWh for DC fast charging. So that’s a little higher than what they’d pay at home. And way higher than what I’d pay in my home state of Michigan, where electric car drivers pay 17¢/kWh (10).
But electric cars were never touted for their economy. Uncle still subsidizes every electric car purchase with a tax credit that starts at $2500 and can reach $7500 (11). As it’s usually the upper crust that buys these things, this sure ain’t addressing “income inequality”. Of course, California signals its virtue by offering an additional $1000-$7000 per electric vehicle bought or leased, although they no longer offer that for a Tesla purchase (12). In Michigan, our Governor Bimbo has proposed a $2000/car rebate plus $500 for a home charging station (13). Fortunately her January proposal has gone nowhere in our Republican led congress.
Whatever the rebate, these electric cars are way more expensive than your trusty gas guzzler. But you can’t put a price on the warm and fuzzy feeling you get by signaling your virtue. Getting behind the wheel of one of these means you’re doing your part to push back the climate catastrophe our betters are always telling us is barely 10 years away.
But are you really? For the sake of argument, at least for the rest of this post, let’s assume that CO2 emissions actually do influence climate and maybe it’s a good thing to reduce them. Does driving an electric car further those ends? Remember, those kilowatt-hours have to come from someplace, and I’ve yet to see an electric car bearing solar panels.
Ken’s source of juice, San Diego Gas and Electric, prides itself on its “clean” profile. They claim to derive 40% of their generation from “renewable” resources, wind, solar, and likely a bunch of hydroelectric. Plus they boast they have no active coal contracts. Whether there are some power plants with big paid-for piles of the black stuff outside, they don’t say. They are obligated by law to report their emissions, although the latest year covered on their web site is 2011. No telling what their fuel mix was then, but they put out 1,266,649 metric tons of CO2 as direct emissions and an additional 299,785 tons in indirect emissions (14). Once I’ve burned up the 6 cords of firewood out front of my house, I’ll have contributed 15 tons of CO2 to our climactic demise (15). But then, I’m not working to keep the lights of millions on.
To do that, for its 4,327 industrial customers, 104,875 commercial accounts, 4 transportation customers and 1,287,811 residential customers, SDG&E generates 5,320,873.84 megawatt-hours/year, proudly producing 5,276,870.41 of those from natural gas (16). (What happened to the 40% from “renewables”?). During the same timeframe, San Diego Gas and Electric generated 3,113,925 megawatt hours in power generation facilities owned by the supplier and procured 22,546,881 megawatt hours through wholesale channels. So SDG&E moved a lot of electrons. The relevant number for my next calculation is that 3 plus million number. That’s the juice they generated from the plants that spewed 1,566,434 metric tons of CO2 upward in 2011. In the decade since, you’ve gotta figure more, but those numbers aren’t available. So now for the grand equation. To generate 3,113,925 megawatt hours of electricity, SDG&E spewed 1,566,434 metric tons of CO2. That comes to half a ton of CO2 for each megawatt-hour (0.5030). Now take that down to Ken’s Tesla level. Recall that fully charging a Tesla S consumes 83.3 kilowatt-hours. With 1/1000th of a half a metric ton of CO2 generated with each kilowatt hour, that charge is responsible for 41.9 kg of CO2. And the owner is surely going to be charging it up several times a year. With Tesla’s 396 miles per charge, going 10,000 miles a year will require at least 25 charges, more like 33 with the more conservative range/charge of 303 miles. I’ll do the math for you: that’s 1.1. – 1.4 metric tons of CO2 per year. What about my little gas guzzler? While I don’t have stats for my dear Patriot, the EPA has kindly calculated that a car getting 22 MPG driving 11,500 miles/year emits 4.5 metric tons of CO2 (17). I generate more CO2 burning 2 cords of wood in my fireplace (15). I won’t be buying any carbon credits.
Of course, there are additional costs of driving an E.V. Democrats who run California are sticking with plans to banish gas-powered vehicles from the state by 2035, replacing them with 8 million electric vehicles in a state already incapable of keeping the lights on in hot weather or during wildfires that damage transmission lines. According to one study (18), achieving this goal of 30 million EVs would require electric power companies with 2-3 million customers to invest between $1700 and $5800 in grid upgrades per vehicle, costs that will no doubt be passed along to customers. I guess that could count as an aftermarket item. The batteries of EVs require rare-earth elements like cobalt and lithium that have to be mined, processed, and transported using diesel-powered machinery, bulldozers, and trucks, which of course spew more CO2 into the atmosphere. The great majority of these rare-earth elements are mined and processed outside the West, especially in China and Congo. This creates a dangerous dependency on geopolitical rivals and enemies. Then, back home there’s that problem with the exploding lithium batteries (19). “Ignition” has a whole ‘nother meaning in E.V.s. Don’t know how much extra CO2 that puts up, but surely a bummer when it happens. As we say in Greektown, Opa! That is if the cars start up at all and then manage to keep going (20).
So what do I think about this craze for electric cars? I think Ren& Stimpy’s Mr. Horse said it best (21).
1. Tesla Model S US Sales Figures. CARFiGURES 4/11/22.
2. Thompson C, Lee K. Tesla celebrates its 10th year as a public company today. Here are the most important moments in its history. Insider 6/29/20. https://www.businessinsider.com/most-important-moments-tesla-history-2017-2#august-2-2006-elon-musk-reveals-teslas-master-plan-2
3. Russell D. Is Tesla Overvalued? Check Out These Stunning Comparisons to GM and Ford. Trade Station MARKET INSIGHTS 4/8/21.
4. TESLA. https://www.tesla.com/models
5. Tesla Model Y Performance charging cost and time calculator. EVcompare.io.
6. energyeage. Cost of Electricity in San Diego California. https://www.energysage.com/local-data/electricity-cost/ca/san-diego-county/
7. SDGE. Electric vehicle pricing plans. https://www.sdge.com/residential/pricing-plans/about-our-pricing-plans/electric-vehicle-plans
8. CalTrans. Electric vehicle charging stations. https://dot.ca.gov/programs/equipment/electric-vehicle-charging-stations
9. TESLA. Charging your Tesla. https://www.tesla.com/support/charging
10. LaReau J. Study compares electric vehicle charge costs vs. gas — and results were surprising. Det Free Press 10/21/21. https://www.freep.com/story/money/cars/2021/10/21/electric-vehicle-charging-cost-vs-gas/6110815001/
11. IRS. IRC 30D New Qualified Plug-In Electric Drive Motor Vehicle Credit
12. California Clean Vehicle Rebate Project. https://cleanvehiclerebate.org/en
13. Michigan.gov. Governor Gretchen Whittmer. 1/26/22. chttps://www.michigan.gov/whitmer/news/press-releases/2022/01/26/gov–whitmers-plan-to-lower-the-cost-of-electric-vehicles
14. SDGE. Greenhouse gas emission reporting. https://www.sdge.com/more-information/environment/about-our-initiatives/greenhouse-gas-emissions
15. Ike B. Behold…WordPress 4/2/22. https://theviewfromharbal.com/2022/04/02/behold/
16. San Diego Gas and Electric. Electricity rates, plans, and statistics. https://findenergy.com/providers/san-diego-gas-and-electric/#:~:text=San%20Diego%20Gas%20and%20Electric%20is%20ranked%20173rd,Electric%27s%20energy%20loss%20due%20to%20business%20operations.%20-3.41%25
17. EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Greenhouse Gas Emissions from a Typical Passenger Vehicle. https://www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/greenhouse-gas-emissions-typical-passenger-vehicle#:~:text=typical%20passenger%20vehicle%3F-,A%20typical%20passenger%20vehicle%20emits%20about%204.6%20metric%20tons%20of,8%2C887%20grams%20of%20CO2.
18. Sahoo A, Mistry K, Baker T. The Costs of Revving Up the Grid for Electric Vehicles. Boston Consulting Group 12/20/19. https://www.bcg.com/publications/2019/costs-revving-up-the-grid-for-electric-vehicles
19. I&I Editorial Board. Unsafe At Any Speed? Electric Cars Keep Catching Fire. Issues &Insights 6/2/22. https://issuesinsights.com/2022/06/02/unsafe-at-any-speed-electric-cars-keep-catching-fire/
20. Phillips J. Thousands of Electric Vehicles Recalled in US Over ‘No Start Condition’. Epoch Times 6/15/22. https://www.theepochtimes.com/thousands-of-electric-vehicles-recalled-in-us-over-no-start-condition_4535448.html?utm_source=News&utm_campaign=breaking-2022-06-16-1&utm_medium=email&est=pbkX07nqLW%2FC28BOucU5o6X%2BnFTxLQR9kv%2FJoFedEgYTIZNK2EmwNarlCgLd2UU%3D
21. No sir, I don’t like it. YouTube 10/15/11. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDGlN6mluGA