Saturday, February 06, 2010

Misleading Headline of the Day

The New York Times reviewed the 2010 Tesla Roadster, an all-electric car that can get 40 miles between charges. It's a sexy car and has all kinds of earth shaking performance at a steep price tag:
The ride was still harsh in the Roadster Sport I tested, but the adjustable suspension with sport and comfort settings was a mild improvement. With its Lotus-derived wishbone suspension and low center of gravity — not to mention the 992-pound lithium-ion battery pack over its rear wheels — the Roadster Sport hugs the road like a go-kart.

All Roadsters use an air-cooled A.C. induction motor rated at 215 kilowatts — the equivalent of 288 horsepower — but the Sport gets a boost to 295 pound-feet of torque over the regular Roadster’s 273 pound-feet, making acceleration stronger from 20 m.p.h. to 50 m.p.h.

The automatic transmission has a single speed. Tesla says that accelerating to 60 m.p.h. in this 2,723-pound dart takes less than 3.7 seconds; the top speed is electronically limited to 125 m.p.h.

The Sport option also includes forged wheels and Yokohama ultrahigh-performance tires that provide a level of grip you’d need a racetrack to fully exploit.

Brembo brakes will effectively stop the car, but the immediate regenerative braking when taking your foot off the accelerator is more than enough to whoa it down (to about 3 m.p.h.). The car can be driven at least 90 percent of the time with just your right foot.
The problem is the headline.

There's no such thing as a carbon-free car, even if it's an electric car. In most parts of the country, electricity is generated from coal or oil, so the electricity is not carbon-free. The car might have no tailpipe emissions, but that doesn't mean carbon-free.

It just means that the emissions are diverted to someone else's problem - the power utilities. It also doesn't take into account the energy needed to build the vehicles.

The only way to get a truly carbon-free vehicle for tailpipe emissions purposes is to have electric cars that are using electricity wholly generated from alternative sources and nuclear power. That's it. Until then, we're just deluding ourselves that we have carbon-free power for electric cars. We're only shifting around the emissions burdens to someone else - and as more electric cars hit the road, the need to build new power plants will increase. That means that until the US gets serious about building new nuclear power plants and transmission lines, we're stuck with the same old problems with emissions.

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