Renewable energy accounted for 57% of new US power capacity in the first half of 2020. Elon highlighted that the grid is quickly getting more sustainable and that during the past 10 years power production from coal has dropped in half. A CleanTechnica report published this weekend has much more information on that based on the latest official data, published on Friday, and going further back in time. Electricity from coal dropped from 50% of US electricity in 2005 to 45% in 2010 to 33% in 2015 to 17.7% so far this year.
“So good things are happening,” Elon said, “on a lot of levels. We just need to go faster.” Tesla has played a huge role in pushing our acceleration towards sustainability — not just with vehicles, but also in the energy field. Tesla’s advanced batteries will push us even faster toward the goal of sustainability.
Elon Musk: “The US Is Moving Toward Sustainable Energy”
September 27th, 2020 by Johnna Crider
During Tesla’s annual shareholder meeting and Battery Day event, CEO Elon Musk said something that should have dominated headlines: “The US is moving toward sustainable energy.” While on this topic of sustainable energy, Elon Musk noted that eventually everything we do will be done with sustainable energy. In Tesla’s case, it is contributing to this with electric vehicles (EVs), solar power for homes and businesses, energy storage for homes and businesses, potentially greener mining, and probably home HVAC systems eventually.
The fact that we are moving forward with clean, renewable energy in the face of the Trump administration, which has sought to destroy all the hard work the previous administrations (not just Obama’s, but several others as well) have done in regards to our environment is almost miraculous, but it shows how competitive wind and solar power have become. Before getting to renewable energy’s growth, let me briefly back up that previous statement. There are many instances which show how our current president is harming our planet, such as:
- EPA Allows Sewage Into Our Rivers
- Restricting EPA Science
- Took Away State & Tribal Rights To Protect Land
- Weakened Environmental Laws
- Push For Oil Drilling In National Forests
- Ignoring Oil Workers Safety Because It’s Not Profitable
The full list is much longer. In light of the dark shadow this administration has cast upon our planet, there is at least the hope that renewables are on the rise.
CleanTechnica‘s latest US energy generation report, published yesterday, shows that electricity generation from renewables in the first 7 months of the year grew from 19% of electricity generation in 2018 and 2019 to 21% in 2020.
Additionally, in the first half of the year, more than half of new power capacity in the country came from renewable energy sources — 27.3% of new power capacity came from solar power and 29.4% came from wind power.
Furthermore, just last week, there was a report showing that 47 US states could meet all of their electricity needs using in-state renewables. The report, by Maria McCoy and John Farrell, shows that if all of the states were to take “full advantage” of their renewable resources, in-state renewable generation would even be more than enough to charge electric vehicles and power electric heating.
More evidence supporting Elon Musk’s statement comes from Texas, the state that is, ironically, America’s top oil producer. While this oily state is well known for its economy rich in “black gold,” Texas is also the fourth state in installed solar power capacity in the United States. It is also the number one state in the country for installed wind power capacity. Texas’s power capacity was 30% carbon-free by the end of 2018, with 23.4% of that coming from wind power. Enter Tesla Giga Texas, which when fully online will bring Tesla’s cleantech manufacturing and innovation (and many jobs) to Texas.
Demise Of Coal & Hope In Clean Energy
Despite Donald Trump claiming that he was going to save the US coal industry, it has been dying a quick death under his administration. As CleanTechnica Director Zach Shahan reported yesterday, electricity from coal has dropped from 26.9% to 17.7% in the past few years.
The credit isn’t due to Trump, though — it’s the market doing what it’s been doing for much longer, pushing coal out. CleanTechnica readers knew Donald Trump’s claims that he’d “save” the coal industry were a lie when he made them on the campaign trail. The downward trend for coal was unstoppable. Coal had dropped from 50% in 2005 to 45% in 2010 to 33% in 2015 before the continued drop to 18% in 2020.
Jimmy Simpkins, who worked as a coal miner for 29 years, told The Guardian, “Coal is over. Forget coal. It can never be back to what it was in our heyday. It can’t happen. That coal is not there to mine.” The article noted that many are pinning their hopes on clean energy and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal.
Carl Shoupe, a retired coal miner who had worked as a union organizer for 14 years, noted that people needed to move away from depending entirely on the coal industry as an economic resource for the region. “What we’ve been doing is trying to transition into the 21st century and get on past coal,” said Shoupe.
Renewables > Coal
A solar power plant worked in Nevada. Photo by Zach Shahan, CleanTechnica.
Back in May, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that US renewable energy consumption surpassed coal for the first time in over 130 years. The timeframe was a range between 1776 and 2019. “This outcome mainly reflects the continued decline in the amount of coal used for electricity generation over the past decade as well as growth in renewable energy, mostly from wind and solar,” noted the EIA.
While solar has been rising fastest in recent years, most renewable electricity in the US comes from wind and hydroelectric power, as you could see in the charts above.
Elon Musk was 100% correct when he made the statement that the US is moving toward sustainable energy. America is moving in the direction of sustainability, and we are doing this despite the challenges this administration keeps throwing at us.
With all of this in mind, I wanted to explore Tesla’s contribution toward that 75% of new electricity capacity generated this year. Elon actually detailed some of the numbers for us during Battery Day. Let’s recap:
- 1 million EVs delivered.
- 26 billion electric miles driven.
- Many gigawatts-hours of stationary batteries installed.
- 17 terawatt-hours of solar electricity have been generated.
EVs are much lower in price today than they used to be, but they still mostly cost much more (new) than the average American can fit into their budget.
Teslas are still expensive, even though the cost has dropped tremendously. A base price of about $40,000 is just too high a price for many people to stretch to. Other EVs competing with Tesla are in the same range or cost much more, with the exception of a small selection that are a bit cheaper, such as the Nissan Leaf.
The total cost of ownership of an electric vehicle is much more competitive, because you save a lot of money on lower-cost fuel and maintenance. However, the upfront costs of an EV or the monthly payments are still too high for many consumers.
This is one argument that I can’t really win unless the person I am talking with has a budget that works with at least a mid-priced automobile.
Elon Musk said basically the same thing earlier this year: “The thing that bugs me the most is that our cars are not affordable enough. We need to fix that.”
That said, even here, many more consumers could benefit from looking into total ownership costs and realizing that the savings from not buying expensive gasoline, having half the maintenance costs, and ending up with much less depreciation mean electric cars are more cost competitive than they seem on the surface.
New vs. Used
Whether you are buying new versus used also factors into this matter. There are more sales of used vehicles than there were new vehicles. In 2019, 17 million new vehicles were sold in the USA, while 40.8 million used vehicles were sold here.
In order for new EVs to get into the hands of consumers who can only afford to buy used cars, prices will have to drop immensely. Otherwise, transitioning the fleet of vehicles on the roads requires the same trickle-down process as with other automobiles — which means waiting years for new EVs to hit the used car market.
For more on this topic, see our used electric car archives.
Batteries Catching Fire
I was in an Uber headed home from the store when the topic of Tesla came up. My driver said, “But don’t the batteries always catch on fire?” Fortunately, they were talking to someone who researches and writes articles on EVs for a living. I asked him why is it that you’re not supposed to have your car turned on while pumping gas? And then I pointed out that you can have your car turned on while charging it.
In the case of Tesla, there was only one Tesla vehicle fire for every 175 million miles traveled from 2012 through 2019. If you compare that with information from the National Fire Protection Association and the US Department of Transportation, that pales in comparison with the average gas car. If you drive a gas car, you have a much higher chance of having your car catch on fire — there’s one fire for every 19 million miles traveled.
The idea that gasoline isn’t that flammable compared to batteries is absurd, but many people believe this myth for no clear reason. They know gasoline is flammable, but I think the reason why they don’t see it as dangerous as batteries is that they use gasoline daily, whereas batteries are new. Also, there have been many headlines on very few EV battery fires, but there are very few headlines on many, many gasoline car fires. People are comfortable with familiarity and EVs are not as familiar as gas cars. Again, word of mouth and increasing exposure are the top solutions to this problem.
Child and/or Slave Labor
Another myth is that Tesla and other EV makers use child slaves to mine their minerals to make their batteries. Child and slave labor, unfortunately, do exist in this world, and there are plenty of governments that simply do not care about human rights. But EV producers, including Tesla, have been working hard to source only “ethical” minerals.
This is a prime example of marketed misinformation. I’ve had people tell me some of the craziest lies about Elon Musk — lies that were marketed by headlines aiming to not just harm Elon, but to use his name to make some quick clicks (fast money).
The truth is, Elon Musk is an oddity — oddities stand out and are different from average humans, some of whom find this type of being threatening due to them being different from the “herd.” When you say something is impossible, Elon Musk does it. He launched a Tesla into space — something that many thought was cool while others thought it was silly or stupid. Some of those in the latter camp also believe that he’s some ruthless billionaire who has a secret agenda — or think he is insane for wanting to put a computer chip in your brain. Yet they don’t think twice about the tech placed in your heart to restart it if it stops.
Despite these myths I’ve encountered and debunked, people will eventually evolve — the only way into the future is forward. The International Energy Agency pointed out that EV deployment has been growing “rapidly” over the past decade. The global stock of EVs passed 5 million in 2018, which was an increase of 63% from the previous year. So, we are gradually evolving. I think that the more people are exposed to EVs, the more EVs we will see people buying year after year.
1 Million EVs Delivered
The EPA states that a typical passenger vehicle emits around 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. Multiply that by a million and Tesla alone would have saved 4.6 million metric tons of carbon from being put out into the atmosphere globally. However, that doesn’t take into account emissions from producing the cars, and producing an electric car does create a bit more emissions. Tesla’s own website shows that it has prevented a total of 3,623,138.53 tons of carbon from being emitted into our atmosphere.
26 Billion Electric Miles Driven
The average number of miles driven by Americans is around 12,476 miles per year per driver based on official US data collected several years ago — a bit more than 1,000 miles a month. As of 2016, there were around 222 million people driving in America. Women account for 51% of licensed drivers in the U.S. When you multiply that 222 million by 12,476 miles annually, you have quite a bit of annual mileage creating an enormous amount of CO2 emissions and other pollution.
Value Penguin notes that almost 90% of US households spend around $3,000 annually on gas, which averages to $250 a month. As of 2006, the New York Times has a list of gas cost per mile for a wide range of vehicles. The Dodge Ram 1500 costs about $0.27 per mile to fuel, the highest on the list. The lowest is the Honda Insight at $0.06 per mile.
These numbers may have changed since that NYT calculator was published, but for now let’s crunch some more numbers: the average miles driven at 1,000 multiplied by the average amount spent per month at $250 means that the $/mile is $0.25/mile: $250 divided by 1,000 miles = $0.25 per mile.
Then we multiply $0.25 by 26 billion electric miles. This is how much money was not spent on gasoline due to electric Tesla vehicles on the road. That number is $6,500,000,000.
In essence, that is $6.5 billion not spent on gasoline because of Tesla electric vehicles — and that number will continue to grow as more people globally make the switch.
Keep in mind that even though I used American statistics for American drivers, Tesla’s 26 billion electric miles driven are global — so many of those miles were not driven here and a more sophisticated analysis would be needed to get more accurate numbers.
Many Gigawatts-Hours Of Stationary Batteries
Although we don’t have a specific number for this one, it is surely a notable part of the transition to renewable energy.
17 Terawatt-Hours Of Solar Electricity Have Been Generated
Back in July, Energy Sage published an article posting the question, “How much do solar panels save?” This actually depends on many factors, such as how much sun your area gets daily, the size and angle of your roof, how much electricity you typically use, local electricity rates. The article noted, though, that annual electricity use for a US household is 10,972 kWh, or 11 MWh. When you convert 17 TWh into MWh, that’s 17,000,000 MW. When you divide 17 TWh by 11 MWh, you get 1,545,454. That means that, based on the US average, Tesla solar power systems have generated enough electricity for 1.545 million homes for one year.
We have no real idea how much money those solar PV systems will save people, but we do know that Tesla now offers record low prices for rooftop solar power systems and many Americans are joining the Tesla solar family every day.
One thing Elon Musk noted in that corporate breakdown was just how hard Tesla, a company that paid zero dollars in advertising costs, has pushed clean energy. Tesla is one of the most vocal advocates for sustainability, and I believe that it is one big key reason why clean technology is on the rise. This, along with good state, local, and federal incentives as well as other international incentives and the global agreement made in Paris, are three important driving forces that are encouraging people and businesses to switch to cleaner energy solutions.
Tesla’s empowering voice is backed by its many cost-competitive products that are changing major energy markets. I believe that history will agree with Tesla and Elon Musk and look favorably upon them both.
Tesla Autopilot Is Safer
Elon also noted that Autopilot functionality is continuing to improve. He cited Tesla’s quarterly safety report. “It’s just getting better and better,” he said, while pointing out that the US average for collisions (1 accident every 479,000 miles) is far worse than the average for those driving with Autopilot engaged (1 accident every 4.53 million miles). Here’s a chart we’ve created on Tesla’s latest numbers:
Elon noted that it will continue to get better than that and said that “we’re confident that over time we can get the probability of an accident, especially the probability of injury, to 10 times better than the industry average, like an order of magnitude better.” This will not only save lives but prevent a lot of injuries and accidents, also lowering insurance costs. This, he said, is “a huge priority for us.”
Elon explained that it is pretty hard for people to perceive the progress of Autopilot, and I agree. For those who don’t have a Tesla or have one without Autopilot, they may not get just how important this technology is or understand how it has been evolving over time. Elon noted that he is driving “the bleeding edge alpha build of Autopilot,” meaning that he has insight into the next steps that no one else has seen.
After running into a wall with the previous Autopilot software, Tesla decided to do a big rewrite. It is now labeling what the cars see in 3D video, which is vastly different from before. Tesla used to label images from the eight cameras and these would be labeled at different times by different people. With some of these labels, one couldn’t tell what was being labeled and there were a lot of errors. With Tesla’s new labeling tools, they are able to label entire video segments in the system. Furthermore, they are labeling across time, which is what makes it “4D,” according to Elon. “So it’s now taking all cameras simultaneously and looking at how the image has changed over time and labeling that, and then the sophistication of the neural nets in the car and the overall logic in the car has improved dramatically,” Elon said.
September 28th, 2020 by Paul Fosse
When I saw Tesla’s Battery Day, I was impressed with both the breadth and the depth of the plan they presented. It covered all the parts of the battery, but also how the battery is placed in the car. The one question it raised was: “Did they put their considerable engineering talent into solving the right problem?”
I think the answer is yes, but due to my work on focusing on the total cost of ownership of the electric vehicles, I knew Tesla was missing a huge opportunity by not spending any engineering effort on tires. Most of the talk on tires is either on improving efficiency or on improving performance, but for 90% of the world, the big issue is the cost of the tires. In this article, I’ll explain the size of the problem and propose 3 solutions to the problem.
I estimate the cost of per kWh of the battery pack to be about $158 today, and if we assume Tesla achieves its stated 56% cost reduction goal, the company will be able to produce a pack at about $69 a kWh. For a small 50kWh pack used for a robotaxi, this would be $3,450 and it would likely use lithium-iron-phosphate batteries for their long cycle life (let’s just call that a million-mile battery). So, for use in a robotaxi where it will go a million miles, the cost of the battery per mile is $3,450 divided by 1,000,000, or 0.345 cents a mile, much less than a penny a mile.
Image credit: discounttire.com
If you just replace the tires on your Model 3 with the tires it came with, tires costs are a significantly larger cost than the battery over the life of the vehicle. The Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus (SR+) comes with Michelin Primacy MXM4 tires that have a treadwear rating of 500, a traction rating of A, and a temperature rating of A (500AA). You should get around 40,000 miles out of those tires, with a cost on Simpletire of $276. Add on local installation and a road hazard warranty and it comes to about $1,358 for 4 tires. $1,358 divided by 40,000 is about 3.4 cents a mile, or about 10 times as much as battery costs! Over a million miles, 24 tire changes would be needed and that would add up to $32,592! Holy cow — why are we worried about battery costs when tires costs are projected to be so much larger?
Maybe because battery cost is a cost that hits you at purchase time, whereas tire costs hit you down the line. It could also be that we are obsessed with working on the differences between electric cars and gasoline cars. However, the customer doesn’t care where cost savings come from, they just want lower costs.
One thing I’ve learned from 30 years of performance tuning software: you can only save time and resources where they are used. It sounds simple, but many times people make assumptions (like Tesla did with Battery Day that the problem is in the cost of making the battery, when the far larger issue is in the cost of the tires).
Step 1 — Shop around
Image credit: Simpletire.com
The first step can be done by consumers without any help from Tesla. Simpletire’s highest-rated tire for the Tesla Model 3 with 18 inch wheels is the South Korean made Lexani LXUHP-207, with the same 500AA rating for $83 a tire. Adding installation and road hazard coverage for 4 tires comes to $470. (If we took off the road hazard coverage, we could get to $420, which is a very popular number with Tesla fans.) $470 divided by 40,000 miles is about 1.2 cents a mile, for a 65% savings.
Step 2 — Use a smaller wheel size
Twenty-five years ago, I saw a tire ad for some tires with a 30,000-mile warranty advertised for $12.99 a tire. I drove to the Sear’s store that was advertising the tires and said I wanted the $12.99 tire. They replied, “That is the price for the tire for the 12-inch wheel, the cost for your vehicle will be about $30 or $40 a tire.” I said I drive a Toyota Tercel with 12-inch wheels and that 12-inch tire will work perfectly for my car. They were shocked. I don’t think they had ever sold the $12.99 tires. I drove out of the store having spent less than $50 for 2 tires, mounted and balanced!
Now, Tesla would have to design the brakes to be smaller so we could use a 17-inch wheel with a higher aspect ratio. This won’t be appropriate for most personal vehicles because the handling won’t be as good and the looks of the car will suffer, but it would be great for a robotaxi for 3 reasons.
- Lower cost
- Better resistant to potholes
- Smoother ride
The cost of the Canadian built tire is reduced from $470 to $364 by this change, but since the lower performance tire has a harder compound, it is warranted for 50% more miles. So, the cost per mile of $364 divided by 60,000 miles is $0.006 a mile, or 50% less than the Lexani. We are now up from a 65% savings to a 82% savings!
The trucking industry has been using retreated tires for over 50 years to save money and natural resources. According to tirerecappers.com, regarding the advantages of retreads:
“First, it keeps your waste down, and ensures that your tires aren’t being thrown onto the heap along with thousands of others in dumps and landfills across the country. Second, getting a retread tire is significantly less expensive than buying a brand new tire, as they’re more cost effective to make, and use significantly fewer materials.”
The retreading giant Bandag was one of the first stocks my father purchased for me as a child. (I no longer own the stock.) It was a big winner in the 1970s. According to Bandag’s Environmental Sustainability Page:
“More than 800 tires per hour are retreaded with Bandag. In a year, this helps keep roughly seven million tires out of the waste stream.
“Bandag retreads require just 30% of the energy to produce as a new tire.
“Making a Bandag retread takes only seven gallons of oil, compared to 22 gallons required to manufacture a new tire.
“Several Bandag franchisees are taking advantage of alternative energy such as solar power.
“Bandag FuelTech products offer some of the lowest rolling resistance in the industry, which contributes to fuel efficiency gains, ensuring that the environmental benefits of our retreads extend well beyond the production line.”
Bandag was very successful at expanding its sales and increasing its profits, and for good reason, it saves industrial users 50% to 70% of the cost of new tires without lowering quality. If we can adapt retread technology to lower costs by 50%, that would cut the cost per mile from 0.6 cents a mile to 0.3 cents a mile. Since this won’t reduce installation expenses, let’s assume a 43% reduction to 0.34 cents a mile. This would give us a whopping 90% cost reduction from the original 3.4 cents a mile!
I hope this article spurs a discussion in the land of tires and helps Tesla and its owners achieve about $29,000 in savings over a million miles versus the $4,400 detailed in Tesla’s Battery Day presentation. That is over 6.5 times the savings. There will be some engineering required, but considering the massive cost savings, it is surely worth the effort.