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By Ben Jervey
As federal support for electric vehicles (EVs) is expected to wither under the Trump administration, state-level policies will play the biggest political role in how quickly battery powered motors replace the internal combustion engine.
Yet, at this critical moment when state governments should be supporting zero-emission vehicles, many states are cutting their incentives, while others are penalizing EV drivers outright.
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It's no secret—here in the U.S., there's an election coming up. It's soon. It's a big decision for American voters. And it's a big deal.
It's also not the only decision with global consequences this fall. Because at the same time the U.S. campaign season was getting into the business end of things, more and more leaders all around the world were deciding to stand up to climate change and sign on to the historic Paris Agreement. In fact, 86 parties (representing over 61 percent of global emissions) have already joined this landmark agreement—which will now go into effect on Nov. 4, four days before the U.S. votes. Interesting timing, don't you think?
Coincidence or not, the timing of the two events highlights what's at stake for our planet in these decisions and why—we've learned anything after months and months of way too many ads, speeches and debates, it's that politicians go where the voters tell them. So let's make the climate issue their issue, the one they can't afford to ignore. And not just this year, but in every year that follows.
Why now? Because with the Paris Agreement becoming official, we finally have the framework to fight climate change together as one planet in a way we never have before. And with all the incredible progress we're seeing in renewables and other areas of solutions, we finally have the tools and technology to make a global shift from fossil fuels to clean energy, affordably and effectively. Want proof? Here are seven reasons we're hopeful for the future, because the solutions are out there:
1. Renewables are growing and getting cheaper
Due to declining costs and improvements in renewable technologies, solar and wind projects are being built in more places around the globe more cheaply than any time in history. On top of that, if the price of photovoltaic cells continues to drop as rapidly as it has over the past 10 years, solar power could be as cheap as coal almost everywhere by as early as 2017!
According to some studies, almost 100 percent of the world's energy needs could be met with renewable sources by mid-century—as long as the right supportive public policies are put in place to help implement them. That's where our elected leaders come in— and where you come in too.
2. Cost of rooftop solar is competitive
In many places across the U.S., not only is solar power becoming more affordable than ever before, it's actually becoming cost competitive with most utility rates for energy from fossil fuel. When solar power costs the same (or less!) as purchasing power from the grid, it's called solar grid parity, and it's an important milestone in demonstrating the cost-effectiveness of harnessing the power of the sun. The U.S. is well on the way to achieving the SunShot Initiative's 2020 goal of solar grid parity—with several major regions following suit.
3. Remarkable progress in energy storage
How we create energy with renewables is important. How we store this energy—so we can use it when needed—is just as critical. That's because the sun doesn't shine 24 hours a day every day, nor is it always windy. The good news is this: we're seeing incredible progress in energy storage. For example, a bill for California's energy storage mandate passed unanimously, instructing the state's investor-owned utilities to greatly expand electricity storage capacity. And since then, the state has expanded the mandate to allow even more energy storage. Similar policies in Japan and Germany are spurring similar growth in energy storage overseas.
4. The electric grid is evolving
Just like energy storage is important for renewable energy to thrive, a smarter and more flexible electric grid is critical too. Smart grids improve energy efficiency, save money, and can improve reliability—all great reasons to move away from fossil fuels towards cleaner sources of energy. And since the grid is evolving and more renewables are being introduced, there is huge potential to revolutionize the energy market—for the benefit of the environment and economy.
5. The electric vehicle market is booming
Sure, the news that Tesla was releasing its cheapest electric car yet threatened to break one corner of the internet, but that's not the only sign the electric vehicle industry and market are booming. Just look at China: the government has expanded incentives for electric vehicles, waiving or even cutting sales taxes. And plug-in cars are even changing the face of auto racing! Just last year, Miami hosted a Formula E race, where all the race cars were electric. How cool is that?
6. Transportation is more efficient and public transit is growing
A recent survey by Consumer Reports found that the overwhelming majority of Americans (84 percent, in fact) believe automakers should keep making cars and trucks more and more fuel efficient. And automakers are listening—and not just in the US. At the same time use of public and mass transportation is growing rapidly. Technical improvements for new vehicles could avoid about 1.4 gigatons of CO2 annually by 2030, several countries are implementing eco-driving programs, and emissions mandates on cars in the US and EU are saving drivers at the pump in a big way. Meanwhile, huge investments in public transportation in countries like India and Colombia are helping contribute to energy conservation, land preservation, reduced air pollution, and so much more.
7. Energy efficiency is improving and saving you money
The more efficient you are at a task, you're wasting less time to complete it, right? It works the same way with energy: the more efficient energy is, the less you'll waste. Listen to this: a study across certain countries showed in just five years, energy efficiency measures avoided the consumption of 570 million tons of dirty energy. In other words, without these measures, energy use across these countries would have actually increased by 5 percent.
Here's another thing that Elon Musk is on the verge of disrupting: Ride-sharing.
The Tesla CEO is already shaking up the global automobile industry with his fleet of electric cars, but now he's taking aim at ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft by creating his own car-sharing network—the so-called "Tesla Network."
Elon Musk's new autonomous car-sharing service will allow Tesla owners to make money from their electric vehicles when they are not in use.Flickr
On an Q3 earnings call on Wednesday, Musk said that future Tesla owners will be able to make money off their cars by renting them out for ride shares by using Tesla's Autopilot feature, its famed semi-autonomous driving system.
“This would be something that would be a significant offset on the cost of ownership for a car, and a revenue generator for Tesla as well, but the majority of the revenue would go to owners," he said, according to TechCrunch.
“This has been characterized as Tesla vs. Uber," Musk added. “But it's not Tesla versus Uber, it's the people versus Uber."
Musk means that Tesla owners will not be using their car's self-driving function to give Uber or Lyft rides. Rather, Tesla owners—or "the people"—are competing directly against these companies.
Musk has seemingly confirmed the creation of the Tesla ride-sharing after retweeting TechCrunch's writeup.
Just think, if the Tesla Network actually comes to fruition, a Tesla owner can make money by giving autonomous rides to the public while he or she is at work or on vacation. Instead of taking up space in a parking spot, the car can help ferry people from A to B.
However you feel about autonomous vehicles (here are some pros and cons) this nascent technology can be environmentally friendly.
"The key benefit of a self-driving vehicles is greater fuel efficiency," as EcoWatch's Dan Zukowski wrote recently. "The computer can drive better than you can. It will drive at a steady speed, will avoid jackrabbit starts and won't exceed the speed limit. Ultimately, a preponderance of autonomous vehicles could reduce traffic congestion by communicating with each other and traveling together in a controlled caravan. Car-sharing and carpooling make for more efficient use of roadways, vehicles and infrastructure devoted to parking."
Musk actually proposed his ride-sharing network idea back in July in his "Master Plan, Part Deux." He wrote:
"When true self-driving is approved by regulators, it will mean that you will be able to summon your Tesla from pretty much anywhere. Once it picks you up, you will be able to sleep, read or do anything else enroute to your destination.
"You will also be able to add your car to the Tesla shared fleet just by tapping a button on the Tesla phone app and have it generate income for you while you're at work or on vacation, significantly offsetting and at times potentially exceeding the monthly loan or lease cost. This dramatically lowers the true cost of ownership to the point where almost anyone could own a Tesla. Since most cars are only in use by their owner for 5% to 10% of the day, the fundamental economic utility of a true self-driving car is likely to be several times that of a car which is not.
"In cities where demand exceeds the supply of customer-owned cars, Tesla will operate its own fleet, ensuring you can always hail a ride from us no matter where you are."
Also on yesterday's earnings call, Tesla Motors reported its first quarterly net profit in more than three years. According to Fortune, Tesla posted a net income of $21.9 million and total revenue more than doubled to $2.30 billion.
"Record deliveries helped to offset rising expenses related to next year's roll-out of the company's mass-market Model 3 sedan," Forbes wrote.
Musk said the company could turn a profit again in the fourth quarter. Reuters noted that Tesla's positive earnings report should calm skeptics who have criticized the automaker's plans to acquire solar panel sister company SolarCity.
On Jan. 29, 1886, Carl Benz—who had invented the first stationary gasoline engine seven years earlier—patented a "vehicle powered by a gas engine," which he had built in Mannheim, Germany. By 2030, the country may ban his invention.
The world's first automobile, invented in 1886.Mercedes-Benz
Germany's Bundesrat, its upper house of parliament, passed a bipartisan resolution calling for a ban on sales of new vehicles powered by internal combustion engines, which includes both gasoline and diesel.
"If the Paris agreement to curb climate-warming emissions is to be taken seriously, no new combustion engine cars should be allowed on roads after 2030," weekly news magazine Der Spiegel quoted Green Party lawmaker Oliver Krischer as saying.
The shockwaves from this action, reported over the weekend, haven't quite hit the global auto industry or German manufacturers just yet. Germany has one of the largest automotive industries in the world, and it is the biggest industrial sector in Germany. Automobile manufacturing and related businesses employ 774,900 German workers and account for one-fifth of German industry revenue.
The country is also Europe's top automobile market, and U.S.-based manufacturers do big business there as well. General Motors sold 244,000 vehicles in Germany in 2015, while Ford is on track to sell 280,000 vehicles this year. The Ford Mustang is the most popular sports car in Germany. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles sold 90,000 vehicles there last year, with its U.S.-built Jeep brand growing strongly.
The company that Carl Benz started, today's Mercedes-Benz, is investing $1.1 billion in battery production and plans to launch 10 new electric vehicles (EVs) by 2025. The company says that every model series will be electrified. BMW is expanding its EV lineup, while Volkswagen—reeling from its diesel emissions scandal—announced that it plans to sell three million electric cars by 2025. At the current 2016 Paris Auto Show, virtually every major auto manufacturer is showcasing new electric or hybrid vehicles.
The Bundesrat resolution would require only electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles by 2030, and Germany's action is likely to precipitate wider European Union policy.
"We're ready for the launch of an electric product offensive that will cover all vehicle segments, from the compact to the luxury class," said Daimler AG Chief Executive Officer Dieter Zetsche at the opening of the Paris Auto Show in September. Daimler is the parent company of Mercedes-Benz. The company that invented the automobile now needs to reinvent itself.
A rendering of the completed Sparks, Nevada Tesla Gigafactory which will be topped by rooftop solar panels. The massive battery plant had its grand opening on July 29.Tesla Motors
Musk gave journalists a tour inside the company's massive Gigafactory Tuesday at it's grand opening celebration. The unflagging Tesla CEO told
BCC he wanted a factory "in Europe, in India, in China ... ultimately, wherever there is a huge amount of demand for the end product."
Indeed, demand is high for Tesla's products—the company received nearly 400,000 pre-orders for its highly anticipated $35,000 Model 3 sedan.
The Gigafactory will manufacture lithium-ion batteries for Tesla's electric cars and Powerwall products that store solar energy for homes and businesses.
To make its products, Tesla currently imports batteries from Japanese electronics company Panasonic. In order to meet Tesla's ambitious aim of producing 500,000 cars a year, it partnered with Panasonic to build the $5 billion Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada to make the batteries locally to speed up production and slash costs. By manufacturing the battery cells onsite, Musk said Tesla will be able to innovate faster and cut out about 30 percent of the cost, according to BBC.
"Where the shipping costs start to become significant, the obvious way to combat that is to at least put a Gigafactory on the same continent," Musk said.
The Associated Press reported that the Gigafactory is only 14 percent built after two years of construction. The original projected completion date for the massive project was 2020 but Musk is ramping up construction. Around 1,000 people are working seven days a week on two shifts so the factory can start producing batteries before the end of the year, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada is only 14 percent built after two years of construction.Tesla Motors
Once construction is complete, the Gigafactory will be about
three-fourths a mile long at an enormous 10 million square feet—the size of 262 NFL football fields. Musk noted that the factory could eventually employ 10,000 people in the next three to four years.
Not only will the Gigafactory be the world's largest building by footprint when construction finishes, it will be powered 100 percent by renewables such as solar, wind and geothermal, and will feature energy-storage technology. The company also plans for the building to achieve net zero energy.
Musk tweeted that the building will recycle old batteries—which will be highly necessary as Tesla aims to nearly double the world's production of lithium-ion batteries.
Tesla wants the Gigafactory to be a global powerhouse. As the Associated Press described of the company's goals:
Tesla says the factory will be producing 35 gigawatt hours of batteries by 2018. That's the equivalent to the entire world's production in 2014. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said the factory has the capacity to produce 150 gigawatt hours if it needs to. To put that in context, New York City uses around 52 gigawatt hours of energy per year.
- Create stunning solar roofs with seamlessly integrated battery storage
- Expand the electric vehicle product line to address all major segments
- Develop a self-driving capability that is 10X safer than manual via massive fleet learning
- Enable your car to make money for you when you aren't using it
"Given that we must get off fossil fuels anyway and that virtually all scientists agree that dramatically increasing atmospheric and oceanic carbon levels is insane, the faster we achieve sustainability, the better," Musk wrote.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
States struggling to deal with declining gas tax revenues are unfairly targeting owners of gas-free vehicles to create new revenues.
Roads and bridges across the nation are largely built and maintained using money from gas taxes, and those revenues have been falling for years because cars have become more fuel efficient and Americans are driving less. But if you buy less gas, you pay less in gas taxes.
To make up the shortfall, nine states are either levying or planning to levy a tax on electric or hybrid vehicles, which obviously contribute little or nothing to gas tax revenues—or to air pollution, climate change and a host of other problems.
While the need to address the road maintenance is important, taxing green cars alone is a profoundly stupid idea. Right now, most of us are slaves to Big Oil—forced to use their fuel to power our cars, heat our homes and drive our economy because alternatives are not available or affordable. But we don't need oil to power our economy—we can meet 100 percent of our energy needs, including transportation, right now without creating any more pollution. All we lack is the political will to make them available to everyone at an affordable price.
City, state and federal government should be working together to help people transition as fast as possible to the 100 percent clean energy future we need, not punishing consumers who make the right choice for the planet with higher taxes, and then giving billions in subsidies to the same polluting fossil fuel companies who already make trillions in profits.
Visit EcoWatch’s ENERGY page for more related news on this topic.