So much for saving the world.
With the release of the Tesla Model 3, it seems like polar bears everywhere can begin to celebrate. After all, the 400,000 mark for Model 3 preorders has just been crossed and the prospect of replacing nearly half a million cars with exhaust-free alternatives seems like it’ll make a leap of some kind in the environmental crusade. Actually, the news isn’t all that good, and in some places, cars like the Tesla Model S are actually a step backwards because they increase pollution.
As impossible as it seems for a car that doesn’t even have a tailpipe, the problem comes down to what the local means of energy production are. In a place like Germany or California where a large percentage of electricity is produced from renewable sources of energy, an electric car would be emitting less. But in places like Hong Kong where coal is used to make electricity, an electric car’s eco ambitions backfire because more emissions are put into the air when producing the power that is fed into the batteries. Citing a report by Sanford C. Bernstein, Bloomberg found that over 93,000 miles (about 150,000 kilometers), a Tesla Model S emits 20% more polluting gases into the atmosphere than a BMW 320i.
This figure only applies if both cars are owned and driven in Hong Kong. Given that Hong Kong produces 53% of its energy from coal, these numbers start to add up. More coal is burnt to juice up a Tesla than by moving a BMW. Things get worse in China where 60% of the energy grid is electrified by coal. This can pose a problem for Tesla’s green image, especially as it attempts to find a partner to help it produce cars in China for the Chinese market, which is the largest auto market in the world. Sorry if this ruined images of Teslas as a shining beacon of hope driving around a soot-covered Chinese city. It should be noted that as countries move to greener sources of energy, the environmental impact of electric cars is greatly reduced.