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Tesla announced this week the launch of another SUV model to add to its all-electric car catalog: the Model Y. The upcoming Model Y has a purported sticker price of just under $40,000, about 10% more than the mass appeal Tesla Model 3. Like another new kid on the block, the Green New Deal (GND), the Model Y faces the challenge of achieving multiple goals.
At its most basic, the Model Y needs to satisfy consumer demand for various features while also bearing a price tag that is comparable to existing internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, and the GND needs to placate naysayers that its clean energy vision is practical in the marketplace. Do the Tesla Model Y (and Model 3) and the GND each provide enough environmental and “economic mobilization” to be breakthrough sustainability leaders?
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) brought crucially needed US focus to climate change with the GND and its emphasis on a national low-carbon economy. The GND has goals to repair the climate, make the clean energy marketplace more competitive, and create a green workforce. An article in the Washington Post, however, argues that the GND “encapsulates the liberal delusion on climate change: that technology and spending can spare us the hard work of reform.”
Which take on the matter makes more sense? And does the Model Y help to fill in that gap of the “hard work of reform?”
Henry Olson in the Washington Post says the Green New Deal (GND) is “both a fantastical pipe dream and a stalking horse for socialism.”
A frequent mantra to achieve a zero-carbon future is to electrify everything, and the GND, with objectives to achieve “100% zero emission passenger vehicles by 2030” and “100% fossil-free transportation by 2050,” would seem consistent with full electrification (although the resolution does not state this explicitly). Many people declare that aggressive electrification of the ways we drive, power up our personal energy devices, and regulate the temperatures in our homes can make the difference we need to decarbonize our world.
The ICE technologies that power most of our transportation today are intrinsically inefficient. Less than a quarter of the energy consumed is used to drive the vehicles — the balance is rejected as waste heat. If we were to choose electricity to power our vehicles of all sizes and capacities, more than 90% of the energy devoted to our personal transportation would be deployed usefully. Let’s translate that in a different way. We could provide the driving potential of a gallon of gasoline by substituting as few as 8 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity.
Yet a Mother Jones article claims that “electric vehicles are nowhere near ready for widespread adoption.” What does Tesla do to prove that claim right or wrong? What does the market beyond Tesla indicate?
What progress does the new Tesla Model Y (and the currently available Model 3) make toward achieving fully electric transportation and a zero-carbon future?
For electrification across sectors to be considered beneficial, according to a 2019 white paper titled Beneficial Electrification of Transportation and an addition from CleanTechnica, it must meet one or more of the following conditions without adversely affecting the other(s):
Beneficial electrification seeks to take advantage of technology trends to benefit consumers, grid operations, and the environment, but it has historically been limited by battery costs. That is changing.
The largest difference in upfront cost between an EV and an ICE vehicle is the expense of the battery. This cost gap has been shrinking across the market and can often be offset by lower running costs. In the case of the Tesla Model 3 or Model Y, the vehicles are actually now better than similarly priced ICE alternatives in many objective ways. In other words, the cost differential has gone away and even been reversed.
There is at least one mass-market electric vehicle on the market that is better than other vehicles at its price point. There’s another one, the Model Y, on the way in a couple of years. Other automakers are not yet at this level, but technology trends and trends in the auto industry indicate they will be within a few years or so. They should also be creating electric vehicles that outcompete ICE vehicles in their classes, except in niche situations.
The Green New Deal calls for righting systemic injustices for communities disproportionately impacted by environmental issues and economic inequality. The Tesla Model Y, an entry luxury vehicle utilizing a private, proprietary charging infrastructure, does raise questions about electrification equity. But perhaps Model Y equity goals are not so remote as might first be perceived.
For example, Tesla and the city of Pasadena have agreed to a 5 year plan that will see them cooperate on the construction of the largest EV fast charging facility in the western US. Tesla will install 24 of its Superchargers on a central parking garage roof as well as basic electrical wiring needed to install another 20 Level 3 fast chargers.
Such collaborations are at the heart of both the Tesla Model Y and the GND — transforming the market to appeal to prospective consumers across social strata.
Furthermore, local pollution more typically harms lower-income communities. Cleaning up the air in any way possible for everyone living in a city is going to benefit people who can’t afford a Tesla.
Additionally, most new technologies are expensive and have to be bought by the wealthy before costs can be cut and they can be sold to lower income populations. This was the core idea behind Tesla’s 2006 Secret Master Plan — produce a high-cost and expensive sports car (the initial Tesla Roadster), use money from that to produce less expensive but still high-end luxury vehicles (the Model S and Model X), and use the money from them to produce even less expensive, mass-market electric vehicles (the Model 3 and Model Y). Tesla is delivering on that and bringing electric vehicles to many more households, and the next logical step is an even more affordable Tesla (Model 2?) for another tier of the auto market — the biggest tier.
A transportation transformation is well underway, as is evident from the buzz around the release of the Tesla Model Y. As the months go on, we’ll learn more about the specifics of this all-electric vehicle and its economical and practical path forward.
The Green New Deal’s ambitious goals — a 40% to 60% reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030 — cannot be met by transportation electrification alone. Bloombergreports that even with a mass-market passenger electric vehicle transition, “half of the world’s consumption of oil would remain untouched.” The GND’s targets will require states to develop integrated resource planning to help envision both the potential for transportation electrification and its effects on the power system. Investment will need to be targeted to known and prospective charging needs, and each community’s needs will differ.
But the Tesla Model Y is another piece of that large and far-reaching puzzle called the GND. They each work to move us toward a fully sustainable future. Each speak to ways that transportation must convert from a dirty, inequitable system toward more sustainability and economic justice