How green are Tesla’s e-cars, really?

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How green are Tesla’s e-cars, really?

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The news of a Tesla S electric car being tagged with a $15,000 penalty for its high carbon “output” made headlines around the world. But amid the ridicule, people forget that while Singapore may be a country of many firsts, it certainly isn’t the only place to slap owners of electric vehicles with additional tariffs. At least two states in the US have levied electric-car taxes. 

Are electric-powered vehicles really all that green?

In a rather sinister report by US-based investment firm Devonshire Research Group, the company says: “Just as switching from tobacco cigarettes to e-cigarettes is still bad for your health, switching from gas automobiles to electric vehicles is still bad for the environment.”

The presentation claims Tesla Motors shares are overvalued, and there are alarming facts about the toxicity and heavier carbon footprint of EV batteries compared to traditional vehicles. The report points out battery-material sourcing, charging and disposal as concerns. 

The production of graphite and lithium, which are materials used in electric car batteries, brings unwanted pollution and environmental impact. The report also questions the methods of disposal of spent cells, which are mostly destined for landfills at the moment – even in first-world countries.

The report asserts that electric cars are just shifting the carbon burden from the roads to the electric power plants, as it “augments the negative impact of the grid”. This is the same logic that Singapore’s Land Transport Authority uses to defend its decision in the Tesla S case, claiming that the particular second-hand unit that was imported to Singapore was tested to consume twice the amount of power than officially published by the carmaker.

While electric vehicles have zero tailpipe emissions, their overall carbon footprint is heavily dependent on how the electricity they are charged with is produced.

Another independent research done at TUM Create – a joint institution of Nanyang Technological University and Technical University of Munich – appears to echo Devonshire’s notion that electric vehicles (EVs) are no worse than petrol-burning ones. 

Well, that is before the vehicle hits 100,000km on the odometer, anyway.

This is mainly due to the increased greenhouse gases produced during the EV production process, but this is evened out by the lower carbon production once the car hits the roads. This is, of course, in Singapore’s context, where electricity is produced by burning liquefied natural gas instead of lower carbon methods like renewable or nuclear energy.

There are just too many arguments from both camps at the moment. But what’s more interesting is the timing of how the events unfolded – the news of the Tesla S being slapped with a $15,000 emissions tax, the Singapore Prime Minister’s meeting with Tesla’s Elon Musk in February, and news that the carmaker is eyeing a comeback in Singapore. Is something charging up in the backgrounds?