I happened to drive by a new Tesla Model S on the highway and the paper plate stated it produced Zero Emissions. The question that zipped through my mind, how can that be? My mind then spiraled off to consider the different forms of electricity that are used to recharge a “zero emission” Tesla. If an owner uses electricity from the power grid, the sources of electricity are coal, natural gas, nuclear reactors, hydroelectric dams, wind, solar, bio-mass, geothermal, or petroleum.
As you can see in the graph above, the bulk of the electricity generated in the U.S. comes from nuclear, natural gas and coal. All of these power sources produce emissions. Non-emission sources of electricity, hydroelectric, wind, and geothermal, make up a very small amount of the power generated (3.1%). But even these “non-emission” sources produce emission in the form of refined petroleum products, grease and lubricants, to keep there machinery operating.
An owner may be saying, I will use solar panels to recharge my Tesla. That is all fine and dandy, except it take energy to produce the solar panels and all the parts that make a working system. Then there is delivery to your home and installation of the panels on the roof or other suitable location. But one could argue that once the solar instillation is complete, my vehicle is “zero emissions”. Only if you have a way to store the electricity generated during the day and recharge your vehicle only at home. If a Tesla owner happens to use one of their many free charging stations, then you are back to using the power grid.
The myth of a zero emission vehicle is really just moving the emissions produced from one source to another. In addition, many of the bearings that allow a Tesla to roll along the highway use grease and other lubricants produced from petroleum. So when one really takes a look at the emissions of a Tesla, or any other plug-in vehicle, somewhere along the line they all produce emissions.