Tesla & Co: Electric cars and the communist future

We know now that we need to act on climate change. We probably needed to start acting on it 30 years ago...

But at least we have the Paris climate accord since 2016. All countries in the world signed it. The USA, unfortunately, left later because they thought the atmosphere is about “fairness”.

Unfortunately, the Paris climate agreement is like the Horn of Gondor. It’s good to sound the alarm but in the end you get killed by orcs anyway.

Poor Boromir enjoying life, minutes before his demise

It’s about reducing carbon emissions (voluntarily of course) and annoyingly lacks an enforcement mechanism. Therefore relying on the goodwill of the signatories to magically make it happen.

It seems that we can’t rely on politicians to do our dirty laundry. So some cities and companies have pledged their own goals to curb CO2 emissions.

One of the best ways is to electrify our transport and build renewable energy. Or so it seems.

The difference between combustion and electric cars

Welcome to the crash-course on motorised transport. Internal Combustion engines work by exploding liquid dinosaur remnants inside a little chamber and using the expanding gas to move metal sticks and then wheels.

There are tons of moving parts, lots of losses (heat, friction etc.) and it uses a non-renewable resource. When they were invented, people thought oil would pretty much last forever.

Electric cars (there are hybrids, plug-in hybrids, fuel cell etc. as well but we will focus on battery driven ones) have a big battery and an electric motor.  Electric motors work with magnets and currents. They are therefore super-cool.

The motors don’t have nearly as many moving parts (~20 vs. 2000 in petrol cars) and much less heat production (no explosions). They also have instant torque, enabling them to accelerate super fast (watch this).

How climate friendly are they?

Since they run on electricity, the carbon emissions of electric cars are strongly tied to how the power is produced that they run on. In countries like Norway, where most of the power comes from hydropower (98%) electric cars are pretty clean.

In countries that burn a lot of coal and gas, they are not so clean.

recent study in Germany showed that a small electric car actually emits more CO2 in the whole life cycle (production included) than petrol or diesel cars, IF they are only driven for 50,000 km.

As soon as you drive them for 150,000 km they are better than all fossil fuel powered cars even with Germany’s current electricity mix. The mix is getting greener and greener though and the cars might run for way longer, making the case even stronger. If you run them on purely renewable energy (like in Norway), then they are better than the rest of course.

The clincher really is the production of the battery, the fixed and not the variable emissions basically.

Resource use

These results are surprising but make sense considering the many rare earth metals that get used in the lithium ion batteries in current electric vehicles.

Especially cobalt and lithium have exploded in price in the last two years and are mainly produced in Africa and South America under sometimes questionable conditions.

Luckily, there are other, exciting new battery compositions being researched and only time will tell if they can reach or exceed the performance of the current designs. They will probably need some of the same metals, so we should carefully recycle them.

But regardless how resource-intensive the batteries are, the longer they drive, the better electric cars get.
Which means that we need to move past the current model of owning cars.

The need to share

The idea is called transport as a service (Taas).It is based on the concept that electric cars can drive a huge distance without needing much maintenance. They last much longer than petrol cars. This means they are especially lucrative for taxi companies that can write them off over a long period of time.

Your electric car might last 50 years, but do you want to drive the same car for 50 years? But if it’s not your car, you might not care.

Currently, taking a taxi everywhere is still quite expensive. Because of the driver.

But if they get combined with self-driving abilities (which is almost upon us) the cost to drive around drops significantly. So much so, that it will be way cheaper to get an electric self-driving taxi than own a car, according to researchers Arbib and Seba. The transition to Taas would provide up to 10% more income to families (by savings).

I still have my doubts about if the model will work in rural areas (waiting for your self-driving taxi to show up). But in cities, where the majority of the world’s population lives, this model is sound and exciting.

Exciting for everyone, except taxi drivers. Automation is already killing the vast majority of jobs. So in addition to finding solutions to climate change, we need to find something meaningful for people to do. And an income would be great too.

It’s an exciting time!

photo by Turnstange , Andrew Becraft

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