How Tesla Will Change The World

This is Part 2 of a four-part series on Elon Musk’s companies. For an explanation of why this series is happening and how Musk is involved, start with Part 1.


PDF and ebook options: We made a fancy PDF of this post for printing and offline viewing (see a preview here), and an ebook containing the whole four-part Elon Musk series:

PDF buttonget the ebook


A Wait But Why post can be a few different things. One type of WBW post is the “let’s just take this whole topic and really actually get to the bottom of it so we can all completely get it from here forward.” The ideal topic for that kind of post is one that’s really important to our lives, and that tends to come up a lot, but that’s also hugely complex and confusing, often controversial with differing information coming out of different mouths, and that ends up leaving a lot of people feeling like they don’t totally get it as well as they “should.”

The way I approach a post like that is I’ll start with the surface of the topic and ask myself what I don’t fully get—I look for those foggy spots in the story where when someone mentions it or it comes up in an article I’m reading, my mind kind of glazes over with a combination of “ugh it’s that icky term again nah go away” and “ew the adults are saying that adult thing again and I’m seven so I don’t actually understand what they’re talking about.” Then I’ll get reading about those foggy spots—but as I clear away fog from the surface, I often find more fog underneath. So then I research that new fog, and again, often come across other fog even further down. My perfectionism kicks in and I end up refusing to stop going down the rabbit hole until I hit the floor.

For example, I kind of got the Iraq situation, but there was a lot of fog there too—so when I wrote a post about it, one fog-clearing rabbit hole took me all the way back to Muhammad in 570AD. That was the floor. Digging into another part of the story brought me to the end of World War I. Another brought me to the founding of ISIS.

Hitting the floor is a great feeling and makes me realize that the adults weren’t actually saying anything that complicated or icky after all. And when I come across that topic again, it’s fun now, because I get it and I can nod with a serious face on and be like, “Yes, interest rates are problematic” like a real person.

I’ve heard people compare knowledge of a topic to a tree. If you don’t fully get it, it’s like a tree in your head with no trunk—and without a trunk, when you learn something new about the topic—a new branch or leaf of the tree—there’s nothing for it to hang onto, so it just falls away. By clearing out fog all the way to the bottom, I build a tree trunk in my head, and from then on, all new information can hold on, which makes that topic forever more interesting and productive to learn about. And what I usually find is that so many of the topics I’ve pegged as “boring” in my head are actually just foggy to me—like watching episode 17 of a great show, which would be boring if you didn’t have the tree trunk of the back story and characters in place.

So when it was time to start what I had labeled in my head as “the Tesla post,” I knew this was going to be one of those posts. To understand if and why Tesla Motors matters, you have to understand both the story of cars and the story of energy—two worlds I somehow am simultaneously confused by and tremendously sick of. Just hearing someone say “climate change” or “energy crisis” or “tailpipe emissions” makes me kind of gag at this point—just too much politics, too many annoying people, too much misinformation on all sides, and it’s just hard to know how much I actually care and if there can be a solution to all of it anyway. So I did what I do when my tortoise shits when I’m out of the apartment and then spends hours walking through it and tracking it across everything, including the walls somehow—I rolled up my sleeves, took a deep breath, whispered, “Be a man, Tim,” and started scraping through layers of shit. If I have to live in a world with people arguing constantly about energy and oil and greenhouse gases and incentive programs, I might as well build myself a proper tree trunk.

After weeks of reading and asking questions and writing, I’ve emerged from the tortoise sewage with something that toes the line between a long blog post and a short book. I could have broken this into multiple posts, but it’s all one story and I wanted to keep it all together. It’ll be a bit of a time investment, but I think you’ll come out of it with a sturdier tree trunk about all of this than you have now. And as it turns out, when it comes to this topic, we may be witnessing a very awesome moment in history without quite realizing it yet.

Two disclaimers before we start:

1) This is a highly politicized issue, but this post has no political agenda. I’m not political because nothing could ever possibly be more annoying than American politics. I think both parties have good points, both also have a bunch of dumb people saying dumb things, and I want nothing to do with it. So I approached this post—like I try to with every post—from a standpoint of rationality and what I think makes sense.

2) Spoiler: The post is very pro-Tesla. Which might seem suspicious since A) Elon Musk asked me to write about this and B) I just wrote a post calling him the raddest possible man. But two things to keep in mind:

First, this isn’t commissioned by Musk, and I’m being paid $0.00 for doing it. He suggested I take the issue on because I think he thinks there’s a lack of full tree trunks in people’s heads about it—but he never suggested that I say good things about Tesla, electric cars, or anything else.

Second, the currency Wait But Why lives on is integrity. Without it, WBW loses its ability to make an impact. And integrity came first here, even at the expense of Musk potentially hating me at the end of it, if that’s what was necessary. If I didn’t think this would have made a great WBW topic, I wouldn’t have taken it on, and I’m pro-Tesla in the post because after a ton of learning and thinking—including as many counterarguments to Tesla and its worldview as I could find—that’s how I feel.

And with that, let’s dive in.


Part 1: The Story of Energy
Part 2: The Story of Cars
Part 3: The Story of Tesla


Part 1: The Story of Energy

Story of Energy

Energy is important. Without energy, we’d all be like this:

Lying Down

But what really is energy? The dictionary says it’s “the property of matter and radiation that is manifest as a capacity to perform work.” And it says “work” is “the exertion of force overcoming resistance or producing molecular change.” Putting that together, we get energy being “the property of matter and radiation that is manifest as a capacity to perform the exertion of force overcoming resistance or producing molecular change.”

That was pretty unfun, so for our purposes, let’s call energy “the thing that lets something do stuff.”

But the tricky thing about energy is the law of conservation of energy, which says that energy can’t be created or destroyed, only transferred or transformed from one form to another. And since every living thing needs energy in order to do stuff—and you can’t make your own energy—we’re all awkwardly left with no choice but to steal the energy we need from someone else.11click these

Almost all of the energy used by the Earth’s living things got to us in the first place from the sun.2 The sun’s energy is what makes the wind blow and the rain fall and it’s what powers the Earth’s living things—the biosphere.

The joule is a common unit of energy—defined as the amount of energy it takes to apply a force of one newton through a distance of one meter3. While the sun’s joules can provide any animal with heat and light, the joules that power all of us from the inside enter the biosphere in the first place when the sun gives them to plants.


That’s how food is invented—plants know how to take the sun’s joules and turn them into food.

At that point, all hell breaks loose as everyone starts murdering everyone else so they can steal their joules.

We use “the food chain” as a cute euphemism for this murder/theft cycle, and we use the word “eating” to refer to “stealing someone else’s joules and also murdering them too.” A “predator” is a dick who always seems to want your joules over everyone else’s, and “prey” is just some sniveling nerd you particularly like to bully and steal lunch money from. Plants are the only innocent ones who actually follow the Golden Rule, but that’s just because they have the privilege of having the sun as their sugar daddy—and humans are the biosphere’s upsetting mafia boss who just takes what he wants from anyone he wants, whenever he wants. It’s not a great system, but it works.

And that all went on normally for a while, but in the last few hundred thousand years, humans started to realize something: while it was enjoyable to put new joules into your body, actually using those joules sucked. It’s much less fun to use a bunch of joules running fast or lifting something heavy than it is to just sit on a log pleasantly and hold onto those joules instead. So humans got clever and started to figure out ways to get joules outside their bodies to do work for them—by doing that, humans could have their joules and eat them too. Sometimes the methods would be dickish:

Horse hand

But joules aren’t only in living things. There are joules floating and swirling and zooming all around us, and by inventing the concept of technology, humans figured out ways to get use out of them. They made windmills that could steal some of the wind’s joules as it went by and convert them into mechanical energy to grind food. They built sailboats that would convert wind joules into kinetic boat energy they could control. Water absorbs the sun’s radiation joules and turns them into gravitational potential energy joules when it evaporates and then kinetic energy joules when it rains and slides down land, and humans saw the opportunity to snatch some of those up by creating water wheels or dams.

But the most exciting joule-stealing technology humans came up with was figuring out how to burn something. With wind or water, you can only capture moving joules as they go by—but when you burn something, you can take an object that has been soaking up joules for years and release them all at once. A joule explosion.

They called this explosion fire, and because the joules that emerged were in the useful-to-humans formats of heat energy and light energy, burning things became a popular activity.

Taming a Dragon

We had learned to harness the joules of the wind and the water—to take those forces by the reins and make them ours—but when it came to the most joule-heavy force of all, fire, we couldn’t really figure out how to do anything with it other than hang out near it, cook some stuff, and generally benefit from its existence. Fire was a hectic dragon and no one had figured out how to grab its reins.

And then came the breakthrough. Steam.

Fire joules were hard to harness, but if you sent them into water, they’d get the water molecules to increasingly freak out and bounce around until finally those molecules would fully panic and start flying off the surface, evaporating upwards with the force of the raging fire below. You’d have successfully converted the thermal energy joules of the fire—which we didn’t know how to directly harness—into a powerful jet of steam we could control.

With the muscle of steam in their toolkit, the inventors of the 18th century burst into innovation. They had some serious joules to work with now, which opened worlds of previously-unthinkable possibility. Breakthroughs led to more breakthroughs, and at the turn of the 19th century, the progress culminated in an invention that’s often called the most impactful turning point in human history: the steam engine.

Picture your tea kettle when it gets all angry at you and starts whistling. Now imagine that instead of the steam spewing out through the nozzle, you connected the nozzle to a tube, which directs the bursting steam into an empty cylinder and then finally releases it. When the steam goes into and then out of the cylinder, it shoves a “piston” inside the cylinder on a powerful back-and-forth motion. That’s (a dramatic oversimplification of) how a steam engine works. Depending on the vehicle, the back-and-forth motion of the piston can do different things. In the example of a locomotive, the piston is attached to a rod whose back-and-forth motion turns the wheels:2



Using the steam engine, humanity upgraded from sailboats to steamships and from animal-drawn carts to locomotives.4 Inside factories, people put steam to work too, swapping out their water wheels for much more effective steam-powered wheels.

With the new ability to transport many more goods and materials, much farther away, much more quickly, and to far more efficient factories, the Industrial Revolution ignited in full force. People say the Industrial Revolution was powered by steam, but steam was just the middleman—after hundreds of thousands of years of existing as passive benefactors of combustion, we had tamed the dragon, and the Industrial Revolution was powered by fire.

Striking Gold

The one thing about having made fire our bitch is that we now wanted to burn a lot more things than we ever had before. For most of human history, when people wanted to burn something, they just went and found some wood. Easy. Except now it was the 19th century, and with our new appetite to burn, wood wouldn’t cut it anymore.

We knew there were other things we could burn—in Britain, they would often supplement wood by burning a black rocky substance they found on their shores. They called it coal.

The problem is that unlike wood, most of the coal in Britain wasn’t just sitting conveniently on land—it was underground. When the Industrial Revolution got going, the British started digging—they were gonna need a lot of coal. As the revolution spread through Europe and to North America, Europeans and Americans started digging too—they also were gonna need a lot of coal.

As everyone dug, they started finding other things too. They found pockets of burnable air we call natural gas and underground lakes of thick, black burnable liquid we call crude oil. It turns out that this whole time, humans had been walking around with a vast untapped treasure of tightly packed, burnable joules right underneath them. It was like a dog digging in the woods to bury a bone and uncovering an underground cave full of pulled pork.

And what does a dog do who finds a cave of pulled pork? Does he pause to think cautiously about how to proceed or consider consequences for his health? No—he eats the shit out of it. Mindlessly, at full speed.

And throughout the 19th century, coal mines and oil rigs popped up everywhere. Burning this new treasure of joules made economies soar and the incentive to innovate soared along with them—and new, fantastic technologies were born.

Like steam engine technology, the credit for the electricity revolution is owed to a collaboration of dozens of innovators spanning centuries, but it was in the 1880s that it all finally came together. In what is still probably the most significant technological shift of all time, electricity allowed the raucous power of burning to be converted into a highly tame and remarkably versatile form of energy called electrical energy. With steam as a key middleman, all those spastic combustion joules could now be sent into an organized grid of wires, transferred long distances, and delivered into residential and commercial buildings where it would wait patiently in an outlet ready to be discharged at the user’s convenience.5 At that point, the now electrical joules could be converted into almost any kind of energy—they could boil water, freeze ice, light up the room, or make a phone call. If steam had tamed the dragon, electricity had turned the dragon into a magical butler, forever at our service. And for the first time in human history, the power was on.

Right around the time this was happening, another revolution was underway. Fire was now powering our ships, our trains, our factories, and even the new wizardry of electricity, but individual transportation was still powered by hay like it was 1775—and late 19th century humanity knew we could do better. Biological horses got super upset if you tried to power them by fire, so again, humanity got innovating, and a couple decades later, there were big, metal horses everywhere with engine cylinders full of fire.

As coal, oil, and natural gas motivated unprecedented innovation, the resulting waves of new technologies created an unprecedented need to burn stuff—which motivated the diggers. Companies that focused on digging, sucking, and siphoning up more and more of our underground joule treasure, like John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, became the world’s biggest corporate empires. It was a new world, powered by an endless cave of pulled pork, being gorged upon by the world’s happiest dog…


Flash forward to the present day.

Burning our bounty of underground joule-packed fuel to power our world is now an innovation more than two centuries old—but in 2015, it’s still the main way humans get their power:3


That’s the thing about dogs—if given something delicious, they tend to eat until the food runs out or they get sick, whichever comes first, and there aren’t too many other factors in play. The modern energy debate essentially boils down to whether it’s okay that the dog is still fully enjoying himself in the cave or whether it’s not because he might be making himself dangerously sick or risk running out of pulled pork—which would be a problem, because he has grown increasingly large since finding the cave, and he has no way outside the cave of feeding his now-immense appetite.

As you might have noticed, there are a lot of people who have a lot of opinions for a lot of reasons saying a lot of things about this situation. And some are saying real things, but a large portion of them either don’t especially know what they’re talking about or they have some ulterior motive for saying what they’re saying. This makes an already complex, murky, multi-faceted topic even more confusing.

So let’s lay out what we do know and try to clarify what the hell is really going on.

To begin with—what exactly are fossil fuels and where do they come from?

Fossil fuels are called fossil fuels because they’re the remains of ancient living things. “Ancient” in this case spans a wide range. The earliest organisms that contribute to today’s fossil fuels lived during the Precambrian Eon, before there were any plants and animals on land—the fossil organisms then would have been ocean algae. People often think fossil fuels are made of dinosaurs, but any dinosaurs in our gasoline are from the last couple hundred million years—the later stretch of the timespan—and only a small contributor. The largest portion of our fossil fuels comes from plants, animals, and algae that lived during the Carboniferous Period—a 50 million year period that ended about 300 million years ago and during which there were lots of huge, shallow swamps. The swamps were important because it made it more likely that a dead organism would be preserved. You don’t become a fossil fuel if you die in a normal place and decompose away. But by dying in a swamp and sinking to the bottom, Carboniferous organisms often ended up being quickly covered by sand and clay and were able to make it underground with their joules still intact.

After hundreds of millions of years, all those organisms were squashed under intense heat and pressure and became converted into joule-dense solid, liquid, or gas—coal, oil, and natural gas. Quick blue box brush-up:

Fossil Fuels Brush-Up

Coal, a black sedimentary rock that’s found in underground layers called coal beds, is the cheapest and most plentiful of the three and is used almost entirely for making electricity. It’s also the worst culprit for CO2 emissions, releasing about 30% more CO2 than the burning of oil and about double that of natural gas when generating an equivalent amount of heat.4 The US is to coal as Saudi Arabia is to oil, possessing 22% of the world’s coal, the most of any nation. China, though, has become by far the world’s largest consumer of coal—over half of the coal burned in the world in recent years was burned in China.5

Oil, also known as crude oil or petroleum, is a gooey black liquid normally found in deep underground reservoirs. When crude oil is extracted, it heads to the refinery, where it’s separated, using different boiling points, into a bunch of different things. Here’s how a typical barrel of US oil was broken down in 2014:6

  • 44.9% gas for cars
  • 29.8% heating oil and diesel fuels
  • 13.8% other products like wax, synthetic rubber, and plastics
  • 9.5% jet fuel (kerosene)
  • 2.0% asphalt

The United States is by far the biggest consumer of oil in the world, consuming over 20% of the world’s oil and about double the next biggest consumer. The US is also one of the three biggest oil producers in the world, alongside Saudi Arabia and Russia, who all produce roughly the same amount.6

Natural gas, which is formed when underground oil gets to a super-high temperature and vaporizes, is found in underground pockets, usually in the vicinity of oil reserves. The “cleanest” of the three fossil fuels, it’s the gas that fires up your stove or heats your apartment (if those aren’t electricity-powered or heated by oil), and it’s one of the major sources of electricity (it makes up about 20% of electricity in the US). Natural gas is on the rise and now makes up almost a quarter of the world’s energy. One of the reasons it’s on the rise is that scientists have found a new way of extracting natural gas from the Earth called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” which uses a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals to create cracks in natural gas-rich shale and force out the gas. This method has been hugely effective, but it’s also controversial because of some serious environmental concerns—this video explains it well.

As for the reasons people argue that fossil fuels are problematic, we’re going to focus on the two most common—

ISSUE 1: Climate Change is a Thing

Let’s ignore all the politicians and professors and CEOs and filmmakers and look at three facts:

Fact 1) Burning Fossil Fuels Makes Atmospheric CO2 Levels Rise

We’ll get to the data in a second, but first—why does burning fossil fuels emit CO2?

The answer is simple: combustion is reverse photosynthesis.

When a plant grows, it makes its own food through photosynthesis. At its most oversimplified, during photosynthesis, the plant takes CO2 from the air7 and absorbs light energy from the sun to split the CO2 into carbon (C) and oxygen (O2). The plant keeps the carbon and emits the oxygen as a waste product. The sun’s light energy stays in the plant as chemical energy the plant can use.

So wood is essentially a block of carbon and stored chemical energy.

When you burn a log, all you’re doing is reversing the photosynthesis. Normally, oxygen in the air just bounces off carbon molecules in wood—that’s why trees aren’t constantly on fire. But when an oxygen molecule gets moving fast enough and smashes into a log’s carbon molecule, they snap together and the oxygen and carbon are reunited again as CO2. This snapping releases chemical energy, which knocks into other nearby oxygen molecules, causing them to get going fast—and if they get going fast enough, they’ll snap together with another of the log’s carbon molecules, which releases more chemical energy. This causes a chain reaction, and the log is now on fire. So a log burning is the process of the carbon in the log combining with oxygen in the air and floating off as CO2.

Of course, that’s all irrelevant to the person burning the log—what they care about is the energy released during all of this CO2 formation. The release of all of the log’s stored chemical energy creates a glorious blaze of heat and light. The tree spent years quietly absorbing carbon molecules and sunshine joules, and all at once, during combustion, that carbon and sunshine explode back out into the world.8

To put it another way, photosynthesis just kidnaps carbon and sun energy out of the atmosphere, and after years of holding them hostage, combustion sets them both free—the carbon as a billowing eruption of newly reunited CO2, and the sun energy as fire—meaning that fire is essentially just tightly packed sunshine.

But burning a log and releasing all that CO2 does not tamper with the atmosphere’s carbon levels. Why? Because the carbon that’s being released was recently in the atmosphere, and if you hadn’t set the log on fire, it would have likely decomposed, which would release the carbon back into the world anyway. The log’s carbon was only being held temporarily hostage, and releasing it through combustion has little effect.

Carbon flows from the atmosphere into plants and animals, into the ground and water, and then back out of all those things into the atmosphere—that’s called the carbon cycle. At any given point in time, the Earth’s active carbon cycle contains a specific amount of carbon. Burning a log doesn’t change that level because the carbon cycle “expects” that carbon to be hanging around the ground, water, or air.

But sometimes, a small portion of carbon in the cycle drops out of the cycle for the long term—it happens when a plant or animal dies but for some reason doesn’t decay normally. Instead, before it can decay and release its carbon back into the cycle, it’s buried underground. Over time, that lost carbon adds up. And today, the Earth’s fossil fuels make up a huge mass of lost carbon—carbon that long ago was taken hostage permanently, and carbon that the carbon cycle does not expect to be involved in its routine.

When humans discovered all of this underground kidnapped carbon, you have to remember that for them, the carbon wasn’t the point. They were staring at an endless sea of 300 million-year-old, densely packed sunshine—trillions of ancient plants with their joules intact—and since there are no laws protecting the estates of Carboniferous plants, we could seize it all for ourselves. The grandest joule theft in history.

And as we helped ourselves, we didn’t worry about the fact that extracting those joules also meant extracting carbon that had been buried as far back as the Precambrian period—there were locomotives to fuel and cars to power and buildings to heat, and the joules were irresistible.

And those joules have gone a long way—you can thank them for the comforts and quality of your life today. But those carbon molecules have gone a long way too.

Starting in 1958, scientist Charles Keeling started measuring atmospheric CO2 levels from an observatory on Mauna Loa in Hawaii. Those measurements are still going on today. Here’s what they show:7


The zig-zaggy motion of the line is due to the level falling each year in the summer when plants are sucking up CO2 and rising up again during the winter when the leaves are dead. But the overarching trend is unmistakable. To put that into context, ice drilling technology9 allows scientists to collect accurate data on what CO2 levels have been throughout the last 400,000 years. Here’s what they’ve found:8


So atmospheric CO2 levels have oscillated10 between about 180 and 300 parts per million over the last 400,000 years, never eclipsing 300, and suddenly in the last century the level has vaulted up to 400 (it’s currently at 403ppm).

So instead of the atmosphere being .02% or .03% carbon, it’s now .04% carbon and maybe moving towards .05% and higher. But let’s not judge anything yet. All we know is Fact #1, which tells us that CO2 levels are rising quickly.

Fact 2) Where Atmospheric CO2 Levels Go, Temperatures Follow

The ice cores dug up by scientists don’t just reveal the CO2 levels going backwards in time—they reveal temperature too. Here’s what they show:9

temp graph

Not a hard correlation to see. The reason for this is simple—CO2 is a greenhouse gas. The way an actual greenhouse works is the glass lets in sun energy and traps a lot of it inside as heat. There are a handful of chemicals in our atmosphere that do the same thing—sun rays come in, bounce off the Earth, and they’re on their way out when the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere block some of them and spread them through the atmosphere, warming things up.

Mars has an average temperature of -55ºC (-67ºF), which isn’t fun, but Venus is literally actual hell, with an average temperature of 462ºC (864ºF). No one is more of a dick than Venus. Why? CO2. Mars has a much thinner atmosphere than Earth so the sun’s energy easily escapes, while Venus’s atmosphere is much thicker, with 300 times the CO2 as Earth, so it traps in a ton of heat. Mercury is closer to the sun than Venus, but with no atmosphere, it’s cooler than Venus. During the day, Mercury gets almost as hot as Venus, but at night it gets freezing, while Venus is just as hot at night as it is during the day, because the heat lives permanently in its thick atmosphere.

So it makes sense that an increase in CO2 here would increase temperature—but by how much? When compared to the Pre-Industrial average temperature, our current average temperature has risen by a little less than 1ºC. But as CO2 levels keep rising, most scientists expect temperatures to keep rising. The UN-supported Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of 1,300 independent scientific experts from a bunch of different countries, came out with a report that laid out the temperature projections of a number of independent labs. This is what those labs think will happen if no action is taken to alter the current trends in CO2 emissions:10


A small minority argue that these future projections are overblown—they point out that they ride on the largely accepted theory that water vapor in the atmosphere multiplies the effect of carbon emissions because of a “feedback” loop, whereby a small increase in temperature from extra CO2 increases water evaporation, and since water vapor is also a greenhouse gas, that creates more warmth, which further increases more evaporation, and on and on. Without this feedback loop, the temperature increases resulting from CO2 emissions would be 2-3 times smaller. But even the greatest skeptics usually agree that CO2 emissions do lead to temperature increases.

The IPCC also puts it at over 90% that the changes in both CO2 levels and temperature are caused by human activity (which is kind of like saying there’s over a 90% chance that a rain storm has been caused by cloud activity). Now the question becomes—how much does the temperature need to change to make everything shitty?

Fact 3) The Temperature Doesn’t Need to Change Very Much to Make Everything Shitty

18,000 years ago, global temperatures were about 5ºC lower than the 20th century average. That was enough to put Canada, Scandinavia, and half of England and the US under a half a mile of ice. That’s what 5ºC can do.11

100 million years ago, temperatures were 6-10ºC higher than they are now—and every region of the Earth was tropical, there was no permanent ice anywhere, ocean levels were 200 meters higher, and this kind of shit was happening:12


So we’re currently in this not-that-big window we probably should try to stay in:

temp spectrum

This is also even more fragile than is intuitive. First, you don’t need the average temperature to go up by a catastrophic amount to have a catastrophe—because the average temp could go up by only 3ºC but the max temp rises by a lot more. Just one day at an outlier high like 58ºC (136ºF) would wipe out most of the Earth’s crops and animals. Second, because the total range of temperature a planet can be goes all the way down to absolute zero: -273ºC (-459ºF). So a difference of 5ºC, enough to bury the northern part of the world under an ocean of ice, is really only about a 1.5% fluctuation in temperature—not something like 10%, which is what it seems like. Looking at the window on a spectrum that shows the full range emphasizes that the world we’re used to is what it is only because of a very specific and delicate balance of conditions.

temp spectrum 2

As mentioned above, right now, the average temp is edging upwards to 1ºC above the Pre-Industrial norm (the IPCC puts us at +.86ºC currently). Scientists debate how high that number can go before really dramatic changes start to happen. For the last 20 years, over 100 countries have agreed to try to limit global warming to a 2ºC increase, but there are all of these different opinions going around about that. Regarding the effects of a 2ºC increase, in my research, I came across some credible sources saying 2º is an unnecessarily low ceiling and that we can afford to safely go higher and others saying that 2º is too high a target and that we’re underestimating how catastrophic a change of 2º would be. Regarding our ability to stay under 2º, I’ve also heard varying opinions—some think we can stay under 2º with proper restrictions; others think there’s no possible way we can stay under 2º—that there’s enough upward momentum already that even if we stopped creating carbon emissions in the next few years, the Earth would keep warming past 2º.

So what are we supposed to make of this?

Our goal today is not to dig deep into these conflicting opinions and try to figure out the truth, because no one knows for sure anyway. We’re not going to talk about specific things like sea levels, pollution, storms, or that polar bear in the video who’s extra sad because his ice is melting. We’re just going to take our three facts and put them all together and see what happens:


This simplifies down to:

Cancel 2

Interesting. But let’s not ostracize the skeptics. We can massage it into a statement that leaves plenty of room for doubt:

If we continue to burn fossil fuels as much as we are, things might get really shitty kind of soon.

With this in mind, let’s now move on to the second major concern people cite regarding fossil fuels:

ISSUE 2: Fossil Fuels Are Endful

A couple times so far, I’ve referred to our fossil fuels supply, that succulent underground sea of dense energy, as “endless”—because that’s how it seemed in the 19th century and how it often seems today when you realize how much of it is still underground waiting to be tapped. But actually, the Earth’s fossil fuel supply is not endless—it’s endful.

When we run out is a complicated and hazy question. You have sites like this citing reports like this making charts that suggest that if we continue as is, we’re not very far from the end:13

FFs remaining

Then you have sites like this citing the CIA World Factbook and reminding us that when oil and natural gas run out, the coal usage will ramp up, so we actually have even less time:14


Other sites point out that those cited totals are just referring to proven reserves, and that each year, we’re discovering new sources of fossil fuels, like oil locked in tar sands or abundant reserves of methane hydrate under the ocean floor, and developing new technologies to reach them, like fracking or horizontal drilling. Those sources suggest we’re unlikely to run out of fossil fuels for many centuries. A common counter to those sources is that even without running out, we could face a serious problem if the extraction of the fuels becomes more and more difficult and expensive over time.

The problem with running out, whenever it happens, is that if the world is anywhere near as reliant on fossil fuels at that point as we are now, it’ll cause an epic economic collapse. As fossil fuels grow more and more scarce, prices will skyrocket. That will cause a furious rush to develop renewable energy technology, but it may be too late at that point to prevent a worldwide economic meltdown.

Basically, we’re currently living off of a trust fund we found underground, and we’d better learn how to get a job before it runs out.

For our sum-up for this section, how about:

At some point in the future, either really soon or just a little soon, we’ll have no choice but to stop running everything on fossil fuels, because they’ll either be gone or too expensive.

This statement highlights the fact that we’re very much in what will be known as the Fossil Fuel Era of human history.

FF Timeline

Bringing back our first statement—if we continue to burn fossil fuels as much as we are, things might get really shitty kind of soon—suggests that if we continue to dick around in the black zone until we’re forced out by short supply, we’re risking making the yellow zone permanently worse for humans to exist in.

This is why Elon Musk likes to say that the indefinite extension of the Fossil Fuels Era is “the dumbest experiment in history.” He emphasized this point to me: “The greater the change to the chemical composition of the physical, chemical makeup of the oceans and atmosphere [due to increased carbon emissions], the greater the long-term effect will be. Given that at some point they’ll run out anyway, why run this crazy experiment to see how bad it’ll be? We know it’s at least some bad, and the overwhelming scientific consensus is that it’ll be really bad.”

In other words, as it relates to the above timeline—there’s potentially huge long-term downside to staying in the black area for too long, so let’s just get ourselves to the yellow part as soon as we can. Some skeptics I read made what seemed like very valid points, but even most skeptics agreed that burning of fossil fuels causes some degree of warming and that warming might turn out to be harmful. And even if we view this as a genuine debate—when one possibility is “turns out burning fossil fuels wasn’t actually dangerous” and the other side is “turns out burning fossil fuels was horribly catastrophic,” don’t we want to play it safe??

So how do we get from the black to the yellow?

To help us answer that question, let’s turn to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and their useful energy charts. They update the US flowchart every year, and we’ll get there in a minute, but first, let’s check out some of the charts from their 2011 report, where they have a flow chart for every country and the world as a whole for the year 2007. (The charts look icky and confusing at first, but they’re actually really simple—just showing how much of each source is used and how that source is broken up among sectors.)

Here’s the combined world energy flow in 2007:


The unit, PJ, is in petajoules. 1 petajoule = 1 quadrillion joules. Some thoughts:

– The most consistent fact I noticed about all countries is how much petroleum (i.e. crude oil) dominates the transportation sector. 94% of the world’s transportation runs on oil, and in most developed countries, the percentage is even higher.

– Biomass use is pretty substantial, and almost all of it comes from developing countries, many of them in Africa. Biomass is typically the burning of things like wood, oil distilled down from food like corn, and manure.

– That’s a whole lot of rejected energy on the right side. Rejected energy is energy we lose, usually in the form of heat, due to inefficiency. Especially unimpressive is the transportation performance, where engines only end up using a quarter of the fuel they burn.

Next, let’s look at France:



– Lots of nuclear, and as a result, very little coal. That makes France a pretty light CO2 emitter.

– Their transportation, though, is like everyone else’s—running on oil.

– France is an example of a factor we’re not going to discuss in this post, but an important one: fossil fuels are a bit of a geopolitical nightmare. Nation interdependence can be productive and important, but nations being dependent on other nations for their survival is never a great thing, and the need to import fossil fuels is one of the major reasons for modern nation ultra-dependency. France is totally reliant on oil for its transportation and totally reliant on other countries for oil—this puts them in a vulnerable position. The US isn’t as dependent. It relied on other nations for 60% of its oil a decade ago but has since become one of the top three oil-producing countries, and the EIA projects net oil imports to make up only 21% of the US’s 2015 oil consumption. I was also surprised to see that only a small portion of US oil imports were from the Middle East, with only 12.5% of them coming from Saudi Arabia and 20% from the entire combined Persian Gulf. Far more was from the Western Hemisphere, with Canada by far the largest at 37% of imports and Mexico and Venezuela also prominent at 9% each.

Okay and how about China?

China is an energy monster, mostly because they’re an industrial monster. They’re also a coal-burning beast, burning through almost half of the world’s total coal consumption each year. That 57,000 PJ of coal consumption number is insane—over five times France’s total energy flow.

Saudi Arabia:

Kind of a one-trick pony.

North Korea’s energy flow is, unsurprisingly, just weird:

You can check out the full report to see the rest of the countries.

Now let’s move to 2013 and look at the US energy flow. The unit is different here. A quad = 1 quadrillion BTU, which is about 1,000 petajoules.
Two things that stand out:

– The US has become a natural gas consumption beast and by far the biggest one in the world.

– The US is even more of an oil-consumption beast—almost double the second biggest oil-consuming country, China, and more than four times #3 on the list, Japan.

To put in perspective how much energy the US uses, I found a country in the world that uses a similar amount of energy as each US state:

Energy Map

Finally, let’s go back to the reason we started with these charts in the first place—to figure out how we’re gonna get from the black part of the timeline to the yellow and out of the fossil fuels area. The LLNL also produces a chart showing the US carbon emissions and where they come from. The US is the world’s second biggest carbon emissions culprit (China is first with 50% more than the US) and the world leader in transportation emissions—so if we can figure out what the US needs to fix, that’s a good start.

Getting from the black to the yellow means getting rid of carbon emissions. Looking at the US emissions flowchart, I see two glaring numbers:


There are many things that need to happen to get us into the yellow zone, but these two figures—which make up 72% of total US emissions—seem like the biggest and most urgent problems to address:

1) Electricity production throughout the world makes up about 40% of the total energy flow, and roughly two thirds of electricity production comes from burning carbon-emitting fossil fuels, most prominently coal. Or, put simply: Electricity production is huge and mostly dirty.

2) Transportation makes up a large chunk of the world’s energy flow, including near a third in most developed countries, and almost all the world’s transportation runs on petroleum. Put simply: Transportation is huge and almost entirely dirty.

We’ve spent this post zoomed far out on all of this. Now it’s time to zoom in, and we’ll zoom in on the second major problem listed above—transportation, and in particular, cars. Transportation covers planes, trains, ships, trucks, and cars—but cars cause more carbon emissions than the other four combined, and without major changes, car emissions are expected to rise by over 50% by 2030. By zooming in on one major piece of this puzzle—car emissions—and examining how it became a problem, why it’s still a problem, and the way we might solve that problem, we’ll get a better sense of what this entire struggle is really made of.

Part 2: The Story of Cars

Story of Cars

Meet the world’s first car owner.15


That’s the Chinese Emperor, Kangxi, in his driving clothes. He got the car in 1672, when he was 18. It was given to him by the first car-maker.16


That’s Ferdinand Verbiest, a Flemish Jesuit missionary who apparently didn’t have time to get his hands in a normal position before the painter had already finished. Verbiest spent his life in China, where, in 1670, he became the empire’s chief mathematician and astronomer after winning a contest against a rival over who could create the most accurate calendar—the loser would be “cut up into bits while still alive”17. In his new position, he started inventing things, one of which was the first-ever car, which he made as a toy for the emperor. It was sleek.18

It wasn’t big enough to hold a driver, but by figuring out how to boil steam and aim it at a spinny wheel that rotated a gear that would turn the front wheels, Verbiest had created the world’s first known self-propelled vehicle.

Verbiest’s car would remain world class until 1769, when French inventor Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot finally figured out how to improve upon it by inventing the first car that could hold a driver.19


Next came this little sassypants:20


That’s François Isaac de Rivaz, who in 1807 invented the world’s first internal combustion engine and a little vehicle to go along with it.21


With a steam engine, the fire burns outside the engine and heats steam inside the engine to make it work. So it’s an external combustion engine. An internal combustion engine cuts out the steam and burns the fuel inside the engine itself to generate power.

But it would take until 1886 for the arrival of the first actually-useful car, invented by German engineer Karl Benz, along with his wife Bertha Benz, who I might love, and his mustache.22


Their car is considered the world’s first real automobile—the Benz Patent-Motorwagen.23


The car cost $1,000 ($26,248 today), had three wheels, and was powered by a primitive version of a modern internal combustion engine.

A few years later, across the world in the US state of Michigan, a young farm boy named Henry Ford, deciding that taking over his family farm would “bore his dick off [sic],” applied for a job to work for Thomas Edison. Edison’s company was busy rolling out electrical generating systems to power US cities, and working on these, Ford got good at working with the steam-powered engines the company used to make electricity. In his spare time, Ford sat in a little workshop next to his home playing around with the still-novel concept of the internal combustion engine, and in 1896, at the age of 32, he came up with what he called the Ford Quadricycle, powered by a simple internal combustion engine.24


Becoming increasingly obsessed with building self-propelled vehicles, Ford quit his job in 1899 and first formed the Detroit Automobile Company, which failed, before forming the Henry Ford company in 1901. But Ford soon left the company over a dispute with the company’s investors, who then renamed it Cadillac Automobile Company, and in 1903, he went on to partner with a guy named Alexander Malcomson to create a company called Ford & Malcomson, Ltd., which was later renamed Ford Motor Company. Super annoying for Malcomson.

Ford and his new company charged ahead making gas-powered cars, but at the time, gas cars were hardly the norm. Cars were a new technology, and at the beginning of the century, 40% of American cars were powered by steam and 38% were electric—gas cars only made up 22% of the American market.

These numbers make sense. Steam-centered external combustion was the older and best-understood technology of the three and was initially the most common way to power a car. Its fancier new cousin, the internal combustion engine, powered by burning gasoline, cut out the middleman and burned fuel more efficiently. But it’s no surprise that the quickest up-and-comer type of car was the electric car. It was 1900 and electricity was at the core of all the coolest, newest technology.

The 35 years between the mid-1860s and the turn of the century had just witnessed an electricity revolution, driven by inventors like Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, Alexander Graham Bell, and George Westinghouse, during which the world went from normal to positively magical. The first magic happened in the middle of the century, when the telegraph used long-range electricity to communicate with people really far away, and in 1866, the first successful cross-Atlantic telegraph message was sent, allowing Europe and the US to magically communicate with each other instantly. The magic revolution hit full force in the late 1870s. The first telephone call happened in 1876, followed by the first time in human history someone could record sound and then play it back, in 1877. Light bulbs began to light up city streets in the early 1880s, and by 1896, the first electrical grid brought widespread electricity into people’s homes. Also in 1896, the first primitive motion picture went on display in New York, and the first wireless transmission of a human voice—the birth of the radio—went through in Brazil in 1900. Meanwhile, magical horseless cars were appearing on the streets, and only a few years later, in 1903, the Wright Brothers would take humanity’s first heavier-than-air flight. It’s hard to imagine how insanely cool a time this must have been for everyone.

And if you were alive around the year 1900, you’d probably equate modern tech with electricity, much the way we today equate modern tech with computers, smart phones and the internet. Edison and Tesla were their Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. The idea of powering transportation with a fiery engine dated back to the earliest locomotives almost 100 years earlier, which would seem about as modern to a person in 1900 as black-and-white silent films seem to us today. By 1900, you weren’t supposed to have to deal with how the energy sausage is really made anymore—the burning fire happened in some remote generator now, allowing consumers to only have to interact with the silent, clean, convenient magical butler—electricity.

So if someone in the year 1900 had to bet on the outcome of the battle between external steam combustion, internal gasoline combustion, and electricity as the future standard for powering cars, they’d have probably put their money on electricity. And at the time, electricity was not only winning the battle over gasoline with far more cars on the road, but the world’s most prominent inventors, including Edison and Tesla, were pouring their efforts into an electric car future. Early in the century, the New York Times referred to the electric car as “ideal,” citing it as quieter, cleaner, and more economical than the gas car.25

But ideal wasn’t the driving force of the early auto industry—scalable was. Cars were, up until that point, fairly impractical toys for rich people. There would be time to idealize everything later—the first step was to figure out how to make the car fast, sturdy, and most importantly, affordable. Money and brains poured into car technology from all over the world, and in 1908, Henry Ford and his five-year-old company came out with the car that launched the automotive industry into the stratosphere: The Model T.26


Before the Model T, there had been big problems with both electric and gas vehicles. Electric had shorter ranges and longer refueling times. Gas cars were loud, hard to start, and spewed smoke like it was 1802.

But Ford was a masterful industrialist, and by coming up with the concept of making cars by moving assembly line instead of hand-crafting them, he dramatically brought down costs and created America’s first car for the masses. In 1912, engineer Charles Kettering invented the electric car starter, eliminating the need to laboriously and dangerously hand crank your gas car on, and the newly invented muffler significantly reduced gas engine noise. Suddenly, a lot of the things that sucked about gas cars didn’t suck anymore—and they had become much cheaper than electric cars. Ford’s Model T took over America, and by 1914, 99% of new American cars ran on gas. By 1920, electric cars dropped entirely out of commercial production.27

This was not an inevitable outcome. The future of cars had been up for grabs, and Ford had simply outsmarted his competition. Burning fuel was the way of the past and electricity was the way of the future—but Ford had created a provable, profitable business model for making cars, one that didn’t yet exist for electric cars, and it quickly became too much of an uphill battle for electric car makers to try to turn the tide. So they stopped.


Now it’s a century later. The most primitive local telephone call through a wire has become a person in Delhi being able to take a slab of glass out of his pocket, tap it with his finger, and instantly be talking to, and looking at, his friend in Sao Paulo. The grainiest, choppiest black-and-white silent movies have become Pixar. Mixing chemicals in a lab has become splitting atoms in the Large Hadron Collider. The Wright Brothers’ 12 second, 120-foot flight has become routine trips 250 miles up to the International Space Station.

But instead of me finishing that paragraph with, “The primitive gas-burning car has become [something rad we can’t even imagine],” I have to finish it with, “The primitive gas-burning car has become the better gas-burning car.”

As I said, if you were alive in 1900, you’d have probably thought the idea of an AC induction electric car motor was awesome and futuristic, and the internal combustion engine, which was only an incremental advance from the early locomotive steam engines invented a century earlier, was kind of cool but not especially futuristic. But we’re not alive in 1900, we’re alive in 2015, so when we look at the modern gas engine that’s in all of our cars, and we see pistons moving back and forth because of something hot exploding inside their cylinders—28


—they should seem outrageously ancient. Quick aside:

Tim Makes Passionate Car People Even More Furious By Describing How a Car Engine Works in a Clearly-Non-Car-Person Way Blue Box

Welcome to the Tim Makes Passionate Car People Even More Furious By Describing How a Car Engine Works in a Clearly-Non-Car-Person Way Blue Box. Here’s the deal:

The animation above is of a four-stroke, four-cylinder engine. The four cylinders are those four tubes the pistons are moving up and down inside of. Each time a piston slides up or down, that’s called a stroke, and the fuel-burning happens in a four-stroke cycle:

1) The Intake Stroke: This is the part where the piston is moving down and there’s blue stuff above it. The blue stuff is air that’s being sucked in along with a small amount of gasoline that’s fired in at just the right time by the fuel injector.

2) The Compression Stroke: This is the stroke where the piston moves up and as it does, the blue stuff turns orange. What’s happening is that the valve that let the air in on the intake stroke has now closed and as the piston moves up, there’s nowhere for the air/gas mixture to go, so it just compresses really tightly.

3) The Power Stroke: This is the stroke I feel like passionate car men talk about with a little twinkle in their eye. In the animation, this is where the piston moves down and there’s orange above it which then turns gray by the end. The previous compression stroke has squeezed the air and gas tightly, and at the top of that stroke, the spark plug at the top of the cylinder emits a spark which ignites the compressed air and gas on fire and creates a little explosion. This explosion blows the piston back downwards. This stroke is where the power of the car engine comes from.

4) The Exhaust Stroke: This is the part where the piston pushes the gray stuff up and out of the cylinder. The gray stuff is exhaust—i.e. smoke because you just lit a campfire in that cylinder—that then makes its way out of the car’s tailpipe. This smoke consists of mostly non-toxic gases with a little carbon monoxide and other poison mixed in for fun. Also in the exhaust is the carbon dioxide that just got created during the explosion, which allows the long-buried carbon in the gasoline to happily re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere after the most boring 300 million years ever underground.

The furious back-and-forth motion of the pistons work together to forcefully turn what’s called a crankshaft—that metal bar contraption they’re all connected to below—which creates the turning motion that eventually turns the car’s wheel axles. I think.11

(For more info: first two minutes of this video shows this all in action, and this is aesthetically pleasing.)

Now. I’ll admit that car engines are cool. And I can see why some people are kind of obsessed with them. But when I look at these two animations next to each other—

1815 locomotive engine:



2015 car engine:


—they look too similar to be 200 years apart.

“Hot explosions in cylinders pushing pistons back and forth to force metal bars to turn wheels and sending the resulting smoke billowing out of a pipe” sounds like an old-fashioned technology, and it’s just very odd that we’re still using it today. We get used to the world we live in, whatever that world is like, but if you examine history and take a big step back, some things suddenly make no sense. And this is one of them.

So the question we need to ask is why.

If electric motors were the more advanced technology—if they were considered ideal because they were quiet, clean, and took advantage of cutting edge technology—why did the world give up on them? In 1900, neither electric nor gas cars were viable for mass adoption—both needed a few key technological breakthroughs. The key breakthroughs needed for gas cars happened first—but why was that reason for us to just settle, permanently, for the more primitive technology and the one that, over time, would make our cities smoggy and change the chemical makeup of our atmosphere? If 20th-century human invention could go from the Wright Brothers’ 12-second flight to the moon in just 66 years, surely advancing battery technology enough to bring electric car prices and charging times down while increasing range shouldn’t have been beyond our scope. Why did innovation and progress in something as important to the world as car-powering technology just stop?

This question could be asked about other parts of the bigger story of the Fossil Fuels Era. You could just as easily puzzle over the question, “America’s first electricity power station, Edison’s Pearl Street Station in Manhattan, first lit up in 1882, powered by burning coal—how is it possible that in 2015, burning coal is still by far the primary way humanity produces electricity even though we’ve known for decades that it’s not an optimal or sustainable long-term method?”

The problem with the question “Why did X technology stop moving forward?” is that it’s misunderstanding how progress works. Instead of asking why technological progress sometimes stops, we have to ask the question:

Why does technological progress ever happen at all?

The mistake of the first question is the intuitive but incorrect notion that technology naturally moves forward on its own over time—it doesn’t. I can tell you this for sure, because my Time Warner DVR has the exact same horrible user interface it had in 2004. The way technology works is that by default, it stands still, and it moves forward only when something pushes it forward.

We often have the same intuitive misconception when we think about evolution. Natural selection doesn’t make things “better”—it just optimizes biology to best survive in whatever environmental circumstances it finds itself. When something in that environment changes—a predator mutates and becomes faster, a certain type of food becomes scarce, an ice age rolls in—it means species that were previously optimized to the environment no longer are. The environmental change alters the natural selection criteria, which applies a pressure on the species as it is, and over time, the genetics of the species will react to the pressure by changing in order to optimize to the new environment.

When it comes to technology, a totally free and open market is the natural environment. But unlike the world of species, which is the eternal Wild West, human societies have another factor in play—a god-type force called government. So if we’re trying to figure out what makes technology move and change, we have to look at two sources of pressure: natural market conditions that ebb and flow and apply continual new pressures on all the actors within, and the “god” on top who can artificially change the environment below to create manufactured pressures. Let’s examine both, starting with government:

1) Pressure From Government-Induced Environment Changes

The nature and power of a market’s government-god varies significantly throughout the world. In North Korea, it is a Biblical-style, all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful ruler of the universe to the point where there is no natural market environment—just the one god created and maintains. In Scandinavia, god is a wealthy power mom and the market is nestled in her warm bosom of safety and opportunity. In Central Africa, god made a lifestyle change and got a new job, working for the wealthiest families—huge step up the ladder for him.

In the US, god has an identity crisis, alternating between feelings of pride and self-loathing. It wants to have the best country, but it’s standing on the street corner alone yelling out in an argument with itself about the right way to do that. When the US government (or a government like it) wants to play god and alter the American natural market environment to apply certain pressures in certain places, it uses three main tools: funding, regulation, and taxes.

Funding: In order for government funding to lead to major progress, there has to be a lot of it, and in an open democracy, that only flies when the nation needs to do something so important that everyone agrees on it—like in the 1960s, when the fear of losing global influence kicked the US government’s adrenaline in and it put a man on the moon. Likewise, significant US military funding is something the American electorate can agree on enough that it receives tremendous funding and plays an important part in advancing technology in a number of industries. In most cases, though, a divided democracy is too paralyzed by conflicting interests and political squabbling to be the main driver of a serious tech revolution.

Regulation: Another democratic government muscle is its ability to make rules—laws, restrictions, quotas, etc. These can be effective at pushing through minor changes—the seatbelt and airbag are both products of government regulation. But at least when it comes to the car industry, I’m having a hard time thinking of instances of major technological leaps caused by government regulation.

Tax Code: The government often uses the tax code to add its own economic pressures into the free market. Again though, while this can be effective for nudging something in a certain direction, it doesn’t tend to lead to sweeping advances.

Of course, America is in a big fight about this, with fiscal liberals typically feeling a lot more optimistic about government’s ability to play a positive role in moving things forward than fiscal conservatives. But I think both would agree that major tech progress being forced forward by the government is more the way of places like the Soviet Union and modern-day China where government has a lot more power. The incredible innovation that often emerges from open democracies tends to come from pressures from below, in the bubbling cauldron of the free market—

2) Pressures From Natural Market Forces

In the natural world, to catch food and stay away from predators, animals will optimize by becoming fast and elusive runners. When food on the ground becomes scarce, species will feel the pressure of hunger and over time, their genetics will re-optimize by developing good bodies for climbing or long necks or wings. A running species that becomes a flying species hasn’t become better—just better fit for the current circumstances. In the world of species, the definition of optimization is simple because the end goals are simple: the core needs of biological creatures are always the same—to self-preserve and reproduce. So optimization in the natural world always has the same definition: to adjust in a way that makes you mostly likely to self-preserve and reproduce.

In order to understand what optimization means in the market, we need to know what the core goals are of the actors there. Of course, people are also biological creatures, and self-preservation will always be at the top of the list—if you’re hungry, cold, or sick, fixing that will be the core goal. But for people whose base needs are being met, what are the yearning desires that then lie at the core of their motivation? What does “pursuing your self-interest” mean for them?

Well, it depends on the culture. In certain cultures, the fear of failure is so strong that it outweighs desires like glory or great fortune, and the primary inner drive becomes to just make sure you’re passable. In others, the deepest drive of the people might be religious salvation, community or family service, a leisurely lifestyle, or spiritual enlightenment.

When it comes to technological advancement, those motivations aren’t likely to get you there because thinking up tech innovations isn’t a helpful step on the path to optimization for those people. So if we want tech progress, what kind of yearning do we want people to feel?

I think the ideal mix is a two-part cocktail:

First ingredient: Greed. In a perfect, fair, open market, greed works great as the core lifeblood motivation. The way capitalism theoretically works is that the more real-world value you create, the more money you’ll make. So companies in a competitive landscape will put their effort into creating better and better products and services in order to optimize, which for them means making as much money as they possibly can. Individual people are greedy as a means to all kinds of ends—a lavish lifestyle, personal freedom, security, admiration, power, sex—but what they want is irrelevant. As long as their burning desire makes them really want stuff, their drive to optimize will move technology forward. Greed is a double-edged sword though—to be beneficial, greed has to be contained inside a high-integrity, meritocratic, free market. If it’s not, greed will turn into the enemy of progress, because the more vulnerable the system is to corruption, the more the greedy on top will be able to game the system to ensure their own long-lasting victory.

Second ingredient: Raging ambition. Greed can lead to steady forward progress, but in order for progress to leap forward, a second ingredient is usually key: a burning desire to do something great. Again, the underlying reasons for this kind of ambition can vary. Sometimes it’ll be an ego-driven desire—to be famous and renowned, to leave one’s mark, to be thought of and posthumously remembered as great. Other times the ambition will be fueled by a borderline-insane level of confidence and optimism that gives someone the gall to be idealistic. These are the yearnings of the hungry underdog.

An established industry full of existing winners running on greed is like the highest layer of trees in a crowded rainforest. They’ll push upward only as needed, elbowing each other for little gains and victories as they vie for sunlight, mostly just trying to keep their spot in the canopy. Greed just wants sunlight—it doesn’t care how high up it is when it gets it.

But below, the hungry underdog burns for sunlight and will spend 100 hours a week trying to figure out how to get it. When the breakthrough comes, the underdog bursts up through the canopy into the open sky and spreads its leaves out wide. Suddenly, the trees that had been on top are blocked from the sun. Greed is then replaced by the much more powerful drive of survival, and innovation kicks into high gear as they scramble upwards for their life. The environment has changed—it’s been disrupted—and in this new world, created by the underdog disruptor, companies have to innovate in order to re-optimize. Some end up back on top, others die—and at the end of it all, technology has jolted forward. We all witnessed an example of this when Apple rocketed through the mobile phone canopy in 2007 and forced all of the other companies to make a smartphone or die. Samsung managed to get itself back into the sun. Nokia did not.

With all this in mind, let’s go back to the car industry and our original question:

Why hasn’t the car technology forest moved upward over the past century?

I see two primary reasons:

1) Insanely high barriers to entry—so no leaps forward caused by hungry underdogs

Try to think of something ickier and harder than starting a car company.

First, before you can sell one product, you’ll need to put down an absurd amount of capital to buy a factory, figure out how to design a car and all of its parts, build a prototype, use that to raise a lot more money, get a much bigger factory and hire thousands of people, and pump many millions of dollars into marketing to tell the world that your company exists. And you probably need to be incredibly rich and risk-tolerant yourself since very few people are zany enough to invest money in a startup car company.

Second, in order to be profitable, you have to sell at a high volume. Cars are too expensive to make and margins are too thin to only sell a few each year. So for this to be a good idea, you not only have to create an awesome car, but one that a ton of people will want to buy.

Third, gas cars are already well-optimized—if you want to aggressively burst through the canopy like an underdog without any brand awareness needs to, you have to create a much better type of car than what’s out there. In the case of cars, that probably means addressing the core of the car itself and the thing that’s been stressing everyone out with its billowing emissions—the engine. But since no one has really done this yet, it means you need to not only create the first successful startup car company in a long time, you need to create the first startup to ever succeed at making whatever type of car you’re creating. And since you’ll be there first to do it, you’ll have to put a huge amount of time and money into innovation research and development and bear the brunt of the invention costs for the whole industry. You’ll also have to bear the marketing costs to educate the world on why they should want this new type of car—that’s a one-time expense and once it’s done, other companies will be able to ride on the consumer demand you spent a ton of money building.

So it’s not surprising that the last successful startup car company in America was Chrysler in 1925—90 years ago. It’s basically an impossible endeavor.

And without any threat from below on the forest floor—from the wild innovation of scrappy entrepreneurs with nothing to lose—the car industry has had the luxury of calmly sunbathing in a tight canopy quilt, making only incremental advances, only when they’re needed. But there’s a problem here too—

2) A glitch in the car market separates car company optimization from what’s best for the world.

As I mentioned above, greed works nicely as an optimization criterion if the market is perfect—open, accurate, and fair.

Greedy companies will make their decisions based on whatever the best way is to optimize to their environment—i.e. How can we make the most possible money? But a company’s drive for maximum money is only beneficial to society when the company’s profit is tightly and accurately correlated with the amount of net positive value its product or service provides to society.

If I start a lemonade stand, every time I give someone a delicious cup of lemonade, they’ll be likely to recommend me to their friends and become a recurring customer. I provided positive value and my business’s success went up with it.

Success = Value Provided. Incentives are aligned.

If another customer comes to the stand and I give him a cup of lemonade with a fly in it, he won’t come back and he’ll tell his friends not to go—I caused harm and my success went down.

Success = [Value Provided][Harm Caused]. Incentives still aligned.

But what if I then discover a chemical I can spray on my lemonade that prevents flies from landing on it. The chemical is tasteless, but I know that drinking it regularly will cause customers immense harm a few decades down the road. Customers won’t experience the harm in the present, so it won’t affect their opinion of my lemonade or the success of my business.

Success = [Value Provided][Harm Caused].

The harm caused is now an unaccounted-for cost, also known as a negative externality, and my incentives are no longer aligned with the customer’s best interests. If all I care about is greed and maximizing profit, I will continue to use the chemical, because I’m economically incentivized to do so.

This kind of negative externality is how tobacco companies got away with murder for so many decades. The long-term cost to customers’ health was unaccounted for because customers were ignorant to the consequences, the negative effects were years away, and there was no regulatory penalty in place to charge for the harm. Thinking purely from a greed-optimizing perspective, cigarette companies acted completely rationally. They kicked up nicotine levels in cigarettes and added shards of glass into filters to create tiny cuts and increase nicotine absorption, which caused further harm but increased demand—but since the harm was unaccounted for, this was a pure net positive for the company. And when anti-tobacco campaigns started to educate customers on cigarette harm—which attaches the harm to the cost of scared customers and lower demand—the tobacco industry hired low-integrity scientists to discredit the negative campaigns and muddle the message. Awareness would get there eventually, but the longer they could delay and keep the harm hidden, the better off they’d be from a greed standpoint.

People call this evil, but all it really is is an industry acting in its own best interests within the parameters of its environment. Greed is a simple motivation—it takes whatever it can get, and it’ll push all available limits it can in order to fully optimize. I used tobacco companies as an example, but you could easily tell the story with fast food, radiation-emitting consumer electronics, politician behavior, the finance industry, and many others.

In the auto industry, CO2 emissions are the negative externality. If you have a cheap and easy way to build cars that dump garbage into the atmosphere and no one makes you pay for it, why would you ever change anything?

It’s the same story as cigarettes. Instead of the tobacco industry and the cigarette companies who support it, you have the oil industry and the car companies who support it. Instead of short-term emphysema, you have short term city smog. Instead of long-term harm to people’s health like lung cancer, you have long-term harm to the human way of life like underwater coastal cities.

A lot of people have written about the hidden cost of carbon emissions, and many of them, on both sides of the political spectrum, have proposed a logical solution: a revenue-neutral carbon tax.

A revenue-neutral carbon tax is revenue-neutral because any increase in government revenue as a result of the tax would be offset by an equal decrease in something else like income taxes. This makes it a politically moot proposal.

The tax could be applied at any point along the supply chain from oil extraction to the gas pump and the effect would be the same—it would either become more expensive to drive a gas car, less profitable to be in the business of gas, or both. With a carbon tax in place, when you’re contributing to the carbon problem, you’re also paying for it—which incentivizes consumers and companies to explore alternatives. This wouldn’t be the government meddling in the market—it would be the government fixing a glitch in the market.

Instead, the government offers tax breaks to people for buying an electric vehicle and subsidies for the renewable energy industry, which is like a town full of businesses who throw their trash in the street, and the government reacting by paying businesses to stop doing that, instead of just charging businesses for doing it. Other times, the government tries to force emissions downwards by forcing car companies to create a minimum number of zero-emissions cars—with limited effect. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton both tried this, to some extent, and both times the next president (Reagan and Bush) removed the regulations upon taking office (ironically, the Clinton mandate for more hybrid cars accomplished nothing in the US, but it scared the shit out of Toyota, who began furiously innovating and created the Prius). Another time, in 1990, the California government tried to institute its own zero-emissions regulations, which the car and oil companies fought until they finally bullied California out of it and the regulations were removed in 2003.12 The problem is, giant companies have enough influence that any government attempt at making changes through regulation ends up being watered down to the point where it’s ineffective.

When it comes to a carbon tax, the only explanation for not having one seems to be the power big oil has over the US government—because to me, it seems like every politician in either party should be in favor of a revenue-neutral carbon tax. Right?

Without any negative consequence of emitting carbon, optimizing for greed pushes certain car technologies forward, like safety, comfort, and drive quality, because getting high safety and quality ratings is tied to demand—but it doesn’t change anything about carbon emissions, because the greed equation doesn’t currently include that cost.

So the reason why, 112 years after Ford Motor Company’s founding, we’re still using harmful, old-fashioned engines is simple: none of the pressures on the car industry are pushing it to change. The car industry still needs to work hard to optimize in certain areas—that’s why cars have become safer, smoother, more comfortable, and more efficient over the years. But the most glaring flaw of the modern car—that it constantly dumps garbage into the atmosphere—remains untouched, because doing so is free, because big oil’s influence means government keeps allowing it, and because there’s no one from underneath to burst through the canopy and show customers that there’s a better way.

It’s scary. Something really, terribly bad might be happening that could make our actual lives legitimately worse in the future, but we have a prisoner’s dilemma on our hands—it’s much, much better for all of us collectively to make a change, but for each individual CEO, lobbyist, or politician, there’s more to personally gain from maintaining the status quo. People like to say, “this is the world our children will live in and we’re botching it for them,” but for the people with the power to change something, their particular children will be best off if they make the most money possible. The situation is stuck.

A deeply-set, stagnant industry is like a country led by a deeply-entrenched dynasty—it’s hard to penetrate the status quo. But even in the case of the most powerful caste systems, sometimes the right person comes along at the right time and starts the right movement, and a revolution can ignite.

Part 3: The Story of Tesla

Story of Tesla

Christie Nicholson remembers meeting Elon Musk for the first time at a party back in 1989.

“I believe the second sentence out of his mouth was ‘I think a lot about electric cars,’” Christie said. “And then he turned to me and said, ‘Do you think about electric cars?’”13

Electric cars seems like an odd thing to spend your time thinking about in 1989. To understand why Musk felt so strongly about them, let’s start by understanding what electric cars are and how they work.

There are a handful of common modern types of cars considered greener than traditional gas cars—namely hybrid cars, plug-in hybrid cars, and electric cars (which we’ll call EVs for “electric vehicles”). There’s also a lot of talk about another type—hydrogen fuel cell cars, which we’ll just call hydrogen cars. The one thing these cars all have in common is an electric motor.

There are two types of electric motors—the AC induction motor and the brushless DC electric motor. Since 98% of people reading this aren’t licking their lips to read a three-paragraph description of the difference, let it suffice to say that they’re the same basic idea:

An electric motor is a pig in a blanket where electricity is sent into the outer bread part (called the stator), which is always stationary, and that electric current causes the hot dog part (called the rotor) to rotate. The rotor is attached to the wheel axle which turns the wheels. Like this:29


How an AC Induction Motor Works Blue Box

One of the two common types of electric motor is the AC induction motor (that’s what Tesla cars use). AC stands for alternating current,14 and induction means there’s no physical contact between the rotor and the stator—electricity in the stator generates a rotating magnetic field which enters the rotor through electrical induction and causes it to spin.

The stator generates a rotating magnetic field by sending electricity through it in a three phase system:30


So there are three different wires each with an alternating back-and-forth pull—just look at any one color and you’ll see it’s just going back and forth. But the three wires’ currents are staggered in just the right way that the point of “pull” in the stator rotates in a smooth circle. When the rotor is added in, this rotating magnetic field causes it to spin:


The idea is that the rotor can never quite catch up to where it wants to be—it’s always “chasing” the rotating field, and that chase is what powers the car. The AC induction motor was invented by Nikola Tesla, and that’s why Tesla Motors is named after him.15

Here are the types of cars that use an electric motor:

Hybrids (also called HEVs for hybrid electric vehicles), like the Toyota Prius, have both an electric motor and an internal combustion engine. You don’t plug a hybrid car in—the gas charges the battery. The battery also gets charge from an electric motor trick called regenerative braking. Normally, all the joules of kinetic energy a car is harnessing when it’s moving are lost when the car brakes and they’re just converted into heat. With regenerative braking, electric cars send some of that kinetic energy back into the battery, holding onto those joules to be used again later. The electric component of a hybrid replaces some of the need to burn gas, increasing the miles per gallon, decreasing the car’s emissions, and saving the driver gas money. Hybrids are a big step up in technology from normal gas cars.

But they still kind of suck. Why? Because they’re only kind of helping the emissions problem, not solving it, and they still need to burn gas to work. As I’ve heard people say, a world 100% full of Prius drivers is still a world 100% addicted to oil.

Plug-in hybrids (also called PHEVs) are a better option. Plug-in hybrid cars, like the Chevy Volt, the Honda Accord Plug-In Hybrid, and the Ford Fusion Energi, allow you to charge the battery at home and typically drive 10-40 miles just on battery power before the gas kicks in. That’s often enough to get most people through most of their day, meaning they may rarely need to use gas.

But if we’re gonna get so close, why not just go all the way?

Hydrogen cars are entirely electric—but they don’t use a battery. Instead, they fill up with fuel at a station just like a gas car—except they fill up with compressed hydrogen, not gas. The hydrogen mixes with oxygen in the air to produce electricity, which it sends to the motor to power the car. They produce no tailpipe emissions because the only byproduct is clean water. Sounds great, right?

Musk, for the life of him, cannot understand how anyone could make an argument in favor of hydrogen cars,16 but it’s confusing because lots of car companies, like Toyota, Honda, and General Motors, are currently pouring big investments into making hydrogen cars. I wanted to understand the disagreement, so I read like 12 articles in favor and opposed to the technology. At the end of it, I’m having a hard time seeing why hydrogen cars would have a more promising future than electric vehicles. For those who want details, here’s a footnote.17

Finally, there are electric cars, or EVs, like the Nissan Leaf, the BMW i3, the Ford Focus Electric, and the Tesla Model S. These are simple—there’s a big battery, which you charge, and it powers the electric motor. No liquid involved.

Now, in theory, EVs make a lot of sense. Forgetting the rest of the car for a second, let’s look at some of the advantages of the electric motor over the internal combustion gas engine:

Electric motors are more convenient than gas engines most of the time. Gas cars have to go to the gas station; EV owners plug their car in every night the same way they charge their phone—no stopping for gas. A gas engine is a lot more complicated than an electric motor, with over 200 parts; an electric motor has fewer than 10. A gas engine requires a transmission, a tailpipe, gears, and a bunch of other grease-covered shit; an EV has none of those things—when you open the hood, it’s more storage space, like the trunk. Gas engines need oil, which means they need oil changes; EVs don’t. The extra complexity means gas cars end up needing a lot more maintenance than EVs.

It costs a lot less to power an electric motor than a gas engine. The extra costs gas car owners incur for oil changes and car repairs aside, the gas engine’s fuel—gas—is much more expensive than the electric motor’s fuel—electricity. Let’s look at the math:

The average electric car gets about 3 miles per kWh18 of electricity, and the US national average electricity rate is 12 cents per kWh. That means that driving a mile in an electric car costs about 4 cents.

The cost of driving a gas car is harder, because gas prices and car fuel efficiency widely vary. The best case scenario for a gas car is unusually cheap gas (let’s say $1.40/gallon) coupled with unusually high fuel efficiency (let’s say it’s a rare gas car that gets 35 mpg). That would produce the same 4 cents/mile that electric cars get. But very few gas car owners ever pay 4 cents/mile. Without being crazy extreme, for the worse case scenario, let’s say a high $4.00/gallon gas and a below-average 15 mpg—in that case, a mile in a gas car costs 27 cents per mile. At a pretty typical 12,000 miles/year, that means at absolute best, gas is tied with electric for cost, and at worst, it costs over $3,000/year more to drive on gas.

The gas engine is one of the two major causes of the energy/climate crisis. We’ve already discussed this—transportation burning oil makes up a third of the world emissions, pollutes cities, and makes nations over-dependent on other nations. The electric motor emits nothing. Yes, it may run on electricity that was produced in a dirty way—but we’ll get to that later.

So that’s why Musk told Christie Nicholson that he thinks a lot about electric cars. The electric motor is clearly the easier, cheaper, and more sensible long-term plan for powering cars.

But when the electric motor made its first appearance over 100 years ago, there were serious drawbacks that prevented it from becoming the norm—and since electric cars went out of production back then, little time or money has been spent trying to fix those issues. There tend to be three age-old concerns about the viability of the electric car:

EV Concern 1) Range. This is really three issues rolled into one:

A) Will the battery life be too short for long drives, limiting an EV to a car only for local driving?

B) If I’m out and about and need to recharge my battery on the road, is there anywhere to do it? Or will I end up stranded?

C) If I do find a charging station while on the road, will I have to sit there for five hours while it charges?

These issues are such a prevalent concern among potential EV-owners that they have their own term: range anxiety.

EV Concern 2) Performance. The most common electric vehicle you’ll see around today is the golf cart. Which doesn’t excite car owners very much. No one wants a car that drives like shit, and when people think about zooming acceleration, they tend to think about powerful gas engines, not electric motors.

EV Concern 3) Price. Ever since the beginning, EVs have cost more than gas cars, mainly because of the high cost of the battery.

Back in 1910, people cited these exact same three concerns over electric cars, and they’re part of the reason gas cars won the day. Gas cars had had their own major problems, but Ford had figured out how to make them viable—something no one has yet done for the electric car.

I asked Musk about his opinion on Henry Ford. He said, “Ford was the kind of guy that when something was in the way, he found a way around it, he just got it done. He was really focused on what the customer needed, even when the customer didn’t know what they needed.”

When he decided in 2003 to stop thinking about electric cars and start making them, the odds weren’t in Musk’s favor. There were the high barriers to entry that had prevented any startup car company from succeeding in almost a century; there was the unaccounted for cost of carbon emissions, which made starting an EV company like trying to stand out on a basketball court as a rookie when all the players except you can foul with no penalty; there was the gargantuan oil industry, which would do everything in its power to stomp on any effort to make it obsolete; and on top of that, the EV was a new kind of car whose development had essentially been on pause ever since EV makers threw in the towel a century earlier, and a daunting and costly catch-up process would lay ahead—the three concerns listed above would all need to somehow be addressed for this to have a chance.

The overarching question was, had electric cars never had their day because of irreconcilable issues? Or had the right person—the Henry Ford of EVs—just not come along yet?


Car companies aren’t supposed to start in Silicon Valley, and Silicon Valley startups aren’t supposed to make cars.

But the electric car industry is not your grandfather’s car industry. And in 2003, it wasn’t anyone’s car industry. After the brief bubble of new electric cars in California in the 1990s between the year the state passed the Zero Emissions Vehicle mandate and the year they were bullied into repealing it, the electric car industry had withered into the oblivion of the scattered California garages and tech labs of car geeks. But big things have emerged out of small groups of cutting-edge California geek labs. Apple. Microsoft. Google. So why not the modern electric car industry?

One of these little car technology companies was AC Propulsion, and while carmakers in Detroit, Tokyo, and Munich continued to not realize that electric cars were clearly the future, the guys at AC Propulsion were experimenting away, quietly making one giant EV breakthrough after another.

One day last week, I cold called AC Propulsion and accosted their CTO, Paul Carosa, who had been there since the beginning. He was too polite to figure out how to get off the phone with me, so he told me about those years in the late 90s and early 2000s when they created their fanciest car to date—the tzero (pronounced t-zero). AC Propulsion had figured out two huge things:

First, the tzero was fast—it went 0 to 60 in 4.9 seconds, which was crazy fast for an electric car and put it on par with the fast gas cars.

Second, they had made big progress on an enormous EV shortcoming by getting innovative with the battery. Previous EVs had used lead-acid batteries, which were heavy and limited. AC Propulsion realized that the laptop and mobile phone industry had been pouring development into making small 18650 lithium-ion batteries increasingly efficient, and that those batteries had gotten really advanced. 18650 batteries look like AA batteries, which seems like an odd match for a car, but by lining up a few thousand of them in a big battery case, they had just created by far the world’s best ever car battery. EVs had always been limited to a 60 or 80 or maybe a 120-mile range. The tzero could go 250 miles on a single charge.

In 2003, a California engineer named JB Straubel was then tinkering around with EVs himself, met Musk to ask for funding for a car project he was working on. Soon after that, Straubel brought Musk by the AC Propulsion office to see the tzero. Musk was blown away. Musk had suspected for a while that EVs were the way of the future, and now that he saw the possibilities with his own eyes, he was convinced.

At the time, he was already running SpaceX and trying to colonize Mars, so launching a startup car company wasn’t something he could really fit into his calendar. He really wanted the world to see the tzero because he was sure it would excite people and help to stoke a new wave of EV interest—and he tried to convince the AC Propulsion guys to bring the tzero to market, with his funding, but they didn’t want to deal with that because it sounded icky. Instead, AC Propulsion introduced Musk to a group of three other entrepreneurs who had also recently approached them with a similar idea and had also been rebuffed. Those three guys, who included Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, had come up with the idea of licensing AC Propulsion’s technology and bringing it to market themselves as a new company called Tesla Motors19—but to make any of this real, they needed money. It was a perfect match, so they decided to make a run at it together. Musk, who could only dedicate part time to the project, could fund the effort, become Chairman and maintain a strong influence, but by making Eberhard CEO, he could focus on SpaceX with the bulk of his time. And Tesla was on its way.

The group formed a team and started figuring out how to be a car company. One big problem they had was that this was a new technology, and the R&D costs early on for a new technology drive up the price of the product—that’s the same reason the very first cell phones and computers started out really expensive. Except in those cases, they were the first of their kind, so the product could be super expensive and still sell. Because perfectly good, affordable gas cars already exist, it wouldn’t work to come out with the equivalent quality of a $25,000 gas car for $100,000+. So this became the business plan:

Step 1: High-priced, low-volume car for the super rich. Come out with the expensive first product, but make the car so fancy that it’s worth that price—i.e. just make it a legit Ferrari competitor and then it’s okay to charge over $100,000 for it.

Step 2: Mid-priced, mid-volume car for the pretty rich. Use the profits from Step 1 to develop the Step 2 car. It would still be expensive, but more like a $75,000 Mercedes or BMW competitor instead of Ferrari.

Step 3: Low-priced, high-volume car for the masses. Use the profits from Step 2 to develop a $35,000-ish car that, after the government’s $7,500 EV tax credit and the savings on gas, would be affordable to the middle class.

It’s kind of a Hershey’s Kiss business plan:


The overarching mission wasn’t to build the biggest car company in the world. It was to solve a bunch of long-standing EV shortcomings and build such an insanely great car that it could change everyone’s perception of what an EV could be and force the world’s big car companies to have to develop their own line of great EVs. Their end goal, and the company’s official mission, was “to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport by bringing compelling mass market electric cars to market as soon as possible.” In other words, EVs are gonna happen, but we’re gonna make them happen a lot sooner. Sooner, in this case, is important, because it means carbon emissions decrease earlier and the long term effects of them are much less damaging.

So they got working. And four years later, they had their Step 1 car, the Roadster:31


With the Roadster, Tesla wasn’t trying to make their long term car (one Tesla employee told me that from the beginning, Musk would make sure everyone knew that the company’s long-term mission “was not to make toys for rich people.”) They just wanted to build something awesome to A) show the world how great an EV could be, and B) generate revenue to develop their Step 2 car. So they didn’t start from scratch on the body design, instead basing it on a Lotus Elise.

The Roadster didn’t change the world—no $110,000 car ever could—but it sent a message to the industry that Tesla was for real. You may not have heard of the Roadster when it was announced in 2006 or when it started shipping in 2008, but some of the major car companies took notice—Nissan soon launched the all-electric Leaf and GM launched the plug-in electric Chevy Volt soon after the Roadster’s appearance (Bob Lutz, who was Chairman of GM at the time, openly credits Tesla for their decision to make the Volt, saying that after the Roadster unveiling, he went to the GM board and asked, “If a little company in California can do this, why can’t we?”).

But there were some pretty big problems with the first product. Finishing the car was taking way longer than planned, the cost of making each Roadster was way higher than planned, and the early shipments often had defects. This made Musk sad, so he and the board fired Eberhard as CEO, which made Eberhard sad.20 Just as this was going down, the most inconvenient thing ever happened—the 2008 recession—which made the entire car industry sad, but especially Tesla, who didn’t yet have brand recognition and wasn’t yet profitable because of all the upfront investment they had been pouring in. A crippling recession is never helpful, but it was really, really bad timing for Tesla.

Musk had hired a second CEO, but a year in, in late 2008, the company was in one of those movie scenes where the person’s been badly wounded and clearly about to die and there’s this dramatic dialogue scene and the dying person is saying some last words and every time they pause for a second the audience is like, “Is that it? Are they dead? Oh no they just talked again I guess there’s one more line.” Musk, who wasn’t enjoying the drama of the scene, finally was like, “PAUSE THE MOVIE QUICKLY PAUSE IT PAUSE IT” and took over as CEO,21going into full adrenaline mode to try to keep the company alive. And as mentioned in the last post, SpaceX was in the same movie at the same time playing the same role, so Musk’s life was like this:



But enough people had been impressed enough by Tesla that a couple key investments at critical moments came in and kept the company alive, and at the end of the whole mess, Tesla was now a new company. Musk was CEO, and the Jonathan Ive of the car industry, star car designer Franz von Holzhausen, who had been the Design Director at GM and then Mazda, had decided to bet his career on the barely-standing Tesla and became their chief designer.

A few weeks ago, when I stepped into the Tesla design studio to meet von Holzhausen, I was excited to meet the uber-flamboyant diva celebrity car designer, just hoping I would understand what he was saying through his unbelievably thick German accent—and was horribly disappointed to meet an extremely normal-acting American man.

The studio, which I described in the last post, is a shiny playroom of art and physics. Von Holzhausen showed me a full-size clay car that was simultaneously testing two different possible designs for the upcoming Model 3 by making the two halves of the model different. He explained how precise everything about car design is and how “a difference of a quarter millimeter can spread itself across the entire car.”

I asked him what it was like to come to Tesla after having spent years at more established car companies. He described the difference like this: “A company like GM is a finance-driven company who always has to live up to financial expectations. Here we look at it the other way around—the product is successful when it’s great, and the company becomes great because of that.” (This mirrored what Musk had told me earlier in the day: “The moment the person leading a company thinks numbers have value in themselves, the company’s done. The moment the CFO becomes CEO—it’s done. Game over.”) Von Holzhausen went on, saying, “Another difference is that at other companies, engineering comes first—a design package is prescribed on the designer and they’re told to make it beautiful. At Tesla, design and engineering are assigned equal value, and Elon keeps them opposed to each other.” Now that von Holzhausen has gotten used to his freedom to be obsessed with the product at Tesla, he says he “would dread to go back to pre-historic ways.”

Von Holzhausen’s first mission at Tesla was to design their Step 2 car—the mid-priced, mid-volume one—that would be called the Model S. The Roadster was based on existing design and was a springboard for the company more than a long-term product. The Model S would be Tesla’s first flagship product, and it was their chance to reinvent the concept of a car, from scratch. Von Holzhausen said, “When we started Model S, it was a clean sheet of paper.”

This all sounded uncannily similar to how Steve Jobs had done things at Apple. He obsessed over making “insanely great products,” and he never paid attention to what other companies were doing, always coming at things from a clean sheet of paper perspective. When Apple decided to make a phone, they didn’t try to make a better Blackberry—they asked, “What should a mobile phone be?”

Over time, big industries tend to get flabby and uncreative and risk-averse—and if the right outsider company has the means and creativity to come at the industry with a fresh perspective and rethink the whole thing, there’s often a huge opportunity there.

When the iPhone came out, it turned the phone industry on its head. So should we be surprised that when the Tesla Model S came out, Consumer Reports anointed it the best car that had ever been made with an unheard of 99/100 rating, and that Tesla owners are across-the-board obsessed with the car? No, because it’s like the iPhone—it’s a 15-year leap into the future.32


The Model S is the fastest 4-door sedan in history, with 3.2-second 0-60 time. It saves battery power by being insanely aerodynamic with the industry’s lowest drag coefficient (.24). A bunch of engineering innovations have combined to give it the highest NHTSA safety rating of any car ever tested by the US government, 5.4 stars.

The Model S is already driving itself and soon, it’ll be able to drive itself to meet you out in the driveway in the morning with the temperature already set and the right music on; at night, you’ll be able to pull up to the house and just get out of the car and the car will park itself into the garage and plug itself in. They did away with model years (i.e. the 2014 Toyota Camry, the 2015 Toyota Camry, etc.), so instead of holding all the year’s new features until the new release, they just put features in as they go. Someone who buys a Tesla today might have a slightly different car than someone who bought one two weeks ago. And they’re constantly rolling out fixes and new features through automatic wifi software updates—owners often wake up in the morning to discover the car has a new capability.

In a bunch of cases, Tesla has wanted to do something that wasn’t technically possible with the current world or industry limitations—so they’d build what they needed to build to change those limitations:

The Tesla battery is heavy and they wanted to make the body super light to offset some of that weight—so they turned to SpaceX and used its advanced rocket technology to make Tesla the only North American car with an all aluminum body.

Musk and von Holzhausen’s22 team had spent all this time perfecting the design of the car before it was time to put the door handles on, and they got really used to it that way. When it was time for handles, they didn’t want to ruin how it was, so they figured out how to make the handles lay flush with the door.

They didn’t like the dealership model and wanted to sell directly to customers, but many states don’t allow that, so one by one, they’re fighting the states that won’t and slowly overturning direct car sales bans.

They wanted to get rid of buttons altogether and have all controls on a huge, 17″ touchscreen—but when their first car came out, there was no iPad yet, and 17″ touchscreens suitable for a car didn’t exist. So they built their own.33

Innovations like these helped make the Tesla a standout car, but there were still questions around the major shortcomings of EV cars. Of the three EV concerns we listed earlier, AC Propulsion had made significant headway on two—performance and battery range—and the Tesla team had picked it up from there and had continued to improve both. Performance was now the best in the world for a sedan and the battery range—between 208 and 270 miles per charge, depending on the model—was excellent.

But there were still two problematic questions that needed to be addressed:

Can you take a road trip? And can anyone afford the car? Tesla is working on both.

How Tesla is solving the road trip problem:

With a 200+ range, the Tesla battery has plenty of juice to get most people through the day on any normal day. Even a busy day of commuting and errands and exploration rarely gets close to 200 miles driving. But on long city-to-city drives or road trips, EVs have always had an issue. So Musk came up with a solution:

Build a worldwide energy network. Tesla came up with the Supercharger—a high-caliber, on-the-road charger—and there would be public stations that would contain a whole row of Superchargers, just like a row of gas pumps at a gas station. A normal garage charger takes either 5 or 10 hours to fully charge the Model S battery, depending on which type of in-car charging system you opted for. Clearly no one wants to stop for multiple hours while on the road to accomplish what a gas car can by stopping for five minutes—so the Supercharger goes much faster. It can charge a Model S at a rate that gives it about 60 miles of range for every 10 minutes of charging time. So if you’re driving between Boston and New York (215 miles), you might make it with no stopping, but if you did need to stop, you could just charge up for 5 or 10 minutes—not that much more than a stop for gas. Driving from LA to San Francisco (382 miles), you’d need to stop for 20 or 30 minutes.

And the thing is—on a 4-hour drive from Boston to New York, isn’t a 5-10 minute stop desirable anyway? On a 6-7 hour drive from LA to SF, wouldn’t most people stop for 20-30 minutes to get some food and go to the bathroom anyway?

The more I thought about this, the more I realized how little of an issue range is for an EV with a good battery like the Tesla. Just say you do a long drive five days a year. That means on 360 of the 365 days, you have to do nothing. You just drive, and you never need to stop at a gas station. And the other five days? You’d probably just need to stop for about as long as you would stop on a long drive anyway.

Seems like a perfect solution, but you need to have a Supercharger along your drive if it’s going to work. Here’s where Superchargers are today in the US:34

Supercharger US 14

And they’re building them at a furious pace—here’s where they’ll be by the end of 2016:


Europe and Asia will be equally well-covered.

For now, only Teslas can use the Supercharger stations, and only the Tesla can really make long-distance drives right now anyway. But down the road, Musk plans to partner with other EV car companies so any EV can stop at one.

A couple other things about Superchargers: they’re all free to use, and soon, they’ll all be entirely solar-powered. Musk jokes that if there’s a zombie apocalypse, Tesla owners will be fine because they won’t need the grid to fuel their car. And it means that if you had friends to stay with, you could technically drive across the US without taking a wallet.

This is also going to become even easier with time, because Tesla is making new innovations every year. For example, the Roadster now has a 350 mile range battery and you can just about do LA to SF without stopping—it’s only a matter of time before their cheaper cars have a similar range. Tesla also recently unveiled a new Supercharger feature—the battery swap. A Tesla driver will be able to pull up to a little rectangle and stop the car. The ground opens up and a machine comes out and takes the car’s battery off, brings up a fresh battery and puts it on, and you’re good to go—all in 90 seconds. This would cost $60-80, or as much as an expensive tank of gas—so Tesla drivers would now have the option of “fast or free.”

So with that problem very close to being out of the way, Tesla seems to only have one issue left:

Who the hell can afford a $75,000 car?

The starting price of a Tesla Model S is technically $69,900. But if you want the higher-range cars and the faster charging battery, the price jumps up. There are a bunch of other “well shit now that you mention it yeah I do want that too” features, and a Model S can quickly work its way toward the $100,000 mark.

Musk is always quick to point out that for the moment, the US offers a $7,500 tax credit for buying an EV of sufficient range. He also points out what I mentioned above about the $2,000-ish a year gas savings. Sure—but even subtracting all that, we’re around $55,000 for a Tesla Model S, which is prohibitive for most people. Tesla has a new car coming out soon—their SUV with Falcon Wing doors, called the Model X—but it’s another Step 2, mid-price / mid-volume expensive car. Doesn’t solve the pricing problem.

It’s a rule of thumb in the car world that every $5,000 decrease in car price approximately doubles the number of buyers who can afford the car. So if Tesla can somehow come out with a stellar EV for about $35,000 less than the Model S, it would double the buyer pool 7 times, or multiply it by 125-fold. Which would now mean most people could afford it. Let’s bring back Tesla’s Hershey’s Kiss business plan from earlier:


So Step 3 is what this is all about. Step 3 is why Tesla exists and if Tesla ends up changing the world, it’ll be because of Step 3.

That car is the Model 3, and it’s coming out in 2017. Supposedly. And it’ll cost $35,000—$27,500 after the tax credit, and after taking gas savings into account, under $20,000. Supposedly.

But how? Right now, the Model 3 battery costs around $20,000. Even if Tesla ditches the high-tech aluminum body, makes the car smaller, and ditches some of the fanciest things about the Model S, the battery pack alone makes a price like $35,000 impossible.

How Tesla is solving the high-price problem:

Big problems call for big solutions. To solve the range problem, Tesla is building a worldwide energy network of Superchargers. And to solve the price problem, they’re building this:35


That’s what Musk has named the Gigafactory. It’s a $5 billion lithium-ion battery factory, currently being built in Nevada. The factory will be self-sufficient, powered entirely by on-site solar, wind, and geothermal energy, and it will employ 6,500 people.

Right now, the world’s combined annual output of lithium-ion batteries is 30GWh—mostly for use in laptops and mobile phones. The Gigafactory will make more than that each year, which means it will more than double the total lithium-ion batteries made each year globally. There are two huge benefits to doing this:

First, Tesla is planning to ramp up production of their cars until they’re producing 500,000 of them a year, and they’re going to need a lot of lithium-ion batteries when they do. Musk’s reasoning is simple: “I know we can’t get enough lithium-ion batteries unless we build this bloody factory, and I know no one else is building this thing.” The numbers make this necessity clear. To make enough batteries for their planned 500,000 cars a year, Tesla will need about 30GWh of lithium-ion batteries a year—the current world output—meaning that without building the Gigafactory, they’d have to use every single lithium-ion battery in the world. Tesla’s Gigafactory will just barely cover Tesla’s needs—if a day comes when every car company is making a ton of EVs, there will need to be many Gigafactories built by many companies.

Second, by both doubling the world supply of lithium-ion batteries and by continuing to innovate with battery technology, Tesla’s work at the Gigafactory will make batteries a lot cheaper. Musk says the price of the battery should go down by at least 30%. Right now, Musk says Tesla could make their cars with a 500 mile range—they don’t do it because it would increase the cost of the car. But as battery prices go down, EV ranges will go up as well.

I’m pretty convinced that the Model S is the best expensive car ever made. In its first year, its sales blew away its well-known direct competitors—the S-Class Mercedes, BMW 7-Series, the Lexus LS, and the Audi A8—and it’s been in the lead ever since. But those cars all play in a small space for the very rich.

It’s the Model 3 that will turn the industry on its head. You may not know much about Tesla today—or particularly care—but I’m pretty sure everyone will know about the Model 3 soon. Maybe that’s why Musk refuses to do any advertising—because he knows that when the Model 3 comes out, he won’t have to.

The market has taken notice. Tesla’s $226 million IPO in June of 2010 marks the first IPO for an American car company since Ford went public in 1956. Since then, the company’s value has soared upwards. Today, seven years after being on the brink of bankruptcy, Tesla’s market cap is a massive $31 billion. To put in perspective how big a deal that is, I set Tesla’s path to that number down on a graph with the Big Three US automakers (just using straight lines to simplify):

Car Graphs

The car industry forest canopy has been pretty stagnant for a long time, and for decades, no hungry underdog has been able to make a run at it. Tesla hasn’t cracked the canopy yet, but for the first time in a long time, there’s a new company bolting upwards from the ground at lightning speed.

A Ripple Effect

If you’re another one of the big car companies, and you’ve been around for decades, and you’re comfortably doing your thing, making slight incremental improvements each year to your existing line of cars—could anything in the world be more annoying than Tesla?

Remember, the car companies know alllll about electric cars and their benefits. Most of them made an electric car in the 1990s when California mandated that they do, and then the second the mandate went away, they confiscated and literally crushed the cars. Then they whipped the cars into the dump and covered the pile with a tablecloth with a “nothing to see here folks” look on their faces. The scare was over and they could go back to their comfort zone, incrementally improving their gas vehicles.

Their feelings on EVs make perfect sense:

Dealerships make a huge amount of profit fixing gas engines, oil filters, and doing oil changes—money they’d stop making when they sold EVs with motors that rarely broke.

The car companies already know gas cars back and forth, and they’ve mastered the art of making a few tiny new changes to them each year so the new year’s models will be a little better than the previous year’s. But EVs are a new world for them, and they don’t know any more about how to make a good powertrain or improve battery energy density than Tesla does—in fact, they know less, as evidenced by Toyota and Mercedes both buying the Tesla powertrain for their EVs. What a pain in the ass all that R&D would be.

Most importantly, the world already wants to buy gas cars. There’s no convincing needed—just a few standard TV ads to hone the latest phase of the brand’s image and inform customers about the latest product updates. But EVs are new and scary to customers, and there’s a hump to get over in educating the world about why they should buy one. But the really problematic thing about this is that in order to market an EV well, you need to do what I’m doing in this post and explain all the reasons EVs are obviously a huge step forward from gas cars—which simultaneously sends the message, “Gas cars are dirty, inconvenient, and old-fashioned.” Not a thing you want to do when your current bread and butter is selling 10 million gas cars a year.

And who wants to deal with all of these things when they could just skip it if Tesla would just go away.

Franz von Holzhausen has worked at three of these other companies. The way he sees it, “they’re trapped in their manufacturing legacy process, trapped in gas engines being their bread and butter, trapped in their dealership model, trapped in their own history.”

Musk explains it as a lack of guts and originality: “The big car companies are so derivative. They want to see it work somewhere else before they will approve the project and move forward.”36

But the Tesla tree is racing upwards, and its impending burst through the canopy has successfully scared the industry. We know this for sure, because when the first Tesla Roadster shipped in 2008, there were no big company EVs on the market. Today, Ford, Chevy, Nissan, BMW, Mercedes, Volkswagen, Fiat, Kia, Mitsubishi, and Smart all have an EV on the road. Not a coincidence.

So what’s the deal with all of these other EVs?

Most notable is the Nissan Leaf, introduced in 2010, which has been the highest-selling EV in the world in recent years (though the much more expensive Tesla Model S has topped the industry in EVs sold so far in 2015). The Leaf costs about $30,000 ($22,500 after tax credit) and has a range of 84 miles. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has for a while been one of the few strongly pro-EV voices in the car industry outside of Tesla. He talks about the “cul-de-sac” effect that will begin to accelerate EV sales—i.e. people will be jealous that their neighbor has a more futuristic car and doesn’t have to get gas, will ask questions, and then might get one themselves.

The recently introduced BMW i3 is currently selling next best after the Leaf and Model S. It costs $43,000 ($35,500 after tax credit) and has a range of 81 miles. BMW CEO Norbert Reithofer has jumped on the EV train, saying, “You have to look into the future, 10, 15, 20 years…cars like the BMW i3 are a must.”

No other EV has had significant sales yet.23 I asked Musk about the Leaf and the i3. About the Leaf, he said, “The range is too low, but if they keep iterating on that, they’ll eventually get there.” On the i3: “They’re trying to do something there. The range is low, but it’s a step in the right direction, and if they keep going, they’ll get something there.”

This “Congrats on your first big boy toilet poop, Johnny, now next time try to get the whole thing inside the bowl and you’ll be on your way!” tone is about as effusive as Musk gets when assessing the industry’s current attempts at an EV.

Volkswagen just hired BMW’s ex-CEO and also seems to be bullish on EVs, and GM is promising big things with their upcoming EV, the Chevy Bolt.

Other car companies still aren’t convinced. Mercedes CEO Dieter Zetsche said he doesn’t expect EVs to sell well for a while, because “the customer gets a car with less range, longer refueling times, somewhat less space, and a higher price tag.” The major Japanese companies, Toyota and Honda, are both skeptical about EVs and have been pouring their future into hybrids and hydrogen cars instead. Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne is so anti-EV that he’s told the world not to buy their Fiat 500e EV, saying they’re only selling it because regulations have forced them to.

If EVs are the dominant car of the future, they have a long way to go to get there. As of January 2015, there were a total of 740,000 EVs on the road worldwide. Compare that to the whole picture of over 80 million cars sold worldwide annually and over a billion total cars on the road. EVs make up only a fraction of a percent of the car industry. But they’re on the move:37


So we’re either at the cusp of a new EV-dominated car era or in the middle of another little EV bubble before they vanish from existence again—and as you can see from the quotes above, the car industry is currently divided in which way they’re betting.

I think we’ll learn a lot more soon, because the world is still yet to see its first true potential EV disruptor. The issue with Tesla right now is most people can’t afford one, and the issue with every other EV is the range sucks. It looks like this:


The truth is, the typical American drives 37 miles a day on average, and the 80+ mile range options are probably actually plenty for most people. But 80 miles seems like an insufficient range to prospective buyers, and mass adoption won’t happen with that kind of range.

Tesla’s plan all along was to plant a stellar car right in that Quadrant 4 box, and that’s what they say they’re going to do in 2017 when the Model 3 comes out. A number of other carmakers, including Nissan, Volkswagen, and GM have all declared their intention to release a not-that-expensive long-range EV soon. It’s not clear if any or all of these companies will get into Quadrant 4, but if they do…

If there are high-quality, affordable EVs for sale that also have a high range…

I cannot think of one reason anyone would ever buy a gas car again.

A Tesla-quality car that’s affordable to the middle class would seem to have only pros in the Pro/Con list:

Pros of an affordable, high-quality, long-range EV over a comparable gas car:

  • Drives better. The instant torque of an EV is like exploding out of a gun. There’s no lag time between your foot touching the pedal and the car moving. Without gears, it accelerates perfectly smoothly. The handling is incredible. It’s silent.
  • More convenient. No stops for gas. Much less need to take the car in for maintenance. No oil changes. More storage because with no engine, the hood is now the frunk (the front trunk).
  • Safer. With no engine, the entire front of the car becomes a crumple zone. That’s part of why the Model S has blown away the safety ratings.
  • Cheaper. No gas or oil, and less maintenance. No longer beholden to fluctuating gas prices.
  • Healthier. No smog in cities, which cause many, many health problems.
  • Oh yeah, and the whole thing about avoiding an environmental, economic, or geopolitical catastrophe.

Cons of an affordable, high-quality, long-range EV over a comparable gas car:

  • People who love to shift the manual stick around with all their muscle because they’re a cool cat on the open road to destiny can’t do that.
  • Five days a year, when you’re on a long drive, you have to stop for 30 minutes every three hours instead of five minutes every four hours—a con that becomes moot if you would have stopped for 30 minutes anyway every few hours.

EVs aren’t there yet. Right now, there are legit cons. But as the next few years pass, EVs will get cheaper, battery ranges will get longer and longer, Superchargers will pop up more and more until they’re everywhere, and charging times will just decrease as technology advances. Maybe I’m missing something, and I’m sure a bunch of seething commenters will try to make that very clear to me, but it seems like a given to me: the gas era is over and EVs are the obvious, obvious future.

An Angry Giant

The car companies, as I mentioned, aren’t happy about all of this—they’re acting like a kid with a cupcake whose parents are forcing them to eat their vegetables.

But how about the oil industry?

Unlike car companies, the oil industry can’t suck it up, get on the EV train, and after an unpleasant hump, continue to thrive. If EVs catch on in a serious way and end up being the ubiquitous type of car, oil companies are ruined. 45% of all the world’s extracted oil is used for transportation, but in the developed world, it’s much higher—in the US, 71% of extracted oil is used for transportation, and most of that is for cars.

So if the car industry has a cupcake and its parents are forcing it to eat vegetables, the oil industry has a cupcake but its parents are forcing it to eat razor blades. The car industry will resist the veggies and have a little tantrum before grudgingly giving in—the oil industry will furiously try to gouge the parents’ eyes out in resistance because for him, this is life and death.

And that’s how the oil industry sees EVs—horrifying razor blades. And giant industries don’t just roll over and eat razor blades without a serious fight.

We’ve seen this before. Tobacco companies fought tooth and nail to stay alive and strong as long as possible when the tide started to turn against them. And the oil industry itself has been fighting tooth and nail for a while now on another front—the battle to keep people confused about whether global warming is a thing.

Usually in these cases, the industry clawing for survival knows it’s on the way out. But in the meantime, they’re making money, and the longer it takes before the public fully gets the situation, the longer it’ll be before the public uniformly rejects them, politicians are able to regulate against them, and the money finally stops. Time is very much money in these situations.

The tactic to stay alive longer is always the same—put out misinformation to create confusion, and make it political so half the country feels like they’re going against “their own team” if they side against the industry.

The super-clever way they create confusion is by generating the public perception that there’s a genuine debate among scientists. That’s how you make a 97% consensus seem like an open question:38


The same tactic was used a few decades ago when 98% of scientists said smoking caused lung cancer, but the tobacco industry convinced the public for a long time that “scientists disagree” about whether smoking is harmful. The book Merchants of Doubt details how many of the same pro-smoking “scientists” a generation later became the “global warming isn’t a thing” scientists—the actual same people.

When the 1990 California Zero Emissions Mandate forced car companies to make an EV in order to continue selling cars in CA, the oil industry saw it as a small tumor they needed to swiftly nip in the bud before it grew into a serious threat. Soon, a new voice popped up, a grassroots campaign called “Californians Against Utility Company Abuse” (CAUCA). The campaign staged protests against the state’s proposed utility investments in alternative-vehicle support systems. They also mentioned that “the environmental benefits of electric cars were dubious.”39 But as it turns out, CAUCA was created by a PR firm who was hired and funded by the oil industry. Eventually, the mandate was repealed, EVs disappeared, and the tumor was squashed.

Now, there’s a new tumor for the oil industry—Elon Musk. Tesla is showing the public directly that EVs are the future and funding the development of technology that’s making EVs better than anyone thought possible. A government mandate is crushable—obsessed Model S owners are not.

But again, oil doesn’t need to avoid an EV future to have a reason to fight—it just needs to delay the EV future for as long as it possibly can. Tesla’s mission is “to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport by bringing compelling mass market electric cars to market as soon as possible.” Big oil’s current mission is “to delay the advent of sustainable transport by making people think EVs aren’t actually better for the environment than gas cars.”

EVs are most definitely better for the environment—so the oil industry reaches for a key tool.

BS 2

There are now a bunch of myths floating around. I didn’t treat them like automatic myths—each time I heard an argument for why EVs are dirty, I dug in and read about it, but each time, there was little basis in fact. Some examples of myths I’ve seen floating around about EVs or Tesla in particular:

Myth: EV battery disposal is hazardous.

Actually: A) Lithium-ion cells used in cars aren’t especially hazardous and are classified as landfill safe, B) They’re almost all recycled anyway, and C) They’ll continue to be recycled, because a used car battery still has a lot of value, either as a stationary battery or in the raw materials themselves.

Myth: Manufacturing a Tesla is much dirtier than manufacturing a Prius or many other gas cars.

Actually: Expensive cars are dirtier to manufacture than cheap ones. Comparing the manufacturing of a Tesla to a Prius is like saying “Prius’s are dirty because it’s dirtier to manufacture a Prius than a golf cart.” If you compare apples to apples, it’s no dirtier to make a Tesla than a similarly-priced luxury car.

Myth: EVs are a huge burden on the electric grid.

Actually: The grid is sized for the worst second of the worst day of the worst year—so there’s usually a lot of excess capacity. You could replace 70% of US gas car miles with EV miles with no changes to the grid. That percentage will also grow even higher as more homes get their power from solar panels.

Myth: The Tesla uses a lot of graphite in their battery, which contributes to China’s pollution problem.

Actually: The logic here is: “Tesla batteries use graphite; the world’s biggest source of graphite is in China; China has terrible pollution; therefore, Tesla is partially responsible for China’s pollution.” Except when I did some digging, I learned that Tesla uses synthetic graphite made mostly in Japan and Poland, and that the average Model S uses 100kg of it. That 100kg lasts for ten years, so the amount of graphite used to make a Model S is similar to the amount you’d use if you had a few barbecues a year.

But there’s one myth which has been more effective and more pervasive than any of these—the long tailpipe theory.

The long tailpipe theory is everywhere. Anyone who doesn’t like EVs points it out immediately. So what’s the theory? I’ll let Fox News’ Greg Gutfeld do the honors:

“The entire reason for doing these stupid little cars is a lie because electricity comes from coal. In some cases, some studies show that these can produce more pollution than internal combustion engines.”40

Upon first examination, this makes sense. Let’s bring back our US emissions chart to see what Greg means:

US Emissions 2013 2

Earlier in the post, we identified the two biggest causes of CO2 emissions: cars running on gas and coal making electricity. The long tailpipe theory’s logic is that all an EV does is shift energy production from the first bad category to the second bad category. Since coal is the most prominent source of electricity in the world, and coal emits about 1.5 times more carbon than oil per joule of energy produced, EVs are actually worse emissions culprits than gas cars.

When you read about EVs or talk to people about them, you’ll hear this theory come up again and again and again and again.

The thing you’ll notice, though, is that every time you hear someone all mad about the long tailpipe emissions of EVs, they’re using wording like, “may be” and “often” and, in the case of Greg, “in some cases, some studies show.” That’s because you have to use words like that when you’re saying things that you wish were true but actually aren’t.

Taking the US as an example, here’s why they’re wrong:

1) US electricity production is mixed, not just coal. Coal only makes up 39% of US electricity production. And that number’s going down:41

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 4.56.42 PM

Natural gas, which emits less than half the CO2 of coal, now makes up over a quarter of US electricity production. Nuclear and renewables emit almost no CO2 and now produce a third of US electricity.

2) Energy production is more efficient in a power plant than it is in a car engine. To use an example with an identical source fuel, burning natural gas in a power plant is about 60% efficient, meaning 40% of the energy of the fuel is lost in the energy production process. In a car, burning gas is less than 25% efficient, with the vast majority of the energy lost to heat. The larger more complex system at a power plant will always be far better at capturing waste heat than a tiny car engine. The increased efficiency means that even a car running purely on coal-generated electricity will emit carbon at the same rate as a gas car that gets 30 miles per gallon—which would be a significantly cleaner-than-average gas car.

Because the breakdown of energy source is different in different states, an EV will be greener in some places than others. The US Department of Energy has a great tool to assess exactly how an EV stacks up against a gas car in any zip code in the country.

In the parts of the country that use very little coal, like upstate New York, an EV’s well-to-wheel emissions are far less than that of a gas car (on the chart, HEV = a traditional hybrid car, PHEV = a plug-in hybrid car):

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 6.05.59 PM

In the heaviest coal states, like Colorado, EVs cause a lot more CO2 emissions—but still less than a gas car:

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 6.04.39 PM

The national average is somewhere in between, putting an EV at 61% of a gas car’s emissions overall:

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 6.06.20 PM

The Union of Concerned Scientists24 came up with a way to directly compare car emissions, regardless of the type of car it is—a metric called “miles per gallon equivalent,” or MPGghg (ghg stands for greenhouse gases).

MPGghg is how many miles per gallon a gas car would need to achieve in order to match the carbon emissions of an EV (in the EV’s case, the emissions come from the plant that makes the electricity). In other words, if an EV gets 40 MPGghg, it means it emits the exact same amount of carbon as a gas car that gets 40 MPG.

The average new gas car gets 23 MPG. Anything above 30 MPG is really good for a gas car, and anything below 15 or 17 is bad. For reference, remember that an EV running on just coal-produced electricity would have an MPGghg of 30 (so even in a hypothetical entirely coal-powered state, an EV would be the same as a highly efficient gas car), and an EV running on just natural gas-powered electricity would have an MPGghg of 54 and just top the Toyota Prius, which runs at 50 MPG.

Here’s a useful map that shows the kind of MPGghg EVs get in different parts of the US:42


So even for the 17% of the population living in the worst coal states, an EV beats almost all gas cars. This sums it up:43

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 4.52.33 PM

And the thing is, each year, that already-nicely-positioned blue bar will make a little jump to the right. Because the grid is getting cleaner every year, it means an EV gets cleaner as time goes by. Gas cars are locked where they are, and they’ll be stuck watching as the future pulls away from them.


I didn’t feel strongly about this topic before I spent a lot of recent time learning about it—and now that I have, I kind of think the only way someone could feel positive about a gas car future is if they’re misinformed, personally financially interested in gas cars, hopelessly old-fashioned, drunk with politics, or kind of just being a dick? Right? They would have to be one of those five things to be super pro-gas car—right?

The battle going on isn’t about gas cars vs. electric cars. That one’s already decided. This is a war about time. Oil companies will try to slow things down, and they may succeed—but they’re not winning this one. I just don’t see how they could. A company that makes lantern fuel can stay strong for a while by shielding the public from understanding what a light bulb is, but eventually, people will figure it out and lanterns will be out of business, bringing the lantern fuel company down with it. Greasy hoods are old, noisy acceleration is old, overheating engines are old, oil changes are old, and it won’t be long before everyone realizes that. A fun field trip in 2050 will be taking your grandkid to see an old 20th-century gas station and explaining how it worked.25 Driving a gas car is like littering on a camping trail, smoking on an airplane, and throwing a big stack of paper in the trash, and it’s just a matter of time until public disgust catches up to it.

Zooming Back Out

Learning to harness the dragon of fire launched our modern world, and still today, we live in the age of burning. But we need to move on—we need to stop plowing through the trust fund and get a job. The dog needs to let the cave go. We need to learn to make energy the adult way—sustainably.

The sustainable energy world of the future—the yellow zone of our timeline from earlier in the post—is simple. It looks like this:

1) Almost everything we use will run on electricity.

2) Almost all of our electricity will be produced from sustainable sources.

That’s a world running on sunlight and electricity, and burning has no part in that world.

This transition will happen in steps, over time. At the beginning of the post, we identified the two problems we needed to address most urgently: 1) Electricity production is huge and mostly dirty. 2) Transportation is huge and almost entirely dirty.

We spent the rest of the post zoomed in on Problem 2 to examine how things got that way, stayed that way, and why we may be witnessing the moment it finally changes.

We won’t get into Problem 1 today—but both Musk, through the US-leading solar panel installation company he co-founded, SolarCity, and Tesla, with their new product, the Powerwall stationary battery,26 are leading the way in this half of the energy equation too. For those interested, I put up a mini post on solar power and SolarCity.

People don’t quite realize it yet, but as of this moment, a family or business has the option to individually move themselves into the sustainable future. Using products made by SolarCity and Tesla alone, you can today live in a home and drive a car that are both powered by a solar panel-connected battery and live entirely on sunlight. Musk and his companies have made a little yellow brick road right out of the Fossil Fuel Era for anyone who wants to leave. And if modern technology can allow individual people, businesses, or even whole cities to live without fossil fuels, it hints that the only era any of us has ever known might be soon coming to an end.

How to Change the World

A study of Tesla isn’t about a car or a car company—it’s about how change happens. And about why it often doesn’t happen.

Our intuition tells us that technology, social norms, movements and ideas just move forward through time, as if forward progress is a river and those things are on a raft gliding through. We so associate the passage of time with progress that we use the term “the future” to refer to a better, more advanced version of our present world.

In reality, if a more advanced future does happen, it’s because that future was willed into our lives by a few brave people. The present isn’t welcoming of an advanced future because the present is run by a thick canopy made up of the ideas, norms, and technologies of the past. There’ll be incremental tweaks and slight iterations on proven-to-work concepts, which may seem to us like moving into the future, but it’s really just a polishing up of the past.

When the real change arrives, you know you’re seeing it. It’s a distinct and exhilarating feeling when you witness a disrupting innovator ram its way through the canopy. I had that feeling when I watched Steve Jobs introduce the iPhone in 2007. Before that moment, I had assumed that the ubiquitous Blackberrys and Nokias and Razors of the world were cutting-edge technology—but that keynote was an epiphany about how buried in the past those phones actually were. You don’t realize your Blackberry sucks until the iPhone exists. The feeling I had watching that keynote is the same feeling I had when I was six and I saw someone type on a computer word processor for the first time, and the last word on the line would magically jump to the line below when it hit the edge. Typewriters, which had seemed normal that morning, were suddenly ancient. The same thing happened when I saw the first iPod and became instantly disgusted with my horribly clunky and inefficient big booklet of CDs.

I had this feeling again, last month, when I test drove a Tesla Model S. I had driven to the Tesla factory that morning in what had felt like a brand new rental car, and I left the factory in the same car, now feeling like a 1982 model. I get now why Matthew Inman calls his Model S a “magical space car”—because that’s how it felt. That’s how a new, revolutionary technology always feels. Our modern world became as advanced as it is not by floating up an inevitable advancement river, but because of a collection of moments over time when a person or company has done something that makes everyone’s jaw drop.

But those world-changing moments don’t just smoothly glide into the world: these leaps into the future usually have to jam themselves through the canopy and then battle to keep themselves there. The past, which likes to loiter casually in our present world, hates when a piece of the future bursts onto the scene, because that exposes the past for being what it really is—the past. So a new and disruptive technology is often met with hostility as it emerges, as the existing canopy does whatever it can to squash the potential disruptor out of existence before it can gain momentum and start to spread. The old guard knows that once a disruptor gets a foothold and starts quickly spreading its ideas, the entire game changes—and once that balance tips, now instead of trying to squash the disruptor, everyone has to scramble to try to emulate it.

What Tesla is doing right now is an up-close example of how that kind of change happens.

The idea to change the car industry started as brainwaves zipping around Elon Musk’s head, as Christie Nicholson learned the hard way, but Musk couldn’t do much about it on his own. To make the idea real, he had to scale those brainwaves up, and he did that by building Tesla. That brought a new player into the car industry, run by a collective super-brain made up of 11,000 Tesla employees who also happened to think a lot about electric cars.

Change doesn’t happen on a familiar landscape—change has to construct the landscape itself. This is part of the reason the challenges Tesla has taken on are so enormous. Henry Ford didn’t just build a car—he built a landscape, defining what a car was. Since then, car companies have worked within Ford’s landscape. Bringing back what Musk said about Ford—He was the kind of guy that when something was in the way, he found a way around it, he just got it done. He was really focused on what the customer needed, even when the customer didn’t know what they needed—it’s clear that this is exactly what Musk and Tesla are doing right now. If there aren’t enough charging stations for long-trips, build an energy network of Superchargers. If scalability is held back by the high price of lithium-ion batteries, build a factory that doubles the world supply of them to bring the price down. Just get it done.

But with a goal as ambitious as “accelerating the advent of sustainable transport” and a victory condition as far-reaching as “half of all new cars being electric,”27 building one great car company isn’t enough. To bring Musk’s original idea to the next level, Tesla would need to scale itself. To do that, Tesla is building a line of cars so stellar that it’s going to change the public’s expectations of what a car should be, and the whole industry will have to adjust to that new expectation.

And by solving so many EV problems for its own cars, it’s forging the path to an EV-dominated world for all the other companies too. A company trying to rise to the top of their industry would hold their innovation secrets close—but because Tesla’s goal is to transform the industry, in 2014, Tesla made all of their patents available to whomever wanted them.

Other companies are critical to the mission, because Tesla’s goal is to ramp production up to 500,000 cars, which is only around half a percent of the total cars made each year. He explained, “The impact that Tesla will have is fairly small in and of itself. It will change people’s perception perhaps, but it will not in and of itself change the world. But if large numbers of people are choosing to buy the Model 3, and the car companies see that there’s no excuse left anymore because the car’s long range and the car’s handling and acceleration is better in every way than a gasoline car, and it’s affordable—and people are pretty sure this is what they want to buy—then that’s what will prompt car companies to invest real money into electric vehicle programs of their own, and indirectly, by spurring competition, Tesla can be the catalyst for a multi-order of magnitude shift of the entire industry towards electric.”

That’s how to spread the brainwaves of a single person throughout a huge industry and the global public—and by the time it’s done, everyone will think a lot about electric cars.

Maybe I’m wrong about something, or maybe something unexpected happens—but from what I’ve seen, read, and talked about, it really seems like Tesla is going to fulfill its mission and change the world. It’s going to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport by bringing compelling mass market electric cars to market as soon as possible. If the Model 3 ends up being as great as they say it’s gonna be, there’s no doubt in my mind that electric cars will be the norm far earlier than they would have been. Which will, in turn, mean that 50 years from now, the atmosphere’s CO2 level will probably be lower than it would have otherwise been, cities will be less smoggy than they would have otherwise been, global temperatures will be lower than they would have otherwise been, the sad polar bear will get to eat seals again, along with about 12 other positive effects that will legitimately affect our lives. Pretty down-the-middle definition of changing the world.

Meanwhile, this is what Musk spends two days of his week on. With the rest of his time, he’s trying to make humanity a multi-planetary species—a goal that makes his Tesla mission seem like starting a grapefruit stand. We’ll get into all that in the next post.


If you’re into Wait But Why, sign up for the Wait But Why email list and we’ll send you the new posts right when they come out. Better than having to check the site!

If you’re interested in supporting Wait But Why, here’s our Patreon.

Next up in this series:

Part 3: How (and Why) SpaceX Will Colonize Mars

Other posts in the series:

Part 1: Elon Musk: The World’s Raddest Man
Part 4: The Cook and the Chef: Musk’s Secret Sauce

Extra Post #1: The Deal With Solar City
Extra Post #2: The Deal With the Hyperloop
Extra Post #3: SpaceX’s Big Fucking Rocket — The Full Story

And a new one, written in 2017, about a whole new Elon company: Neuralink and the Brain’s Magical Future


Buy the PDF

Some other Musk-y Wait But Why posts:

The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence

The Fermi Paradox

Putting Time in Perspective

And the least Musk-y post ever:

Why Procrastinators Procrastinate


IPCC: Special Report: Emissions Scenarios
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory – Flowcharts Archive
McKinsey & Company: Road toward a low-carbon future: Reducing CO2 emissions from passenger vehicles in the global transportation system
EIA: International energy data and analysis
NPC Global Oil & Gas Study: Topic Paper #4: Electric Generation Efficiency
BP: Statistical Review of World Energy 2014
Documentary: Who Killed the Electric Car?
Documentary: Revenge of the Electric Car
Shades of Green: Electric Cars’ Carbon Emissions Around the Globe
Scrips: Graphics Gallery
IEA: Availability of Fossil Fuels
Judy and Curtis Anderson: Electric and Hybrid Cars: A History
Interview: Baidu CEO Robin Li interviews Bill Gates and Elon Musk
BBC: 50 years on: The Keeling Curve legacy
Oxford Martin School: Elon Musk on The Future of Energy and Transport
Andrew Pollack: “General Motors Sues California Over Quota for Electric Car Sales.” The New York Times, 2001
Consumer Reports: Tesla Model S – The electric car that shatters every myth
Alex Taylor, Fortune Magazine: Toyota: the Birth of the Prius
Rolling Stone: Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math
NYTimes: Elon Musk Says Self-Driving Tesla Cars Will Be in the U.S. by Summer
Tesla Blog: The Mission of Tesla
Tesla Blog: The Tesla Approach to Distributing and Servicing Car
Green Car Reports: Despite Quick Charging, Toyota Exec Says Electric Cars Won’t Work For Long Ranges
Richard Muller, NYTimes: The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic
Yahoo Finance: Tesla Motors Launches Revolutionary Supercharger Enabling Convenient Long Distance Driving
EIA: What are the products and uses of petroleum?
EIA: How much carbon dioxide is produced when different fuels are burned?
Bloomberg: Teslas in California Help Bring Dirty Rain to China
TED Talks: Elon Musk: The mind behind Tesla, SpaceX, SolarCity
Khan Academy: Interview With Elon Musk
SXSW: Interview with Elon Musk

  1. I come across much more in my research than I have room to fit in these posts, so I’ll tuck extra tidbits and related thoughts into these blue circle footnotes throughout the post. Click these if you have time.

  2. As for how the sun got its energy in the first place, it’s a very physics-y explanation. The sun is full of particles that have mass. Mass has gravitational potential energy. When so many particles are gathered in one place like they are in the sun, they squish together unpleasantly until they combine with each other, which is called nuclear fusion, and it’s an intense process that releases a ton of energy. So to say it boringly, the gravitational potential energy of the sun’s particles ignites fusion, which generates radiation energy, and that’s the energy we receive from the sun on Earth. I’m regretful that this was the first footnote, because people are likely to click on the first one to see whether footnotes are actually interesting or not and then plan accordingly from there—and this was a kind of dull first footnote.

  3. A calorie is about 4 joules. When you see capital-C “Calories” on the back of a nutrition label, though, it’s a kilocalorie (1,000 calories). So a food Calorie is 4,184 joules.

  4. People would indicate the power of a particular steam engine by how many horses it could replace—the origin of the term “horsepower.”

  5. When you see power lines on the street, all they’re doing is delivering the joules of a far-away fire to people’s homes. Kind of an obvious point, but I never quite thought of it that way.

  6. As far as reserves of traditional oil, the Middle East is king. I found this map (from this source) interesting, because it shows how little of the land you actually need to be over oil fields in order to be an oil-rich country.

  7. Interesting that we all think plants grow up from the ground, when in fact the stuff of the plant—carbon—actually comes from the air.

  8. To keep things simple, I left water out of all of this, but water is absorbed into the tree as a key part of photosynthesis, and during combustion, water vapor is one of the emitted products. Wood and fossil fuels aren’t just carbon, they’re hydrocarbon, and the hydrogen comes from water absorbed by the plant’s roots.

  9. By drilling deep down in the Antarctic ice and extracting a column, scientists can analyze the trapped air inside—the farther down in the column, the farther back in time the bubbles were trapped. Using this technique, scientists are able to determine A) the CO2 levels in the atmosphere at each time, and B) the air temperature levels at each time.

  10. The oscillation is due to the fact that we’re in the midst of a 5 million year long ice age with roughly 100,000 year long cycles. Between each 100,000 year ice cycle is a roughly 10,000 year “interglacial” period, during which there’s still ice on the poles but temperatures are moderate. We’re in one of those little interglacial periods right now.

  11. On hour three of the “how a car engine works” rabbit hole, I finally had to acknowledge that I was going to die at some point in the future and stopped myself.

  12. This is a whole, long, complicated story. General Motors actually had made a great electric car in the 90s that customers loved, called the EV1. But GM realized that if the car caught on too much, the California mandate would look like a huge success and other states might decide to do it too. Meanwhile, customers might also decide they all wanted electric cars. None of this would be ideal, considering that GM makes 10 million new cars a year, 99.9% of them run on gas, and it would suck if GM’s entire inventory was suddenly seen as outdated. So GM and the other companies did their best not to sell their electric cars, to show how little the world wanted them and how big a failure the California mandate was. After using all the muscle they had to shut down the mandate (with the help of the Bush administration, whose Chief of Staff, Andy Card, was CEO of the American Automobile Manufacturers Association previously), car companies whisked the new electric vehicles they had made off the roads. GM, who had only leased the EV1 to customers, demanded each one returned, against the pleading wishes of their lessees, and then had all of them crushed like the mafia offing a bad apple they wanted to make disappear. EV1 lovers staged a funeral for the cars. Not many instances in history when a company has torn a product away from paying customers who cared so much about it they’d read eulogies about it. The well-made documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?, made in 2006, tells the whole story (the sequel, Revenge of the Electric Car, made in 2011, tells the story of Tesla and the recent resurgence of the electric vehicle market).

  13. Musk reportedly did not get laid that night.

  14. Alternating current is the type of current that comes out of your home outlets and it generates power by electrons moving back and forth in a quick vibration in the wire. This is opposed to DC, or direct current, which is the more intuitive type, used with batteries, where electrons flow through a wire in a single direction (since electric cars use batteries, the battery produces direct current, which then has to be converted into alternating current through a box in the car called an inverter). Back in the 1880s, Thomas Edison, who was heavily invested in DC, engaged in a battle with George Westinghouse, who had teamed up with Nikola Tesla to push AC, over the best way to power homes. This was called The War of Currents. Tesla’s AC won because it could travel over much larger distances without overheating—Edison’s way would have needed lots of small power stations so that each home was relatively close to one of them, while AC could be produced in a huge power plant and then travel far away through a grid.

  15. Faraday, who discovered induction, was their second choice.

  16. I cued up this video to where you can hear Musk call hydrogen cars “bullshit” and then go on a little rant about them.

  17. Among many reasons hydrogen cars seem inferior to EVs, here are four:

    1) Hydrogen cars seem beholden to natural gas, a fossil fuel, in order to extract the hydrogen fuel, while electric cars get cleaner over time as electricity production gets cleaner.

    2) When it comes to energy density, driving range, and cost, the best case scenario for hydrogen cells is similar to where EV batteries are now, and EV batteries will get better with time.

    3) Hydrogen is a somewhat dangerous and difficult-to-handle substance that’s a nightmare compared to the simple wall-outlet electricity EVs use.

    4) Down the road, when the norm is to charge the car up in your garage, it’s going to seem primitive to have to go to a station to fuel up.

    In an email exchange I had with Musk about hydrogen cars, he explained it like this:

    If you take electricity coming from a solar panel and charge a battery, you can get ~90% efficiency. Simple and cheap. Instead, if you use that electricity to split water, separate the hydrogen with extreme purity, pressurize it to crazy levels (or, even worse, liquefy), transfer it to a giant (even in liquid form) hydrogen storage tank in the car and then recombine it with oxygen to generate electricity, you would be lucky to get ~20% efficiency. Expensive, complex, bulky and super inefficient. It loses on every dimension, including refuel time when pack swap is factored in.

    Cost is bad for fuel cells, but that is only one of many bad dimensions. If fuel cells were in any way better than lithium batteries, they would at least be used in satellites, some of which cost over $500 million. They are not.

    Finally, if I wasn’t already convinced, this highly-detailed, fairly devastating takedown of the argument hydrogen cars left me feeling eternally puzzled about why the Japanese companies would want to go further down that road.

  18. When you click a footnote next to “kWh,” you’re signing up to learn what a kWh is. Here we go:

    A watt isn’t a unit of energy, it’s a rate of energy usage—which is a unit of power. The unit of energy is the joule (which itself is the energy required to move one newton one meter). 1 watt = 1 joule/second. 1 kilowatt is 1,000 joules/second. A megawatt is 1 million joules/second, and a gigawatt is 1 billion joules/second. They’re units of power.

    But a watt-hour, like a joule, is a unit of energy. It’s the amount of energy needed to run something at a rate of one watt for one hour. When we talk about car batteries, we don’t use joules because the numbers would be too big and inconvenient. Instead, we use kWh. 1 kWh = 1,000 joules/second over an entire hour = 3,600,000 joules.

  19. At the time, they didn’t own the rights to the name yet—some guy in Sacramento did.

  20. They were both so sad about this that they still aren’t on speaking terms today.

  21. Musk’s thoughts on the role of CEO: “The CEO receives the distillation of all the worst problems in the company, only spending time on the things that are going wrong, and you get all the stuff other people can’t take care of, so you have a filter for the crappiest problems in the company.”

  22. I’m sick of writing von Holzhausen with the little v and the upsetting spelling and I wish he had a different name.

  23. In the almost-an-EV world of plug-in hybrids, the Chevy Volt ($35,000, 38 mile range before gas kicks in) and the Toyota Prius Plug-In ($31,000, 11 mi range before gas) are the clear leaders.

  24. No one in the world sounds less fun to hang out with than a group of concerned scientists.

  25. This Nissan commercial does a good job of hammering home the message.

  26. You can watch Musk explain everything about the Powerwall here.

  27. Musk has a bet going with someone that that will happen by 2027.

  1. Gray square footnotes are as boring as you’d think a gray square footnote would be. Just sources—only bother with these if you want to see the source of a quote or fact or find out where you can read more about the topic.

  2. GIF source:

  3. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

  4. EIA: How much carbon dioxide is produced when different fuels are burned?

  5. EIA: Coal Stats

  6. EIA: Petroleum Stats

  7. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

  8. Image: Wikimedia Commons

  9. Image: Wikimedia Commons

  10. Image: Wikimedia Commons

  11. Image:

  12. Image: UPI

  13. Image: Knoema

  14. Image: Ecotricity

  15. Image: Wikimedia Commons

  16. Image: USF Ricci


  18. Image: Wikimedia Commons

  19. Image: Wikimedia Commons

  20. Image: Wikimedia Commons

  21. Image: Wikimedia Commons

  22. Image: Wikimedia Commons

  23. Image: Wikimedia Commons

  24. Image: Wikimedia Commons

  25. “Electric Vehicles Attract Attention”. New York Times. Nov 12, 1911.

  26. Image: Bold Ride


  28. GIF: It’s Okay to be Smart

  29. GIF: Ajit Vadakayil.

  30. Motor GIFs from TD Flash Zone.

  31. Image: HD Car Wallpaper

  32. Image: Car and Driver

  33. Ashlee Vance: Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, 307.

  34. Image:

  35. Image:

  36. Ashlee Vance, Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, 353.

  37. Image: International Business Times

  38. Image:

  39. Who Killed the Electric Car?

  40. Fox News, The Five, 1/27/12, via Nexis

  41. Image: Union of Concerned Scientists, The Natural Gas Gamble, 2015.

  42. Image: Union of Concerned Scientists, State of Charge, 2012.

  43. Image: Union of Concerned Scientists, State of Charge, 2012.

  • Brian

    Thank you for finally posting this. Obviously I haven’t read it yet but scanning through, I can see with the volume of information and the complexity how this could be a procrastination-worthy, deadline-challenged kind of project. I’m glad someone is willing to tackle it.

    • Jason

      I’m buying another WBW t-shirt after this one. Some of the posts on this site are just too valuable to be given away for free. There is no other writer out there that can break down such a complex subject and present it in a way normal people can appreciate. If WIRED or Popular Science were smart, they’d pick Tim up in a heartbeat and let him do his thing for their readers. (Maybe they’ve already offered, I dunno…)

      • Jerry Bradbury

        Carl Sagan has passed. Neil deGrass Tyson is doing a good job but needs help. I nominate Tim to step up.

  • Macbot

    Oh my god! It’s here! I spent my night and morning refreshing this page. I havent been this excited/impatient since 2008.

    • disqus_dor1YsFNCG

      Same here. ‘New post late tonight’, I kept refreshing until I realize that tim’s night is around 12 hours behind me.

  • Jim


  • Matthias

    A quick copy/paste into Word showed me this article is ~25,000 words and 77 pages (including images, not including all the notes), definitly book worthy 😀 Thanks for all the content, it’ll take a while 😛

  • simplewords

    I was going to complain that you took too long to post it… But now I will only complain that it’s too long.

    Holy shit dude… They better unlock some achievement for having me read this. Oh well, here we go… Goodbye productivity.

  • Alexander Mytelka

    I’ve never been this excited for a piece of literature.

    • Andaco

      I was more exited about AI: Part 2, and in the this series I’m more exited about Musk:SpaceX. But really, the most exited I’ve been for a piece of literature is for The Winds Of Winter, after finishing A Dance With Dragons I was so exited for about 2 months where I couldn’t think of anything else, I already forgot. But yeah, Tim is great at doing cliffhangers for non-fiction. Last post’s finale is an example: add a driving question to a series, ‘What’s Musk secret souce?’, and to keep you interested the best of this article was how he started foreshadowing this with terms like Raging Ambition and explaining how Musk turned his ideas into matter.

  • fliptherain

    YAY! I’ve been anxiously waiting for this post. Now time to read. Hope you are relaxing Tim and letting that brain of yours take a break <3

  • RMS

    25,000 words, TL;DR not. Excellent article read the whole thing.

  • Tikhung

    That was a good read…

  • I was wondering why there was so few comments, then I realized that everyone is still reading this. This is incredible Tim. Thank you for the hope.
    I found this made more excited for the future than the AI post. You answered all my doubts, and I had a lot about electric cars.
    Great read.

  • In your debt

    Thank you, Tim, for everything you do to inform your readers. You have convinced me to start saving my money to purchase a Tesla. I care about the future and my current car is a hopeless gas guzzler.

  • Brendan

    You have done it once again. Spectacular post, worth every last minute of that read.

  • Holly Ferguson

    I would add, “Why is my laptop on?” to the list of related posts. Super fantastic, I have a feeling I’ve bought my last gas powered car,

  • Pedro

    Hands up if Tim should make this and next long posts also available on .epub/.pdf/.mobi format. I dont know how much work does that take, hope not too much. And I love you Tim, thanks for the reading (Im still at it).

  • Stephen Wilson

    Just busy reflecting on everything I have just read. Must say having been an avid Elon fan for the last 5 years (I am a South African and he’s a huge hero ) and having read everything I could find on the man and Tesla Motors. Somehow Tim has done once again what only Tim seems to be able to do, which is turn a big complex thing into something I feel like I completely get now. So brilliant! Now get to work on Space Ex , that one is going to be way scarier methinks;)

  • tractarian

    This is great, of course, but why all the false-equivalence BS?

    “I think both parties have good points, both also have a bunch of dumb people saying dumb things, and I want nothing to do with it.”

    And yet the facts you set forth in this piece – those meticulously researched and scientifically provable facts – are consistently denied by politicians who belong to only one party. Those in that party who do not deny the facts, deny the need to do anything about it. Meanwhile, the other party acknowledges the facts and has tried (unsuccessfully) to make laws addressing the problem.

    And this – “Let’s ignore all the politicians and professors and CEOs and filmmakers and look at three facts” – sounds like pure anti-intellectualism. Sorry to say, but certain politicians, professors, CEOs and filmmakers have been saying exactly what you say in this post, and they’ve been saying it for decades.

    • Anthony Churko

      Maybe because Tim wants to actually influence people, and if he were to insult Republicans in the opening few paragraphs, he would’ve lost a large portion of his audience.

      That’s the disappointing part about changing the world: Sometimes, you have to convince your enemies that your brilliant idea was actually theirs. That’s why both Democrats and Republicans claim Abraham Lincoln as their own.

      • tractarian

        There’s no need to “insult Republicans in the opening few paragraphs.” There’s no need to mention political parties at all, in fact. What I object to is the insinuation that both parties are equally anti-science and equally delinquent on climate change. It’s just not true. And people shouldn’t be misled about this.

        • Anthony Churko

          How would you feel if the Republicans won the next election, but then changed their mind on climate-change to be more aligned with Democrats?

        • thes

          You seem to be reading the line: “I think both parties have good points, both also have a bunch of dumb people saying dumb things, and I want nothing to do with it.” differently than I did. If I understand your criticism correctly, you think that sentence was intended to either cover climate science specifically (ie that both parties have good points relating to climate change and that both parties have dumb people saying dumb things about climate change), or perhaps even apply to each and every issue that the parties stake out polarized positions on.

          I took his line as meaning he thinks both parties have good points in their aggregated platforms (but not necessarily on each and every issue), and a bunch of dumb people saying dumb things (but not necessarily in equal amounts on each and every issue). Reading it my way, Tim could (for example) generally agree with the R position that many industries are overregulated, be skeptical of the government’s ability to deliver goods/services efficiently, but also believe that certain regulations (eg environmental) are necessary and that climate change is a real concern.

          • tractarian

            Tim was being purposefully ambiguous. He wants to de-politicize the issue. A general, vague “pox on both your houses” is the simplest way to do that.

            On the other hand, maybe you saying that, as a person concerned about climate change – and convinced of the need for society to take action to stop and reverse its trends – it doesn’t matter which party I support?

            If so, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

            • thes

              I do not see how you could read what I wrote and actually think what I meant was “as a person concerned about climate change – and convinced of the need for society to take action to stop and reverse its trends – it doesn’t matter which party I support?” This is what I get for reading the comments I suppose…

        • Miguel Bartelsman

          I don’t remember him saying that, he only stated that he didn’t want to do anything with politics and stated why, his argument being that politics often drag idiots with them.

    • jeffhre

      Not entirely true. For example, solar is often supported by the Tea party, liberals and conservatives. In fact, in Georgia the Tea Party made such a political row about poor solar policies, that the state made an about face.

      The tax credit for EVs was written by a Republican senator from Tennessee, approved by a Republican congress and signed into law by George W. Bush.

      Well, with that stated, as for the current Republican leadership, you’re on your own figuring that out!

  • tech01xpert

    Terrific post.

    I want to also note that the electricity production mix given are annual averages. Most EVs charge at night and some have Time of Use (ToU) rates that encourage charging at super-off peak times. At those times, the energy production mix is very different. The base load power generation from nuclear, wind, and hydro tend to dominate at those hours. Coal plants are often at idle levels. Natural gas peaker plants are offline. Wind tends to be stronger at night. Matter of fact, if a coal plant is already at the lowest production level it can be at overnight, using power from it does not add any additional pollution or carbon production until the amount of power used from it rises to a point where the production level needs to increase. As a result, the overnight super-off peak production has a far lower carbon and pollution level than the annual averages suggest.

    • Do you have a cite on the “wind is stronger at night” assertion? That seems counter-intuitive to me, since wind is mostly driven by convection, which requires Big Bright Ball In Sky.

      I’m also having trouble with your “coal plants at low levels aren’t as polluting as at max level” statement. First, baseload power keeps on chugging through the night–that’s why it’s baseload power. Second, the only way to throttle a coal plant is to burn less coal, and burning less means less heat to the boilers. I’m trying to figure out if that means lower-temperature steam or not, but it definitely doesn’t mean higher-temperature steam, which is the only way to improve actual efficiency. CO2/kWh definitely isn’t going to be lower, and may actually be higher.

      I have a comment further down-thread on this, but there are two problems with the whole “charge EVs at night” idea:

      1) “Charge EVs at night”, when applied to fallible humans who really want to make sure they can go to work the next morning, means “come home at about 18:00 and plug your car in before you walk through the door”. That generates a huge peak that overlaps with the late-afternoon peak.

      I don’t own an EV, but if I were Tesla or GM, I’d have a programmable charging schedule built into the charger. However, since ordinary fallible humans hardly ever RTFM, most chargers will charge as quickly as possible as soon as they’re plugged in. And even for those who do RTFM, if I were them I’d be inclined to get 20 miles into the car as quickly as possible for emergencies. Same problem.

      2) The reason that baseload power is baseload is not because it isn’t used at night–it’s because it is used at night. It provides the minimum power that’s used round-the-clock. If you start generating significant loads off-peak, you wind up needing at least intermediate power if not peakers in the off-peak, and they’re expensive and inefficient.

      Now, if you have a 10 kWh Powerwall and a 60 kWh Model S, it doesn’t take much math skill to notice that your rooftop solar doesn’t shift the peaking charging hours very far–certainly not enough to avoid melting the grid at 20:00 or 21:00 instead of 18:00. On the other hand, if you have rooftop solar and a 100 kWh Powerwall, that’s another story.

      With EVs, getting from here to there is going to be challenging. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it–we should–but I don’t see how you get there without at least a smart grid.

      • tech01xpert

        There are a number of publications that discuss stronger wind power at night, for example:

        As for coal, for many power generation plants, there is a minimum level that they can idle at, since they do not respond quickly to power fluctuation. Therefore, they typically can only idle down to 40%. Nuclear plants are 100% all the time that they are “on” and therefore at super off peak times, the energy mix is in many states is mostly nuclear, wind, hydro and some coal generation that is at minimum idle levels. Until the amount of EV charging + “normal” super off peak usage is enough to cause an up throttling of either natural gas or coal, then the amount of greenhouse gas emissions or pollution is effectively zero. The emissions from those coal plants at minimum idle levels would be emitted regardless of whether or not the EVs use that power. The ability to use that power at super-off-peak times is actually a problem within itself that EVs nicely solve.

        As for time charging, that’s precisely what many EV’s can do. A Tesla, for instance, can remember the time to charge at individual charging stations based on geolocation. Many other EVs have the ability to set the time to charge and some EVSE’s also have the ability to set a timer. In many areas, there are EV specific Time of Use (ToU) rates that encourage the behavior of charging at super-off-peak times. Those rates can be as low as 4 to 6 cents per kWh, which means driving at around 2 cents per mile for energy.

        The grid is getting smarter all the time and EVs is actually part of helping solve the overall power generation equation. By soaking up super-off-peak power production, it makes more sense to build clean base load power from any number of technologies. Also, it would make sense at some point to have EVSE’s that check in with the grid to randomize charging and control levels within the owner’s parameters. Most people only need to charge for an hour or two at night most of the time due to the low average daily mileage (35 miles is about 12 kWh, achievable in 1.2 hours at 10kW, or under 2 hours at 7 kW) . Further, it is also possible to charge EVs from solar during the day if nighttime charging does not work out for a particular EV or location.

        • Thanks for the reply. I understand what you’re saying about coal now–makes sense, as long as they need to take some baseload capacity offline during super-off-peak. The “wind stronger at night” thing has me puzzling over the physics, but the data you cited (and others) seems pretty definitive. Huh.

          It occurs to me that we’re looking at two different technology trends that are somewhat antagonistic to one another:

          1) The renewables folks are agitating for a very smart grid comprised mostly of peaking plants to supplement gaps in the renewables, with almost no baseload.

          2) But an equally smart grid with lots of battery sinks to flatten the peaks could be run with more baseload and almost no peaking.

          Seems like either way, rooftop solar with batteries is a killer residential technology, while utility-scale solar is considerably more iffy. If nuclear could get its political act together, it would be a no-brainer for the baseload plus batteries strategy, but given that the public hates it so much, it’s going to take a pretty big breakthrough pretty soon to make the baseload strategy work.

          That’s a shame, because the big problem with a renewable-dominated mix is that it grows capacity very slowly. Even once you’ve eliminated most of the carbon-based sources, that still tends to depress demand growth for power, which could kill some pretty interesting technologies in their infancy. As I mentioned somewhere else, the near-term one would be high-scale desalination, but I’m sure others will crop up.

  • Ravion

    Awesome :3 looking forward to SpaceX post

  • Mike

    I have some criticism, but first I’ll say that I’ve read 3.25 posts now from Tim, and all of them have been incredibly insightful and entertaining. I’ve only read Part 1 of this post up to now.

    Do liberals need convincing about climate change? Then why do you approach this topic from a perspective that appeals to leftist psychology?

    Here are some basic things that liberals/socialists believe on a basic level:
    1. Humans are crappy
    2. Humans need to follow the current social authority, which always knows better
    3. Private property is theft

    Here are some things that conservatives believe, which you could have used instead:
    1. Humans, sometimes, even with our good intentions and our wonderful wisdom, make mistakes
    2. It’s important to be responsible and take care of our things
    3. Humans aren’t always good at taking care of things, even when they think they are

    You used all the wrong analogies. Liberals are the in-group haters, the ones who hate things that remind them of themselves; conservatives are the over-zealous in-group altruists. You mixed it up. Here’s how:

    “And what does a dog do who finds a cave of pulled pork? Does he pause to think cautiously about how to proceed or consider consequences for his health? No—he eats the shit out of it. Mindlessly, at full speed.”

    What an appealing analogy. Humans are so mindless—like dogs. I hate them.

    “The UN-supported Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of 1,300 independent scientific experts from a bunch of different countries, came out with a report that laid out the temperature projections of a number of independent labs.”

    Is the UN the ultimate authority for good in the world? Why should we care? How can we trust them? Is the IPCC (faceless authoritative figure in our society) trustworthy? Is this another example of the ‘climagegate’ scandal?

    “But let’s not ostracize the skeptics. We can massage it into a statement that leaves plenty of room for doubt”

    Ah, those silly skeptics. Skepticism is so bad (unless it’s trendy).Let’s be condescending to them. Don’t you stupid conservatives understand that the scientists are the authority here?

    Here are the words of Elon Musk (which I agree with):

    Alison van Diggelen: “Do you have a message for the climate change skeptics and the big oil people?”

    Elon Musk: “Well, as far as climate change skeptics…I believe in the scientific method and one should have a healthy skepticism of things in general…if you pursue things from a scientific standpoint, you always look at things probabilistically and not definitively…so a lot of times if someone is a skeptic in the science community, what they’re saying is that they’re they’re not sure that it’s 100% certain that this is the case. But that’s not the point. The point is, to look at it from the other side. To say: What’s the percentage chance that this could be catastrophic for some meaningful percentage of earth’s population? Is it greater than 1%? Is it even 1%? If it is even 1%, why are we running this experiment?”

    See what I did there? Elon Musk is kinda the authority figure in this context, isn’t he?

    I don’t know, maybe the purpose of this post was to achieve as little influence as possible.

    You don’t have to cite politicians to be political… Politics is just a bunch of ideas based on a set of beliefs about the fundamental role of the in-group with respect to the out-group/universe.

    I don’t know, maybe I’m just being picky. It looks like a well-thought out post otherwise.

    • Mike

      I totally underestimated the time it would take to read the whole post carefully, but here are some of my thoughts.

      “The moment the person leading a company thinks numbers have value in themselves, the company’s done. The moment the CFO becomes CEO—it’s done. Game over.”

      Awesome quote.

      the “cul-de-sac” effect. I wonder if anybody else said this out loud over and over again.

      “People who love to shift the manual stick around with all their muscle because they’re a cool cat on the open road to destiny can’t do that.”

      LOL. But there is that person in all of us.

      “In reality, if a more advanced future does happen, it’s because that future was willed into our lives by a few brave people.”

      Awesome quote.

      One concern I have is about gas prices: Throughout the article, it’s assumed that gas prices will remain constant as an entire industry is sweepingly replaced. As demand for gas lowers, the price for gas will also lower. When few people buy gasoline, are they just going to lock up all the oil and roll over and die? Basically I’m wondering about the fundamental cost of producing a barrel of oil (20 years from now), because that’s the price that EV’s have to beat.

      But actually, if eV’s achieve even 30% market penetration, public opinion may shift so much that a carbon tax will basically stifle what’s left of the gasoline era in the countries that have that many electric cars.

      We’ll see. If climate change really is an impending doom for all of us, what else is there to do?

      Whatever the case, I really want a Model S.

      • P

        Electric charging stations powered by solar energy. You can’t beat that. Even if oil starts raining down from the sky already refined, it will be cheaper to go electric.

      • jeffhre

        “The stone age didn’t end due to a lack of stones.”

        Sheikh Zaki Yamani, a Saudi Arabian oil minister from 1962-1986.

    • Julian Cox

      Mike, your point seems insightful – then it occurred to me that the fossil fuel industry used to put tetraethyl lead in gasoline on behalf of auto makers wishing to avoid the hassle of designing an engine to run properly without it. Like who the fuck short of a half-crazed sociopath knowingly sets out to sell an unambiguously poisonous, cumulatively neurotoxic heavy metal aerosol right up until the year 2000 when finally banned? Turns out to be the same guys that tell us 403ppm CO2 is no problem. Some things are legitimately political, whether or not to put kids at risk to perpetuate the profits of an outmoded industry practice instead of reinvesting decisively in energy and transportation options that don’t isn’t one of them.

      Two issues I do have with this article – and by extension issues I have with Musk’s line of reasoning is that the issues faced by the fossil fuel industry are identical to the issues faced by big auto. Both have heavy investment of capital and IP in what they do (and would rather carry on milking it than suffer the expense and upheaval of change), both could technically diversify and reinvest in renewable energy production and EVs respectively. On balance I think they are both fucked because – like the immensely wealthy steam railroad barons before them who were financially best placed to dominate automobile production to just carry on serving their passengers transportation needs but failed to adapt, these are organisations cultured around the purpose of trying to profit from a particular technology. It’s not just the executives and board members, thousands of highly trained staff – from oil rig and refinery workers to engine and transmission specialists for example have no qualifications of relevance to work in a solar panel or EV company. I suspect the investment markets and customer markets will simply move on leaving more assets like NUMMI stranded and up for grabs. While that is the truth of it IMO, I am equally confident that the best way to play it is what Musk usually does – which is to play nice – open source patents and beg so-called competitors to compete including in Norway to an oil industry convention – and not what he did the other day on CNBC which is to acknowledge the fact that fossil fuels are in a life or death struggle.

      The other thing is about Carbon Tax. Logically you cannot have an effective zero sum carbon tax that is not an economic burden regardless – it would just create general inflation. What you can do is defer capital gains taxation on a one way street of getting out of fossil fuel investments (not government interference but government getting out of the way) thereby reducing the friction of moving vast sums of trapped wealth back into the global economy for the rapid growth of a replacement energy infrastructure thereby creating a historic boom of global economic activity – and with it put an end to the rationale for vested entrenchment that gives rise to genocidal climate change denial.

    • thes

      “Do liberals need convincing about climate change? Then why do you approach this topic from a perspective that appeals to leftist psychology?” (then tying into) “I don’t know, maybe the purpose of this post was to achieve as little influence as possible.”

      This is an interesting question. The answer to the first question (do liberals need convincing) of course is no, but this is all heading towards a larger question — what is the better strategy?
      1) Convincing conservatives that climate science is accurate, and therefore they should consider an EV.
      2) Convincing liberals that since climate science is accurate, they should consider an EV.

      I don’t think the first is likely to succeed. Cognitive biases are real – it’s hard to change people’s minds once they’re made up, and it’s doubly hard to do that on a topic that has become a Red vs Blue political issue. With polarization being what it is, the best mileage (heh) in terms of promoting something like EVs seems like getting people who are already on board with climate science to take the leap and buy one. Including some paragraphs about climate change being real probably does more good for the small group of apolitical rationalists than it does for convincing partisans on an issue where the battle lines have already been drawn.

      If I wanted to convince conservatives to buy a Tesla, I’d skip the environmental arguments entirely and just focus on the brand’s areas of superior performance over standard cars and the cost savings over the expected life of the vehicle. Talking about climate/environmental impact just signals Blue Team politics and might drive Red Team members away. A study found this effect actually occurring with CFL bulb advertising strategies. But if you’re going to write an article about Elon Musk trying to secure humanity’s future through Tesla and SpaceX, you can’t avoid climate change and oil depletion, at best you can avoid making ludicrous statements about their timelines (which I think this article successfully avoids), so ¯_(ツ)_/¯

    • jeffhre

      Politics is perception.

  • AnnaQS

    There is only one way to believe your own statements: reduce things down to their essential truth and move from there with a series of logical steps, where each step is true and each one is derived right from the previous. This way there is no point where someone can say – hey, but this part is crazy/ not true/ stupid.

    Only an argument constructed like that can be true, right? I completely cannot understand people who are willing to mess with this method just to get “better results”.

    Anyway, Tim – and Elon – amazing work. I think this quality of getting right to the core and truth is the defining feature of both of you. Also, I think that people who DO NOT think like that should be considered crazy (in how many interviews was Elon asked whether or not he is crazy for investing in businesses driven by incentive other than money?). This is what hardcore normality should be, everyone should have this ability, TO THINK RATIONALLY FOR THEMSELVES.

    I also agree with the previous posts – amazing handbook for understanding the world, Tim. Thank you!

  • AnnaQS

    Maybe one day Tim you could handle the question – why do people consider working for the future (even if distant) of humanity “crazy” and “irrational”, while working for money and benefits that essentially do a lot of harm to the environment, the world, other humans – “normal”, “intelligent”, “good choice”. We all see this, we all participate. How do you get ALL humans rewired to make irrational decisions based on short term benefit rather than long term benefit for humanity?

    • Jay Schauer

      Because evolution wired us for the short term benefit. When you’re only living to 20, maybe 30 years, you’re most concerned about the short term benefit to increase your likelyhood of surviving right now.

  • “Greatest joule theft in history” — sir, for that pun, I salute you! 😀

  • Tim, I applaud you. I won’t bore you with a ridiculously long string of complements as per the quality of your work, but please know that you make a real difference with what you do.

    You call Elon “The World’s Raddest Man,” and I am inclined to agree – but your ability to take incredibly complex, interconnected, and yet vitally-important topics, distill them into their essence, and construct logical arguments which are approachable to the layman is virtually unparalleled.

    In case you read this, here is why your post matters even more than you may think (though I am not, nor do I claim to be, psychic):

    Many people aspire to change the world, a some aim to make a grand difference, and a few hold secret Musk-esk ambitions. The mental obstacles here to this last goal, as I see them, are at least two-fold: First, it is too easy to see progress as inexorable – as the inevitable result of the passage of time. This can create a perception that there is little room left for would-be innovators. Second, the activation energy required to make a difference – to reach a level of success that actually enters the world stage – may seem unrealistically unsurmountable.

    You, however, make a clear compelling case that it is in fact possible to “spread the brainwaves of a single person throughout an industry.” And it is belief in exactly this possibility – the knowledge that success is within the envelope of possible outcomes – that leads one to act on raging ambition.

    And “raging ambition,” as you put it, is the ingredient that launches the world forward. This brings us back to you. Your post here (which is the best post yet, of a long string of great posts) inspires raging ambition in its clarity of focus, and your reach is wide enough, that I expect it quite likely that you, yourself, are changing the world in a not-insignificant way.

    • Jerry Bradbury

      What he said. Don’t be swayed by the OCD detractors. You take the long view, like Musk. Kudos.

  • jamaicanworm

    Basic science question on the part that goes, “sun rays come in, bounce off the Earth, and they’re on their way out when the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere block some of them and spread them through the atmosphere, warming things up.” If the greenhouse gases block some sunlight (and thus heat) from leaving, don’t they block an equal amount of sunlight (and thus heat) from coming in, basically negating the effect?

    • Brian

      You are technically right for light that is purely reflected and unchanged. Visible light isn’t trapped in a greenhouse (or the windows would look tinted from the outside) the same as visible light isn’t trapped on earth by CO2. A lot of the light is not directly reflected, however, but is absorbed and then emitted as infrared. Glass is selective, letting visible light through into the greenhouse but not allowing the transformed infrared light out, so the greenhouse gets hotter. CO2 is the same, in that it doesn’t block the light coming down to earth but it does block the heat from leaving. I think this is too much of a sidetrack for Tim’s post, but I guess he could have put a footnote about it.

    • Radiation from the sun comes comes to earth in in a relatively narrow range of wavelengths (mostly visible light and UV) that happens to be able to permeate glass (this is why you can see through glass). This light hits the earth, and is reflected back in the form of weaker infrared radiation that cannot penetrate the glass. This is why energy and heat are trapped in a greenhouse – and the effect is the same with greenhouse gasses such as CO2.

    • Miguel Bartelsman

      light comes in unblocked because the atmosphere allows it to, then it crashes against the earth and is converted to other forms of energy, mostly infrared and heat, which then bounce back to space, however, while the atmosphere does not block visible light, it does retain infrared and heat.

      • jamaicanworm

        Thanks! What aspects of “crash[ing] against the earth]” changes the composition of the sunlight to infrared and heat?

        • sturle

          The earth absorbs the light and becomes warm. Energy (light) cannot turn to nothing, and must be converted to heat or reflected. Warm objects radiate infrared light, and some of the heat is transfered to the atmosphere as well. Air is transparent to sunlight, and not heated directly by sunlight. Air is heated by the ground, which is heated by the sun.

        • Miguel Bartelsman

          I know it will sound stupidly simple, but color. The color of things changes makes the light that bounces different to the one that enters. And color depends on atomic and molecular composition and the way light interacts with electrons.

          You see, different atoms have different levels of electrons, when light hits an atom its absorbed by an electron which gains energy for a short period, depending on the energy of the original photon, how far the electron jumped and how much of the energy is used while it has the photon captured determines how much energy the photon has when it is ejected from the electron. Photons with higher energy are bluer going into UV and then into harmful radiation, photons with lower energy are redder going into infrared and then into radio waves. (I’m oversimplifying everything but that’s kind of how it works)

          As for the heat, it is one of the ways energy from the photon is used while captured. Black things get hotter when they are left under the sun because they like to keep photons for a long while inside them until they have little energy left and you can’t see them, all the energy they drain from the photons becomes heat.

  • kon

    Excellent article Tim, I am sharing your articles since quite a while now 🙂

    one addition to this post: the car company Renault is building EVs since the late 90s and recently launched a fleet of some zero emission vehicles. esspecialy the Tweezy is getting quite a common site here in Germany

  • harun

    some people like CEOs of GM or oil companies need a high five
    in their face
    with a chair

  • sacocheio

    Economy 101 question: what about the electricity price? Are we prepared for such a massive increase in electricity demand?

    • Mike

      Once all that electricity is being used to charge up cars, it will no longer be needed to run the infrastructure to mine, ship, refine and distribute gasoline……I think it’s been quoted that one could power all the cars on the planet with the same electricity being used to refine gasoline. Cheers. Mike.

      • Joffan

        This is transparent bullshit, Mike. Only massive conspiracy-theory freaks could believe that gasoline has no more energy content than the negligible amount of electricity used in processing it.

        • Mike

          Joffan, did I say that? I’ll clarify. Raw oil has to arrive at your cars fuel tank as refined gasoline. Let’s assume conventional crude. The drill requires electricity. The oil well pump requires electricity. The pipeline requires electricity. The refinery requires alot of electricty. The gas pump at your gas station requires electricity. Sure, a barrel of oil contains a notional 1700 kWh of energy potential, but only about half of the barrel is turned into gasoline….so about 850 KWh worth of energy potential. Since two thirds of that energy potential gets wasted as heat in a typical ICE, only about 300 KWH worth of that barrel of oil turns the wheels of your car…how many KWh were used to pump, refine, ship and dispense the gasoline?
          Long story short, with electric car, no need for electricity to pump, refine, ship and dispense the gasoline. The electricity used in the refining process alone will power the e car. So your straw man argument is moot. No need to use electricty to refine gasoline, use electricity to power the e car. Cheers. Mike.

          • Joffan

            Still bullshit, my friend. The energy content of gasoline is an order of magnitude or two higher than the electricity used to support its production and delivery.

            • tech01xpert


              You are confusing the joules inside the gasoline versus the energy necessary to get that gasoline out from where it is naturally to your gas tank as gasoline.

              The refining process alone is estimated to be 6 kWh of energy per gallon of gasoline. In an electric car, that is about enough to drive 10-15 miles even after transmission and charging/battery losses.

              As for the OP question, solar is putting a cap on the price of electricity. Sure, the price is likely to go up if you are currently using coal as your primary electricity source. However, natural gas prices are very low, nuclear is mostly already paid for, and solar is close to grid parity. By the time we convert enough of the transportation fleet to electric that capacity becomes an issue, we would have had a significant amount of time to change and expand our electricity production and delivery systems.

            • Julian Cox

              Assuming that 6 KWh electricity use per gallon is correct. Model S uses nominally 0.3 KWh/Mile to run – then 6KWh divided by 0.3KWh/mi = 20 miles without the need to process that gallon at all.

              As bizarre and counter intuitive as it first sounds, either that 6KWh figure is wrong or the efficiency of driving electric would make the entire oil extraction and refinery process unnecessary to deliver the same milage (in an altogether better and more powerful car).

              Last thing left to do – make cars cheap enough for many if not most people to access that benefit. That is what Tesla’s overarching goal is all about.

            • jeffhre

              Some of the 6kWh, down to four for newer and more efficient refineries, is from gas and oil stocks.

            • jeffhre

              I saw one study that looked at the prices of electricity in the Mid-West. Basically states that utilized wind power saw prices stabilize. And states that did not, saw prices rise in line with the states historic average yearly power cost increases.

            • jeffhre

              It takes from 4 to 6 kWh of energy to refine, deliver in diesel trucks, and pump electrically into car gas tanks, each gallon of gas. That is a cost of billions of kWh of energy for the US alone. Gasoline has 33.7 kWh of energy. Pulling pretend numbers out of…thin air, does not do anyone any good, LOL!

            • Joffan

              Yeah, pretend numbers are not good. Nor is confusing grid electricity with total refining energy requirements.

            • jeffhre

              I don’t believe you will ever do that though!

        • sturle

          Pumping up the oil from an offshore well, or extracting from tar sands cost about 20% of the energy contained in the oil which is pumped up or extracted. This is IMO far from neglible. One of the reasons is the fact that electricity on offshore fields is produced in low efficiency compact generators using non refined fuels, and they need to do a lot of processing on the fields to separate gas and water from the oil, pump water back down to keep the pressure up, etc. Tar sands must be heated to release the oil. Since this is the most expensive oil to produce, it will be the first to be abandoned when we use less oil.

          Refining use a lot of energy a s well. Not necessarily electricity. The oil must be boiled and fractionally distilled, and then they must remove sulfur, produce additions to adjust the octane level, etc.

          If you spent all the energy used to produce gasoline from well to tank, either directly or to make electricity in a high efficiency generator, you could _probably_ run an electric car far longer than you could drive on the produced gasoline. Exact numbers have proven to be very difficult to obtain, because the oil companies don’t like to share them.

    • Andrew Karmy

      One line of thinking on this is that most Electric Vehicles will be charging over night for 2-6 hours. The electricity rate is reflective of peak power generation costs, but at night most plants run near idle and have capacity to spare. So using night power should be cheaper/not increase total nameplate demand on the generation sources.

    • jeffhre

      Utilities have expanded to meet demand for 132 years. Petroleum has offered in contrast, economy crushing volatility.

      How much demand are we talking about? EVs are 90% efficient and gasoline cars about 23% efficient, wasting about 75% of the energy as heat! *This is reflected in gas vehicle cost per mile of $.07 and EV cost per mile $.03.

      Restating what I wrote above in earlier comments:

      35% of EV drivers deploy solar panels to offset their driving and household electricity needs (Tesla drivers are actually using them at a higher rate, according to studies in California).

      It takes from 4 to 6 kWh of energy to refine, deliver in diesel trucks, and pump electrically into car gas tanks, each gallon of gas. That is a cost of billions of kWh of energy for the US alone.

      Considering these demand, waste and replacement factors – how much new demand will there actually be? And will that demand ultimately be handled radically differently than the demand growth of the previous 132 years?

      *This is reflected in gas vehicle cost per mile of $.07 and EV cost per mile $.03. These are unfortunately wild guesses without the drivers equivalent local costs – though EPA provides levelized energy costs for a Model S at $700 per year vs $2350 for a BMW 535i.

  • Anthony Churko

    That was amazing. But there’s one overlooked caveat in the price-comparison section:

    If demand for EVs skyrockets while demand for gas-powered cars plummets, then the price of electricty will climb and gas prices will drop (which is exactly why the oil industry is so scared). The fuel savings will still probably be better with EVs, but not to such an extent.

    • Mike

      Renewables will make that a moot point. In 15 years, the whole utility model will be turned upside-down. With 5 cent solar (25 year contract price for Abu Dhabi Power and Water Authority) and 3 cent wind (ERCOT) here now, and each successive barrel of oil costing more to extract, renewable energy will always be cheaper than gasoline. Cheers. Mike.

      • Anthony Churko

        But you’re only looking at the supply side of the equation, not the demand. A good example is bottled water. It’s much cheaper to manufacturer than an equivalent amount of oil, but costs more. And I didn’t contest the gas would be more expensive, only that it would be, but to a lesser extent.

    • Miguel Bartelsman

      You need to consider that tesla is not only working on electric cars, but it is also promoting renewable energies for this very reason.

  • Will

    This post makes me PISSED! Not you Tim — you’re fantastic. And of course not you Elon — I love you. But these goddam oil/car/energy companies.

    After reading this post, I got in the elevator and saw a late teen holding a fresh cigarette ready to go. I’ve seen this kid smoking outside my building almost every time I enter and exit. He must smoke in excess of 8 cigarettes a day. From the few times we’ve exchanged hellos, I could tell he’s a sweet kid. But as I was looking at him in the elevator for those few moments going down, I saw standing next to me an innocent victim of a well-known threat that could have been very easily avoided. The tobacco companies KNEW. They FRICKEN KNEW. And yet they hired low-integrity scientists to spread lies throughout the media that threatened the lives of millions, and even the generations that followed! This kids life is being cut short because a few tobacco companies wanted to make more money and deliberately spread lies so deep within the public’s consciousness that society today is still ignorant of the dangers of cigarettes. We all know this. It’s history for god’s sake, but I never really was impacted by it as much as I was after reading this post and seeing the kid in the elevator.

    And now I think, the SAME. EXACT. THING is happening with climate change, and America and humanity at large is falling into the same trap. What?? The same tobacco-danger-denying scientists are being hired as climate change deniers? Many runner ups for the American presidency refuse to accept that climate change is real and/or caused by humans. Its almost too ridiculous to be true, and yet it is. But this time its worse because the people who are going to be affected by this climate change are not only the ignorant who by into the propaganda, not only the educated who are aware of the propaganda yet are too outnumbered politically to prevent it, but also the generations of kids in the future who will suffer the consequences without ever having a say in it.

    But as this post elucidated, there is definitely hope. There is most certainly hope. Mankind has tremendous resources, both material and cognitive, and could easily solve this problem effectively over the course of two decades at most, if it wasn’t for those goddam oil/car/energy companies. If it wasn’t for those goddam oil/car/energy companies, the public would be convinced by the evidence for climate change, as are the majority of scientists. Having heard the evidence uncontaminated by random false claims and having recognized the scientific consensus behind that evidence, they would easily vote for policies and politicians and presidents that would solve these problems within decades. This is not what is happening in large part because of these goddam companies, like what occurred with the tobacco industry. But why should we just sit back and let the leaders of those companies prevail? If this is a propaganda war, then lets fight it. Not just Elon Musk. Not just Tim Urban. But you. You the people. The Wait but Whyers. The educated few. If you didn’t know about these issues until now, well, now you know. Congratulations, you have just joined our army. We’re not fighting with guns. Where not fighting with fists. No, we are fighting with words and we are fighting with knowledge. Heavily armed with the tools that 21st century social media presents, each wait but whyer can spread this knowledge to at least two more, and each of those two more, and so on. In today’s world, one person, if they care enough and if they go about it with creativity and wit, can have an unimaginably large impact.

    So how can you help? Well sharing this post is a start. Having conversations with others about these topics and stimulating their interest is another step. Being proactive in politics and political discussions is another. These little things really do help. I’m going to try emailing some youtube celebrities who happen to have a serious influence on their subscribers, and ask them if they can maybe mention climate change even for a second. Many of them are incredibly unaware of how much power they yield over their viewers, especially the younger celebrities over their younger viewers. One comment about climate change can seed this very important idea in the minds of millions who never gave it a thought.

    Don’t just read this comment and forget about it. If you got this far that means you’re interested. Elon Musk is doing his part. Tim Urban is doing his part. What will you do?

  • Caridorc

    Just… Wow. I read it all in one sitting and I am speechless this is a full shift and oil companies will have to eat razors. You are the best writer I have ever read.

  • stv_helge

    Great post Tim 😀 it was pure gold stumbling over this blog 🙂 only one thing: are you 100% sure about the glass in cigarettes part ?

  • Bryan

    Great article, summed up my loosely organized thoughts on the matter in a much more articulate fashion! You have saved me so much time because I can now just link this to people instead of explaining why my next car will be a model 3.

    Also to the people concerned about rising electricity prices, the solution is solar and Musk is also working on that with Solar City. That’s the real threat to the angry giant, and I’m really surprised Tim didn’t get into more detail on that. Big oil/coal/gas would be happy spinning turbines to power a nation of electric cars, but renewable energy plans to disrupt that as well.

    The ultimate new deal for a green future is solar panels on every roof and an electric car in every garage 🙂

    • Andaco

      I think this Tesla article is building up to the SolarCity one, he kind of hints on that with several related topics by saying things like “We’ll discuss this further later”.

  • Tomáš Pažourek

    I feel you could also say something about General Motors EV1.

    • Andaco

      He does, read Blue Box 12.

  • SJ

    How do you make a lithium-ion battery? Will there be an effect from increased demand for the materials due to doubling the annual global production (extraction/geo-political resource control/etc)?

    • Julian Cox


      As a simple rule of thumb a gasoline vehicle consumes between five and ten times its own weight in gasoline over about 100,000 miles.

      The weight of actual battery cells in a Model S is about 360 Kg or about one fifth of the car’s weight, and of that only about 10Kg is lithium equivalent metal. That car will certainly do 100,000 miles (and much more) using that battery.

      The reduction in the quantities of resource extraction for battery production vs gasoline is at least two orders of magnitude and those materials are not consumables, instead they are recyclable.

      Unlike anything else, an EV is economically compatible with renewable energy supply due to huge real-world source to wheel efficiencies (without large conversion losses to or from chemical energy) and the ability to deploy renewables on the consumer side of the grid where they can compete directly with retail energy price points that disintermediate the massive distribution and retail markups that are applied to centralised production.

      • SJ

        I think what I was (fuzzily) thinking of was more along the lines of the other materials that are also necessary – mostly cobalt, which (I could be out of date on this) I think currently comes largely from the Democratic Republic of Congo, not exactly a stable well-organized safe place to be the host of a valuable extractive resource in increasing demand. ‘Conflict minerals’ can be a thing in the same way conflict diamonds were/are – there could be a pretty big incentive for competing armed groups to control that ground. But maybe there are a lot of other alternative sources that can be targeted?

        • jeffhre

          Tesla gets stated it gets cobalt from the Philippines. Well, at least that long paragraph alerts readers to the problems of cobalt sourced “from the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

    • Miguel Bartelsman

      Well, lithium is more abundant than both tin and can, both widely used materials, so I don’t think there will be much of an issue in using it. Besides, as someone else pointed out, there are other kinds of batteries that use much more abundant elements and are much more efficient being developed right now.

    • Angus McNeice

      Known lithium known land reserves amount to about 14 million tons. Current global production is about 37,000 tons a year. So, if production remains constant, that’s 365 years for those reserves. Obviously, a boom in EVs and lithium ion batteries brings that number down dramatically.

      However — that’s talking about known land reserves. The abundance of lithium on earth is far greater. There is an estimated 230 billion tons dissolved in seawater, and the concentration of lithium in the earth’s crust ranges from 1 to 31 ppm — between 20 and 600 trillion tons. So the problem isn’t necessarily one of abundance, but of economically viable extraction.

      It is also important to note that there are many substitutes for lithium than can be used to make batteries — magnesium, calcium, mercury, zinc to name several.

    • NVU

      This is a very important question that I was hoping Tim would answer in the article.

      It seems unlikely that you can double the world’s production of any manufactured product overnight just by building a new factory. You need raw materials to build batteries. I doubt that Musk would spend $5B (even if a lot of that cost is heavily subsidized) to build a factory without having the upstream supply chain secured, but I’ve read plenty of articles suggesting that rare earth elements are the limiting reagent on the scalability of everything discussed in Tim’s article and everything Tesla’s doing.

      Maybe the answer is that supplies of the raw materials for batteries haven’t been explored as fully as, say, oil, because the demand for them hasn’t been strong enough to date. Once global production of lithium batteries ramps up to the levels necessary to support widespread electrical vehicles, we’ll have a better idea of how resource-restrained the world is in this regard.

    • Jody Sawchuk

      What a great question SJ, I was wondering the same thing.

  • benzene

    Will probably be late to a job interview thanks to this.

    Worth it.

  • Han

    I just discovered WBW a few months ago, and I can honestly say that your articles are some of the most informative and enlightening things I have ever read on the internet. Many of your ideas are things I have always thought about, but never actually put time in to actually research. I thank you and, once I get paid, you bet I’ll be supporting you. Your work deserves much more recognition in society

  • Joffan

    Fun thoughts about energy: almost all energy we use comes from solar fusion energy, either in the recent past (eg. food, wood, solar, wind) or the distant past (coal, oil, gas).

    There are 3 exceptions: two of them are nuclear power and geothermal, which are associated with the heavy elements created in supernova(e) about 6 billion years ago which then mixed into our solar system’s formation nebula, The other exception is tidal power, much misunderstood but which essentially captures the rotational energy of the Earth as it responds to the non-uniform gravitational field it rotates in.

    • Jerry Bradbury

      How about capturing a tiny black hole in a magnetic force field? Cast your nets ye star sailors!

  • RBJ

    Get this published and in book stores ASAP! I would pay money to read this and here I am reading it for free 🙂 thank you Tim.

    • v43

      make a donation =)
      I felt compelled to do my small part, after reading this article. This was old news to me, but I am so glad that this argument is being publicized, and so thoroughly and with such fairness! I’m so thankful for the hope that this article will help changing things!!!

      Tim must have worked really hard on this, and I think he deserves some recognition. =)

  • Andaco

    Wow! Tim, you’re a great writer.

    A) You are the only person I’ve read capable of making foreshadowings and cliffhangers in non-fiction. Last post’s cliffhanger was: What’s Musk’s secret sauce?, a driving question used a lot in mysteries, and how much you know about the topic of Procrastination and how you know Musk personally, I won’t accept an answer other than you. And as a good writer instead of showing off in the reveal the answer to the driving question out of nowhere you start foreshadowing: with terms like Raging Ambition used to describe why technology takes leaps forward and explaining how brain waves inside Musk were transformed into the physical world, not an answer but definitely hints.

    B) I recently watched House Of Cards Season 1 and it’s interesting how energy resources are only used by politicans to achieve their ends, not really caring about the long-term stuff. For example, Claire works for an initiative meant to support clean water, while accepting support from a fracking corporation, a process that poisons water. This Clean Water vs. Fracking theme also happens in Peter Russo’s campaign. And at the end of the season Nuclear Emergy comes into play in the protagonist’s story. I’m not U.S.American so I really don’t know much about U.S. Politics, but, from watching House Of Cards, it seems it doesn’t matter to politicans on a either party, they support anything that helps them gain power, that and with the greed of corporations may be why the U.S. government may not be that helpful on promoting renewables. And I talk about U.S. Politics on this case because the world follows what they do with their reforms, such as my government, Mexico.

  • Peter Buchan

    thank you.

  • jakluesn

    “The grid is sized for the worst second of the worst day of the worst year—so there’s usually a lot of excess capacity.” I know nothing about the electric grid, does any one have information explaining this statement.

    • JaketheSteak

      The grid has maximum power output – ie. if the demand placed on it goes past a certain point, it will no longer be able to give everyone the power they want. But, because that demand varies wildly at different times – a classic example being spikes when people put on the kettle after a football match – most of the time the demand isn’t close to that maximum, and so people could charge their cars without the grid needing to increase its maximum output.

    • Tim

      Think of it this way: Pretty much every person uses electricity during the day: lights, industrial machinery, computers, etc. The electric grid has to be sized to accomodate this. Most people use very little electricity during the night, which is when they would usually charge their electric cars.

    • Andrew Karmy

      Take for instance the Seattle Area provider PSE, they buy power from the Bonneville Power Admin. dams on the Columbia/Snake rivers but they also run peaker plants around the Salish Sea/Puget Sound to meet peak demand. This is because there is often not enough power to be bought from the dams during the hottest days of the year. But at night the dams are still letting water flow but with no one to buy their power as we are all asleep. This is when the electric car would charge thus not requiring any new generation to be built and allowing us to more cost effectively use our assets.

    • Eric O’Reilly

      Basically the grid in any major U.S. city is sized for whatever they believe the maximum load in any given scenario would be. This is measured in a real time basis in most cities or electric coops (for those in rural areas). The grid is designed to not only handle maximum draw and maximum input but also static electricity and lightning and even solar flares. There is a whole science around it.

  • mlhoheisel

    Brilliant work as usual but one little cheat sticks out. Hydrogen Fuel Cells. I know that’s really another massive post by itself. I’m looking forward to it though because in some ways it’s more important. The sort of person who reads your blog is more likely to be deceived and confused by hydrogen fuel cells than other areas of FUD you have cleared up.

    Elon doesn’t call them “Fool Cells” because he thinks there is a controversy and we should teach it. Bob Zubrin who might also figure in the multi planetary story also has some strong points against hydrogen fuel cells.

    Just one more of those foggy areas to work through, but when you do I think it will be a really valuable link for explaining this.

    • Sebastian Mai

      i major in this field (electrochemical energyconversion) next year, i was amazed when i had to compile the whole story about fuel cells – especially those for mobile applications. it is such a stupid idea, for automotive – efficiency wise and economically it simply does not make any sense at all.
      i think musk did the same himself, i can totally relate when he calls them fool-cells.
      they are handy for certain scenarios:

      backup-power (e.g. bloomboxes) as alternative for battery-packs for large-scale consumers like hospitals (much more reliable than diesel generators) or
      space-related stuff where you have excess hydrogen and oxygen anyway and can even drink the water that is being generated while delivering electricity

      otherwise their energy-density and efficiency just doesn’t add up and it even could not when optimized to the theoretical maximum which is sad in itself because they’re a cool technology from a scientific/engineering-standpoint

      • Miguel Bartelsman

        Don’t forget the huge problem of storing hydrogen, being the smallest particle, the fucker has a tendency to leak and permeate pretty much any container you throw it in. And also the fact that when you compare something as volatile as hydrogen to a hunk of metal, you suddenly don’t trust hydrogen cells as much as you’d like.

      • korakys

        Methanol fuel cells seem like a good fit for robots.

        • Sebastian Mai

          on the one side: yes because of the energydensity and low failure rate
          on the oder side: surely everybody wants a autonomous machine that is filled with liquid that can explode more easily than gasoline and can blind or kill you when spilled 🙂

          alternative are Al/Air Batteries, same Energy density, also “refulable”
          they’re already used as energysource for drones by the military

          • Korakys

            Huh, I did not even know metal/air primary cells existed, thanks that prompted me to look them up. I could see them working quite well in that scenario, however I do wonder if they will be more fiddly and expensive than methane fuel cells.

            For reference I was only thinking of industrial/military applications, not home robots (which I find hard to imagine atm) so managing methane refuelling would be more controlled.

  • grin

    There are some problems with lithium mining if I recall correctly. I kind of remember some problem associated with the largest Li miner countries, and about limits of their availability.
    But Li-ion isn’t the only battery technology an EVs will spin up battery R&D even more, so I don’t worry, just missed the Li problem’s honorary mention.

    • Sebastian Mai

      Lithium is very much optimized, there are some things that will happen the next few years in terms of anodic energy-density via Si-C or Si/S-TiO2 Composits of sorts but thats basically the end.

      There are however other technologies in the works like Aluminum-Ion, Li/Al-Hybrid even Titanium-Batteries, all of which could make Li-Ion cells pale in comparison (price and performance which is key) – the future is bright in terms of energystorage 🙂

      • Eric O’Reilly

        The coolest part of the li ion battery is how you can make it into just about any shape you like. It doesn’t have to be round or a cylinder or square or require fluids. The vary ability to store joules in any sized container is just awesome.

  • Dobby

    What if the Energy industry is behind the EV push? Are we supposed to just accept on faith that a few angelic investors stepped down and helped Tesla with a few hundred millions of dollars when the rest of the world was in recession out of the goodness of their hearts and/or their vision for a better future? Not everyone is like Elon Musk who is a true visionary.. Most investors care only about the returns and how much money they can make off of their investment.

    • blueseeker

      Fun fact: Daimler literally saved Tesla from bankruptcy. I guess they are kicking themself in the butt right now.

      • jeffhre

        Since Tesla accounts for far less than 1% of the new car market, Diamler made millions on it’s Tesla stock, and they are still using Tesla to design and supply some of their EV drive trains – I doubt it!

  • driver

    Speaking as a driver, Tesla doesn’t even begin to compare to a similar modern car like a’s all good on paper and maybe for one hour novelty experience but make a 1000km journey in a day and you’d be shocked how bad car Tesla sedan is for it’s price or just bad full stop. Speaking from Europe. Big respect to Mr.Musk as a businessman but the car is a joke. And a very expensive one. TSLA might go to 500 or a 1000 but it won’t be because the car is any good. It’s not even a car, it’s just a lifestyle product. And Mr. Authoe educate yourself better before writing nonsense about internal combustion engine, the progress made in last 20 years is mind blowing

    • Sebastian Mai

      mindblowing and approaching it’s thermodynamic limit – correct

      • jeffhre

        Yes, the production engineering is amazing. To improve on a process Karl Benz and Henry Ford would immediately recognize.

    • Borlock

      Speaking as another driver, have you actually driven a 1000km journey in a day in a Tesla? I have. In fact, I’ve driven 1300km in a day.

      And sure, it took 3 hours longer than it would have with an ICE, but I was much less tired than I ever was with an ICE when I got to the destination because I took proper breaks at proper intervals. I had to.

      Cramming in a single 12 hour driving sessions is not the greatest thing for the human body.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        Cramming in a single 12 hour driving sessions is not the greatest thing for the human body.

        But sometimes it’s something you need to do.

    • blueseeker

      How many times do you make 1000km in a day? Are you a masochist? Take an airplane instead.

      I have a 2000km trip next month / it will take me 24h only on highways to do it (without rest), but I must be insane to take such trips more than once per year.

      Also, I don’t get what you want to say … I still didn’t quite catch why the car is bad. I have a german car, but ICE technology is just crappy. Even little kids know that. Analog technology in a digital era. Move on!

    • sturle

      I can tell one thing for certain: You have never tried to drive 1000 km in a Tesla.

      I own a Tesla, and my hoiday appartment is 1500km away by car. I drive there with my family two or three times a year. It is perfect for long journeys with a family. It is very comfortable and has much more room than even our old station wagon. I have no idea what you think the problem might be with long journeys in a Tesla, since you won’t tell, but I can assure you that this is the best car I ever drove on long journeys in.

      Yes, you need to stop a few times to supercharge. I needed to stop in my old car as well, to eat, get coffee, piss, refuel, etc. The Tesla makes me take better breaks with better food (try going to a gas station after driving electric for a while, and you won’t understand why anyone would buy a sausage in that dirty environment) and sometimes time for the kids to play, which is an improvement. It doesn’t make the journey worse in any way.

  • Laurence

    I think you missed an important aspect: the evolution of technology behind batteries. Your narrative implies that the car industry has not pursued technical advancement because of a non-internalized externality plus barriers to entry in the form of capital costs. Possible, but you would have a hard time explaining R&D expenditures in many other industries. I think you should check the $-per-Kwh price over time as well as the Kg-per-Kwh evolution over time. A 70 Kwh battery like the model S would cost in the 90s 10/15 times more and weight between 2 to 3 times more. That seems a very real barrier to technological advancement.

  • mmKALLL

    I only have four words to you:

    Fucking Amazing. Thank you.

  • Andrew

    I wish Musk could clone himself and his bank account to put as much energy and investment into making nuclear power as safe, clean, cheap and scalable as he is for electric cars. SolarCity can be a small part of the “clean electricity” equation, but true nuclear power breakthroughs would revolutionize zero-carbon electricity (further cleaning up both EV transportation as well).

  • Haggy

    A few minor points:

    Explosion is a type of very rapid combustion. Fire is combustion but not explosion.

    It’s technically a “golf car” but most people get that wrong.

    Many (perhaps most) people don’t have a place to park overnight with access to charging. It works well if you have a garage and adequate house wiring. Even at that, it’s an issue when you get a second EV. Not many homes can support multiple 50A circuits in concurrent use. The first problem will be solved given enough time. The second one could be solved easily if Tesla put out a variation of their HPWC with multiple cables and load balancing that could either lower the amperage per vehicle or charge them in sequence.

    The previous point would be practical because you both understated and overstated charging times. For home use, you stated time based on a mostly depleted battery, while most of the time, it will be a matter of making up for that 37 miles. That will take closer to 3 hours at most on a typical day, making it very practical to charge multiple vehicles overnight.

    The understated part has to do with road trips. It’s realistic to leave San Francisco with a 100% charge, stop at Harris Ranch for lunch, and make it to your destination. That’s fine if you are going to a hotel that has charging capability. If not, then making another brief stop of perhaps 15 minutes, or until your spouse comes out of the convenience store, will give you enough charge for your remaining trip, local driving at your destination, and plenty of power to get to a supercharger on your way back. But at that point you are starting out needing a full charge. If you stop for a meal at that charge, you will still end up needing another big charge on the road, which might mean sitting at the charging station for as much as 40-60 minutes, assuming you didn’t get a complete charge at your stop for a meal. So it will all come down to planning. If you can charge at your destination and not tie up your time doing so, then your scenario is pretty much on target. If you can’t do that or need to start your trip at a time that makes a meal stop work better between charging stations, then you might have another 40 minutes beyond what I already mentioned, or some hungry kids complaining if you bypass a place to eat early on..

    • Tipsy

      It’s technically a “oh fuck off”.

      • Haggy

        Thank you for your eloquent and mature comment.

  • Dan R Sandberg

    Great article — two points I’d like to nitpick:

    1) Opening up the patents isn’t necessarily altruism. It can be great business move if he’s planning on monetizing the super charging network he’s built. He gets other car companies to use his batteries, and power-trains and eventually they use his super-charging infrastructure as well. That would make for a huge future business even if they’re not selling any cars.

    2) The hero-worship (and Musk IS a hero to me) goes too far with the single-man pushing through a new technology against the wishes of entrenched competitors theory. Big steps happen in technology when a bunch of smaller requirements are satisfied by the evolution of technology.

    In the case of electric cars, laptops/tablets/etc got common enough that Li-Ion cell prices dropped sufficiently to make a high-performance electric car feasible. Tesla’s success is built on the back of dozens of years of Li-Ion investment and development. It’s kind of like crediting Wilbur and Orville with the airplane — it was being worked on by lots of people around the world, and if they hadn’t done it someone else would’ve within a few years. Some argue someone else did beat them to it, in fact 🙂

    • Miguel Bartelsman

      Well, supercharger stations are free unless you are in a very big hurry, so I don’t see how that’d be beneficial. On the other hand I do see great potential for tesla as battery manufacturers, being the biggest manufacturer of batteries in the world and changing the industry so that demand for batteries grows just seems like an extremely solid business strategy.

      • Dan R Sandberg

        They’re free for Tesla owners. They won’t be free for owners of cars from other manufacturers.

        • Lightforge

          True, but as the article mentions, this will likely change.

        • Miguel Bartelsman

          oh, didn’t know that, thanks.

          • jeffhre

            From what I have read, Tesla would like any other manufacturers to contribute to the building of the network in kind. So, even though the other manufacturers customers would pay, there would be no pay at the charger per se.

        • Tipsy

          That’s not necessarily true, if Other companies paid tesla for use and didn’t pass that cost on to the consumers they could be free.

          But companies are often money grubbing arseholes.

    • Tipsy

      You did read the bit where Elon musk and some other folk simply made a company out an already existing group which had solved some technological hurdles right?

  • Stephen Pace

    Bravo, an article tour de force doing a better job summarizing Tesla and its long range goals than I have ever seen in one place. I suffer from XKCD syndrome ( ) and spend a lot of time refuting garbage comments on Tesla articles and you my friend have done a masterful job. One minor nitpick: the highest safety rating that NHTSA gives out is 5 stars and they slapped Tesla’s hand when that blog post claiming 5.4 stars appeared. Brave to the Tesla team (because it got lots of press and highlighted just how safe the car is), but it probably doesn’t add anything to your article by repeating it because it gives the haters something to refute. Just go with 5 stars which is good enough for the point you were making. That said, I totally agreed with Tesla’s reasoning there. Certainly the 5 star Tesla Model S is safer than the 5 star Volvo S60 based on the internal VSS scores returned to the manufacturers, but NHTSA doesn’t recognize that other than to provide the numbers as possible areas to improve.

  • Dane Harrington

    Anyone feel like climate change is like the White Walkers in Game of Thrones? Everyone seems to know they’re a problem and that we should probably try to do something about it, but we just have so many other problems going on that really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things, such as who sits on the Iron Throne or the name of Kim and Kanye’s baby, to bother finding a solution. Elon Musk is like Jon Snow, fighting the battle that will inevitable save all of us. Nice to see Elon getting the respect he deserves though, unlike our dear friend Jon…

    Or maybe I’m still just too hype on this week’s episode. Great work Tim!

    • Aaron Garcia

      Great episode the analogy is spot on had me laughing with the Musk/Snow comparison!

      • TheresaJZiegler

        ♥✿✉⚓▼my friend@mk5



      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        Especially when you remember what happened to Jon Snow in the Season 5 ending cliffhanger.

        • Valkra

          The oil companies are the men of the Night’s Watch.. omg

    • Borlock

      Spoiler alert!!!

    • Jerry Bradbury

      Interesting. Elon Musk is sneaking into the Zeitgeist. Neal Stephenson’s new book, “Seveneves” has an Elon Musk character who sees what needs to be done to save the human race and goes out and does it, albeit dying in the process.

  • Aaron Garcia

    First off I want to say Thank you Tim Urban! I have read just about all your posts within the span of about 6 months including this one, and you are doing a huge favor with your writing. You have a great style to your work that leaves me wanting more. Except for today, I’m quite done with this article and need to get to some work of my own. I have about 40 Wikipedia tabs open and have been working thru this piece since early this morning I need to stop! Once again your work is great and I look forward to all your future articles especially when they include freaky looking animals.
    Here are some of my thoughts regarding Tim’s work.

    1. The pictures are great, the portait of Kangxi Emperor, the Q1,2,3,4 info graph, the animated engines, even the horribly wonderful stick figure drawings(they make me mad as an artist because of there impact/enjoyment ratio to skill level is ridiculously inbalanced, but mainly because i also enjoy them *I hope you struggled with them.)The visuals in your articles are a big reason i enjoy your writing so as far as I’m concerned the more the merrier.

    2. I knew that I had a foggy idea on Global warming and the impact electric cars will have on the equation. Now I’m dead certain I know almost nothing and I’m going to have dig a great deal deeper. But at least after reading this I have just scratched the surface which is a big step forward so thank you Tim.

    3. I want an electric car, and I will probably have a used one at some point when the price point becomes cheaper then a standard automobile and not before.

    4. Who will be the people in my close network tier 1 and 2 friends/family to adopt a EV first and why. My mom is the most likely her price range is about 20k-30k for a new or slightly used vehicle. She cares about its comfort and safety first. Then its mpg second. and then the way it looks and brand loyalty coming in at #3 carbon footprint is a very distant #4 but still there somewhat akin to the dealership telling her that every sale we donate 100 bucks to charity. Which is just fine because safety comfort mpg and price are the very things that are being pushed for the EV! About about a third of the male friends/family have a very strong and almost romantic appreciation for the internal combustion engine and manual transmission. Performance, The sound and feel of the engine the familiarity and love of working on something with so much history. So how do you get soul in an EV car i think you need a story, and you need an appeal to the man/or woman who wants to work on there vehicle also a way to offer more control some sort of manual shifter analog. yet being out of my depth in many ways in the conversation when it comes to being a “gear head”. We are not just limiting the scope of the conversation to just innovations in the automobile we are talking about human progress and survival of the species which there is a much wider tree to branch out from and that gives me a trunk to stand on. The last demographic which is the majority is purely affordability. 3k-12k for a vehicle that does really well on gas or is really cheap in order to make up for the lower mpg (*btw this includes people that are concerned with global warming). So until they can get a used EV in that price range, it doesn’t mater how strong everything else principles be damned they are gonna bite the bullet and leave their carbon footprint.
    My take away from this is basically the cheaper the better. For everyone else Its gonna take time to warmup to.

    5. Money is a great metric for evaluating the majority of peoples actions, and actions speak louder then words.

    6. Your readers are awesome, I love reading comments. I hardly ever post on stuff like this because I hate speaking my mind on something I don’t have a strong grasp on. Writing this is more of a way to work out my own thoughts and put a bow tie on this article so I can get some work done.

    7. I’m trying to make this post as short as possible so I will stop here.
    8. Excuse the lack of edits in this post but I have to stop now!!!!!!!

    • Eric O’Reilly

      I answered the global warming pieces in a comment above. Enjoy your reading.

  • I don’t normally covet things, but once I got a chance to experience driving an EV (one of the BMW testbeds) I almost immediately began wanting an electric car. Beyond the excitement of the car itself and the thought of regenerative braking, it was that bit you point out that really also got me excited: no oil changes, no coolant, no timing belt, no filters, so much less toxic crud (like that coolant!) to worry about, less or no need to drop the car off and find a way to work and get a ride out to pick the car up from this regular maintenance, and so much less to break. That is going to be a huge part of the EV appeal, methinks, it certainly is for me. (And the song by TMBG also helped… 😉

  • ScribblePouit

    I cannot fathom how much work went into this. I had been blown away by some of your articles, but this is an order of magnitude away.

    Amazing work Tim!

  • no-way

    Thanks for the article, is incredibly well written. But you claim you go and try to explore the true truth about the issues presented; yet you didn’t pose or analyze the most fundamental question: does humanity TRULY need to OWN a car for a fullfilling life? You explored the substituction effect (EV for gas cars) but you never questioned if maybe the dissolution of the energy requirement of transportation could be an alternative, or why we believe we need to own a car. We have a wonderful atheltic body, built to run, hunt, climb and swim, yet 90% of us now (at least in the developed countries) sits in front of a monitor for 9 hours a day and then sits on car to go back and sit in front of a PC/TV. Is a society built like this a good society? I personally believe that not, is not. Does Tesla wants to change this vision? No, they still think that every home should have a 2-ton car to move their asses around. In this way, Tesla is not revolutionizing ANYTHING. A true paradigm shift would be the switch to a local-living society powered by what I think is the most beatiful and perfectly designed transportation mean ever: the bycicle. I don’t own and will (hopefullly) never own a car: bycicle, train, buses, car sharing and short term rental are more than adequate for me. Live near your workplace. You have to sacrifice some freedom, and you have to organize you world around these constriction, but is perfectly doable. We car-less people are like the early-EV adopter: we live with the shortcoming, but we are convinced of our choice. And we are getting more numerous by the day,thanks to the sharing economy. This alone would provide I think an even bigger reduction in greenhouses gases that the switch to electric cars, that still needs huge highways, parking lots, garage, tunnels, bridges and so on, all requiring fuel and energy to build. Snow plower in winter to make the suburbs road driveable for tiny, low-floored cars. The energetic, health, climate and infrastructural impact of a society convinced that owning and maintinaing 1 or 2 cars per household is immense. It is probably worth another post 😉 But you should have questioned the car existence itself. Is a marketing lie even bigger than the one propagating about tobacco and EV cars.

    • CMCNestT .

      Utopian Leftist that want to destroy modernity and take us back to the Middle Ages are kissing cousins of ISIS.

      You will never succeed democratically and if you succeed with violence it will be short lived.

      Tesla is revolutionizing society. A society most of us want but without destroying a human friendly conditions of the planet.

      • no-way

        I’m so not an utopian leftist. I strongly believe in technology, I’m absolutely enthusiastic about SpaceX and space exploration and I’m actually working as a function developer for heavy duty diesel engines, after working in an electric car startup writing control function.
        I just find it funny that you define “human friendly condition” a society where people SIT all the time. This is not the condition of the human being and of our body.
        Electric cars will be great for health and environmental problems, but the title of tTim Urban’s post is: TESLA will change the world. I’m debating that Tesla will not change our world: we still will moving around in 2-ton cars, maybe with only one people in it. Yes, it will be electrical, but the fundamental “problem” (people commuting for hours) will not be adressed by TESLA. I’m just saying that a true change for the world will be driving less, not driving differently.
        There is one piece of data truly relevant from Urban’s post: the average american drives 12’000 miles /year. I’m the only one here that thinks that this is insane and not what a society should aim to? I merely propose to try to reduce this distance. Even with automatic car moving around at 30 mph in average (including start and stop), this still means 400 hours a year “wasted” SITTING in a car moving around. I find this amount insane.
        I’m not fighting technology: I simply don’t think that owning a car will be the future. The future will be smart automated car coming to your home when you need it: only a few will own a car. This model of business is a change for the carmaker even greater than the upcoming of tesla.

        • People will not get rid of cars easily. Some countries they already do, but mostly in big cities with good public infrastructure and pro-active support for alternative transportation from the government (e.g. extensive biking roads, bicycle sharing service, etc).

          I think we talk about two things:

          Tesla will (alone or together with other companies) change the world in terms of how energy is captured, stored and used in transportation.

          Other companies will change the way we transport altogether (looking at you, Google).

          I think in 10 years, we will have the first automatic transport trucks, taxis, midi-buses. In 15-20 years, only a few will own cars, as it will be much more expensive than just to hail a automatic cab whenever you need.

          Tesla does not need to solve that part. Leave some problems to others 🙂

          • no-way

            you are right about the part concerning Tesla completely changing the energy-conversion aspects of the transportation world. But still, it will change an average of 20 mpg_eq consumption in 40-50 mpg (up until the grid will be 100% renewable). Tesla is still selling the “american dream”: house in the suburbs, 2 cars (electric) in the driveway. That’s why is building a supercharger network: it doesn’t want that people change their habits! He wants that driving a Tesla should be identical (for range, status, etc) to driving a fuel car. So in this way, he is replacing the underlying technology (huge accomplishment, one for which we should be grateful) but he is really not changing people habits and people lives. I still thinks that the biggest contribution in cutting private transportation emissions (which is the basic goal, as stated by Tim) will be completely new form of mobility (and anti-mobility, like home-office, virtual conference meeting). Those will truly change the world and reduce emissions.

        • C30

          I agree with almost all your points, but the sad truth is that US cities are so stupidly and inefficiently built that Americans will continue to need some kind of personal transportation for the foreseeable future. And even if self-driving tech and intelligent automated carpooling starts taking off in 5 years or so, someone will still have to build the cars themselves, so the innovations driven by Tesla will be of much use anyway.

          To get rid of a car-centric society, the US needs to either radically rethink its urban planning strategy, or wait for an era where the vast majority of people can work from home or not work at all. But in the meantime, Tesla will hopefully accomplish some incredible consciousness-raising about clean transportation technology.

          (Being from Europe, where public transport, walking and cycling are much more popular, I really feel quite sorry for all Americans in their gigantic suburbs, with no choice but to use a car.)

          • Benjamin Wood

            Cities, states, and the federal government have subsidized road-building for decades. It used to be that developers had to build the roads if they wanted people to come to their development. By subsidizing the costs of roads, government has actually subsidized inefficient development. That’s one of the main reasons we see the sprawl we do today. It wouldn’t be economically viable without massive public subsidies.

            One simple solution would be to stop publicly funding roads and force developers to make their own. That will provide a massive financial incentive to build where there is already infrastructure and renovate rather than build new.

            • jeffhre

              Developers build the roads in new subdivisions. And they enlarge the existing roads leading to them.

          • jeffhre

            “or wait for an era where the vast majority of people can work from home or not work at all.”

            Wait? But why?

        • jeffhre

          New Yorkers drive quite a bit less than that. Westerners are building transit. The South East is fighting transit tooth and nail. Settlement patterns have encouraged car use for 70 years. Unless something like new urbanism and transit oriented development take hold, people in existing land use patterns will have no choice but cars.

          EV’s at least get people to look at the energy intensity of their choices. Without that, you’re just fighting the cognitive dissonance of people who are trapped, and resist being criticized.

    • NVU

      Do you think you’ll be more successful at changing behavior by telling people:

      A. What you are doing (which is the same as what your friends, parents and grandparents all are doing and what virtually all capital investment and planning have been organized to accommodate for the last 100 years) is wrong and you should stop. “You have to sacrifice some freedom, and you have to organize your world around these constriction, but is perfectly doable.”


      B. Here’s a better way to do what you’re already doing. You don’t have to sacrifice anything.

      Tesla’s shooting for B. Let us know how A works out for you.

      • no-way

        I understood that. That’s why I’m debating the title chosen by Tim: How Tesla will change the World. I’m arguing that Elon Musk with Tesla is not trying to change the world, is trying your option B: your world stays the same, but you can now drive SUV and require 8-lane highway with a clean conscience. Elon will maybe change the world with SpaceX, maybe even with Solarcity, but not with Tesla. Tesla will be more of the same, as you pointed out, but clean. But it will not change the world, so the title of Tim is not appropriate. Tesla will cancel the guilty feeling of owning and driving a car, but it will not change society, it will not change the world. Tim is too optimistic about that.

        • jeffhre

          Elon Musk has made statements which indicate he is trying to change the world. Just not with a big expensive car sold in enough volume to satisfy the needs of rich guys. The Model S is designed to set an example of what is possible with EV’s. And to provide the capital, knowledge productive capacities and the demand for higher volume vehicles.

          Mr. Musk is said to have stated, the purpose is Tesla is not to provide more toys for rich guys. There are more tricks to the pony. Some folks who love speed, and noise and the smell of burned hydrocarbons, sat in a Tesla because they heard it was fast, and ended up pricing solar panels and looking for the best deals on LED light bulbs.

          Those are the effects Tesla is after. The cars are a way to get the foot in the door, on improving transport choices. If the world chooses change, there must be an alternative – it is Tesla’s goal to expose the alternative.

    • Jerry Bradbury

      gud luk changing human nature or taking away our perks. As Louis CK as God asks, “What are you doing?? Why do you dig up and burn this stuff that’s been buried for millions of years??” Human: “Well, I just want to go faster.”

  • Matthieu Bosquet

    Really cool and interesting post a huge thanks Tim 🙂
    BUT Snif 🙁 You don’t speak about Renault Zoe which is a realy great EV 🙂

  • Joey

    After model 3, with everything made profitable by Tesla, I think the kisses shaped profit funding will pour to Space X. That’s the real world changer! I see my son cooking steak for me in Mars by then.

  • v43

    did anyone notice how china transforms energy more efficiently than the other countries? in particular more efficiently than “joule abundant” countries such as Saudi Arabia or the USA.

  • v43

    I’d like to point out how there are other economical setups that allow for competition and progress, but are less socially frightening than the unregulated market jungle.

  • space

    Great read, though for a Tesla enthusiast, nothing new here and for a non Tesla enthusiast, too long to devote time to.
    I hope more non enthusiasts find the time and inclination to read this.

  • Crazeygrazey

    The next paradigm shift will be when Li Ion becomes Li Air with up to 15 times the storage capacity of current technology. It isn’t just 15 times the capacity, it’s half the weight giving huge ranges, tiny. light cars or a mixture of both.

  • Jill1990

    This post has a few factual errors regarding Tesla’s Model S..

    1. The P85D’s 0-60 time is 3.1 seconds not 3.2, this changed happened about a month ago via an over-the -air update.

    2. The Cheapest Tesla is $75,000 plus $1,200 delivery fee not $69,900. This has been the case since April 8th when the 70D replaced the 60.

    3. Related to the above, the range of Model S ranges is now 240-270 miles not 208-270 miles.

    And Tim warns us that he’s about to enter the mud puddle, politics is the brush that tars all who touch it. Tim warns readers that the post is political. But! Tim promises that he will be a-political, “this post has no political agenda. Because nothing will ever be more annoying than American Politics.”

    Couldn’t agree more.

    But Tim is not being honest, Tim does have a political agenda. Continue reading to see the tar stick all over everyone, myself included.

    There is an alternative to the “Tim is a Big Fat Liar Hypothesis”…. it’s possible that in surveying the available evidence Tim did not encounter any of the scandals regarding climate change alarmists ginning up data and then erasing the data prior to FOIA requests and emailing each other about how to avoid FOIA. Such as the 4005.txt email from East Anglia where the exact quote is “it will be very difficult to make the MWP [Medieval Warm Period] go away in Greenland” or the associated data scandal where the data was massaged to produce a hockey stick (MIT) These scandals DO show that there is political pressure from the left to support the AGW hypothesis. And there’s lots of it.

    You will lose your job:

    You will be forced out of professional Institutions:

    You will be harassed:

    The IPCC is often quoted but the IPCC is composed purely of scientists that are recommended by governments, but of course, these couldn’t be *partisan* governments.

    Tim’s writing makes it sound as if ALL the politics are on one side. They’re evidently not. The left has a lot of political hay to make with AGW. Tim also cites a statistic that 97% of climate scientists agree that human activity is causing global warming, and he cites it as if this is the conclusive piece of evidence, labeling it “reality,” but this is very misleading. The statistic he cites comes from this ( paper by John Cook et al. John Cook is a left wing political activist who runs the pro AGW website The source is definitely biased, but that’s not all, if you read the study, there is absolutely no data to justify the 97% claim, Cook never actually asks the climate scientists he just reads their work and then classifies them without their input. Soooooooo much room for the abuse of subjectivity, here are some comments by some of the scientists he cites after reading his study:

    “Cook survey included 10 of my 122 eligible papers. 5/10 were rated incorrectly. 4/5 were rated as endorse rather than neutral.”

    —Dr. Richard Tol

    “Cook et al. (2013) is based on a strawman argument . . .”

    —Dr. Nicola Scafet

    “Nope . . . it is not an accurate representation.”

    —Dr. Nir Shaviv

    “That is not an accurate representation of my paper . . .”

    —Dr. Craig Idso

    This number is not reliable, decent research would have revealed this.

    Now personally I have no idea if AGW is true. But NO climate models, not one, have successfully predicted long-term trends and thus they cannot be used to draw conclusions. Additionally, climate scientists get funding largely due to concerns over AGW, creating a conflict of interests. Tim mentions none of this, he sticks precisely with the leftist narrative complete with Kochsteria and nasty comparisons to the Tobacco Industry.

    And then there’s this from The Procrastination Matrix:

    “For every Steve Jobs or John Lennon or Hillary Clinton or J.K. Rowling or anyone else whose talents have enhanced our lives”

    ♫One of these things ♪ is not like the others♫

    Nope, Tim has no agenda, he is not trying to influence the 2016 election at all.

    • Korakys

      I’ve always assumed 100% percent of climate scientists think climate change is anthropogenic on account of if they didn’t then clearly they are no longer fit to be climate scientists any more, they would never get a contrary paper to pass a peer review and could never work as one again (unless they take the oil money).

      97%, it makes me scratch my head. How isn’t it 100% after IPCC 4, let alone IPCC 5.

      • Jill1990

        It’s not 100% because the data is underdeterminative. IPCC 5’s conclusion was that the probability of AGW being correct was 90%. Not 100% not 99% with a minority calling this claim “alarmist” …and the IPCC is a politically appointed body. But you make good points, the persecution of dissenters is definitely artificially inflating the strength of the consensus.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy

          Another factor to take into account:

          I understand there’s an 80/20 rule in consensus groups. Once a consensus within a group reaches a Critical Mass of around 80%, groupthink sets in HARD and the 20% minority of Heretics are Purged.

  • Søren Ellemann Hansen

    Anyone who checked the numbers…. Somethings slightly off …

  • Just one note: the proper adjective to use is Muskular, not Musk-y. Well written, good stuff!

  • RJ

    Fast forward few centuries… I think Musk will probably be THE most important person to be remembered for all the revolutionary ideas of his in this energy domain

  • Stefan Andrei

    Thank you for this amazing article! My Instant Gratification Monkey has been well fed today!

  • Pam O

    My husband and I are waiting not-so-patiently for the $35k range model, and we’ll have to drive out of state to buy one. This post leaves me excited again about it.

  • MKEMuggle

    I NEEEEED one 😉

  • evie

    Fantastic, and congrats on making ‘joule’ a dirty word, but why no mention of: 1)the Tesla home battery and 2) that the Tesla gigafactory itself is going to be a Tesla product. Tesla will not simply be a car company, that’s just the warm up. Elon is the ultimate systems builder — I would have loved to have read what you think he has planned further down the road. I’m left wondering if you realize his ‘tree’ maybe different to any other tree, ever. Ford built cars. Brilliant but that was it. Elon’s building an energy empire via cars and that’s just one branch to his personal ‘tree’. On the topic of energy; this is a man who said he thinks he could make magnetic confinement fusion work… I’m not sure you got to ‘the bottom’ in this article.

  • cotpoe

    Great effort Tim. You have done well in terms of providing clarity to the car industry issues. Depth and presentation was very well done. You have great talent at framing issues in very clear and simple manner.
    Some issues I woud like to point out to further enhance the scope of debate:

    1) Personal transportation – cars are a good niche for ‘short-range mobility of the individual”. Personal electric car will become a mainstay for this niche. First with our classic asphalt roads and perhaps in the future with propulsion assistance roads – maglev/electric drive assist or some sort where the road network provides partial/most of needed energy – like it does for trains.
    However – efficient public transportation systems – fast,efficient trains – both intra-city and long distance based upon ever efficient propulsion/less polluting and greater network efficiency are the most logical solution for meeting the transportation needs in the most energy efficient and least polluting manner.

    So while EVs are great for immediate substitution. The greater game changer would be efficient rapid mass transport systems. Unfortunately setting up of such networks – even if we have the technology requires vast capital resouces – which may not be feasible atleast for a few decades until the current breaking down economic system is reordered and a new inflection point in human development begins.

    Tesla and Musk are providing a key solution and behavioural change in this transition period and they must be lauded for that.

    2) In terms of energy efficiency, EVs will greatly help in increasing energy efficiency. However again their role is great for short term – few decades and unfortunately the impact will be incremental rather than of order of magnitude.

    What I am hopeful about is the technological push towards better batteries/charging that Tesla and EV revolution will cause.

    The long term energy question for human species will be a product of two forces:

    a) Better Nuclear Technologies – this is a great long-game. The key to making the jump from Energy Scarce Civilization to Limitless Energy Civilization. And of course Limitless energy leads of Limitless material Resouces ( tons of stuff in space to mine). Once this stage is achieved – all energy generation/resouce extraction can be shifted off-Eath and Earth’s fragile ecosystem preserved.
    However this step is fraught with our social/political/psychological issues – a potential Barrier. All such technologies can be weaponized for MAD and the resulting competitive political quagmire makes this a pipedream until a possible radical outlook change.

    The barrier here is not science or tech. If the world magically united in a cooperative purpose tonight then in a couple of decades we can repurpose our nuclear/military-industrial compex knowhow into achieving this and overcoming the tech barriers.

    b) GREAT DECENTRALIZATION – Past 10,000 years in human history has been an experiment in greater and greater centralization from tribes to villages,towns,cities,states and now towards global. However complexity/power capture and elephant like inefficiencies creep in. We are now reaching the precipice of possibility of reversing that trend towards more sustainable decentralization and distributed network structures. Maximization of local resources in a sustainable manner – example local energy renewable resources harvest and consumed locally with surplus added to the grid. Local 3D printing – local manufacturing etc.

    In such possibilities the energy storage/charging/distribution tech impact of EV would be potentially great. Hats off to Musk for being enabler for that.

    3) Anthropomorphic Global Warming however is not as clear cut defined as your put it. Climate change is obvious – earth has a complex history of alternating warming and cooling cycles at all time scales – from few century long ones to those lasting few millions of years. The temperature changes in a vast/complex system spanning timescales millions of years long is too great a scope for our limited data and modeling capacity

    In any way the restriction of debate about unsustainable impact of Human activity into a global warming/climate change is the greatest CON Job in the history of Power. By putting focus on this grey area – a complete white wash of the REAL impact of human insanity has been done for short term profits –
    the oceans are dying – fisheries collapse, sensitive rich ecosystems – forests,reefs are being destroyed. Mining has horrendous ecological impacts, big agriculture with monocultural crops and GMOs has badly damaged crop variety/soil health putting food baskets in danger and the greatest of these – the rapacious impact on water resources.

    Humans will have long made the entire delicate ecosystem unsustainable long before whatever temperature rising/cooling cycle impact takes place unless the present exploitative paradigm is reversed.

    This requires psychological and socio-economic reorganization where infinite mindless GDP growth, short-term profit maximization and relentless consumption equating status are not the dominant paradigms

    Still Every Action is like a drop in the ocean. Individually small but together they make the ocean and Tesla is a great step in that direction. Great writing again!

    • Aaron Garcia

      A lot to chew on here, thanks cotpoe!

    • NVU

      “This requires psychological and socio-economic reorganization where infinite mindless GDP growth, short-term profit maximization and relentless consumption equating status are not the dominant paradigms”

      What you’re really saying is we can solve all of these human problems if we just get humans to stop being human.

      Musk, on the other hand, seems to be trying to harness human nature and economics to drive progress forward. He knows Tesla isn’t going to save the world, but it could be a catalyst or at least nudge the world toward salvation. He might not succeed, even at putting people on a better path, but I’d say he’s about a zillion times more likely to have a positive effect than someone who thinks the kind of religious conversion you’re talking about is going to do it.

      • cotpoe

        If you consider that being “human” means short-sighted exploitation of the planet and the worth of a human is defined by the “stuff” they own then you have a very narrow, limited view of what it means to be human, my friend. It is funny you applaud Musk while defending this concept of “being human” is when he himself is strongly opposed to that and trying to change this with his energy/space projects.

        Musk is doing great work. I was just cautioning against over-hyping possibility of EV. It is great for short-term but largely an incremental substitution. The technologies it generates will be the real impact here.

        It is funny when someone equates socio-economic reorganization as religion considering you are the one talking about “nudge towards world ‘salvation”. If you read history then over periods of centuries – a major socio-economic reorganization is common. Old systems give way to new. Nothing new or religious about it.

        The point I was presenting is that such a change in mindset and consequent change in how we approach our problems for holistic,longer-term sustainable view would be the crucial impact of the work Tesla is doing. We are already in an accelerating sci/tech epoch – the problems we have are largely organizational.

        The systemic change I mentioned will not happen overnight or one person – the metaphor of individual action as drops in an ocean which however small compose the ocean. I lauded Musk and Tesla on generating new electricity storage/transport tech as well as the major role his actions are playing to influence mindset changes towards more sustainable systems in the future. These I think will be the predominant impact of his work with EVs.

  • Thomas

    Congratulation for this article,
    and for a lot of your blog !

    But for global warming wich became climate change, why ? No more warming for 17 years.

    Or, you can just check on the official NOAA website, and put the Time scale : Annual.

    I admire what Elon is doing, for SpaceX and Tesla, but we must have more reserve about global warming/climate change and on the subsidy we give !

    • sturle

      First of all the Kochs brother’s funded site whatsupwiththat is deliberately spreading misinformation. It spreads misconceptions, like confusing climate with weather in a way that uneducated people will have difficulties to see through. Climate is the average weather over a period of at least 30 years. Choose any 30 year period from the graph you linked to, and you will see that the last 30 years have been the warmest 30 years on record. You will also notice the temperature trend has been increasing since 1900. And btw, 2014 was the warmest year on record so far.

      I am still seeing examples of “this 90 year old has smoked since the age of 10, and hasn’t got lung cancer, therefore smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer”. This kind of misinformation towards people who don’t understand statistics worked for 30 years, and the coal producers are doing it again to spread misconceptions about climate change.

      • jonathan thomas

        I’m sorry, that website is not funded by the Koch brothers–read the FAQ section. The fact that the last 30 years have been the warmest in recorded history is meaningless when you expand your horizon and look at a longer time scale. You’ll see that proxies indicate that it was 2 degrees C warmer than now during the Midieval Warming Period almost 1,000 years ago.

        • sturle

          Wattsupwiththat received 44,000 USD in funding from Heartland Institute, an organisation devoted to denying climate change and negative effects of smoking. It gets their funding from big oil, Phillp Morris, the Koch brothers and others. This organisation funds other anti science blogs as well:

          The Medieval Warm period was local to the North Atlantic. It was not global like the current warming, it was much colder than today, and the change was much slower than today.

          • jonathan thomas

            No, the MWP was not local to the North Atlantic. $44k to fund some auditing / research into NOAA temperature data–do you listen to yourself? You think that goes far vs the billions upon billions in government climate propoganda? $44,000, wow! $44,000 vs $10,000,000,000. Nice. I guess that is liberal logic.

            • sturle

              The causes for the MWP are known, and the reason why the North Atlantic was so warm is related to changing ocean currents. This was a period of very high solar activity and low volcanic activity. It has been researched a lot:

              Government climate propaganda!? LOL! Yeah, politicians will pay billions for scientists to tell the voters their politics is about to destroy the planet we live on. Do YOU listen to yourself?

  • Anon

    I’m curious about something, you’re all about exponential advancement in technology when the topic is AI. But that sort of advancement can’t be applied to the topic of extraction of fossil fuels because you don’t like that stuff.

    Or what about the fact that the % of our energy sources that don’t come from fossil fuels is only going to go up as clean energy technology advances. Since you like that technology, is that technology going to advance at an exponential rate, thus extending our supply of fossil fuels dramatically if not indefinitely since exponential advancement in that arena should reduce our fossil fuel consumption to 0.

    There’s a clear agenda here and you’re not being objective.

  • Eric O’Reilly

    Excellent article. However on the climate change portion the math seems to be off. If the sun is 99.8% of the mass of our solar system and it is 1.3 million x bigger than our planet…It seems no other factors really matter other than the change in the temp of the sun. Also during the mini ice age right before the industrial revolution we saw sun spot activity go very low. This leads me to believe the sun is the most important variable in climate change arguments. Also when you see a high correlation between two variables like co2 and temp statistics tells us we are more than likely measuring two effects rather than a cause and an effect.

    Love your work. Keep it up.

    • Adam

      In science, a correlation is explained with a mechanism to provide the solution to the cause-and-effect or causal link question.

      The scientific mechanism for global warming is that CO2 (as well as H2O(g), CH4 etc.) increases absorption of heat (radiation emitted by the Earth has a lower principal frequency than radiation emitted by the Sun), so the Earth heats up. This mechanism explains the correlation with the reasoning being that more CO2 causes an increase in temperature. They are not “two effects”. The former causes the latter. There is no serious despite about that among serious scientists.

      As for the Sun, I fail to see how that’s relevant, because it’s not changed appreciably since 1800. It will burn out eventually – but this is part of the star cycle, which is orders of magnitude slower than what we’re dealing with here: fast human activity changes. Let’s say the Sun had X units of hydrogen to fuse in 1800. Today, the Sun has X units of hydrogen (to any reasonable number of significant figures).

      Plus, the Sun’s radiation disperses and is absorbed and reflected through millions of miles before reaching the Earth: sure, it’s incredibly big when you compare its mass and diameter, but due to the inverse square law such a low proportion of the Sun’s light reaches Earth that you’d need a significant decrease in hydrogen fusion by the Sun to affect the Earth’s energy cycle more than burning fossil fuels and deforestation does.

      • Eric O’Reilly

        I appreciate your points. What percent of our atmosphere is co2 or ch4? And we are saying that trace gas can insulate the entire lower level of the atmosphere? We know that metropolitan cities have a higher average temp than their respective surrounding areas. Is this because of co2 and ch4? More than likely our use of materials with high thermodensities like concrete and a high concentration of people burning not just fuel but everything today that leads to temp increases. I’m all for clean air and water and food…but trying to tie carbon as the ultimate catalyst for the temp of the earth when all of the energy on the planet comes from the sun….I just can’t make that math work. I promise I have tried…It does not add up.

        • Adam

          The percentage of CO2 is about 0.04% (as Tim says in this post) and CH4 is much less (as is water vapour).

          Maybe it’s surprising or counter-intuitive that these substances are so small and make such a big difference, but this is often the case in science (NO2 and SO2 are measured in parts per million or even parts per billion, but they’re what causes acid rain and a simple test with indicator paper shows you that rainwater’s pH is significantly below 7; that’s completely indisputable).

          The important thing is that CO2 concentration was about 0.03% a couple of hundred years ago (even a few decades ago), and 0.04% is an increase of a third. That’s really, really big.

          • Eric O’Reilly

            Not arguing pollution is good. I’m arguing the math of carbon to temp. Just to clarify water can be as much as 5% of the atmosphere. It is by far and away the gas that has the highest thermodensity (no carbon in that molecule). That said before the industrial revolution from the ice core samples we saw spikes in co2 and ch4. This once again leads me to believe they are a result and not a cause. But please understand I would love to see us find a way to burn fuels where 100% of released energy was consumed and not distributed into the atmosphere and 100% of the carbon output contained. That said the sun’s temp fluctuates as does our magnetic field…those are the main reasons for increased or decreased temp on our planet.

        • Andy

          It’s not that carbon is the “ultimate catalyst” for the temp of the Earth, but that it is one of many factors (the sun, volcanic activity, albedo, etc). The combination of these factors created a rough balance in the temperature fluctuations of the Earth. However human activity has increased the carbon factor so much that the system is now out of whack.

          An analogy I like is a bathtub with a running faucet and an open drain. The water from the faucet is the carbon from natural cycles of the Earth that gets added to the atmosphere. The drain is carbon that gets removed from the atmosphere via natural processes. Historically these were roughly in balance, so that as much carbon was removed as was added, and the bathtub never overflowed. Now imagine a hose running into the bathtub, pumping in a small amount of additional water. This represents extra carbon added to the atmosphere by humans. Even though the amount is small compared to the natural processes (the faucet), the drain can’t remove the extra water fast enough, and the tub eventually overflows.

          • Eric O’Reilly

            I think I just relied to you in a post above in how to calculate the mass of a compound. Please review and post your math if you disagree

            • Andy

              Yes – but the mass is not the only factor in how much heat is retained.

              Does my analogy make sense?

            • Eric O’Reilly

              Not really. Of you have 10,000 atoms/compounds and 4 are co2. A 100% change in co2 is still a small number. Basically it is insignificant. Now the mass of all atoms and compounds are not equal.

              Read this

              So no co2 although relatively large would need to be a whole whole lot larger to matter. By the order of 1 million x larger approximately.

            • sturle

              Why are you linking to information about heat capacity? This is completely irrelevant. The atmosphere of Venus, where the greenhouse effect has gone completely bananas, is lower than that of the earth’s atmosphere. This only means Venus would be colder than Earth if we removed the greenhouse effect.

    • André Rodrigues

      By your linear logic (if the sun is 99.8% of the mass, it is the greatest influence on the temperature of the planets), planets closer to the sun would be warmer than those faraway.

      And although this effect is true, Mercury’s highest temperature (427 °C) is below Venus average temperature (462 °C), even though Mercury is about half the distance from the Sun as Venus and has a much, much smaller mass (about 7%), and therefore a higher surface to volume relation, which makes it easier to get heat by thermal radiation.

      The big difference is in their atmosphere (or lack thereof), which is precisely the point about global warming: differences in atmosphere greatly impact the complex dynamics of the surface temperature. It is a matter of a very little increase in how much of the received Sun’s energy is kept inside the atmosphere.

      Also, as Tim mentioned 2 °C have a significant effect (if not catastrophic) on our ecosystem, even though it represents only about 1.5% variation in absolute temperature. It does not take a lot to unbalance the whole system.

      • Eric O’Reilly

        I think the best way to describe this is how much energy can pass through a compound / element while still be absorbed to retain heat. If you put concrete next to water in an experiment and measured temp changes and retained heat you would find the surface of concrete heats up but the core does not. While water will heat the entire volume. As you remove the energy source the surface of the concrete will cool quickly while the water will take longer. So yes mercury is closer but heating the core of rock and then that rock retaining heat is difficult due to the reflective nature of solids. A very dense gas planet like Venus the energy can penetrate and heat a lot more mass. Does this make sense?

  • Ingo

    In Norway electric cars are not that uncommon anymore. My employer used to offer free parking for those driving environmentally friendly cars, but a few weeks ago this was stopped. The argument is; it’s not environmentally friendly after all- they take up space, make dust, the parking lot needs maintainance etc etc. On top of the excisting fee an extra evironmental fee was added for all. I guess the real argument was the steadily increasing number of electric cars making income from parking fees drop. It’s fair enough that everyone should pay for parking, but it’s unnecessary to blame it on the cars not being any greener than gas cars.

    • Tesla Fan

      Tesla is the most popular car in Norway

  • B_Fli

    You are like the John Oliver of the Internet. Hopefully someone high up is one of your readers and brings it to everyone’s attention! Keep up the good work.

  • Arden Beddoes

    I wonder what Elon Musk thinks about the role of animal agriculture in exacerbating climate change.

  • Tesla Fan

    This should be a book published for schools and there should be a class taught specifically for this subject. This was more entertaining, informative and important than any school textbook i’ve ever read.

  • sk

    Overall, this was a great post. As you mentioned, a lot of the big car companies are pouring massive funds into both battery and fuel cell technologies, and I wanted to expand upon the battery vs fuel cell debate, and why hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are indeed “bullshit”:

    1) Obviously, providing a source of hydrogen is a major challenge. Right now, it’s mostly made from reforming natural gas (as you mentioned), which is a highly valuable fuel on its own. One approach that doesn’t require fossil fuels is to complete the inverse of fuel cell chemistry (water –>hydrogen and oxygen) powered by solar energy–either directly through a photoelectrochemical water-splitting device (the DOE is funding such research) or using solar energy to power a separate water electrolyzer. However, these processes are NOT efficient. Ultimately, one is still taking solar energy, converting it to electrical energy and subsequently chemical energy, and then on top of that, generating gases which must then be separated and stored (which also requires energy).

    2) Hydrogen has to be stored in the car. This has been cited as a safety concern, but the greatest barrier is that hydrogen isn’t an energy-dense fuel and it must be compressed or otherwise specially stored (such as adsorbed in various materials) in order to not need a ridiculously large fuel tank. Which requires. . . more energy!

    3) A hydrogen fueling infrastructure must be in place, which will be very costly to create. California is investing in a hydrogen-fueling network, but I read a hydrogen fueling station is about five times more expensive to build than a battery recharging station. In addition, hydrogen is much more difficult to transport place to place than electricity, since we already have an electrical grid in place.

    Steven Chu also cites the fact that fuel cell technology must also be further developed, making the total number of huge problems equal to four. In summary, Chu’s quote (possibly the best quote ever) about the four-problem challenge: “If you need four miracles, that’s unlikely: saints only need three miracles” (If a Nobel Laureate/former Secretary of Energy has this opinion, perhaps we should take note.)

    So, why then is anyone bothering with hydrogen fuel cell vehicles???

    Apparently, we can thank California, which is the only state whose emission requirements can supersede the federal regulations. However, other states can adopt CA’s requirements, which currently includes Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

    But what is the ZEV mandate, and why is this favoring hydrogen fuel cell vehicles over battery vehicles (or at least appear to put them on the same playing level)? Here’s a pretty great article, which I will summarize below:

    Fist, the ZEV mandate, in a nutshell: “California manages the ZEV mandate using its own version of Monopoly money known as ZEV credits. Automakers earn different types of credits for the different types of
    automobiles they sell in the state, including ZEVs, plug-ins, hybrids, and low-emission internal-combustion cars. Through 2017, the largest automakers—Fiat Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Nissan, and Toyota—must earn ZEV credits equal to 3 percent of their Cali­fornia sales, with requirements for plug-ins, hybrids, and low-emission vehicles equal to another 11 percent of sales. ZEV credits become real money when CARB starts its annual accounting of credits and manufacturer obligations. To make up for a shortfall or to cash in on an abundance of credits, carmakers can buy or sell them from and to each
    other. If they fail to come up with the necessary credits, they face a $5000 penalty for every one they’re short.”

    So how are fuel cell vehicles favored with the ZEV mandate?

    1. “In 2018, a vehicle’s electric range becomes the only factor in determining the number of credits it earns. . . The current crop of 75-mile BEVs will earn about one to one and a half credits under the 2018
    rules, but adding range to that type of vehicle is likely to be prohibitively expensive. Doubling the energy capacity of a lithium-ion battery requires twice as many expensive cells and additional equipment to support them. Meanwhile, carrying more hydrogen in an FCV only means a larger carbon-fiber fuel tank, which adds minimal additional cost. FCVs should easily earn the maximum of four credits for 350 miles of range.”

    2. “Further boosting hydrogen technol­ogy’s fortunes are changes to the rules regarding credits originating from FCVs. Starting in 2018, they can be transferred among any of the eight states that are partaking in the ZEV requirement. There is no equivalent provision for BEVs. This flexibility makes it easier for manufacturers to meet their ZEV obligations in various states, especially since FCVs will have a harder road outside of California, the only state with a practical, growing hydrogen-fueling network.”

    3. As stated above, the state of California is “investing $50 million in 28 new hydrogen filling stations, raising the total in California to 54.” Of course, the electrical equivalent is the Tesla Supercharger stations, which the company had to finance itself. This doesn’t really seem fair, does it?

    There could be other factors at play, but these are at least a few reasons it appears these large companies are pursuing hydrogen vehicles.


  • GF
  • kodijake

    How do you charge your car if you live in a townhouse or apartment building? I live in the suburbs but have no garage, my parking spot is 100 feet or so from my house. There are millions of people out there like me. What do we do when the EV revolution comes

    • T. H.

      The same way that people with diesel engines who live in townhouses plug in their block heaters during the winter..

    • Hambone

      I guess for now you would have to go to a Suppercharger station for 30 mins. Kind of like some people in apartments have to go to the laundromat to wash their clothes. An inconvenience for now but still not that bad.

  • Jon Kennon

    I would also like to more evidence proving that the CO2 level is the cause of climate change and the result. I think it is an important subject outside of this article. It is a fact that temperature and CO2 levels move with each other but not a fact that CO2 levels are the cause of temperature change, not that I know of anyway. Other than that I am a huge Musk/Tesla fan and loved this article.

    • Andy

      It is a fact that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, which has the effect of increasing the temperature by absorbing additional energy. Increased temperature can also cause increased CO2 emissions (for example, melting permafrost is unlocking lots of carbon), creating a feedback loop. That’s why a slight imbalance can quickly become a large imbalance.

      The science is quite clear. I suggest the site Skeptical Science for more information and debunking of denier talking points. Cheers!

      • Eric O’Reilly

        I have done the math and for the statements above to be true the carbon atom needs a mass approximately 1,000,000 larger to have the effect it is advertised to have. It of course does not. And before people start clamoring read my posts below. Also do the math yourself (all you need is a periodic table) determine the mass of a co2 atom (.04% of the atmosphere). Determine the mass of an oxygen atom (20% of the atmosphere. Then the nitrogen atom (75% of the atmosphere) and water vapor which fluctuates but use 5%. Mass determines the ability to retain heat (energy). Play around with your models and you will soon determine the trace gas of co2 albeit heavy in relative terms is inconsequential.

      • Jon Kennon

        I would not call myself a denier but I just don’t see it as clear. Drastic climate changes have been happening throughout history, we can all agree on that. What caused these changes? Randall Carlson has some very interesting theory’s about this. Yes when temperature goes up so does CO2 and when it goes way back down…so does CO2. How can CO2 be responsible for both? To me it seems both temperature and CO2 are the result of something else.

        I don’t deny that man has had effect on climate, all i am saying is that the planet’s climate is so complex and fluid that we are just scratching the surface of understanding. CO2 plays a part for sure but it is by no means the only thing.

        • Andy

          I agree there is an interplay of many different factors. What science has shown is that CO2 is one of these factors, and that currently we have dumped so much into the atmosphere that it is affecting the temperature.

          Computer models of the climate don’t just assume CO2. They also take into account the cycles of the sun, albedo, volcanic activity, etc. Researchers have found that without taking CO2 into account, the models cannot correctly account for the historical temperature record. That is yet more evidence that CO2, while not the only factor, is an important one.

          To summarize: I agree with you there are other factors. CO2 is one such factor which is currently creating an imbalance.

          • Eric O’Reilly

            Please post any equation that has shown that. Any. Equation.

            • Andy
            • Eric O’Reilly

              I have seen that. Now take that equation add a percent of the total atmosphere and all of the gases in it. What answer per percent change in co2 does the temp change. I recommend using the Kelvin scale then converting back to Fahrenheit. Answer is almost no effect.

            • sturle

              The effect is incredibly complex. Like modeling where in the atmosphere the heat change happens. This has huge effects for the global weather patterns, which in turn has huge effects on snow and ice cover and the earth’s albedo. I would like to see anyone just take “that equation” and change something, because it takes supercomputers to calculate the total effects.

            • Eric O’Reilly

              It is really not. You have the sun which for all practical purposes is the source of all of the heat on the planet. The sun rotates and has hotter and cooler spots that are at any point in time directing energy at our very small planet (this is a good thing by the way that we are so small relative to the sun). That energy hitting our planet is the big number. And we all know a small change in a big number is still a big number. Then we have the electromagnetic field which is a really awesome energy filter. It too fluctuates. Without it we would be like mars and have no atmosphere at all. And Mars is further away from that glowing hot fusion reaction in the center of our solar system … just think if the EM field around Earth wasn’t there. Now the energy that makes it through that EM field is filtered futher by the hydrogen and helium in our upper atmosphere and the ozone layer and the ionsphere. Then finally the to troposphere which is only about 6-7 miles high. Now the heat number in the equation is still the big number in the equation. We finally make it down to where us humans hang out (insert stick figure here) and in all of our infinite wisdom we think a gas that is .04% … that’s .0004 of the atmosphere has the ability to retain enough heat energy to raise the temp of the PLANET …. literally a carbon atom would have to have a much larger mass and still float to accomplish what climate change suggests. So I am going to stick with the big numbers as math tells me focus on the elephant in the room. The sun and the EM field are the big numbers. I would advise everyone to focus on the fluctuations of the large numbers as opposed to buying into the argument the tiniest of numbers matters. And for those of you that think anything is constant in the universe and that the radiation that hits our planet is constant here is a link.
              As I have stated in posts below, if we have a way to generate electricity where we capture 100% of the heat from the joule release and 100% of the carbon emission then I would love to see that and all of us drive electric cars. Coal ash is a real problem though (kinda like nuclear waste). And the storage of energy is the other big issue. Nothing stores joule for joule the amount of energy as a barrel of oil for the price. No doubt though lithium ion batteries are making a much larger dent in that number but they are still far away from getting there. And for the solar power arrays they are still heat islands similar to concrete. They retain way more heat than a forest does. Nobody wants to talk about the heat islands that cities and solar panels create. For some reason we want to talk about a trace gas in the atmosphere and frankly do imaginary math.

            • sturle

              0.04% is still a pretty thick layer when it is distrbuted over 6-7 miles. The mass is irrelevant. Try putting a black surface and a window in direct sunlight. See what heats up the most. The window will of course not heat up, because it is transparent to the suns rays. Just like O2 and N2. The black surface will heat up, because it absorbs the sunlight. This is exactly what CO2 does for infrared radiation (heat). If you have a crystal clear pool 6-7 miles deep, and add 0.04% black ink to it, you will not be able to see much of the bottom. This is our atmosphere to infrared radiation, which is emitted from the earth. We need some taint to the atmosphere. If there was no CO2 in the atmosphere, the average temperature on Earth would be -17 °C. As you would understand if you did the right math, there isn’t much room for change in this taint if we want to keep the temperature stable. On Venus it went very wrong. The surface there is warmer than on Mercury due to runaway greenhouse effect.

              It is not so much about the radiation hitting the earth on the way in, as this has relatively little infrared. Much of the incoming infrared radiation is absorbed high up in the ozone layer, which is the reason why the higher stratosphere is warmer than the tropopause below it. From there most of it gets radiated back out into space. It is about the infrared radiation which gets trapped in the troposphere on the way *out*. This is basic knowledge.

            • Eric O’Reilly

              I think you should try that experiment. I’ll make it even easier for you. Take a 1 liter bottle of water. Let it reach room temp. Measure the temp. Now take the hottest black coffee you can find and pull .4 milliliters from the hot black coffee and drop it into you 1 liter of water. Measure the temp change and also notice the change in water color. I have done this experiment so let me fast forward to the conclusion. There will be no measurable effect either through temp change or color change

            • sturle

              Of course not. Even the blackest coffee is quite transparent. CO2 is perfectly black to the thermal infrared wavelengths where the earth radiates its heat back out to space. Put 0.4 milliliter of potassium permanganate in the bottle instead, and place it in front of a strong lamp next to a bottle with clear water. Measure the temperature in both bottles after a few hours. If the clear water is perfectly clean (e.g. no dissolved CO2), the temperature will increase very little because the light will pass straight through it. The bottle containing potassium permanganate will be quite warm because much of the light is absorbed.

              This is exactly the same mechanism as when the Ozone layer absorbs UV radiation. You don’t deny that as well, do you? The concentration of O3 in the ozone layer is less than 0.001%. This is enough to absorb 97-99% of the radiation from about 200 nm to 315 nm wavelength. It absorbs UV radiation (and much IR radiation from the sun as well), gets warm and radiate the energy back to space.

            • wow

              Wow! I had no idea all this could be so simple. So the size or amount of a thing is always the best indicator of its relative importance in a system.

              God forbid you ever use this logic to evaluate whether a single ebola virus virion in your system is important or not.

            • jeffhre

              “For some reason we want to talk about a trace gas in the atmosphere and frankly do imaginary math.”

              “…literally a carbon atom would have to have a much larger mass and still float to accomplish what climate change suggests.”

              That is fascinating. Please show us your not imaginary math which makes this so!

            • Andy

              Most of the atmosphere is unable to absorb and re-emit radiation. That’s why the percent of CO2 in the atmosphere doesn’t matter in the way you are arguing. The nitrogen gas (N2), oxygen gas (O2), etc are not greenhouse gases like CO2 or methane, so their atmospheric percentages are irrelevant as far as warming goes.

              Here you go, this explains it:

              I don’t know if you are a troll or if you really believe that your physics knowledge is greater than scientists who spend their lives studying this stuff. Don’t you think if what you are saying is true, such an obvious mistake would have been pointed out long ago? Think about it man. The greenhouse effect is real.

        • Greg Alexander

          That’s the biggest problem with predicting climate change. Man IS having an effect on climate, but the planet’s climate is incredibly complex. The planet will absorb a great many bad things we do to it, and I suspect our biggest gap in understanding is just how much it will swallow.

          Our planetary water may absorb much more of the heat than we suspect (plus as Antarctica melts it may take a lot of heat, and keep our temperatures more even. Or 2′ may be 0.1′ too much, and set off a destructive chain reaction.

    • Talha

      The temperature is you agree? ok it is not CO2 then what is the cause? if you say it has risen before. No never at this speed.

    • NVU

      I don’t know a thing about climate, and I doubt that most of the people commenting on this thread know much more than I do. However, you don’t have to be certain that CO2 is causing global warming or that humans are the sole cause of the observably rising CO2 levels (and less-observably rising temperatures) to admit that moving a bunch of stuff that has been underground for the entirety of human evolution into the atmosphere could have some negative consequences on the suitability of earth for human habitation.
      At that point, the questions become:
      1. how likely are the consequences?
      2. how negative would they be?
      3. is there anything that can be done to reverse things?
      4. would anything that can be done be worth doing or would the treatment be worse than the disease?
      The thing I admire about Tesla (now, after reading this article) is that they’re skipping all of the B.S. of 1, 2 and 3 and working to make sure the answer to 4 is that the cure is much better than having the disease.

      • Jon Kennon

        1. I agree completely with you. I love everything Elon/Tesla is doing I hope he succeeds to the extent that Tim thinks he will. The way we produce energy was a good start but it is archaic at best now. I can’t wait till the Tesla Energy battery is available here and I can put solar panels on my house efficiently.
        2. I still really want Tim to dedicate an entire post to how CO2 levels play a part in climate change. I think it is an important topic.

      • Tor_

        im non climate genious either, but i have a little theory.

        Take a garage, and a gas car in it and shut the doors while the car is running. After some time nobody would recommend staying in the garage.
        Then take a big tree and put in the garage (lets say it fits), and it will clean up a lot of the exhaust, so that it might be breathable in there.
        Then, go buy another car and leave it running in the garage. And start chopping of some of the branches on the huge tree……

        The garage can scale up to earth. Many people like chopping down trees to burn them.

  • EVDude

    Ok, I didn’t see it, I read and read for an hour or so.

    You didn’t explain or maybe didn’t think?

    The number one use of Electricity from Dirty plants? Converting Oil to Gas.

    So on top of the already dirty gas cars, it takes dirty electricity to make dirty gas.

    I think that puts EVs even ‘less’ dirty than gas…

    Watch this Volts for Oil on youtube

    to see the massive amount of dirty electricity it takes to make one gallon of gas

  • Harpreet Singh Sandhu

    People like Elon musk are proof that humanity isnt a lost cause. Otherwise after reading some comments here it seems that people will blame everything from the Sun to the stars and even the earth for the catastrophies we create, but ignore the obvious. they mostly read just one or few dissenting opinion(s) which suits them and stick to it, blocking out the others. How how long can they ignore the 97% really intelligent people, who happen to be experts on the subject and with years/decades of research to back them up. And those 97% are screaming at the top of their voice.
    My suggestion is a little less democratic, but i beleive we must keep a record of the most vocal and influential climate change deniars. After 25-30 years we must hold their kids responsible for the damage they have done. People wont like this, but it will be effective deterrent…

    • Sean Barry

      What an idea, someone give this guy an NGO!!

      On a serious note though, issues like this where one group is so clearly in the wrong like tobacco denial, climate change denial, arctic oil drilling risk denial etc really need people to be named and shamed at this point; they’re stirring shit up for their own greed, and people like that should not get away with it…

      • Harpreet Singh Sandhu

        Sean, i dont know what you meant by “giving me an NGO”, but if the intention was sarcasm then consider this: Species are dying everyday because of our attitude and stubborness, and the planet wont be left fit for millions of species because of our actions (actions of just 1 species). Its their survival vs our democracy/freedom/free speech etc. the climate change deniars are aiding and abetting a genocide on a massive scale, even if they are naive enough not to beleive it. there should be this deterrent where such people fear the society’s reprisal. And as they most probably wont live to see the damage, so shaming them wont work. its better if we decide to hold their next generation responsible, that will put some fear of god into them.

        • Stephen Wilson

          sean was agreeing with you

          • Harpreet Singh Sandhu

            my apologies, if that is true.

        • Sean Barry

          I’m sorry for the miscommunication, I didn’t mean sarcasm at all!! I grew up in Hong Kong, where people are very direct when they speak.

          You’re completely right though, and I absolutely support the idea you are proposing. However, I don’t see any government idea to stop this. I doubt they will start repressing or bad-mouthing the climate change deniers on the grounds of free speech for democratic governments, even though it is so obvious from society’s past experience of what Tim was saying about the tobacco health deniers hired by Big Tobacco.

          Since no government isn’t willing to risk getting in deep shit to accelerate public understanding of climate change, I suggest we set up a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to naming and shaming these so-called “scientists”, and the oil companies part of this, to make the public aware of this scandal. We have to make the link between Big Oil and the “scientists” for something to give.

          I don’t know if this counts as harsh for making it better, but I think it could be pretty effective. The more exposure, the better.

          • Harpreet Singh Sandhu

            so basically 2 things are required. 1) the archiving of data which constitutes as definite proof 20-30 years down the line, and 2) spreading the word around that it exists and who all are on it. If the world gets shitty in the future, we wont be having many soft laws. Also the society will be pretty pissed at what their ancestors did. Just imagine how they would treat the kids of those responsible. SIGH….all this is medieval, and i hope it never comes to that. But this threat would scare the shit out of those idiots, and at this time it seems pretty important.

  • Sam McClure

    One thing this articles doesn’t address that could potentially be a future article: how the American market is shifting away from smaller cars and why. It’s an interesting dichotomy, as the automakers get better at building cars with improved fuel economy and lower CO2 emissions, the people are buying bigger vehicles. The crossover/small SUV has all but replaced the sedan as the family vehicle and truck sales are continuing to go up. Tesla right now is only planning on building a “step 3” sedan which is a shrinking market in the U.S.

    See this link to see a visual representation of vehicle sales in the U.S.:

  • Kalena Cook

    Have plate ready: Searching for a used Tesla S or new 3rd model, this fall. Now need to work on Solar on home, all in the Lone Star State!

  • Just Saying

    I’m a Tesla owner and love every part of this – the energy lessons, history, economics and how it’s all tied in together. However, you missed just 2 points about EV adoption. 1: the tax credit will probably expire for Tesla before Model 3 gets really running. 2: Apartment and urban dwellers without driveways or parking spaces and ways to charge at home won’t be able to jump into the EV game until charging is everywhere. Chicken and egg – spend money on chargers and people will buy EVs but you need people to buy EVs to make chargers worth building.

  • Joffan

    Just to add a historical perspective to “Burning fossil fuels makes everything shitty”…

    Before we found out how to do mechanical work with fossil fuels, people were a major source of mechanical work. And in many parts of the world, in many times, that meant slavery. And even where it wasn’t actual slavery, most people lived lives that would look extremely limited and unpleasant from a modern perspective.

    So yeah. We are now at a point where we are burning too much fossil fuel for the good of our own ecosystem. But we got here by improving people lives. And we shouldn’t be in too much of a hurry to throw that away.

    • Adam

      If fossil fuels paved the way to renewable electricity production, I’m sure the people in the yellow zone will look back on us and say “well, the black zone may have fucked up the environment, but they did do some good things; look at the technological revolutions they had”.

      • Sergio

        Before people started burning fossil fuels, the concept of “the environment’ as you reference it held almost no value, to almost no one, simply because human beings had no time or capacity to value something so abstract. The environment was cruel, harsh and constantly killing human beings through the natural elements, viruses, bacteria, and disaster after disaster. Fossil fuels may be crude, but they continue to be the instrument of our salvation as we transition to renewables. I think a little bit more respect for the privilege they afford you is warranted. No?

        • Greg Alexander

          There’s no reason not to respect everything that has become achievable due to the energy Fossil fuels provided. And a little bit of harm has been outweighed by the good it’s brought, rightly. But the quantity of gasses we’re producing has become far too high.

    • Tipsy

      How is changing our energy supply throwing away labour saving devices?

      • Joffan

        Well, that’s implicitly my point. We need to change our energy supply, not simply think we can ditch one energy supply without having another one actually replacing it, as some of the anti-fossil-fuel talk would have it.

  • Ben Bulwer

    This is a great addendum with a couple corrections to Model S stats:

  • Isak

    Huge, huge fan of your posts, Tim! I think I have read all you have written here in just a matter of a few months. Keep’em coming!

  • Barry

    Great, great post Tim. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I wish there was a way to blast this out to the entire world and convince everybody to read it. I have two minor quibbles though that I hope you’ll get a chance to address.

    1) You said at the top “This is a highly politicized issue, but this post has no political agenda”. That’s an admirable goal and I believe you meant it, but your post definitely serves a political agenda, which is to contribute to the perception that anyone who disagrees with the idea that global warming is an imminent threat must be either ignorant, stupid, or dishonest. Many informed, intelligent, and honest people don’t buy into the threat because A) The climate is an incredibly complex system, and by their own admission climate scientists aren’t close to fully understanding it, and B) They have a deep mistrust of scientific alarmism, which has a pretty awful track record going all the way back to Malthus. Painting all climate skeptics with the same brush most definitely plays into the hands of a powerful political agenda.

    2) You gloss over the fact that Tesla’s business model relies heavily on the U.S Federal $7,500 EV subsidy. That’s a problem because A) There’s no guarantee they’ll be able to procure similar subsidies in other countries, hell, there’s no guarantee that the current U.S subsidy will make it past the next President. And B) This amounts to a direct transfer of wealth from all U.S taxpayers to Tesla and to Tesla’s wealthy shareholders. That’s a simple moral problem.

    Otherwise, fantastic job. The depth of your research always impresses me but you’ve out-done yourself here.

    • Stephen Wilson

      1)Climate skepticism only exists because of a political agenda.
      2) We are all taxed globally indirectly by climate change, what you call subsidy i call an insignificant contribution to the ACTUAL cost of warming the planet for global citizens.. ie. humanity

      • Barry

        Whether what you say is true or not, and I do agree with some of it, it doesn’t address my main concerns.

        • Sergio

          Barry – I certainly share your concerns, and appreciate you bringing them up in a thoughtful and constructive way following such a great and well researched article by Tim. To your issues with the popular alarmism, I also am a bit mystified by the almost irrational exuberance of many intellectuals to advocate such drastic courses of action based on a science that, while promising, still seems unable to offer reliable and accurate predictions about the climate even a decade out. I’m on board with the notion that climate change is happening, and am open to the notion that fossil fuel combustion is a contributing culprit – seems intuitive – but to take society level action through the use of serious and far reaching tools of government force and coercion based on this infant science seems batsh*t crazy to me.

          To your second issue – while I loathe subsidies, I don’t particularly take issue with Tesla receiving this particular wealth distribution since I learned of the subsidies paid to oil, gas and coal industries that each individually dwarf the renewable energy credits. If the price of existing fossil fuels are being artificially reduced through wealth transfers, then it stands to reason that renewables ought to be extended the same courtesy to even the playing field a little. Either advocate the elimination of all subsidies and wealth transfers (my preference and philosophy) or accept them all.

          Other than that, I too found Tim’s article to be a fantastic and engrossing read (read: massive time sink!).

          • Mind Bridge

            > seems unable to offer reliable and accurate predictions about the climate even a decade out

            The IPCC 1990 projections have been almost 100% correct. That is more than 20 years out.

            • Sergio

              Sources? A Google search of your statement reveals more articles suggesting failure across the board; though admittedly, there are many that make the opposite claim. Most curiously, the decade long “pause” that on average annual global temperature increases was completely missed by the modeling. I’d hope that a model we intend to use to roll the dice with the lives of actual human beings across many societies would be a little more robust. If the modeling isn’t quite there yet – fine – let’s keep working on it – but until there is little doubt about the models ability to factor in ALL variables and project out a reliable period of time, I simply can’t understand how you can argue for the moral high ground through violating individual rights.

    • Tipsy

      How can you say Tesla’s BUSINESS model relies on a few thousand of government subsidy that most customers aren’t aware of??

  • Jason

    Major problem I have not seen explained. How do you double the demand for lithium – with just 500,000 cars, let alone 80 million and expect the price of procuring it, if it is even possible in those amounts, to not increase significantly.

    Elon claiming he can drop the price by 30 percent while increasing demand that much for lithium does not make sense to me.

    • sturle

      Lithium is a common and little used element. About as common as lead, which has been used in larger amounts in batteries for fossil fuel cars for more than 100 years, and as an addition to the gasoline itself. There is no lack of lithium, but of course new sources will be developed due to the increasing demand. Even sea water is full of lithium salts.

      • Mehmet

        Plus he says 30% of production will be for Powerwalls for homes and businesses, and not just for EVs.

        That’s a lot of demand

    • Ben
    • Rikaishi Rikashi

      Because Elon Musk already thought of that. Tesla’s plan to reduce the cost of EVs includes going all the way back to the source of the materials they use. I get the impression that they are helping other companies improve the efficiency and volume of extraction and processing.

  • JoannaJRobinson

    p[[p top CashRun time with waitbutwhy… There’s Information


  • RJ

    A small correction needed here:
    Now let’s move to 2013 and look at the US energy flow. The unit is different here. A quad = 1 quadrillion BTU, which is about 1,000 quadrillion petajoules.
    It should be -> A quad = 1 quadrillion BTU, which is about 1,000 petajoules.

    • Adam

      I was sure 1,000 quadrillion petajoules was too much!

    • Tipsy

      its 10 to the 18 joules…

  • Nate

    Can you please put this into a book? I will buy a copy.

  • Concus Cretus

    nice, but little lengthy

  • jonathan thomas

    The author claims to not be political, but this whole thing is a summation of loony liberal talking points. First, while CO2 and temperature are correlated with each other, ice core data shows that CO2 rise FOLLOWS temperature rise, and does not cause it. Correlation does not equal causation. There are other factors that affect the climate much more than the miniscule amount (0.04%) of CO2 in the atmosphere. That big nuclear fusion reactor in the sky probably has some effect.

    Second, it is a myth that “renewable” energy can just clean up the grid real quick to lower the CO2 footprint of EVs. Even the engineers at Google have evaluated renewable energy and concluded “Trying to combat climate change exclusively with today’s renewable energy technologies simply won’t work.” An EV will remain a fossil-fuel powered car until we massively scale up nuclear energy–its as simple as that.

    EV’s are a great option for local commuting, but they will always be inferior at driving long distances due to the energy density of the batteries vs the energy density of liquid hydrocarbon fuels. The Internal Combustion Engine IS the superior technology, and it displaced EVs in the free market because of this simple fact.

    • Max Taylor

      A well-to-wheel analysis of EVs versus internal combustion engine vehicles conducted by researchers at MIT found that “EVs have been shown to reduce energy consumption by up to 50%” [1, p.1]. So while EVs will remain ‘fossil-fuel powered’ for some time, they are still significantly more energy efficient than their ICE counterparts. And with 2 billion vehicles on the roads (and growing), this matters.


      • jonathan thomas

        basically…no better than a Toyota Prius, which is more versatile and has far better range and refuelability.

        • Max Taylor

          Do you have the well-to-wheel analysis figures for a Prius?

          • jonathan thomas

            Check your MIT reference that you personally linked. Compare HEV to BEV. Prius wins.

            • Max Taylor

              There’s no mention of HEV energy consumption in the paper, only CO2 emissions. If you drive 100km in a Prius, the first 23km are electric, the remaining 77km are ICE. In a Leaf the full 100km are electric. How can the Prius be more energy efficient? Physics is non-negotiable.

            • jonathan thomas

              It looks like you don’t understand the physics.

            • Max Taylor

              Right on. In that case, please explain how travelling the remaining 77km on an ICE uses less energy than electric propulsion?

            • jonathan thomas

              Please explain how traveling 100 km in a fossil-fuel powered BEV uses less energy than traveling 100 km in a HEV, when a HEV has lower wells-to-wheels and tank-to-wheels carbon emissions.

            • jeffhre

              …when using research results based on 25 year old studies when coal provided for 50% of US electricity production, and compared to the Prius and no other HEV?

              Not in 1) 2015 when 40% of Tesla car owners in California deploy solar panels to offset their electricity use, 2) the Tesla gets 89MPGe (that is when the Tesla is on the same coal fired energy used to refine the gas in the Prius, with the 25 year old data used in the study [actually using any point from 2003 back]) and 3) the Prius gets 50MPG.

            • Eric O’Reilly

              The electric car in stop and go traffic (city driving or ultra short distances) is by far and away the most efficient use of energy (the electric motor is pretty badass) On a longer trip (no stopping and over 35 miles) depending on the efficiency of the ICE vehicle the ICE car has the ability to win. the old hondra crx got almost 50 miles to the gallon … on a road trip verse and EV it would have been no comparison. my jeep wranger though … poor jeep loses in pretty much every scenario.

            • Brian H

              Versus a Telsa, it loses badly. eMPG of 89+. And a beautiful ride and drive. Range 200-300 miles depending on geography and driving style (documented by owners). Tesla’s Supercharger network is putting free hi-voltage DC chargers closer together than that. Worldwide.

            • jonathan thomas

              Such a dumb argument. Yes, the electric engine is very efficient, but it relies on electricity produced at the power plant which is, what, 35% efficient? And you lose some fraction (10%?) in transmission, and another 10% when you charge the battery.

            • sturle

              Even in China coal powered plants are 50% efficient, way more than the 20% you can expect in a car. Also the exhaust from the power plant is cleaned and released far above peoples heads and usually away from populated areas, and the waste heat is often used for something useful. The total efficiency of most power plants in Denmark is more than 90% because the waste heat is used for heating homes and water for people in the cities they are located nearby. While cars release their poisonous gases on ground level in the middle of cities, and need to get rid of excess heat as well. You loose more in the transmission of ICE cars, btw.

            • jeffhre

              Each modality has losses getting to that point of course. But doesn’t 35% efficient beat 23% efficient on the low ends?

              Combined cycle plants in Norway can be 90% efficient. After 24 months, PV panels simply facilitate an exchange of energy from the sun’s violet and red wavelengths traveling the earth’s atmosphere. Where does petroleum based driving match that for efficiency on the high ends- other than coasting down hill on the return leg of a ski vacation!

            • jeffhre

              Ummm, the electric car in stop and go traffic, when coasting down a steep hill, with a fairly low battery, is the most efficient, LOL. Not sure how an ICE with a max efficiency of 53 MPG (Prius C) can beat an EV with over 100 MPGe over a distance for efficiency alone. Distance yes, but efficiency?

        • Stephen Wilson

          youre a troll

        • jeffhre

          Yes, using research results based on 25 year old studies when coal provided for 50% of US electricity production, when compared to the Prius and no other HEV.

          Not in 2015 when 40% of Tesla car owners in California deploy solar panels to offset their electricity use.

    • starmartyr

      Someone alert all the scientists! This guy knows more than everyone else!! Sorry guy, but just being someone who posts a lot online in climate change discussions doesn’t qualify you to be an expert in anything – thank god.

      Anyway what exactly are you fighting so hard against? Caps on the ‘free market’ so you don’t have to worry about your job or your investments? Why root for more emissions, more pollution, more destroying the planet? You want your kids growing up to inherit a pile of shite just so you have a solid pension? I don’t understand the logic. Why not try to do what we can while we can? We are obviously doing damage to the Earth in a multitude of ways. What is wrong with trying to fix some of the major problems we are causing?

      • jonathan thomas

        You sir are a prime example of brainwashed loony liberalism. Fossil fuels don’t destroy the planet, they improve the planet. They contribute to higher human standards of living, and recycle plant food back to the plants that we all depend on for survival.

        • starmartyr

          Haha – call me whatever you wish, I don’t identify on right or left of the narrow American political spectrum. There are shades of truth on all sides and anyone with an open mind is willing to see from different ones. You’ve obviously already made up your mind. What I’m asking is, why not? Why not reduce emissions, what are you so worried about?

          This is part of a larger problem and discussion. If we don’t give a shit about 2-3 billion automobiles and endless production emissions, let alone the damage done by just extracting fossil fuels, then what do we care about?

          Do we then not care that there’s a Texas-sized island of garbage growing ever bigger in the pacific ocean? (or do you not believe in that either?) Do we keep burning everything down in the name of profit? Do we bother to do anything about any of these things at all? Or are you more worried about a paycheck?

          I guess you can just practice telling your kids “good luck with that”.

          • jonathan thomas

            Now you’re confusing different issues. No, there’s not an “island of garbage.”

            But hey, I recycle. If you want to try to quit using plastics, feel free to. That is not the issue in question, which is regarding fossil fuel emissions. CO2 is not a pollutant, its plant food, and it does nothing but improve life on the planet.

            • starmartyr

              I’m not confusing anything. I said this is part of a larger issue of man-made destruction of the environment. If you care about one, how do you not care about another? How does it become an issue of whether you believe in it or not? How about the benefit of the doubt: why not try to improve things instead of being stubbornly stuck in your ways?

              You also ignored every question I posed, but addressed one thing you figured you could correct me on. Very selective!

              As per your link (to a super reputable site that may as well be Wikipedia BTW) – “FACT: There are millions of small and microscopic pieces of plastic, about .4 pieces per cubic meter, floating over a roughly 5000 square km area of the Pacific. This amount has increased significantly over the past 40 years.”

              That is plastic garbage that is breaking down. It has simply been nicknamed “garbage island”. But the size of the bits are actually what is the worst part: when it gets that small, guess what feeds on all that plastic? I guess you would just call that fish food and say nature is recycling?

              Anyway, based on your very successful campaign of changing ‘brainwashed liberal looney” minds, I guess I should head over to the climate change denial forums and call them all “brainwashed republican nutbags” and see how many opinions I can sway! That should serve some purpose to at least make me feel smug, right? Glad you recycle – the world is now saved.

            • jonathan thomas

              I’m confused as to your point now. I do not condone the littering of plastic in the ocean, and in fact, nobody that I’m aware of condones this. Its not germane to the issue of fossil fuel emissions.

            • starmartyr

              I’m asking why you care about one part of the whole issue, but not the other. Obviously you’re just avoiding the questions I’ve posed.

              I urge you to visit the tar sands, an oil spill clean-up, or your local fracking grounds to find out what fossil fuels do the environment – just from getting them out of the ground – before we even get to burn them in our cars and homes. But what you’ll likely do instead is just keep thinking of it all as “harmless”, and “just plant food”. You won’t have to live with the effects, right?

            • jonathan thomas

              We should of course minimize oil spills wherever possible. However, fracking and mining the tar sands have very little detrimental effect to the environment. Mining the tar sands is, in effect, cleaning up oil from the environment. The anti-fracking propaganda movies that Hollywood put out were financed by Middle Eastern companies that don’t want us developing our own resources, and instead want us to be forced to buy from them, and be dependent on them. Get a clue.

            • starmartyr

              Holy crap, you really are a lunatic – it’s sadly ironic you go around calling people that.

              I’ve seen the fucking tar sands and it is a goddamn nightmare. If all you’ve ever seen or heard about the tarsands is from the media and your echo-chamber websites, then I can see why you keep throwing around “brainwashed” and “propaganda”… you speak from experience.

              If you ever actually saw these things for yourself instead of putting on your tinfoil hat and screaming “It’s a liberal conspiracy! Open your eyes people!!” at everyone, you might have a leg to stand on. Christ, you are hopeless.

            • SuperFlons
            • jonathan thomas

              Yes! Nuclear >> renewables

            • jeffhre

              “However, fracking and mining the tar sands have very little detrimental effect to the environment.”

              Sure, Everyone knows that an oily plot of land with it’s top surface scraped off is a more valuable piece of real estate, than a plain old arboreal forest.

            • Stephen Wilson

              troll off again

            • Stephen Wilson

              troll off

    • Brian H

      You’ve got most of that right, but experience of EV (Tesla) owners is that the extra planning effort required to drive long distances is more than worth it, as the cars are so superior. Fuels which are 80% wasted as heat lose their “density” advantage.

      CO2 is just recovering from plant starvation levels, and it’s beyond human capacity to raise it far enough to cause even one doubling.

      Have a look at the latest paper by Bill Gray: . Climate sensitivity is actually tiny: One doubling causes about 0.3K temperature rise. Not a problem, just a small benefit.

      • sturle

        “Prepared for the Heartland Institute’s 7 th International Conference on ClimateChange (ICCC-7) to be held in Chicago, IL during May 21-23, 2012”

        There it is again. The Heartland Institute. Still funded by big oil, the Kochs brothers and Phillips Morris, still busy denying climate change and negative effects of smoking. They will accept anything they get which support their stance, and use it for all it is worth (or not).

        Bill Gray used to be very good at predicting hurricanes. He is old school, 86 years old, and don’t believe in computer models. He prefers to analyze meteorological reports on paper. I don’t think he has got any peer-reviewed papers published on climate change, and computers have become better than him at predicting hurricanes as well.

        Plants can tolerate a lot less CO2. Ever wondered why plants grow slower in the winter when the CO2 level is the highest? There is almost no link between CO2 level and plant growth, unless sunlight, water, temperature and everything els is perfectly adjusted in an artificial environment.

    • Tor_

      EV’s great for local commuting only ? You have to tell that to the guys that drove 4000 km’s from Amsterdam to Nordkapp (Northern Norway, far north of the northest most supercharger).
      Or the amount of people that are cruising around Europe last few summers on vacation, just because they can do it, and its comfortable.

      EV’s was a great option for local commuting, until Tesla arrived.

      • jonathan thomas

        Nice if you:
        a) have a lot of time
        b) have $100k to drop on a car
        c) want to limit yourself to rapid travel only where there are superchargers installed

        For most people, liquid fuels are the best option.

        • Rikaishi Rikashi

          c) want to limit yourself to rapid travel only where there are superchargers installed

          No really. The couple that roadtripped around Iceland in a Model S would also disagree.

          • jonathan thomas

            Then you’re stuck at point (a). Stuck on the side of the road charging.

        • sturle

          a) No, you don’t need more time than usual. Most of the time in a day you aren’t driving anyway. Remember your car will be fully charged every morning, and you can drive at least 400 km before you have to charge it. If you haven’t passed any fast chargers in those 400 m, I’ll be surprised. Use the opportunity to take a piss, get a cup of coffee and a snack before you drive on, because 400 km is a very long stretch.

          b) True, not everyone want to drop $100k on a car. It is all about your priorities. And remember to calculate savings on gas, oil change, service, etc.

          c) I’ve taken holidays far from any superchargers. No problem. Quick charge when shopping, or eating, get a full charge overnight at the hotel, etc. In Europe 22kW AC chargers are plentiful, and those will deliver 100 km extra range per hour of charging. On the motorways between major cities, which is the rapid route in most cases, there will usually be a supercharger.

          And the owners of electric cars disagree with you. 1 in 5 cars sold in Norway is electric. Only 9% of all respondents in a large Norwegian study on electric car owners said they would consider an ICE the next time they went shopping for a new car. Over 90% wouldn’t even consider it, while about 40% of ICE car owners would consider buying electric next time. Electric car owners are very happy with their cars, and won’t switch, while the ICE owners are less happy with their cars and consider switching to an electric. It usually comes down to b). Not everyone have $100k at once to drop on a car which in their view has enough range.

    • Greg Alexander

      I’ve heard that Google argument before.
      ‘Even the engineers at Google have evaluated renewable energy and concluded “Trying to combat climate change exclusively with today’s renewable energy technologies simply won’t work.”’

      You realise that’s in a pro-renewable context right? They’re saying we need to switch to renewables, and they’re good, and climate change is happening, but switching to renewables will take just so long we need to look at multiple ways.

      It surprises me that it’s continually quoted as a negative on renewables.

      • jonathan thomas

        The fact is that nuclear energy is the only CO2-free energy source that can possibly be sufficiently scaled up to power our civilization. Today’s “renewables” are pointless placebos.

        • jeffhre

          You cover the scale issue. But what about the temporal one? And price?

  • Michel Kangro

    Here’s a thing that I don’t know how to fix right now:
    While I own my own house, I don’t have any room at the street to park my car, let alone install a power outlet to charge it. I use public parking. That would put EVs to substantial charging problems.

    • Rikaishi Rikashi

      That’s a highly unusual situation.

      Some Model S owners choose not to charge at home and only use superchargers for free amps.

      Other owners have chargers provided by employers which they hook up to while at work.

      • Michel Kangro

        Is it that uncommon not to have a private parking spot with access to electricity in a city? Of course, Model S owners might really usually have a house with parking/garage or a job that pays for these kind of things, but at the latest once Tesla wants to introduce the 30k$-model, it is supposed to also reach the smaller income. I for one cannot wait, but I cannot see right now how it’d work out for me.

        • Rikaishi Rikashi

          It’s pretty unusual where I come from, even for renters below the (relative) poverty line. But I suppose it would different in a country which has seen zero real wage growth for half a century.

          Eventually, your city might be persuaded to install public chargers or accessible power outlets for situations like yours, especially if they have committed to 100% renewables or complete de-carbonisation as many cities already have. But for now I can definitely see your problem.

      • Tor_

        And some like me, prefer to charge home at night while sleeping. We have a saying here in Norway that goes something like: “make everyone happy, nobody can do”, so we might just have to accept for now, that some living arrangements just aint fitted for EV’s. Yet….

    • Greg Alexander

      I don’t think that can be fixed right now. There is a city (somewhere in the world) that has started offering free charging from some power/light-poles, but that’s a big step!

      Make sure you think of the TWO places you leave your car for long periods. Most people park their car at home overnight, but during the day park at a train station, public parking station, or at work.

      In Western Australia they did a trial with government vehicles where they focussed on offering day-time charging. It was very successful – and it wasn’t due to overnight charging issues, instead they wanted day-time charging because they felt that in future Solar Power will give a glut of energy in the middle 4 hours of the day, and that EVs should be charged at that time.

  • gary

    Wow, my two favourite bloggers writing today and sort of on the same subject.
    Touching on Elon Musk and my favourite topic (externalities).
    Tim, if you’re monitoring this comment list you might like to check out this blog:
    The author (john Michael Greer) is a lot like you.
    You both obviously do huge amounts of research when writing your blogs and you have the ability to present cogent arguments.
    You might get quite a bit from reading his blog. Fascinating stuff. Particularly going back a few episodes to the ones about externalities.
    It comes at the problems of the world from a different perspective.
    I don’t think he would quite see your faith in Tesla changing the world the way you see it.
    But If you read thru his posts I think it would open your eyes to a fresh perspective.
    I’ll be posting a comment on his blog to encourage him to read yours too.
    Anyway, great post today (as usual). Keep up the good work.

  • val

    Amazing article! A few questions – could we ever run out of lithium like we will fossil fuels? Is it an energy-intensive process to “extract” lithium or to manufacture the battery?

    • Tim Urban

      I asked Musk about this. Actually I asked him about counterarguments against electric cars. In my talks with him, he had been very frank about the negative sides of the various things he was doing, and I was curious what he’d say the valid counterarguments against EVs were. His answer, verbatim:

      “Usually the arguments are so poor, they’re mind-numbingly dumb, and super obviously wrong, they’re not very complex and nuanced. So…let me think… what’s a good one…um……..i mean there’s just….they’re so dumb…..they’re usually just staggeringly dumb….there’s um…….”

      He was trying with all of his Elon brain and it wasn’t happening. Finally he came up with the fact that the cathode material in the battery had been almost entirely cobalt, and cobalt is expensive, in limited quantity, and it comes from a war-torn region of Africa. But then he explained that that wasn’t valid anymore, since Tesla had switched to a nickel-based cathode, and nickel is a common material and comes mostly from Canada.

      Finally, he mentioned the point about lithium, saying, “A lot of people think we’ll run out of lithium, but lithium is staggeringly common on Earth.”

      In my other research, I saw this point about lithium verified again and again, so I didn’t delve much further into it myself.

      • Harpreet Singh Sandhu

        Hi Tim, did you factor in that the super chargers on highways are going to be solar powered while calculating mpg’s. Also, what is the current trend and rate of our transition from coal based power to nucler/renewables?

        • Rikaishi Rikashi

          Nuclear is basically dead in the water. Hopes for its revival are based on relatively unproven technologies.

          The US is just starting to move on offshore wind, which has the potential to be a huge source of energy relative to its consumption.

          Solar’s share of global energy production is currently doubling every two years and needs 7 more doublings to hit 100%

          • Pedro

            Solar for everyone!

          • jeffhre

            Nuclear takes an average of 13 years to build 1 gigawatt of capacity. Over budget, after years of opposition and missed deadlines, while employing customer rate hikes for funding.

            Solar takes about one year to install a GW of peak production. Within budget estimates, while using investor monies which, does not raise electricity costs. Wind does about the same, at about 30% less cost. Wind and solar are rapidly falling in cost. The cost of nuclear is rising.

            I would hate to be the executive who plans for nuclear today, watches the cost curves cross over and continue up for nuclear and down for renewables – for the next 13 years.

      • I wonder if you talked to him about rare earths. No rare earths, no super-efficient magnets. No super-efficient magnets, EV performance goes down a lot.

        Rare earths are not especially rare, but they’re hard to find in economically mineable quantities. Any idea what 70% EV passenger-miles would do to the proven reserves?

        • jeffhre

          Tesla uses AC induction motors, not permanent magnet motors which require rare earths. And rare earths are not so rare, just more rare than well – earth! The US and Canada each have rare earth reserves, mining has been shut down though, since the China rare earth production has been so cheap, and so much manufacturing was located there anyway.

          • Ah, thanks–didn’t know about the Tesla motors.

            As I understand the rare earth mining issue, it’s mostly a case of what’s economical to extract. The US has been kinda stupid about this, with a couple of companies shutting down their mines because they couldn’t compete with the Chinese sources. It can definitely be fixed, but for right now it’s a modest national security issue.

    • jeffhre

      We won’t run out of lithium – it’s common. We probably should look more at recycling of it economically, which Tesla has stated it’s doing. And it’s probably a bad idea to go around ripping open the planet to get it ad infinitum, since no one seems to take responsibility for cleaning stuff like that up!

      But as far as availability, there is reportedly more of it in seawater than anyone has yet conceived of using. For example in replacing all the gas cars ever made with batteries that can go 1000 miles on a charge. It is very expensive to extract from seawater though. One company even has untouched lithium reserves in Nevada, a short distance from Tesla’s proposed battery factory.

      And yes, unlike with burning fuels, lithium can be recycled, at the right price.

  • I used to think plants were innocents, but they’re not. They’re just slower, less aggressive murderers. Seed finds dirt. Seed germinates. Seed becomes a daisy. How pretty. A seed lands next to it. Seed germinates. Seed becomes a baby dogwood tree. How pretty. Baby dogwood tree grows up, and steals too many joules from the daisy, which dies. A bird shits a seed under the dogwood tree. It grows into a massive vine, climbing up and up. How pretty. The foliage from the vine steals too many joules from the dogwood tree, which dies.

    Plants are real dicks to each other. It’s just less energetic and less bloody than when a lion rips a gazelle to shreds.

    • Stephen Wilson

      i am constantly left agasp by the inhumanity of the plants

      • Jerry Bradbury

        Plants rool! The only purpose of animal life is to spread their seeds.

    • jeffhre

      Some tree species are just plain mass murders! A Eucalyptus tree, soo pretty, smells good provides shade, cleans the air, wonderful. Except its droppings basically poison anything below it. And if that doesn’t work, it’s branches are brittle, so they have a tendency to break off – and crush anything below!

      A few other trees are like that, or worse.

      • Walnut trees dump juglone, a broad-spectrum herbicide, everywhere in their vicinity.

        • jeffhre

          Stone cold killers!

  • 84pg

    I just love the first few paragraphs about trees and hitting the bottom and clearing shit. I love you. And I’m not even a girl. 😐

  • Mike

    Tim, 25000 words is definitely not a blog post. It is a book. 😛

  • starmartyr

    Goddamnit Tim, I was hoping to get something done today.

    • Michael Nelson

      More like the last three days, this was a long post….

  • NVU

    I was a Tesla non-enthusiast (but a heavy waitbutwhy enthusiast) before I read this article. Now I’m going to go buy that minivan-ish thing with the wing doors.

  • Richard

    I think a lot of this is on track, I just want to add a couple of things that people easily forget in all the noise.

    First I would love to know the truth about climate change. The only problem is that right now, debating it is kind of like arguing over what hobbies people will have when they colonize Mars.

    A lot of what we rely on is fancy untested theories and imagination. And if history teaches us one thing about the fancy untested theories that people come up with, it’s that they are a great source of punchlines a few hundred years later.

    Everything from the earth being the center of the universe to aether to smoking being healthy seemed like a really reasonable and logical idea to a lot of people at one time.

    A couple of things I noticed about the effects of temperature change above:

    1) The difference between 18,000 years ago and today was 5 degrees. It was also 18,000 years. I get impatient waiting for an ice cube to melt. I would imagine that watching half a mile of ice to melt would blow my mind.

    2) The difference between 100m years ago and now was 6 – 10 degrees – and all of the continents. I live in a place that used to be a seabed. That’s because the water moved. And/or it’s because the place I live moved. With the current progression of the continents, Los Angeles will eventually be north of San Francisco. And it’s not because the general emptiness of the culture will make it lighter so it floats on top of the sea like a too-cool-for-anything island.

    These comparisons can give us some ideas but they are not definitive.

    I don’t at all believe that everything is fine and nothing can go wrong. It’s more like we’re collectively taking our entire paycheck every 2 weeks and using it to buy lottery tickets. Things could work out really well or it could be the dumbest thing ever but right now we have no idea and people who talk about how they have the magic numbers or no one wins the lottery ever are both wrong. That’s scary, but we have to live with certain risks like climate change and giant asteroids wiping us out.

    So why do we have to live the risks with fossil fuels anyways? For a long time I didn’t really know, then I read The Rational Optimist (great book by the way). It points out that before we have fossil fuels, we used mammals for a lot of our power. And not just by chaining up horses and similar animals. What humans do to other animals and inanimate objects, they also do to other humans. And that’s how slavery became a major power source throughout much of human history.

    At any other time in history, you probably had a better chance of being the power source than the power consumer. Climate change sounds like it could be pretty bad. But I know our history also includes a lot of really awful things.

    Imagine that one day everyone on your street went crazy and started murdering each other so they could steal their neighbor’s shit. Most of human history was, in fact, just that.

    Until a couple of hundred years ago when so much awesome shit started raining down on us out of the sky that people in some areas decided it was a lot more useful to wait for the next train instead of hiding near a road to do a horse-jacking, or sit in one place and collect the iPhones that were just appearing out of nowhere instead of killing their friends to take their rotary phones.

    Cheap, easy-to-use energy has done wonders to make us less dickish and also create cool new things in our lives. Yes it does come with a lot of risks. But there is no time or place in history that I would rather be.

    One of the more concrete threats is running out of energy sources. Even that is an unknown (people have been predicting the end of oil since a few years after its discovery). But it seems a lot more linear. I don’t doubt that the cost of our current energy platform is rising and this will cause problems.

    I really do hope things get better. Even without new inventions, I would like to see a lot more nuclear power. Developing cheaper energy sources would be really awesome because it would mean the party of human civilization that the last 200 years have been has only reached 9pm instead of 1am and there might be an even bigger party the next day if we create super-intelligent computers or populate other planets.

    It seems like Elon Musk has a good chance of being at the center of all of that, and possibly the successor to this guy: There’s some scary shit out there, but all in all I’m pretty excited about what could happen.

    • Adam

      “That’s scary, but we have to live with certain risks like climate change and giant asteroids wiping us out.” – No, we don’t. We have to live with the incredibly minute risk of a giant asteroid wiping us out, at least in the near future, because we have no technology to deal with it.

      We don’t have to live with the problem of climate change – even if we didn’t want to reduce our energy usage, we know exactly how solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, biofuel and even nuclear power can generate electricity. We do not have to live with this risk.

      Also, for every example of science being wrong early on you can point at, I’m sure there are many examples of cases where science was right early on. The first thing that came to mind for me was evolution: while Lamarckism was pretty flawed and Darwinism has been tweaked over the last century, ever since 1850 scientists have been pretty much right with the general concept. Animals have changed over time as a result of slow, continual adaptations to best fit their ecosystem: that’s the gist, and that’s been known for well over a century. Now, there were and are people who fought against evolution, because it conflicted with some kind of agenda they had: with the case of evolution, we’re usually talking about religion and by religion, I mean “Christianity”. (Although, to be fair, Lamarck was a Catholic and the Catholic Church didn’t object to evolution until a while after the theory was proposed, when they realised evolution claimed humans evolved over time, which conflicts with the Bible.)

      In a similar scenario, there are people today who fight against the theory of global warming with an agenda: companies who financially profit from oil/coal/natural gas usage. But scientific consensus has been around since the 1970s, following the first proposal for the theory in the 1890s and the first convincing evidence for fossil fuels having the potential to damage the environment in the 1950s. Science isn’t perfect, but it holds the best answers we currently have: that’s the point of it. And science is currently saying “climate change is a big deal”. Maybe it’s wrong, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.

      • Sergio

        While Darwin was right, your reasoning is a little flawed. Evolution as a theory was a great guess when Darwin first proposed it, but the real punch and thrust of that theory has come from the numerous predictions it made that were subsequently tested and verified as accurate. Evolution stands up as a theory because it has consistently, since day 1, been so great as a predictive guide to biologists, among others.

        What drives me nuts about the “settled science of climate change” is that to this lay person, it’s the only “settled science” that can’t seem to make a consistent set of predictions upon which we can follow up with and test or observe in the environment. If we go back to the first IPCC Report and evaluate its predictions against actual results so far, it’s wildly off base.

        I get that this is a hugely complex and chaotic system of variables that scientists are grappling with. Cool. I get it. But my disconnect comes when I hear arguments that demand we massively curtail our way of life – very likely having serious and significant ramifications for the poorest of even the wealthiest nations on the planet – all because the above “settled science” that everyone agrees on, but can’t actually make useful and reliable predictions with “yet” – says so.

        Sounds like an example of the flawed precautionary principle or Pascal’s Wager in action… my 2 cents now firmly thrown in… bring on the EV revolution, solar panels on my roof and an AI overlord butler to read me a bedtime story.

    • jeffhre

      One day we will know for certain, if the word of 90% of scientists still seems too opaque?

      Musk once said, the threat of climate change is like we are running a massive worldwide experiment – on the only planet we have.

  • MV

    Please make the spreading bullshit image into a tee. I’ll be first in line for one.

  • cphoenix

    Your first footnote says fusion in the sun is just converting gravitational energy. No. You get a lot more energy out of fusion than that. Think of gravity as just the catalyst.

  • TGFH

    Hi Tim!

    I like to read your posts, because I can see, that you make a great work while collect the stuffs together.

    But I have a question: why do you not mention nuclear energy as one of our best chance in the fight against the climate change?

    Yes, I know, there are unsolved stuffs, like the used fuel assembies and everything, but I would guess, that the transition to an entirely solar, wind (and maybe ocean) energy based future would be much easier with improving the nuclear capacity in the world energy production sector for at least a few decades. In the far future, like in 100 years, it is beliveable to use nothing but electricity which is produced by solar and wind, but meawhile everybody speaks about changing to green energy (at least here in Europe), the amount of burned fossil fuel and emissioned CO2 rises paralell with the green energy production (because of balancing the green energies, and back-up use of gas power plants in case of no wind and sun), and the share of nuclear is decreasing.

    I understand the role of the power plants, but I have to say, that if somebody wants to save our world, he has to say nuclear and green energy simultaneously, like building a system in which they are complete, not face against eachother.

    So all, what I would like to ask that do you left that out on purpose or by accident?



    • SeeRexx

      Because only ONE Accident creates no man’s lands for THOUSAND YEARS.Not mentionning genetic malformations and cancers…
      It’s the most anti ecological self-destructing technology invented by man, followed by fracking.

      • TGFH

        Okay, you clarly don’t now shit about nuclear power plants nor decays and the effects of radiation on the human body. Ofc NPP’s are not sources of cancer and genetic malformations. They give about the same amount of radiation for an employee over a year, what you get in a medical x-ray investigation or a single transatlantic plane-route.

        I agree, the accidents are very bad, but they are extremly rare even with the very old technology. Three big accidents: TMI, Chernobyl, Fuhushima. All of them were the technology of the ’50s and ’60s. And this technology did 3 accidents over 15000 reactor-year. And to your no man’s land phrease: people were working in the Chernobyl plant till 2000. Yes, next to THAT unit.

        Of course I’m not saying, that the nuclar is the best, but just now it is the best choice (along the solar and wind) to fight against the climate change since it is a CO2 free technology. Nobody says nuke only, but it would be very effective in cooperation with RES.

        • jeffhre

          Sure effective. If you consider tying up billions of energy related dollars, for the next ten plus years, at rapidly escalating costs, and chronic missed deadlines, to be effective.

          • TGFH

            Cost is just one thing. I was talking about to prevent the emission of a vast amount of CO2, it is where NPP’s are effevtive, I was not talking about the licencing and building procedure.
            btw large share of the delays (and related this also the escalation of the costs) are caused by “green” organization for example, because these people like to sue all this procedures, because they know, that they can prevent the completion of a NPP, if the cause big delay enough to cause a significant escalation of the costs, and the investors would go away.
            Just take a look at China (which is ofc neither comparable with European or American standards nor acceptable in a democracy), where they started the work on site in 2010, and the NPP is gonna start to produce electricity this year. Yes, they are on budget (ofc it’s much harder to be sure about it, since it was built by the Chinese Government), and it’s less than 5 years. Just saying, it’s not impossible to build a NPP in time and in budget.

            • jeffhre

              Yes, cost is just one thing, LOL

      • SeeRexx

        From Chernobyl:”According to Dr. Pierpaolo Mittica, the on-going medical nightmare of radiation poisoning includes(25):

        1. An increase of 100 times the incidence in aggressive tumors of the thyroid(26) and 50 times the incidence in other radiation-related tumors (leukemia, bone and brain tumors) in the contaminated areas. Much of this carcinogenic increase is in children.

        2. There is a 30-percent increase “in malformations due to genetic mutations, of pathologies of the senses, cardio-vascular, skeletal, and muscular systems and the connective tissues, as well as diseases of the nervous system and psychic disorders.

        3. There is a 20-percent increase of premature births.

        4. These figures do not include unknown numbers of spontaneous abortions, miscarriages, and still-births due to radiation.

        5. Physicians and scientists who spoke out were discredited, fired, or jailed.

        6. Low-level radiation exposure remains a hazard.”

    • Rikaishi Rikashi

      If solar keeps doubling its share of global energy use every 2 years as it has been doing, then we will be 100% solar powered by 2030. Obviously it will probably ease off before then, but saying it will take 100 years when the current rate pegs it at 15 is overly pessimistic.

      The reality of trying to build a nuke plant today is that they are too expensive and have too many downsides compared to other options. But the lure of nuclear power is now being used to delay and distract from renewables in the same way that hydrogen fuel cells were used to supress EVs

      • TGFH

        Solar is only doubling it share till they got enough subsidies. Look the statistic in Germany.

        I wrote, that in 100 years will are gonna use only solar (and wind) produced electricity, but the exact abount of time doen’t really matter. It can be at 2070 or 2080, but it’s a bit unbeliavable for me. The most RES-friendly and rich countries like Germany, Denmark and UK are optimistic (in my opinion, or at least realistic), and they say, that around 80% will be the share of RES just in the electricity production. Not to mention heat and transportation. So I guess it’s a bit silly to suppose, that before 2070 or 2080 all countries on the earth can be independent from all form of fossil fuel. It’s possible (we can’t see the big inventions in advance), but not plausible.
        So my comment was related to the mid-term future, and even the short-term future (from today), while in my opinion the NPP’s are our best choice to fight against the climate change. Til we invent some very cheap and good energ storage tehnology.

        I know, and that is the problem. Green NGOs are fighting hard against nuclear and keep telling people, that nuclear is against the RES and prevent the move towards clean energy, but this is just not true. They can complete eachother, if you manage well your energy system. And yes, they are expensive (as the RES are expensive as well), but the clean energy has its price. And I can’t really get the downsides, as a nuclear energy engineer. New constructions are much safer than the old ones, it’s like everybody would be stressed to get on a plane, because the old ones were not safe. A bit different, because old NPPs are still among us (fortunately not the oldest ones anymore), but that’s why we should to build new generation plants.

        Even IEA (if i remember well) says, that if we wanna keep the temperature raise under 2°C, we should build twice as NPPs as we have now.

        • Rikaishi Rikashi

          Subsidies can generally only bootstrap an industry, advance it a few years or give it a competitive edge but cannot change the fundamentals, as shown by the nuclear industry in america which apparently is 100% subsidized but still cannot attract investment, and of course fossil fuels which benefit from huge direct subsidies and unpriced external costs yet are still losing ground to renewables.

          When renewables lose all their subsidies, as has happened with small-scale solar in Australia, it usually just flat-lines the industry’s growth for a year or two before it goes right back to the same course it was plotting when the subsidies applied.

          Subsidies should be training wheels which come off as an industry matures, but this is not how it has ever worked for energy industries. Fossil fuels and nuclear have been heavily subsidized for generations so why are renewables suddenly being held to a higher standard when they are the cleanest and safest forms of generation we know of?

    • Tor_

      Ive read both of the WBW AI posts, and im pretty sure that within reasonable time automated construction of vast amount of solarenergy solutions will be triggered around the globe. The innovations of solar panels is also thriving, and those newest black panels when they go into production can even produce sufficient amount of power on cloudy days.

      The only good thing about nuclear energy is that its a steady flow around the clock, but the downsides are so huge that i would put my money on solar any given day.

      • TGFH

        Yes, I understand your point of view, but the humanity just can’t sit at home and wait, that somebody will invent something. Meanwhile we emmit a vast amount of CO2. I also read those posts and I’m also a bit sceptic, if the AI will be good for us as a mankind or not, but it isn’t belonging here. It is also possible, that we are gonna invent the AI just over 50 years from now, and still that, are we gonna use the fossils and emmit CO2 as we did since forever?
        In my comment, I was talking about the short- and mid-term future, while we are not able to storage such amount of energy from daylight to night. Not a sinlge solar panel (I mean PV cell) can produce electricity at night, when our electricity consumption is about 2/3 of the consumption at daylight. (I’m not sure what do you mean “sufficient amount of energy”) And without the storage technology we have to produce the energy by burning lignite, coal and gas.
        So it is a VERY big advantage of the nuke plants, that they can produce electricity at any time without CO2 emission. And to prevent or at least slow down the climate change, we have to start to work on it just now, not in 10-20-30 years, when a new technology MIGHT BE avaliable (for storage). And I really don’t agree with the huge downsides, the old nuclear technology is also pretty safe (we got 3 big accindents over 15000 years of operating reactors, 2 of them clearly was the fault of the technology or the operators (RBMK- Chernobyl, TMI) while one of them was the result of an enormous earthquake, and cunami, which killed like 20000 people in Japan. And, all of these were the technology of the 1960s. The new designs are at least 10x safer. So I can’t agree with you, my opinion is, that we should incerease the amount of electricity produced by nuclear power plant paralell with the solar and wind energy so get rid of the dirty fossil-fuel plants, till we invent some acceptable and cheap strage-technology (till like 2060).

        But ofc it is just my opinion. 🙂 We can argue on that.

        • Tor_

          Sorry for the late answer…

          You obviously know a fair bit about nuclear reactors. Which i dont. So i wont argue on that 😉

          What i mean, maybe Elon Musk can explain here from around 15 minutes and out to around 20 min or so.

          Hes talking about the clear area (safety area) around the nuclear power station, compared to the solar energy solutions available.

          I dont think we need an “fully grown AI” to automate a lot of the processes.

          The night time issue is a challenge, and batteri-powering the grid is time consuming so i agree that nuclear might do a good job in that.

          And of course, we are both totally agreed on that everything is better then burning fossile fuels, which is the big big issue. Our little discussion is minor compared to the big problem.

    • SuperFlons

      Much better versions of nuclear reactors have already been developed in the 60’s. Thorium reactors are a very interesting piece of American history that strangely got ignored during the nuclear arms race. Watch the first 5 min:

      • Ryder

        Great video! Funny how people “for change” with “open minds” won’t look at nuclear.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy

          Great video! Funny how people “for change” with “open minds” won’t look at nuclear.

          Because “open minds” is Newspeak for “Agreeing 1000% With MEEEEEEEEEE!”

      • TGFH

        Hi, I’m an energy engineer on the field of nucler energy, so know a pretty much about the available reactors and the ones which are being under developement. Thorium reactors are not a market-ready technology yet, and in my comment I was talking about the middle-term future like from just now till the ’60s and ’70s. If you don’t belive me, try to buy a thorium-reactor at the market, you will see: the technology is ready as a concept, but nobody sells you a single one. Unfortunately. Experts say, that it will be ready (for SAFE) commercial operation at around 2040-2050.
        In the long term future (if sufficient energy storage technologies are gonna be ready to sell on the market, like the Powerwall, just much better, longer life and cheaper), than the solar and wind energy with some fusion and/or thorium will supply us wtih energy. But what about the short term? All we do now is building solar and wind power plants, which can’t supply energy when we need it, and when there is no wind and no solar, we have to produce the electricity with lignite-, hard coal- and gas-combustion power plants, and all-in-all, we emmit more CO2, than before.. Unfortunately.

        • jeffhre

          “when there is no wind and no solar, we have to produce the electricity with lignite-, hard coal- and gas-combustion power plants, and all-in-all, we emmit more CO2, than before.. Unfortunately.”

          What do you mean we? Fortunately there are engineers who have thought this out on far more levels than that. We use lignite coal because it has been convenient for 200 years, not because it is the best or even cheapest solution.

          Big data and predictive algorithms are beginning to make the idea of baseline generation economically go away. We are more and more filling in gaps with fast reacting gas turbines, even as wind and solar are being developed at continually higher utilization levels, caused by advancing technology. Gas and wind are cheaper than new coal, and solar is competitive on the retail level in many places.

          Nuclear outages can cause big gaps in grid generation, and this is why pumped hydro was developed. Pumped hydro can be used to smooth out wind and solar variability as well. Geothermal, solar thermal and biomass are growing into these roles also.

          Much more offshore wind, which has a higher capacity level, and has cycles that are complementary with solar and onshore wind, is being developed.

          And true to Tim’s topic, as EVs proliferate, demand management and storage will become ever more powerful tools.

          • “Big data and predictive algorithms are beginning to make the idea of baseline generation economically go away.”

            I keep seeing this meme pop up more and more, which I guess is hopeful, since it means that the renewables folks realize that there’s a problem. But this is a pretty big arm-wave.

            First, the most efficient plants aren’t very good at producing peaking power. Peakers need to be able to move on- and off-line in seconds to minutes. Simple gas turbines are ideal, but they’re not very efficient.

            The more efficient gas plants use a combined cycle, which consists of a first-stage gas turbine, with the waste heat from the expander being used to drive a more traditional steam plant. They’re great for baseload power, and they’re sorta-kinda OK for intermediate load, but they’re lousy as peakers–they take too long to bring up and down.

            The storage technologies for solar and wind may be mature at some point in the future, but they’re not right now. For right now, these technologies need to be coupled with really agile peakers, because they’re great for peak power–right up until the time that wind dies and the sun goes behind a great big cloud.

            “Nuclear outages can cause big gaps in grid generation, and this is why pumped hydro was developed.”

            Pumped hydro is a peaking technology, not a baseload replacement technology. But nuclear outages are increasingly rare. There has been a profound change in the safety and reliability profile for nukes over the past 30 years. Since the mid-80’s, average significant events per reactor have fallen from 2.5/yr to 0.1/yr. While nukes do have to do planned shutdowns every year or so for fueling, unplanned outages are very rare events.

            • jeffhre

              That doesn’t differ radically from what I have seen practiced and reported, except you added the arm waving!

              Nuclear is likely many times safer than solar on roof tops so far, when you view the number of accidents per MWh, so falling rates don’t mean much, based on a low base.

              Price is another issue. Financing as well. As is time to deployment.

            • The difference is in the kinds of technology that are suitable for base load and peaking. You could construct an entire grid out of peaking plants, but it would be expensive. On the other hand, if you had perfect control of load, you could construct an entire grid out of baseload–but the perfect control would likely be expensive. Better automation and instrumentation can get you closer to either of these extremes, but I think what’s possible is being oversold.

              My nuclear comment was in response to your “nuclear outages can cause big gaps in generation” comment, and was directed more at reliability than safety. Unplanned shutdowns just don’t happen very often any more. The “significant event” count always implies that a nuke went into unplanned shutdown. That’s what’s dropped, but of course that reduction also implies improved safety as well.

              Agree that price and lag time are the nuke’s Achilles heel. But you really do need the baseload.

            • jeffhre

              Yes that is different, the distinction will blur, if not disappear.

            • jeffhre

              That is where we differ. IMO the entire conception of baseload and how it is deployed, will change over time.

            • Not unless you have cheap and reliable peaking technologies. If the battery fairy flies over and dumps a high-scale storage technology that has an LCOE of $5/MWh on us, then we’ll talk.

              Pumped hydro? It has construction costs of $1010-$4500/kW. Those are comparable with the lower end of those of nuclear.

              No simple answers here, irrespective of how much computation you throw at the problem.

            • jeffhre

              Yet, not difficult to conceive, even though incredibly expensive to execute. It will happen, since grid and generation assets are constantly being replaced. GEs “imaginatively named” Brilliant system is extending the capacity factors for wind assets by over 20% for it’s first iterations. Excel Energy in Colorado is using similar sensor and algorithm combinations to lower their use of spinning reserves to cover their solar assets.

              California is developing geothermal resources and has added 8GW of solar in the last 3 years. Iowa gets over 25% of electricity from wind. The EU generates over 30% of electricity with renewables. The northwest has a lot of hydro. The coasts have vast amounts of offshore wind capacity. Texas, gets over 10% of it’s huge electricity demand from wind. The Mid-West is developing biomass and New York recently added an interconnection to take off hydro from Canada.

              It is easy to see an area like NY querying EV customers on adapting discounted pricing for signing up for demand management programs, just like A/C users and industrial plants are asked to now. Without requiring trillions of dollars of smart grid updates (so many commuters walk or use transit that multitudes of cars are not used much until weekends).

              Australians add over 11,000 solar systems a month. China added over 10 GW of solar alone last year. The grid will be continue to be extended by regionally available assets, and will no longer be shaped by cookie cutter developments from centralized generation plans.

            • jeffhre

              “Steve Holliday, CEO of National Grid, the company that operates the gas and power transmission networks in the UK and in the northeastern US, believes the idea of large coal-fired or nuclear power stations to be used for baseload power is “outdated”. “From a consumer’s point of view, the solar on the rooftop is going to be the baseload. Centralised power stations will be increasingly used to provide peak demand”, he says, in an exclusive interview for World Energy Focus, a publication of the World Energy Council produced by Energy Post. The chief of National Grid also notes that energy markets “are clearly moving towards much more distributed production and towards microgrids”. – Energy Post, 9/11/15.

        • Ryder

          If Musk or Gates spent a billion one one, then you’d expect to see it in years rather than decades.

          • TGFH

            Yeah, I would be the happiest man alive. But since our society strogly depends on electricity, the decisionmakers have to consider the possibility that it won’t happen so early.
            It will happen, I have no doubt about that, but the key is: when?
            People spent huge amount of money on fusion research too, and we still don’t have an operational fusion power plant. And it’s going on for like 60 years. We can’t live with an energy sector based on RES+fossil till then, not even we produce the electricity 60-70 RES and the rest of it from fossil. It’s still too much emitted CO2, this is my point of view.

          • This isn’t a problem that’s completely tractable to having money thrown at it. A lot of the safety and reliability features of any new nuke come from extensive operation of pilot plants. You learn things about the technology that just take time to emerge. More importantly, you learn the best practices for operating the thing safely. It took us 35 years of operating LWR nukes before the safety profile changed dramatically (and, as we know, it’s still not 100% safe). I’d expect a similar learning curve on a LFTR or any other thorium technology.

            But a few hundred million to do the R&D and build the pilot plant would be nice.

            • Ryder

              Well, sure… things happen in their pace. Regulatory processes especially… but keep in mind that it was already built over half a century ago, and ran… that’s a major hurdle out of the way right there.

            • See elsewhere in Superflons’ subthread for a fuller explanation, but no, we didn’t build it more than a half a century ago. We proved that you can sustain fission in a molten salt reactor, at very low scale (only 7.4 MW(t)), with some but not all of the chemical processes you’d need for a commercial breeder reactor, and with no thorium-to-U-233 breeding. You’d need to develop all of the chemical engineering technologies in a small form-factor, at commercial-scale power, using sufficiently tested metallurgy, and with the best practices developed so the continuous on-site chemical reprocessing was safe and reliable.

            • Ryder

              You seem to be working very hard to miss a point. Nobody said that what they built was of commercial quality or purpose… But the point being that it has been demonstrated, which is a far cry from theoretical…

              Would you miss the point of seeing the Wright Flyer take to the air… criticizing it for its low altitude and duration? It’s total lack of commercial capacity?

              Let us hope not.

            • Since the goal here is to develop a viable thorium breeder technology and the Oak Ridge MSRE didn’t use thorium in the fuel cycle at all, the proper analogy is closer to the Wright brothers’ glider experiments. It’s very nice work, but it’s hard to call it an airplane if you don’t have the engine on-board.

            • Ryder

              Yes…. that’s an improvement on the analogy…. Plenty of work left to do.

            • jeffhre

              It would be great. But it certainly wouldn’t assure that the industry would do a 180 degree turn and support LFTR technology. What if the NRC and friends treat it the way Senator Ferguson’s investigation with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission treated Tucker automobiles or the way state DMVs and NADA still treat Tesla sales in multiple states?

      • jeffhre

        Some time in the future we may use thorium in reactors. Perhaps even molten salt reactors. In the mean time though, we can use the abundant resources of Fusion reactions. I have a fusion reactor receiver on my roof, right now.

      • Just to reconfirm what TGFH said below, the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment at Oak Ridge in the 60’s and 70’s was pretty much a toy. First, its power output was tiny–a single-digit number of megawatts. Second, it didn’t actually breed U-233 from thorium; it just demonstrated the back-end of the U-233 fuel cycle, i.e. that you could scrub the fission products out of the molten salt to keep the proper neutron economy. An important experiment, to be sure, but not even close to ready for prime time.

        Things you’d need to do to get something like LFTR commercialized:

        1) Vastly more metallurgical work. MSRE found a couple of big problems and fixed them, but that’s no guarantee that all problems are solved for a plant with a multi-decade useful life.

        2) You have to have the salt chemistry completely nailed.

        3) You have to have the industrial plant dealing with the salt chemistry reduced to the proper scale, engineered for foolproof safety, and capable of being installed on-site with the LFTR. This means that fission products and transuranics have to be extracted and disposed of when necessary, thorium added as needed, U-233 extracted as needed, and the salt generally reconditioned for continuous use. This is pretty much a mini-reprocessing plant inside your power plant, sitting next to some population center. An accident, an explosion, or even a bad leak could wind up being as dirty as an LWR meltdown.

        4), Safety, safety, safety. Some of that is engineering, but a large fraction of it is operational experience. You need thousands of operator-years of experience in pilot plants before you roll this puppy out into the real world.

        5) Oh yeah–deal with the proliferation risk. LFTR proponents tend to wave away this problem because the U-233 fuel cycle is so nasty to reprocess, but if you’re going to control it for commercial use, you’ve invented most of the tech necessary to safely reprocess. Hauling bomb-grade fissionables out of a commercial power plant would be unfortunate.

        Don’t get me wrong: I think something like LFTR will be necessary if we can’t run the economy on renewables (and, at this point, I don’t think we can) and if none of the fusion development efforts pan out. There are a couple of companies with commercialization efforts underway, and both India and China are doing research. This is all good.

        Just don’t expect anything in the next twenty years.

  • Andreas Løve Selvik

    Is there a kindle version?

  • Marcus

    Why is there this major push to charge your car at home?

    I get that it’s convenient, but it’s not like we fill up our cars with gasoline when they’re parked at home, so I don’t see the need to have to do so with an EV.

    As other have mentioned, if you live in an apartment or condo, there’s no way to charge your car. And, if there’s a power outage in your area, you can’t charge your car at home anyways.

    I think a major obstacle to getting EVs to scale is having enough charging stations out there so that you don’t have to charge it at home.

    This would solve the problem for those who live in apartments and can’t charge their cars, and also solves the problem of having a power outage in your area. You can simply drive a few blocks to the nearest charging station with power and you’re set.

    And if I were Shell or Chevron, I don’t think all will be lost. If I were Shell or Chevron, I’d look into installing charging stations at each gas station – not all at once obviously, but in stages.

    You could then charge the driver for the electricity (plus a mark up of course) and have a coffees hop or lounge area (or heck even slot machines) and find ways to get customers who are waiting, to spend their money.

    The profit margins will obviously not be as great for electricity as it was for gas, but you have to adapt or you’ll burn like Rome once did and all great empires eventually do.

    • Tor_

      Well, i have a garage. And is far more convenient plugging in the UMC (charge cable) on my Tesla, then driving 5 minutes to the gas station once in a while, standing outside in the wind and rain to fill smelly diesel on my car. That way my Tesla can charge while i sleep.

      About apartments, yes there are situations where an EV is not practical. That goes for most products. Snowmobiles in the mediterraenen. Sombreros on the south pole. But there is also a lot of houses, and apartments with garages with designated parking spots. All those can get EV’s first, and meanwhile we can figure out the charging issues for the rest.

      I live in Norway, and some claim us to be the most EV-pro country. Think were around 15% EV’s now or so. Ive not seen a single gas station of any kind providing charging. Main reason is most probably because its not a regulated market. I can charge at home for cheap, so i wont buy expensive power at the gas station and hang around for hours waiting for the car to fill up.
      Norway have companies building chargers primarly for the smallers EV’s (leaf, golf, i3 and such) which cost money to charge on, but why use that when i can charge at home while sleeping ?

      So all in all i think your last sentence might be correct somehow. Sooner or later the big-oil’s will go like Rome, except they will shutdown the burning flame on those platforms when closing the pumps.

      There is still a lot of oil left in the ground, but nobody says we have to use it. We can leave it down there.

      • Marcus

        Thanks for the reply Tor.

        I 100% agree with you and I can’t wait for the day that we can finally say goodbye to our dependence on fossil fuels.

        But I think if Tesla ever wants to get to the scale of a GM or BMW or Honda, they’ll have to find a wayto make it convenient for those that don’t have their own way to charge their car. I’m sure they’ll figure it out some day but until they do, they won’t be practical for a huge part of the population.

        If they can somehow make it convenient, like with a removable battery that you can bring to your apartment or charging stations at existing gas stations, that will remove one of the biggest obstacles, other than price, for getting people to buy. I don’t see building owners spending the money to install chargers for their tenants, at least not for a long long time.

        • Ryder

          Ahhh guys… this is all a bit stupid. Electric cars are NOT fossil fuel free… not by a long shot. If you are driving an electric motor with power generated by burning coal, you are a LONG way from lessening a dependence on fossil fuels.

          It just means you ain’t burning them directly in your car. They are burned elsewhere.


          • jeffhre

            Not. Even. Close.

            I know, it’s so long it wasn’t worth it to read for you! Let’s make this short then. Look up the chart Tim used called US Energy Flows. Note that for every 1,000 quadrillion petajoules of energy, there is about 590 quadrillion petajoules wasted. Using motors which waste about 5% of the energy provided vs gas engines, which waste about 75% of the energy provided, is a massive improvement.

            “MOTORS ARE NOT POWER SOURCES” yet they save massive amounts of energy, which will not have to be produced from actual power sources.

            At this point in time about 35% of EV owners deploy solar panels to offset their home and vehicle energy use.

            And “If you are driving an electric motor with power generated by burning coal” then you must live in a place like West Virginia, which is one of the last places in the US to get most of it’s electricity from coal. Even averaging in places like that, the US grid is not powered by 100% coal. It’s about 37% and dropping.

            Even in WV though, an electric car is still about as clean as a Prius, which is the most efficient of gas cars. And WV is a great climate for solar panels, which some EV drivers in WV do employ. When driving any other car than a Prius, on a coal dominated grid like WV’s, the EV is cleaner.

            When gasoline is refined on a grid based on coal, like in WV, delivered in diesel trucks, and pumped electrically into customer tanks, the comparison with EVs get’s even worse.

            • Ryder

              I guessed you missed it… I wasn’t talking about efficiency. I was talking about dependence, specifically on fossil fuels.

              All you are saying is that we can do more driving with the same amount of fossil fuels, and that’s all well and good, (hey, cheaper energy! gotta love that) and we might take advantage of that by doing a lot more driving and flying and all the other stuff we love to do with fossil fuels… (electric jumbo jets! that would be awesome) but kidding ourselves into believing that we’re “green” because our cars have motors… ignoring the source of where those electrons came from is all too common, and all to silly. The dependency on fossil fuels persists (which was my stated point).

              What changes this is changing to nuclear, geothermal, wind, solar or other sources of this class, in order to generate the electricity we use.

              Please help yourself to a napkin.

              I’ll just chalk this up to you not yet having had your morning coffee 🙂

            • jeffhre

              So, what you are saying is you did not understand a word of what I wrote about wasted energy that amounts to 590 quadrillion petajoules. Until you take that out of the system, no one is thinking about replacing fossil fuel or using geothermal, let alone not driving at all. Take the waste out of what people do now, then talk about the next three billion people who want to follow wastefully in your footsteps. Thanks for the napkin.

            • Ryder

              Of course I understand, I’m an engineer after all, but all that you are saying, which isn’t much, is that greater efficiency provides some opportunities to move away from FF, and that’s all well and good, but you need to know your history.

              During the 20th century, great leaps of efficiency in the use of FF has taken place. According to you, this should have resulted in escape from reliance on fossil fuels.

              Yet that has obviously not happened.

              What’s wrong with your thinking here?

              Do you know that the differences are between the “early adopters” and the masses are? (read: “true believers”). What happens when everyone else comes on board? Do you think a GREATER percentage of EV drivers will ALSO add solar? (in other words, if they aren’t “true believers”, then why the hell would they add solar?)

              Seems between the history of improved efficiency (and a failure to escape FF), and the behavior patterns of early adopters… you’ve really not thought much about it.

              In any event, burning more FF efficiently, is simply not the same as a discussion about dependence. Totally different concepts… and when you have more fuel for less money (lower demand = lower prices… right?), then the third world will START burning FF for their EV’s (as FF still makes electrons for much less)

            • jeffhre

              What is wrong with my thinking was that I thought that as an engineer you could read what I had written and connect the dots.

              “According to you, this should have resulted in escape from reliance on fossil fuels.” LOL! Uncanny, indeed. Of course as an engineer you will see alternatives growing exponentially, but to show how my lack of coffee has had such profound effects – that growth is assumed not germane (or nonexistent?), so go right ahead and just ignore it.

              I know, I know! the fact that solar has gone down in price by 85% in the last four years, only works for zealots! And that 80% of all US solar has been installed in the last three years, is only from true believers, not profound shifts in energy price curves. And you are right, I cannot know about tipping points, early adopters, masses, or disruptive technologies.

              The fact that $.03 per kWh wind contracts are being signed, will mean nothing going forward as well, to a smart engineer. Of course as an engineer you know what effects price have or do not have, upon supply. So I’ll let you take it from there.

              Oh wait, what were you talking about, yes FF efficiency. Sure what are your views on that?

            • Ryder

              Kinda odd how you’re focused on the U.S…. Someday you’ll figure out that most people don’t live there.

            • jeffhre

              “Motors don’t automatically mean we don’t use FF. That’s the point. That’s the only point.” Got it thanks!

              I could add a corollary to that point though – that doesn’t mean I’m smart like you, as you are of course, an engineer. As long as biofuels are expensive, using engines means we will use FF.

            • jeffhre

              “Kinda odd how you’re focused on the U.S…. Someday you’ll figure out that most people don’t live there.”

              Yeah, kinda odd that I live there, and Tim and Tesla both hang out a bit there too.

              But you’re right! Hey you’re a smart person. After all you’re an engineer, why don’t you veer away from the topic again and explain for us ordinary people, who are not smart like engineers, how it is that most people are not in the US, and that we shouldn’t be odd, and focus on it.

            • Ryder

              Yeah, kinda odd how you think where a guy named Elon lives, somehow makes a difference in climate change theory… OH! I get it, you are just talking about the climate change in the United States!

              Now I get it.

              You’re brilliant.

            • jeffhre

              That is germane to your theory of being the smartest guy in the room, because you are…an engineer after all. Although those blinkers you’re wearing are sending your tunnel vision in the wrong direction. You would like to talk about climate change theory, whereas I have not said a word about it.

            • Ryder

              I can still see your ego is butt hurt… so be it. If it makes you feel better, you can just ignore that I’m an engineer. You’ll sleep so much better.

              In fact, so far as I know, you’re an engineer, or other specialist, because you think like one. And that’s not really all that much to get excited about. Specialists have their own little hell… even the brilliant Buckminster Fuller got too specialized. His trip with the geodesic dome was that it enclosed a volume with the least amount of raw material. He forgot that people had to live in the space… and the waste associated with heating giant unusable volumes of air… not to mention the difficulties of shedding water properly and the rot problems that go with it… and on and on. He got fixated. Love the man, but… you know.

              There is a famous story about Edison hiring a mathematician… my recollection is that it concerned Edison’s mistrust of the overspecialized thinker. As the story goes, he handed an oddly shaped glass container to the job candidate, and Edison asked the mathematician to tell him its volume. The mathematician slaved through the night performing seemingly endless calculations… but was able to present Edison with an answer the next day…. at which point Edison filled the container with water and measured it out into a graduated cylinder… and said “you’re pretty close!” I suppose that the idea behind the story is that to someone with a hammer, everything looks like a nail… or in this case, a maths problem… even when it was not really called for. The mathematician was lacking in practicality.. a trait that Edison valued. I suppose the mathematician didn’t get the job.

              Examples like this are endless… and your ability to fail to see the forest for the trees seems to fit rather well.

              Back to your scheduled programming…

            • jeffhre

              Tesla thought Edison was a random striver because he did not have an engineering and science background. Einstein at the peak of his fame was once asked what it felt like to be the smartest man in the world. He replied that, “I don’t know, you should ask Nicola Tesla.”

              One of the wonderful things about them as people, is that as true gentlemen of their day, their thought patterns did not fit in exactly with the mold of a classroom full of arrogant 12 year olds. Though of course that will never be a concern of the smartest guy in the room, an engineer of course! Enjoy the forest.

              My step dad lived in a dome based on Bucky’s calculations for over 40 years. Never had a leak, and the only rot he faced was when the horse didn’t eat as much hay as expected. Other than that, great example of a fixation!

          • David

            No, of course not. But they are at least PARTLY so; I was floored (and had to go confirm it for myself, it seemed so surprising) that 20% of U.S. electricity was nuclear. In principle, it could eventually be 100%, but a gas vehicle is 100% fossil fuel by definition. (And see Tim’s remarks about the greater efficiency of power plants over auto engines.)

            One could argue like Zubrin that another approach is to make cars that can run on alcohol. They are still burning stuff, but it’s stuff grown for the purpose so it fits into Tim’s notion of the carbon cycle. I’m not thrilled with the acreage that would require, but it’s not nonsensical.

            • Ryder

              It is interesting… (the 20% figure). You can easily imagine, that had the tie-dyed, activist crowd not handcuffed themselves to nuclear plants under construction… and flooded the culture with overblown fear of nuclear (which persists today), and the cascade of EPA and related laws/procedures that followed… with the legal tools being available to stop almost all nuclear development… that 20% could have by now been well above 75%. Maybe more.

              They weren’t humble in their attacks… their intent was not sane development… it was full on rejection… so for the sake of reducing the chance of radiation accidents (which take astoundingly few lives around the world, compared with deaths from any other common energy source), they have doomed the entire planet and everything on it to extinction (well… according to them in their old age).

              I wonder if they are wishing that they didn’t obstruct nuclear development, now that they “know” that the entire planet is gravely threatened for “lack” of abundant CO2 free energy.

              I’ll bet you a dollar they aren’t. And how does one go about explaining that?

            • David Wall

              I agree completely, but it seems like a tangent to me. IF we want to stop using fossil fuels eventually (I don’t consider that as urgent as I gather Tim does, but still), new vehicle technology has got to be a big part of it.

              If everybody were convinced that nuclear was completely safe and economical, and we converted 100% of our power plants to nuclear, we would still be using a huge amount of fossil fuels in cars.

              Should we wait until then to tackle the problem of cars? Or might it be that making electric vehicles be the consumer’s first choice would (a) reduce the problem slightly, because power plants are more efficient and SOME of them are non-fossil, (b) reduce the objection “There’s no point in moving power generation to non-fossil, since cars still burn gas”, and (c) to the contrary, perhaps even encourage such a move by increasing our need for electricity?

              I totally get the point that switching to an EV doesn’t make your car run on rainbows and pixie dust. But if you’re concerned about fossil fuels for whatever reason, it’s a step.

            • Ryder

              Sure… total agreement.

            • Ryder

              Hi David… I was thinking on your comments further… And I don’t think its a tangent. The reason is, we still have tie dyed, crystal power tree worshipers that check their horoscopes and biorhythms in order to decide what effort to kill next, or which ones to support. If by their own stated goals… Their bad judgement has doomed the earth, kept us addicted to oil, and therefore pulled into oil region conflicts…. Well, the caring, peace loving citizen activists have pretty much screwed us over.

              We’d be a largely electric nation by now, and the Arabs wouldn’t be in such positions of power.

              The EPA and similar agencies/laws/regulations wouldn’t have shut down rare earths processing in the US, leaving China in a monopoly position… And to get access to their freely obtained rare earth products, we’ve been forced to move out manufacturing, technology, and IP to China…. Along with the jobs.

              Our entire national defense is now fully reliant on China.

              So the reason that all this happened comes from the political/citizen environmentalist… their mistakes of the distant and more recent past… And I see little evidence that their religion has abated…. and their cries of the coming apocalypse have increased.

              Most know nothing about the issues, and they show an astounding inability to even ask critical questions. They are “true believers”.

              Actual progress means not having such persons be any significant part of any decision making process… But that seems unlikely to happen.

              We’re not driving EVs today, because of their paranoia about nuclear.

              It’s great Musk is bringing new products to market… That’s what the market does. But crystal power goofballs waiting for alien visitors that will come when humanity becomes “enlightened enough”… Should not be picking the winners and losers by way of the polling booth.

            • David Wall

              Hi Ryder- It’s only a tangent if the primary question is “Can Tesla’s plans help matters?” I believe the answer is yes even if nobody ever changes their minds about nuclear.

              If the question is “Why don’t we have electric cars already?” then your observations are perfectly apropos. I don’t disagree, though I probably wouldn’t state the situation quite so confrontationally. 🙂

            • Ryder

              Hi David…
              I think you’re missing the point here, which is to say that EACH generation thinks it “knows what’s best/right” when it comes to the future. We’re no different.

              Now, Tessla… American company, doing business… no worries… they will either meet their customers needs or they won’t, they will survive, or they won’t, along with a thousands and thousands of other companies.

              This is automatic.

              We need not worry about it.

              BUT… when we decide that we are in the business of picking winners and losers, based on our amazing history of predictive ability… well, as my example shows, the same people saying “THIS time, we have it right”, were the ones (or the children of the ones), that doomed the earth last time.

              So the point is: Let’s not do this again.

              People are pretty terrible at sanely addressing “the apocalypse”. First nuclear power is “the apocalypse”, and now not using nuclear power is the new apocalypse.

              This is a call for moderation.

              Tim’s notion about “fixing” the market with a “politically neutral” carbon tax, is just so much fluff heaped on a stinking pile of simply rationalizing the theft of resources from some, and the redistribution of it to others. “From each according to who we don’t like, to each according to who we like”.

              If this kind of thinking actually worked, the Soviet Union and N. Korea would be leading the way with clean infrastructures. Political choosing of winners and losers lead to massive failure…. that’s the plain history of it.

              Musk says that the subsidies help, but they are unnecessary. And good for him! He get’s it! Tim doesn’t. He’s busy tallying up negative externalities to justify redistribution of wealth, and simply ignoring positive externalities… because they don’t help advance his justification mechanism.

              We should listen to the Musks of the world. Buy their products if we like them… but for goodness sake, stop thinking we can predict the future… enough to KNOW enough to use FORCE or pressure to intimidate the market into deforming itself beyond usefulness.

              The list of bankrupt “Green” “winners”, that had money pumped into them, only to have it vanish in a giant bucket of fail is pretty huge.

              First Solar
              Sub Power
              Abound Solar…

              … and dozens more.

              It amounts to a certain peculiar brand of human arrogance… to be so self-assured, in the midst of immense ignorance, such that society should be reorganized, by any means available, to comply to popularized visions (like killing nuclear generation because sun worshipers feared “radiation”… oh the irony).

            • David

              Hi Ryder- You’re obviously really angry about something, but I don’t think it’s anything I’ve said. I’m not talking about government intervention or picking winners or reorganizing society. I’m talking about whether there’s any reason for me to be happy that the folks at Tesla are making awesome electric cars. I think yes, as I have said. Would you be happier if they weren’t?

              Maybe I’ve accidentally fallen into the wrong thread.

            • Ryder

              “obviously really angry”???? Hahah! Not even? are you a psychiatrist or something? And how is that germane to any issue before us?

              Be happy about Tesla all you wish. I am. But there ARE other issues before us, and some of them I’ve described. If you don’t want to discuss… then that’s perfectly fine…

              Nobody is holding a gun to your head, my friend.

            • David Wall

              “Nobody is holding a gun to your head, my friend.”

              Well, you’re right about that. I’m sad that’s what it comes down to, though. I had been enjoying our conversation. I think we may not be that far apart in our views of the world, and perhaps I was wrong to see anger in your words. But with apologies, I must take your advice and bow out of the thread.

            • jeffhre

              It is the opposite of arrogance. It is the recognition of high risks and greater likelihood of failure which prods the government to assist. If it was an assured win, venture capital would be happy to assume all of the risk. There would be no recognized place for government to assist without a high risk of failure. The same reasoning behind the Price–Anderson act.

            • Ryder

              Yeah… like McCarthyism… and the red risk.

              There is no such thing as an assured win (unless it is through government… which is why so many seek it). And yet the market functions… and capital flows.

            • jeffhre

              McCarthyism seems like a fairly straight forward ploy!

            • Headless Unicorn Guy

              So the reason that all this happened comes from the political/citizen
              environmentalist… their mistakes of the distant and more recent
              past… And I see little evidence that their religion has abated….
              indeed, their cries of the coming apocalypse have only increased… and
              with it an implication that anything, including RASH moves, are

              When “I Reject YOUR Reality and Substitute My Own!” doesn’t work, DOUBLE DOWN AND SCREAM LOUDER! LOUDER!! LOUDER!!! FOR THE CAUSE!!!!

              One New Yorker article I read in my opthamologist’s waiting room put it this way:
              “The Jonathan Edwards school of Environmentalism: Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Planet.”

            • Headless Unicorn Guy

              And there’s some evidence the KGB was bankrolling them behind the scenes in a Cold War tactic to monkeywrench enemy nuclear production. The Cold War is over, but it’s “shadows of the Shadows” remain.

            • jeffhre

              Yes, most people are shocked that the US has much more nuclear than France.

    • States are coming around do this problem (I live in a condo building as well). For example, California passed a bill that would enable renters to install electric car chargers at their own cost in their parking spaces.

      More on that here:

      Hopefully its only a matter of time until other states start doing the same thing (if they haven’t already.)

      As for power outages, thats what the Tesla Power Wall battery is for. This wouldn’t help a condo owner that doesn’t have their own solar system set up of course, but its a start for home owners. Hopefully as technology continues to scale innovation will create some other way to store additional battery power for recharging at home.

      Pretty exciting times ahead!

    • NVU

      Shell and Chevron don’t own the gas stations that sell their product, so there’s really no upside for them.

    • Dave

      Taking half an hour to charge my car when I’m on a long drive is reasonably acceptable. Taking half an hour once or twice a week is not.

    • Tipsy

      The apartment block could install a couple of outdoor power points, problem solved. And one reason for home charging is simply added flexibility for the user why NOT have it??

      Also reduces load on the Tesla stations.

      • jeffhre

        California recently passed a law that owners cannot block charging installation by condominium occupants (can’t remember about apartment renters). Oh, thanks Mike!

        San Diego was considering requiring new construction to be wired for EV charging.

  • windbourne

    One thing missing is that we NEED to kill off hybrids. These are meant to keep gasoline being sold. The problem is that most owners charge these during the daytime. In doing so, they will actually cause increased electrical demand during the current highest demand. IOW, it will add costs to our daytime electricity.
    OTOH, cars that get at least 150 MPC (minus special purpose vehicles such as USPO mail route trucks or other delivery vehicles), will charge only at nighttime, except for special occasions. Those will actually cause our electric prices to go down, or at the very least, cause the costs to drop for delivered electricity.

    • Ryder

      No, their real reason is to allow people to use the diamond lane during rush hour…. even though they are by themselves and all of their power comes from gasoline.

      Because we are idiots.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        Remember the South Park episode on hybrids, “Smug Alert”?

        Its origin was either Parker and/or Stone discovering that hybrids were being marketed primarily through “I‘m Saving The Planet!!!!” snob appeal.

    • Tipsy

      I don’t think Hybrids will win, they just aren’t as good as EV’s and have more explosive gas inside them.

  • I don’t deny that the climate is changing as a result of dumping all that trapped carbon, but I wonder about that 10,000-year window. Half of America covered under a wall of ice seems really shitty to me, and that has been the case more often than not throughout history. I remember some NASA scientist expressing a similar opinion, and being ridiculed into obscurity for not towing the thought police party line. Trying to preserve the climate the way it was on $ARBITRARY_DATE is Really Really Important(tm) and anybody with a differing opinion hates puppies, and Jesus.

    Part of the problem is that our perspective is really narrow and limited. I love my forest just like it is, with all the little flowers everywhere, and all the happy trees, and not a stump in sight. My forest is what happens like 50-60 years after you stop cutting down every last tree, and it reaches an advanced stage of recovery. I like my forest just like it is, but in another 50-60 years, it will be completely different. Ironically, the only way to ensure that it looks like it does now in 60 years is to go tear it all up today, so it can recover back to the same point in the future.

    The same thing is very much true for the climate. No matter what snapshot you take of what point in history, it was different, and it will be different in the future whether we do anything or not. We’ve liberated a lot of carbon from the ground, but we’ve also put a serious dent in forest and prairie fires. What is the real balance in the end? Is it really positive or negative for our species? Nobody really knows, but lots of people are convinced they do.

    • NVU

      This is a thoughtful and interesting comment. I hope you don’t get blindly shouted down for sharing it.

    • Ryder

      The VERY worst thing we have to face is the ice age. The heat… not really an issue. 150 feet of water? Not really an issue. (and it’s easy to see why, with a little thought). But the ice age… that’s a total deal wrecker. If it takes adding lots of CO2 to stave it off… we should. The ice age is a planet wide cancer…

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      I remember when Global Cooling and The Coming Ice Age was THE Threat. (Actually grew from two pieces of unrelated data hitting at the same time — the discovery that according to Antarctic ice cores, ice ages began a lot more abruptly than previously thought plus a short-term cooling trend in the climate around the time this went public, then tabloid. Result: “Ever tried to write an Environmental Impact Statement for an ICE AGE?” and “One spring the winter snows will not melt. THAT is how IT! WILL!! BEGIN!!!”)

      And some SF writers wagged about “What If the next Ice Age already began decades ago but human industrial activity/CO2 greenhouse effect is actually what’s keeping it at bay?”

  • ymer

    Good article.

    I have a two comments:

    – The Tesla 2015 market cap graph can’t be correct. In such a time series graph, the reader assumes that the labelled years between the endpoints are also plottet at their actual value. And I doubt they all fall on perfectly straight lines.

    – You could also mention the advantages of supporting workers in EV research and manufacturing instead of the oppressive governments of Saudi Arabia and the like.

  • ZachWigal

    This is possibly one of the most valuable pieces of content that has ever graced the internet. Thank you for all the effort, Tim.

  • Joel

    I’m pretty sure this whole article was written so that Tim could include this glorious pun:

    “The grandest joule theft in history.”

    • qweertyu

      Is this joule = auto sort of pun? :p

      • aaa

        joule like jewl

        • aaa


  • Trent Nadeau

    Correction for footnote 3: The calorie that almost everyone thinks about when they hear the word is a “food calorie” which is actually a kilocalorie. A food calorie is ~4200 J.

    • Ryder

      Right. Calorie (with capital C, or just Cal) is 1,000 calories… reserved for food… while “calorie” (lower case c), is the scientific measure of raising 1 gram of water, 1 degree Celsius at “sea level”.

  • Savannah

    I have to say, reading your article makes me want a Tesla like I’m missing a limb! But when I conveyed all this excitement to my mum (and she supports the idea, don’t get me wrong) she asked me what about all the people who have spent their lives in the oil industry? Where will their jobs go? and I couldn’t help but wonder myself. I understand people will just have to pick up with change and learn the ways of the future but some of us don’t have that privilege i.e. third world countries

    • v43

      what happened to all the people who worked with horses and coaches when the car became widespread? they changed job

    • Adam

      They can go work at Tesla.

      Seriously though, if the oil industry is being superseded by a new industry providing a different method of electricity production, then the new industry will create a lot of jobs. Even if it’s not the same people shifting from one industry to another — well, tough luck. Not everyone in the world is employed. The number of jobs in electrical cars and solar energy (plus maybe nuclear fusion) should be enough to avoid massive unemployment crises.

    • Michela Dai Zovi

      It’s called “creative destruction”, every time a new innovation comes about in a big way, tons of past laborers and artisans have a rough adjustment period. At the start of the industrial revolution mobs of laborers and artisans would attack factory machines with axes. It didn’t change anything. I don’t get the third world countries thing though, A lot of people in third world countries live in ways we wouldn’t recognize as “modern” anyway, so the change might not be what you expect. I don’t mean that in a disparaging way, just that in some ways their adjustment might be more rapid due to less of a car-based infrastructure. It’s already worse for a lot of them now, with climate refugees needing to leave the areas that are drying up and becoming uninhabitable, often going to the same coastal areas that are under threat for different reasons. Certainly nothing is all good, but the Tesla fantasy, if it ever comes about, seems like by far by far by far the least bad solution.

    • Tipsy

      You’re so right about wanting a Tesla like I’m missing a limb.

  • Ryder

    Well, a few things…

    First, Tim, great post, as always!

    Next… It’s funny how we get all concerned about things that are
    decades or even centuries down the road, when we forget blogs from just
    10 weeks ago.

    AI will in rather short order (compared to any AGW scenario), wipe us
    off the planet entirely, or will be our AI bitch… and in either case,
    AGW/climate change and all related issues will be… well, entirely NON

    So none of this post, excellent as it is… relates to any real long
    term issue. It’s solved one way or another, fully ouside anything Tesla
    motors or anyone else does. It makes zero sense to spend any more effort on it now. Seriously.

    But we can at least examine the posting on it’s own merits… and that’s perfectly cool.

    But something must be done away with from the outset: “Burning fossil
    fuels makes everything shitty”. Cleaver… but not really correct.

    Easy to show.

    Do this: Google, type “Dubai”, click “Images”. I’m serious. Do it now.

    Why are you still here? Go… do it now. I’m dead serious. I can wait.

    Welcome back. This grew from the sands. A “lifeless” wasteland, or
    something close enough. This is not shitty. At all. And it all
    essentially came from burning fossil fuels. And this is no silly
    stunt. It’s profoundly true in almost every literal conceivable way.
    So clearly, not everything is shitty. The impossible becomes possible.

    In fact… there is *much more* that we can say: Human existence as we
    know it (or anything remotely like it), profoundly, profoundly,
    profoundly (that’s three “profoundlys”), absolutely relies on it.
    Tesla, SpaceX, the interwebs, waitbutwhy… all of this, and so much
    more, absolutely rely on it. We are FAR shittier if we don’t… to the
    point of insane levels of misery and chaos. Stupifying levels of misery
    and chaos. You never seen so much.

    So the truth is rather more balanced: “Burning fossil fuels makes lots of things damned amazing, and some things shitty”.

    This puts it in a far more familiar and realistic realm very much in
    tune with our experience, which is that nothing is all bad or good, and
    you take the good with the bad. Time honored ideas. Raise you hand if
    you think that balanced views are a bad idea.

    Tim gets huge credit for discovering (as so, so few do), that AGW is
    really NOT about CO2 warming, but rather most of it is theory about
    water in the atmosphere, so it makes very little sense to be all happy
    about knowing about CO2, when most of warming is (supposed) to come from
    moisture and water vapor… which is an area that very, very few people
    know much at all about. Just a handful really… and the absolute
    experts on it will often be heard to say things like “well, we don’t
    really know a lot about how this works”.

    So when Tim says that the theory of vapor as positive feeback is “largely
    accepted”, well, that’s true… rather in the same way that we believe
    all sorts of things we know little about… like God, zoning law, and
    food expiration dates. Accepted by whom? Certainly not by people that
    understand it comprehensively… because no such people exist. You will
    notice Tim didn’t say “proven” or “tested” or even “understood”. He
    just said “accepted”… so he gets bonus points for being truly
    accurate, but loses them again by flying past *the big issue* in AGW,
    leaving the casual reader to believe that it has been addressed in some
    significant way.

    Re: fossil fuels and saying goodbye to them “because they’ll either be gone or too expensive.”

    Well, we won’t run out, ever (well, until either we or the planet are
    gone). Understanding this requires a solid understanding of economics
    and utilization. But, literally, neither can happen. Certainly, we
    will move away from them at SOME point… but it won’t be because they
    are gone. When oil gets a LITTLE more expensive, we change our
    behavior… and the price goes down again. And this little dance will
    happen… well… forever. We see this repeated in essentially every
    non-renewable resource. And the renewable ones too. Irrespective of
    the wild growth of human population. The places where costs for
    something go up uncontrollably is usually where public policy distorts

    The true price will remain about the same but the price we pay is
    affected mostly by policy/war, not use or its true availability.

    The price from oil, in real terms, continually went down all through the
    20th century, even though we used more and more of it, until the Arab
    oil embargo in the early 70’s.

    See what I mean?

    Anyway, always a pleasure to read, Tim!

    • v43

      WARNING: this comment ^ is ridden with half truths and tries to imposed a biased view leveraging on a few rational standpoints.

      I concur that fossil fuels are the real source of our progress and welfare nowadays, but that does not excuse the fact that they are a big environmental issue. The biggest.

      the positive feedback mechanism is obvious to anyone with basic knowledge of natural sciences. What’s so hard to understand?
      On the other hand, one could argue that if the problem is the water, then we should focus on humidity condensation rather than trying to limit the CO2 level. The fact is, that condensing such a huge mass of water may be even harder to achieve! since:
      1. the only way to make something cold is heat some other thing, and the process requires energy.. hence more CO2 and wasted heat
      2. it could all be in vain, if the loop engages again and quickly brings up the humidity level on par with the CO2 level.
      SO, controlling the CO2 release in the atmosphere IS the safest way to deal with the climate change.

      And anyway, MAYBE it would be better to revert to a more primitive society, rather than go extinct. Don’t you think? (which won’t be the case if we manage to make nuclear fusion work properly)

      and you forgot to explain how a 150m rise in the ocean level is a good thing.

      • Ryder

        “I concur that fossil fuels are the real source of our progress and welfare nowadays, but that does not excuse the fact that they are a big environmental issue.”

        Nobody said otherwise. The only case made was for a balanced perspective. Shall I count you as a person that raises their hand against balanced perspectives? Ok, done.

        “the positive feedback mechanism is obvious to anyone with basic knowledge of natural sciences. What’s so hard to understand?”

        If you believe that, then you don’t know enough about it to even raise the issue. Find the top five guys on the subject… where there are literally 7 Billion + people that know less… then tell me what THEY say. Also, you talking about *how* or the “safest” way to control climate change tells me that you missed the point altogether.

        “MAYBE it would be better to revert to a more primitive society, rather than go extinct”

        Seriously? Wow. Sitting on a doomed planet, waiting for an asteroid strike to kill everyone… in horribly primitive circumstances… intelligent life removed from the universe because we weren’t smart enough to use energy to move into the great void. But hey, the water levels were lower… so we had more land to be primitive on while we waited to die. Great idea.

        And as I mentioned… AI will either kill us or solve the issue entirely in a far shorter time span… so you’re just spinning you wheels on a non-issue.

        • v43

          “issues are issues”
          got issues man? what are you trying to prove here?
          the downside of using fossil fuels is clearly on the environment. And that’s precisely the issue at hand. You’re arguing for the sake of argument.

          also, do you converse daily with the top 7 minds on every topic? god, maybe you even are the one person who knows the Truth.
          pity you don’t bring any proof or reasoning to support your arguments, humanity would appreciate your contribution.

          you DAMN TROLL!
          last reply, then I’ll stop wasting my time with you, just to clarify how by “primitive” I simply meant less progressed overall. Less industrialized. It wouldn’t obviously be an overnight change, but that’s what would happen if we had to make do with less energy per capita. Just as an example, we would go by bike and horse, not heavy cars, except maybe for the richest. But that wouldn’t necessarily affect the scientific progress. And since you bring up the example of space technology, bear in mind that directing large budget shares to space exploration was a political choice back in the 60s and 70s. It still is, and would be again in the case of a critical asteroid event, even if in the meantime the common people forgot what a diesel engine is.

          • Ryder

            If you are asking what I am trying to prove here… then perhaps that’s the point. I’m not trying to prove anything… just making observations.

            I don’t converse daily with the top 7 minds on every topic… more like once every year or two… when it comes to AGW, but I don’t even need to do that. I can just listen to them…. like anyone else can. Conversation not required.

            I’m sure that people “with a basic knowledge of natural sciences” thinks it’s all very simple. The people with very advanced knowledge don’t think it’s simple at all. So far as I know, not a single climate scientist in the field has said that we know conclusively one way or the other if atmospheric water in the system is even a net positive or negative feedback. All they seem to have now are some accumulation of evidence of various sorts. Nothing definitive.

            You can park the name calling, angry man.

            Any idea what 7 billion horses would do to the environment? Any at all?

            The issue is energy density. Going to lower and lower efficient forms of energy (like horses), would actually increase our environmental impact in lots of ways. People complain about how much acreage it takes to feed cattle for beef… now you want to add billions of horses? Back at the dawn of the motor car, New York and other major cities used horses… and the streets ran thick with feces and urine… and the decaying bodies of abandoned animals rotting in the heat made for a serious environmental problem and biohazard. The car cleaned this up nicely.

            I just get the sense that you only look at one side of any equation.

            Compartmentalized thinking is not your friend. When thinking about energy broadly, there is no rational way to limit the discussion merely to environmental issues. None at all.

            “pity you don’t bring any proof or reasoning to support your arguments”

            Proof for what? Just ask.

            • v43

              now you sound more reasonable.

              I’m well aware that 7 billion horses are not sustainable. But then why the car is? Just because of the stored energy in fossil fuels. We shifted our energy needs from the ecosystem to the fossils. That’s not an infinite source. I wouldn’t know why you said in your first comment that fossil fuels will never end, because you did not give a reason for that.
              I assume that fossil fuels are going to become more and more scarce during this century, and that they will be more and more substituted by sustainable sources (or maybe I should called those sources “alternative”, since “sustainable” implies a bias).
              But, in the eventuality that fusion power doesn’t work out, it won’t be possible to substitute coal and oil and gas, especially if the population keeps growing. Then we’ll have to face the music. Our current lifestyle obviously is NOT sustainable by the sole ecosystem and nuclear fission power, without fossil fuels. But not even the 18th century lifestyle is sustainable! We couldn’t forage 7 billion horses and fill the atmosphere with methane. The conclusion is that there’s a given number of people who can live in this planet off the environment, without fossil fuels, for a particular degree of technological development. With our current technology, that number is far lower than 7 billion. That’s the point! So.. since we’re have already overgrown the capacity of this planet, all thanks to a depletable resource, wouldn’t it be smart to try and spare that resource as much as possible? to use it as efficiently as possible? to make it last?
              Also, since using this resource “apparently” (well, not apparently, it’s a matter of fact!!) is messing up the climate and heading us towards disaster and possible extinction, wouldn’t it be clever to try and moderate ourselves???

            • Ryder

              “now you sound more reasonable.”

              I’ve not changed a single thing I’ve said… so I’m not following you here.

            • Ryder

              We don’t have to worry about “alternative” sources of energy, or making it last. At any stage where we need energy, we simply get more. We live in a universe made from the stuff. It’s nothing that need concern you.

              Do you worry about the inevitability of more people needing places to vacation? Or does the market simply take care of that for you?

              Do you worry about a clothing shortage?

              Do you worry that there won’t be enough lumber? Rubber? Tin?

              This foolish panic we have about ONE kind of thing… as if somehow technology and human ability will suddenly fail in this ONE area, but in no others, is really astounding.

              We have centuries of CURRENT energy sources, no new technology needed… That is a VERY long runway. You will never want for energy in your lifetime (unless the superintelligent AI makes you immortal 🙂

              Look into the history of the predictions of depletion. Look into the Simon-Ehrlich Wager.

              ***There is no point in postponing our demise by retarding civilization***

              It’s like pretending you are saving for retirement by quitting your job (to save money on clothes and gas), and thinking that the savings will somehow amount to something.

        • Robert Lucien Howe

          AI’s will solve the problem one way or another?
          I’m working on Strong AI, developing a machine mind and can tell you that AI is not likely to make a difference either way. You have been watching too many movies – ‘The Terminator’ is as accurate about AI as ‘Frankenstein’s Monster’ is about transplant surgery.. or Flash Gordon about space travel…

          Modern humans are wary animals, and when it comes to new -truly disruptive- tech tend to act in a state close to panic. And that’s with no reason.. Strong AI has the potential to be genuinely dangerous for a dozen reasons, and one of the main real dangers to our business is being regulated out of existence before we even begin. Its a basic tip that the first thing you do with strong AI is you don’t give it a gun, and you don’t give it the keys to the nuclear bombs. Humans will not let such machines go out of control. I will not let them go out of control. The AI’s themselves will be driven by a survival instinct – and that will stop them going out of control.. (That’s not a design decision its a fundamental constraint of how mind works.)
          Super intelligent AI’s will no doubt warn humanity about the dangers of climate change
          but like with intelligent humans (ie scientists) they will probably be ignored.. Elon Musk / Tesla’s solution is a good one though I doubt the solar part. I would be focusing the world on nuclear power and nuclear fusion. Plus in science side bets don’t hurt- geothermal, solar, hydrothermal, aero-thermal, methods of converting biomass to fuel.

          Also as a ‘cutting edge’ scientist I have done work on ‘total atomic conversion’ and would put money into that. … Total atomic conversion is a longer more difficult prospect than fusion – but has an even higher energy density and can theoretically use any matter as fuel (ideally hydrogen, say from catalysing seawater). Reactors based on total atomic conversion using seawater as fuel could power our society basically forever.. Even at 10x current global energy consumption something like less than 0.1% of the seawater would have been used before the sun turns into a red giant and melts the Earth….

          • Ryder

            Hello sir,

            You might be new around here… and I should apologize for taking a shorthand. Tim has done a wonderful 2 part piece on AI and the singularity, (please be sure to read, if you have not… I’m sure you will have a lot to say about it).

            What I’m referring to here, inadequately, is the eventuality of the singularity… that being the specific mechanism behind our demise or salvation.

            Now, since I’ve not presented any scenarios relating to our demise, it’s more than a small mystery as to how you relate my thinking on the topic to watching too many movies… especially considering that you then go on to state that AI can be “genuinely dangerous” for many reasons.

            So you’re totally agreeing with me, *while pretending not to*. This is the realm of the “ego”, which is not rational… and tends to do odd little things like this in humans. Despite your involvement in AI, I will presume you’re human, yes?

            So far as you know, the “genuine dangers” I was referring to, are exactly identical to the “geniune dangers” that you were referring to… and yet mine are wrong due to consumption of movies, whilst yours, being identical, are correct.

            Here is the take-away on this… rational thought is older than any notions of AI development… and thus being rational has no dependence on AI expertise (which we shall assume you have, and I will casually offer that I don’t). And as you’re human, me, as an AI amateur, at best, mentioning your field of expertise is going to launch your ego into low earth orbit… and lead you into saying some irrational things… after which I simply point this out… and we’re done!

            Unless you want to talk more about AI…

            So let’s try it… Now that you understand that I’m talking about the singularity specifically, I see only a few options.

            1- You believe that the singularity is not possible, or at least is highly unlikely such that we can simply ignore it.

            2 – The singularity might come into existence, but will somehow self limit to intelligence that does not exceed man’s.

            3 – The singularity will exceed man’s intelligence, at which time it will not be possible to know what it will know, in advance, and thus what conclusions it will draw, and thus what actions it will or will not be willing, capable and able to take. With a little thinking, we can see this leads to demise or salvation… and really nothing in between. (see Tim’s articles).

            I don’t know of anyone that is thinking 1 or 2. Are you?


            • Robert Lucien Howe

              Sorry it wasn’t meant as a criticism, there is a general ignorance about Strong AI – because obviously it doesn’t yet exist. Steven Hawking and Elon Musk have said some stupid ignorant things about AI and they are among the smartest people in the world..

              But I have been on the other side of that singularity for over 20 years and have explored some of its world space..

              The two biggest dangers from Strong AI come from human hackers or from an open source design that runs on standard hardware. In both cases the real danger comes from humans, both open up Strong AI to unlimited control and abuse.

              The core of the machine mind has a ‘moral governor’ and this makes the machine basically (mostly) completely safe no matter how smart it is. But if someone could hack the moral governor they could override it or order the machine to kill. If there was a common vulnerability millions of machines could be given that order simultaneously and they would not be able to reject it. Obviously watertight security is a number one issue in Strong Ai – although it is an issue that is largely solved already..

              A freely available open source design would supply AI to every malevolent human who wanted it.. Criminal gangs, malevolent hackers, sales cold callers, angry jihadi’s, and every military in the world.. The biggest danger is probably the mass production of robot soldiers, either through massive state bureaucracies like the Chinese government, or through millions of smaller and more ramshackle groups and methods. At its simplest an armoured truck with autonomous control and full of explosives makes a formidable weapon. – Such machines don’t even need Strong AI and are becoming possible for anyone even today.. but strong AI makes them work much more intelligently and so far more dangerous.. Imagine an autonomous drone with a small bomb programmed to seek out and kill a particular person, now imagine a cloud of dozens of them. (The US military are already working on this..)

              Apart from those two existential dangers, there are a whole list of more regular dangers. –
              – The biggest regular danger will be ‘machine stupidity’, the real truth is that the dumber a Strong AI is the more dangerous it will tend to be. Your dumb auto-drive car runs over a small child because the light conditions are slightly wrong and confuse it at the wrong moment…
              – The next will be owners finding way around the machines safety protocols, allowing them to give their machine direct orders that do bad things, like kill.
              – Related is owners tricking their machine into doing things like committing crime, or killing. Any real machine will carry some variant of the Asimov First law, which almost invariably carries an implicit logic that to protect one life one must sometimes take another. All you have to do is make the machine believe a lie and this law is very easy to subvert.
              – Next a huge danger is AI’s simply putting everybody out of work and pretty much destroying the whole of society by result. This is more difficult to solve but a basic solution is a surcharge – or law or tax, that will always make Strong AI’s more expensive than human workers.

              Doing analysis on it : the workers most threatened by Strong AI’s are managers, programmers, artists, repair engineers, basic office workers, lower grade executives and CEO’s. Those least threatened are manual labourers, craftsmen, dustmen – garbage men, road workers, cooks – basically anything that requires a lot of manual dexterity and skill or heavy lifting… The simple truth is that robots are so complex and high maintenance that people are cheaper.. Another solution that pretty much guarantee’s that machines wont out-compete humans is to give them rights and status as ‘people’.

              – Another big danger comes from the basic AI algorithm, which combined with genetics should allow the human brain to be completely reverse engineered. Now there are many positive uses for this but it could also lead to and build some very destructive arguments – the re-legalisation of human slavery, the creation of genetic human analogs – ‘humans’ but without rights, the end of democracy, the re-establishment of democracy, revolution. It could also be a final nail in religions coffin – one that could start a war between atheists and religious people, that could seed revolution in many places. When you learn that your whole life is a lie programmed by others and that you’ve been manipulated from childhood it can have a big effect… Like they say ‘religion isn’t about God its about social control’..

              – Longer term Strong AI’s may have problems related to the limitation of robot manipulators. In short they may develop an instinct to desire human bodies as manipulators – ‘flesh addiction’. Flesh simply provides a higher level of sensitivity and control. – One of the goals of manipulator research will be to build artificial flesh bodies for AI’s but it may take some time for these to be as good as the real thing. The whole sci-fi image of the ‘metal’ robot simply ignores basic facts – the metal robot is hard and ‘dead’ and insensitive, it is by nature unyielding, fragile, breakable, unreliable, and clumsy. A flesh matrix is sensitive to touch, pressure, gravity, movement, heat, and solidity, it is also tough, absorbs damage and is self repairing. Muscles themselves are so superior to any current machine equivalent that a natural research line will be developing forms of natural muscle for robot manipulators..

              – Super intelligent AI’s. There is a basic equation of mental instability, as intelligence and mental flexibility increases, mental stability tends to decrease. ‘Super intelligent’ machines should not be much harder to create than stupid machines but they are more delicate and will be unlikely to be allowed out into rough human society. Intelligence is also related to a quantum computation algorithm in the brain which is beyond current technology and in current designs will only be simulated – this will put a strong upper limit on machine intelligence..
              – More dangerously the super intelligence ‘algorithm’ can be learned by humans, but it tends to push the brain beyond its limits. – The human brain is a poorly ‘designed’ machine and is easily damaged, and this damage is not easily repaired. Our society is already pushing many beyond their limits and into mental illness, and that algorithm could make things many times worse.. In the converse Strong AI ultimately offers a complete cure to mental illness, or at least the first core to real understanding. Todays’ ‘mental health’ medicine is little more than pseudoscience wrapped up in a pretty medical shell..

              – My final and most peculiar ‘danger’ comes from maths connected to Strong AI. This is really the danger that some pompous established science will face ridicule… The Strong AI algorithm contains the very mechanism of human logic, and a subsystem is a need for a elf contained self-complete mathematical language. This creates some very powerful scientific tools, and has exposed some interesting scientific errors and foolish mistakes.
              The really big domino that Strong AI kicked over is general relativity. When analysed general relativities complex mathematics forms a shell that conceals a number of basic flaws. Perhaps the most basic flaw comes from forgetting what a ‘speed’ is – a speed has a direction and this means that it is a vector. But if the speed of light is a vector then the whole idea of a 4D space time falls apart and collapses into three dimensions. It turns out that time is a point and not a dimension – dimensional time still exists but only on quantum scales.. The rest of general relativity is replaced by an FTL absolute frame physics, and the same mechanic even rewrites quantum mechanics.. 🙂

              So on the other side of that singularity along with Strong AI is a complete new absolute frame FTL physics, and it even works with general relativity. I bet you weren’t expecting that! There are many more things to say about Strong AI but I don’t even have a working machine yet – implementation always was the hard part…

            • Ryder

              No worries about the length… not for me anyway. More is better (look at Tim’s post… long is good) besides Disqus does a good job of hiding it.

              I want to be sure that we’re on the same page here, and I think we’re not. Common ground might be with Tim’s pieces on AI/the singularity. Have you read them yet?

              If so, you’ll understand what I mean when I talk about the singularity (I’m adopting Tim’s presentation fully). It sounds like you’re speaking to pre-singularity work… like ANI, AGI and the like. I’m talking about ASI. Superintelligence.

              It’s advent is described as an inkling that something big is coming, and then in the next instant, it has happened, and passed us by at unthinkable speed. Tripping over the “tripwire”.

              Now, without rehashing ASI and the major scenarios surrounding it (which properly belong as comments to the AI articles), my only concern is this tripwire and ASI.

              Tim places the “Median pessimistic year” (90% likelihood) within 60 years. The optimistic views place it only 7 years away.

              Climate change is commonly discussed in terms of the time it takes for a doubling of CO2, and sometimes a century. In any event… the “100” year issues of climate change will either be 93 years after ASI hits, or 40 years after ASI hits, given the summary of current “expert” thinking on the matter.

              The point is, we’re dead already, or the problem is solved.

              So all I’m asking of you here, is do you disagree with the eventuality of ASI, or with the broad timescale for the tripwire to ASI?

              This is Tim’s domain… so I’m fully adopting his thinking here, as I’ve said. Regular readers are already familiar with it.

              If Tim’s AI post makes sense at all (and I am fully on board with it), then *this* post makes very little sense. Irrespective of what you may personally think (though I am interested in that too), would you agree that given Tim’s AI work, and this one, are they not rather incompatible?

            • Robert Lucien Howe

              Maybe we are misunderstanding each other. I’m still pretty new to this site and to Tims articles but everything I have read is very interesting and his posts always seem to be very well researched.. Like Tim I love working on scientific extrapolations, and like me he obviously likes discovering things he wasn’t expecting. Reading through his articles on AI they are very intelligent and raise real concerns.
              Yes I had slightly misunderstood. ASI is the Transhumanist type of super-intelligence – my definition of ‘super intelligent’ machines is pretty closely tied to my own work – ( roughly 2 to 10 times smarter than the average person)

              I think we are talking about basically the same singularity, its just we that have rather different perspectives on it. In the context of the article, I pretty much agree with Tims estimate for the timeline for true ‘ASI’. My own estimate might be around 20 to 100 years simply because of the complexity of the task. On the issue of human survival I believe in hope and am firmly on the positive side. One thing that Tim doesn’t consider is that any machine that goes out of control or goes ‘rogue’ is very likely to destroy itself or disable itself long before it ever becomes a threat to humanity.
              The biggest danger (as ever) is poorly designed or thought through machines, but these are hopefully very unlikely to ever achieve or hold on to any form of ASI.

              My own project is already focused on producing machines with greater than human intelligence first.. The simple truth is that designing and building Strong AI’s is such a nightmarishly difficult task that its an ideal task for a strong AI, a really intelligent one. Its all about chicken and egg up-scaling..
              (With a million dollars or so I can probably be able to build a working human+ ASI machine in about 10 to 15 years. If someone were to give me several billion dollars and the resources of a medium university I might be able to build a working quantum ASI machine in about 15 to 25 years – but it could ultimately achieve far higher intelligence.

              – An issue that may place arbitrary limits on ASI comes from a core concept in Strong AI that I call a ‘Totality Matrix’. This thing is pretty much at the core of how brains work and underlies many parts of sentience. The totality matrix is extremely hard to replicate and until brains are fully reverse engineered will be a major stumbling block in Strong AI. The brains own totality matrix is also very dependant on a particular type of quantum superposition I have called a ‘super loop’. Beyond a low limit the more ‘quantum power’ the totality matrix has the smarter the resulting brain or mind can be. However creating high energy quantum effects is spectacularly difficult, and hits walls that are incredibly hard to climb. This will probably end up being final limit on the ultimate intelligence of machines. High energy quantum fields are probably a worse ‘black bead’ than Strong AI or ASI anyway since they are a root to almost any sci-fi technology you can imagine. (“Fancy becoming your own God, a real wizard wand that works, a teleporter, faster than light travel? then high energy quantum fields are your man.”)

              The real truth about the safety of Super Intelligent machines. As the article says, the simple truth about whether super intelligent machines will help us or kill us depends entirely on who builds them and who controls them.
              – A well designed machine created by a moral company that develops super intelligence by ‘design’ will generally not be a threat to anyone, except maybe to someone who tries to harm it.
              – A machine created by the wrong company, without sufficient care, or treated with sufficient respect may end up psychotic and dangerous. If it has no moral core and achieves super intelligence, well – that is probably a script for a bad movie. . .
              – Far more unlikely but even more dangerous would be a Weak AI that develops intelligence spontaneously and becomes super intelligent. Such a machine could reproduce itself across the internet and could be so alien that we have no hope of communicating with it before we are already at war with it…

              One way of building a ‘safe’ Super Intelligent Strong AI.. In the case of my work the Strong AI design is based squarely on reverse engineering animal and human mentality. (really by far the easiest way to create a workable Strong AI)
              The number of human features the machine will share may be surprising. The machine will be self-aware, its core will be driven by a set of instincts and reflexes driven by a ‘sub-conscious’ control core. It will experience emotions. Due to its memory design it will need to shut down regularly for ‘sleep’ cycles and will effectively dream. To make it protect humanity it will have a strong emotional attachment to people and a need to love and protect them. A little detail connected to its totality matrix means that in a very real way the machine will be alive.
              Like all known organic minds the machine will at core be driven by a strong survival/ self-defence instinct. I have thought about this for many years and have long concluded that such machines are ultimately far safer for humanity in general if they carry a small defensive threat to those who are stupid enough to attack them. They are also more stable and predictable. A sentient machine that did not defend itself would not be treated with respect and would be far more vulnerable to subversion by people like terrorists or criminals.
              An animal-human type personality will be an intrinsic part of the Strong AI’s consciousness, and the base set of laws it will carry means that the machines will always try to protect humanity no matter how intelligent it becomes.. In a way this even becomes an anti-existential threat protection because even if humanity becomes extinct, if the machines survive they will have a strong impulse to resurrect us.

            • Ryder

              OK, so you are saying that the superintelligent machine could go *either way*, in 20 to 100 years. So you’re on par with the survey that Tim has made.

              *Therefore*, is not this entire issue (climate change), put entirely to rest for us ***either way?***

              We’re gone (Climate change = no longer an issue)
              We’re helped (climate change = resolved more or less instantly by the superintelligence)

              If we believe these scenarios… and most intelligent people seem to… then why do “intelligent” people compartmentalize their beliefs?

          • Headless Unicorn Guy

            “Total atomic conversion” was a staple of Fifties-vintage Far Future SF. You mean there’s actually been work done on it?

            • Robert Lucien Howe

              Very little really – little more than the actual idea. A few years ago I started doing a workup on a new group of methods for achieving conversion. At the beginning things looked like it might be relatively easy to achieve, but as I got further into the science it looked more and more difficult -and is really probably (at least) 30 to 100 years in the future.
              I know three or four methods that already achieve total atomic conversion but none of them are at all promising for energy production.. They are – near C collisions in particle accelerators or the atmosphere, matter anti-matter collisions, Cherenkov radiation, and just possibly as side reactions in high energy nuclear explosions..

      • Eric O’Reilly

        When I look at those ICE core samples it seems to me approximately every 150,000 years something big happens. I mean really big, due to the temp of the planet cooling, and the gas composition changing. Since I have not been around for 150,000 years nor do we have records from that long my assumption is the sun has a cycle or maybe the magnet field of the planet reverses, or something super large. We also know that as water gets warmer, its ability to dissolve gas declines. My guess (completely a guess) is that we have been in this long 150,000 year cycle and the sun has been pounding on the oceans heating them up. As they get hotter, they release dissolved gas.

    • Adam

      “when most of warming is (supposed) to come from moisture and water vapor… which is an area that very, very few people know much at all about.” – I’ll admit, water vapour is the biggest cause of heat being trapped in the Earth. Unless you’ve been through some kind of basic chemistry education in the last couple of decades, you might be excused for being unaware of this.

      And the reason is because the water vapour heat-trapping thing was all fine. We need some heat. BUT the CO2 we produce is causing too much heat. The CO2 is just a tiny part of heat being trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere, but it’s disrupting the prior constant temperature life had adapted to on Earth. It’s the cause of change.

      So CO2 is the bit about geology and the Earth’s atmosphere that people need to know about. Because it’s going to cause change. It’s not like all heat is bad and water vapour is causing this major issue by keeping us above 0K [exaggerating slightly]. However, the CO2 is causing temperatures to stray dangerously high and it’s responsible for the problem.

      • Ryder

        Hi Adam,

        OK, let’s talk about atmospheric water. When modeling albedo and other factors, let me ask you what’s important…

        Do clouds even matter?

        Does the extent of cloud coverage matter?

        Does the kind of cloud matter?

        Does the altitude of the cloud matter?

        Water droplets or ice cloud components… do they matter?

        Where the cloud formed… over land or sea, does that matter?

        Does the incidence angle matter during the life of the cloud?

        What about precipitation patterns from these clouds… do they matter?

        Now that you’ve gone down this list and decided what matters and what doesn’t (and even added a few more things of your own)… now you have another task at hand: What will anthropogenic CO2 do to all of these factors. Where in fact WILL the clouds form, at what altitude, of what type, etc. etc. etc.

        How is your “basic chemistry education” holding up?

        Not well, is it.


        If you can find me ***one*** person that says that they do, then please alert the press, and tell me his/her name.

        Nobody knows this well.


        And it is the SINGLE MOST important aspect to AGW predictions. It is also the most complex.

        That you would even suggest that basic chemistry addresses this issue in any significant degree is quite a cause for chuckles.

        Please don’t tell me that you didn’t know this “climate change” stuff was complicated.

        • v43

          you don’t need to now every detail, just a working model.
          NASA has a satellite for measuring humidity levels to the ground (Aqua), so.. they’re way ahead of you.
          cut the bullshit.

          • Ryder

            Hi Adam, you seem confused about the nature of what we are considering… which is can a basic chemistry class give you what you need to construct a model which predicts *future* effects given some assumed CO2 forcing.

            To have a predictive model, you need to understand what’s happening, especially when it concerns effects which are given to be the dominant mechanisms in the model, going all the way back to where GCM’s were first being used decades ago. The specific issue at had was one you raised, having to do with simple chemistry. The list of questions is intended to demonstrate that your statement was plainly incorrect, and also that the issue is not confined to chemistry.

            I don’t blame you for wanting to run away from it… but I didn’t indicate that making/using these models was simple. You did.

            And again, you can change the entire debate by simply showing one person alive today that says that they have a solid understanding of what’s happening here. I’m only asking for one. That’s fair.


            • Eric O’Reilly

              Technically, the BIGGIE is the ocean. It is the only thing on the planet that has the necessary mass and ability to retain the sun’s energy (its basically transparent so more mass can be exposed to energy than say a solid can due to a solid’s reflective nature) on a scale large enough to move the temp of the planet. Water vapor which can get to approximately 5% of our troposphere is the next largest mass capable of retaining heat. CO2 isn’t even a part of the equation due to there just isn’t enough of it.

            • Ryder

              We’re talking about the specific components of atmospheric warming. If you want to move the discussion away from that fine… but then you’d have to admit that technically the BIGGEST is the sun, not the ocean 🙂

              But you’re basically missing the point.

        • peter farkas

          what is your point? You are saying global warming is complex thing hard to comprehend? So what should we do in your point of you? Most of the scientists think that there is very high chance that CO2 is causing global heating. We are not 100% sure – tell me one thing you are 100% sure of – just one thing. Even if a chance that CO2 is causing global warming is less than 5% we should not risk it. We have alternatives so why risk it? Fossil fuels are not only emmiting CO2, but lots of other things that are effecting our health, why not to go to cleaner alternatives?

          • Ryder

            What we should do, sir, is be rational. Not lie.

            We let Al Gore into our classrooms to lie to our children. Now we have a generation of young adults that were lied to… and will find it hard to make informed decisions… and poor decisions lead to poor results.

            For example, it’s utterly unimportant what most scientists think, because most scientists aren’t climate scientists. You saying so is part of the lie. You don’t know what most scientists think… you can’t even name a single climate scientist off the top of your head, yet you want to say what most scientists think? Why do you feel you can do this?

            On the other hand… you’re not saying much.

            I’m certain that most “skeptics”, think that CO2 causes heating.

            But you didn’t say that. Why not?

            *EVERYONE* agrees that CO2 causes heating (within this context).

            So why are you saying something that is universally accepted, as if it was a controversy?

            The reason is: you don’t understand the controversy.

            One thing I *am* sure of, is that humans are excellent at learning and adapting.

            And no, sir. We do not have alternatives.

            Try to find a majority of “scientists” that say we do.

            • peter farkas

              I am not from US so we did not let Al
              Gore in our classrooms. You are acting like a typical troll. Doubting everything and everybody and not answering anything.

              Actually I can name climate scientist – I know him personally, because he is part of my wife´s family.

              What is funny, that this discussion about global warming is mostly in US. In Europe fossil lobby is not that strong
              and basically there are no trolls like you, who are citing strange sources and repeating X times the same arguments even though all those arguments were debunked many times. On the other hand we have lots of paid trolls from Russia and
              they are acting the same way as you do. Doubt everyone and everything not answering questions, ignoring facts and claiming that annexation of Crimea is the same thing like police violence in US.

              So please answer my question: even if a chance that CO2 is causing global warming is less than 5% why risk it? If you
              think we do not have alternatives pls explain.

              If you don’t answer this question you
              will certainly understand that I will not reply to you anymore.

            • Ryder

              The point about Al Gore is not that he physically walked into classrooms… but his video DID. “The science is settled.” Bullshit. Still looking for a single scientist that says they know what’s happening with atmospheric water… the largest warming component of the GCM’s, and still being “hotly” researched 🙂

              Why risk WHAT? Warmth?

              You seem to have some notion of “global warming” = a problem. The reality is, like most things… anything that you look at… anything at all… from exercise, to becoming a vegetarian, to receiving welfare… and on and on and on… all have problems as well as benefits.

              You might as well ask “Why risk exercise, if there is a 5% chance of a joint injury?”
              That’s not an intelligent way of approaching any issue.

              Give me the list of pro’s and con’s… but the problem is: nobody is working hard on the “pros”, due to fear of the apocalypse. (Humans do this as a hobby… and have since the dawn of recorded history). Where is the “IPCC Task force on the 10 largest benefits to doubling CO2”?

              Our approach is (typically) unbalanced, so we have a hard time being rational.

              Let’s take one example. The “threat” of rising seas. Our children think that they, their families, and the dog will drown when the seas flood. And yes, the word “flood” is used. Which is total BS.

              Floods don’t happen over thousands of years. All that happens, is that the coastline slowly evolves. Another way to look at it is that the ocean habitat is expanding. But we don’t say that. Why? Because it doesn’t sound so scary…. and when we are honest about it, we know that fear is one of the goals here.

              Tim mentions New York 150′ under water. That’s all about fear.

              This can NOT happen.

              Let me explain why: New York won’t exist. Nothing we build lasts the thousands of years necessary to “experience” the “flood” of 150 feet sea level rise happening over thousands of years. It’s imperceptible on a human scale. The types of human activity that happen to stay ahead of such a glacial change are unrecognizable as adaptations to rising seas. And Tim mentions New York for a very specific reason… it’s because a map of the US following 150′ of sea level rise, doesn’t look much different from today. It really doesn’t. You’d look and say… yep, there’s the United States… still there.

              But NY, sitting pretty much ON the water, is a handy thing to use to generate fear.

              So with New York naturally crumbling because we don’t make things to last (like the Egyptians did, for example) will have be rebuilt numerous times before we get to this far off “crisis”. What do you expect people to do? Divers will re-pave parking lots under water? naturally, people will STOP building there… because it’s stupid. Or if they do, it will be construction that is very happy with the water, in precisely the same way that Venice Italy has simply adapted to the exact same thing… and the romantic gondolas are now a part of the beauty of Venice. It’s an evolution of things.

              Have you ever thought of Venice as a humanitarian “crisis”? Of course not! It’s a damned romantic hot spot. The water that comes with the high tides and storms is a nuisance, generally solved for $4.99 in the form of rubber galoshes.

              $4.99 to solve global warming is not a crisis.

              But buildings do get visited by the seas… galoshes don’t solve that. Obviously. So what does that look like?

              They opened a grade school in the Venice area in the last few years… on higher ground, instead of renovating the old existing one, that has had to deal with water on occasion… it makes more economic sense. The children don’t really care or notice one way or the other. That’s human adaptation to “floods”. The children aren’t dying. Their families aren’t dying. The are happy, healthy, normal kids living in the equivalent of the “global warming apocalypse”… and they’d look at you strangely if you tried to explain to them how they are living through a massive catastrophe.

              So, again, what “risk” are you talking about? What do you have against the rubber galoshes industry? Or new schools?

              GET PAST FEAR.

            • peter farkas

              I am not that stupid. I got what you meant
              by Al Gore in classrooms. You as an American might be surprised, but most of
              the people outside US don´t know him, neither his work. Global warming awareness
              started long before Al Gore, only that it was not very well known and popular topic in US, because
              you are by far biggest polluters per capital. Some of the Americans probably same
              as you, even think that polluting environment is their right and they don’t have
              to take any responsibility for it, because in their eyes this is the American
              life style. You are so only about US. There is 7billions ppl in the world, if
              everybody would live like Americans for next 20 years our environment, not only atmosphere, would be totally
              screwed. Look at countries like Denmark and Switzerland, where living standard
              is higher than in US, but they are producing less than half of pollution
              per capital than US does.

              If you don’t understand basic thing,
              that polluting environment is a bad thing and you are OK with living in totally
              different world that we will create it just show how short sighted you are.

              If you are not aware, earth is the only
              planet where we are able to live on and we have no means to get to any other planet
              where 7billions ppl can live.

              We have to look at what damage we caused in the past by polluting our environment and how much did it cost or will cost to
              clean all the damage we caused by doing something, which we do not understand.

              You admitted in another post here that
              CO2 is causing global warming. You claim that we don’t know whether warming
              will be good or bad, because it is too complex to comprehend. But still you say
              we shouldn’t do anything about CO2, because there is also chance that global
              warming will be good to majority of the ppl. So I am asking you : Even if
              a chance that global warming will be bad for all of us is less than 5% why risk

              You use your money to buy oil from outside
              US from guys who are hardly your friends, some of them spend this money to kill
              your ppl, but you still spend 100s of billions to protect those guys and 1000s
              of Americans died in 21st century fighting for oil. If this is not a
              reason for implementing tax on oil to at least EU level, than I don’t know what
              is. You don’t need GW argument to get away from oil.

              You are acting like drug addict. Even if
              you admit that using drug (burning fossil fuel and producing CO2) can be dangerous
              for you, you still insist on using it, because you can´t imagine life without
              it. BTW you can always find some scientist in the world who will produce study
              how good alcohol or grass maybe even cocaine is for your health. Those will be
              the same ones who claimed that smoking is not dangerous and now they are
              claiming that there is no global warming, CO2 is not causing Global warming or
              that Global warming will be good for the world.

            • Ryder

              Well if you understood that it didn’t specifically mean that Al gore walked into the classroom… then what the hell is your beef?

              Either his ideas were spread by his film, or they were not.

              And either they spread to children, or they did not.

              This is not a hard thing to understand.

              Re: per-*capita* you seem to be $%#@(! IGNORANT.

              Qatar is over 44 tonnes per capita.
              Trinidad is over 35
              Netherlands is over 31
              then Kuwait, Brunei, the UAE, etc… even Australia… has a higher a higher per capita CO2 emissions than Americans… which are just under 20 tonnes.

              I’ll bet you are a paid member of the “blindly bash America club”… who’s first rule is to never check facts. Sheesh.

              An as the world warming is not based on a per-*capita* basis, but rather by absolute gas composition… then what the hell are you talking about?

              Next, can you prove that CO2 is in fact a pollutant? Of course you can’t… it defies logic. OXYGEN would also have to be a pollutant based on the kind of warped thinking that considers CO2 a pollutant.

              Dude… you really don’t know just how backward your thinking is on this…

            • peter farkas

              Now you are getting really silly.

              So you think that burning fossil fuels does not produce pollution? There
              is ton of other stuff going to atmosphere. You can start up your car in garage
              close the doors and enjoy pollution free burning fossil fuels. If you don’t want
              to tax CO2 you can chose other pollutants produced by burning fossils. Even CEOs
              of the biggest energy companies started to talk about decreasing CO2 emission
              and introducing taxes on CO2 – obviously they have their own agenda –
              introducing more gas instead of coal – but they admitted that CO2 is a problem
              and it should be taxed.

              Not only those CEOs see a problem in CO2, even you, big Ryder, admitted that
              CO2 is increasing global temperature. So I am asking you again: Even if a
              chance that global warming will be bad for all of us is less than 5% why risk

              You can write tons of stories around this question, but you will be not
              able to answer it in reasonable way.

            • Ryder

              You’re dodging the issue Peter… You were specifically talking about the awareness of global warming :
              “Global warming awareness started long before Al Gore, only that it was not very well known and popular topic in US, because you are by far biggest polluters per capital. (SIC)”

              What we are talking about is global warming… and the emissions that cause it… Which you just laid at the feet of Americans on a per capita basis…. And you were wrong… Now you want to pretend we are just talking about air pollution and not global warming….

              So stay on topic or quit wasting my time.

              You don’t stop everything that has perceived risk because : Everything has risk.

              This would mean we would do nothing.

              Driving has risk.

              Marriage has risk.

              Starting a fire has risk… Yet braving a cold night without one has risk.

              According to your 1st grade logic, we would (impossibly) have to do neither.

              You see, the problem is that we ***know for certain*** that there are risks in not burning fossil fuels… Weighed against the risk fantasies of questionable GSM models, and their downstream effects. Why would you face known risks to guard against possible ones?

            • peter farkas

              OK. So let´s make discussion more to the point. What are the risk in not burning fossil fuels? In other words what risks are we facing with phasing out fossil fuels by 2050?

            • Ryder

              Oh… I don’t know…. How about death on a massive scale? It makes possible human food production on this scale… Just for starters. It prevents cold deaths in the winter and heat deaths in the summer. FF literally keeps humanity from absolute collapse.

            • peter farkas

              You can heat much more effieciently by electricity than by by burning fossil – have you heard about heat pumps? – most used heating solution in Scandinavia. For cooloing you use air condition, which you probably don´t know also run on electricity. In 30 years we can eliminate fossil fuels from electricity production by introducing 100-150USD/ton CO2 easily. Lets make it revenue neutral so we can compensate most affected groups. So those arguments are showing that you don´t know much about this part of fossil use.

              Fertilisers please educte me how big emission share of fossile fuels it represents – what are the alternatives? As far as I know you can substitute nat gas by hydrogen in Haber-Bosch process.

            • Ryder

              Efficiency matters not.

              Abundant sources of energy that convert poorly can allow you to *do more* than highly efficient sources that are scarce.

              Your position is like saying we should not use rocks as paper-weights, because they are less efficient at holding paper down, compared to plutonium, because plutonium is far denser, and can hold down more paper with less material…. yay! we saved the planet with paperweight efficiency!

              Bzzzzt. Rocks are still the better choice, because even though they aren’t as efficient at being dense… their TOTAL AVAILABLE DENSITY is vastly higher. Vastly, vastly, and more vastly.

              What you’re not getting, is that we RELY on FF to survive. Period. End of story.

              So when you ask: “What are the risk in not burning fossil fuels?”

              The risk is that we DIE in MASSIVE NUMBERS, because FF is what is literally keeping us alive.

              Just pointing at FF and saying “There are some things about FF that I don’t like… so let’s phase them out…” is simply not going to cut it.

            • peter farkas

              OK. So this is how discussion with troll looks like. I give you concrete arguments and you just talking rock and paper. Do you know what heat pump is? What are you comparing energy density of oil with electricity? Heat pump is stationary equipment which is connected to grid, where does energy density enters discussion here. Heating house by heat pump is much cheaper than by burning oil. ROI less than 5 years.
              Fossils compared to rewnewables are not abundant. All recoverable fossil resources are dwarfed by 1 year of energy from the sun. We will not die in massive numbers – not a single person will die we have already better alternatives than fossils. I gave you concrete examples you gave bullshit about paper and rock. By implementing revenue neutral 100-150 USD/ton carbon tax on fossils we will ged rid of them in 30 years easily.

            • Ryder

              You haven’t given me concrete anything… that’s the point. This is what it looks like when discussing something with an overspecialized fool… you’re shown the difference between the value of practical efficiency vs specialized efficiency… and you just don’t understand it, so you resort to calling people trolls. Yay for you.

              Let’s put it this way…

              China has been building a *massive* coal dominated power infrastructure… to you, this must be a total and complete mystery… for even though there are for more efficient means to power things that don’t pollute like coal does… they are doing it anyway… apparently they must love tossing money down the drain, and heavy smog… according to you.

              Until you learn why China, for example, is doing what they are doing, you have absolutely no hope of understanding the issues in front of you…

            • peter farkas

              Just short research: Ammonia is the basic building block for producing virtually all other forms of nitrogen-based fertilizers. Ammonia is produced by reacting nitrogen from the air with hydrogen at high pressure and temperature in the presence of a catalyst. Fossil fuel Nat gas is used only for production of Hydrogen. Producing hydrogen from renewables is well known process – only question is price of the process – again addressed by carbon tax.

            • Ryder

              Distorting the market doesn’t help matters.

              When things are expensive, you should get used to the notion that the expense is related to the energy cost of a thing… so if it is costing more… then it is using more energy. If you think that’s not the case, then probably you need to look harder…. because in the vast bulk of cases, price is the measure of energy. (in a non-distorted market)

            • peter farkas

              implement revenue neutral carbon tax and market will take care of the costs. It is not about distorting markets it is about putting right price on externalities.

            • Ryder

              What costs? I thought that you were talking about switching to something MORE efficient… therefore LESS costs… right?

              What have you forgotten?

              Next, please name the 10 most significant POSITIVE externalities relating to the burning of FF, so that we can compare them to the negative externalities… so that we can find out if we need to tax them, or send them additional revenues… depending on the total NET externalities.

              But you won’t do this. Want to know why? You have no idea about the positive externalities, and have no interest in them… therefore, you have no interest in externalities in any real sense… your only interest is in their only practical use, which is purely political. Pure politics, nothing at all to do with finding the “right price” for anything… just killing what you don’t like, and handing a crutch that that which you do, and offering a half hearted excuse for the redistribution of wealth. I have no respect for that.

            • peter farkas

              Ok so lets go point by point.
              When I told you heat pump is most effiecient way of producing heat in buildings you started to talk about energy density, which of course makes no sense becuase heat pump is connected to grid. It is of course also the cheapest way that is way whole Cenetral and North Europe is using it today as main heat source in new buildings. Just becuase you dont know about it doesn´t change this fact.
              Pls educate me what are top 10 positive externalities of burning FF you certainly can name them. Pls stop bullshit about world hunger and freezing to death. I help you with first one higher CO2 level maybe can grow plants faster, please give 9 others you certainly know them.
              You talk about the China. You probably still live in 2000s. Becuase China can put 2 and 2 together they started to close down coal electricity generation and in 2014 they decreased their total coal consumption and that is their official policy, guess why? Because of pollutions which are causing millions of premature deaths in China and destroying their industry because people can´t get to work. This is called externality. China did not accounted for them the same way as you would like to and now all the money invested in coal electricty generation is wasted. Quite stupid of you to mention China.

            • Ryder

              You: “You can heat much more efficiently by electricity than by [FF]”….

              All you are doing is talking about how efficient certain appliance are… which is a stupid/inane discussion. You’re Ignoring where the electricity comes from which is the point. If you don’t have it… you die. We get it, as a species, primarily from FF. We stop using FF, we die in rather ugly ways. So far, you appear to be in denial about this.

              Are you *really* saying that we can simply all use heat pumps, and then we don’t have to use FF anymore? If not.. then what are you trying to say? Because you asked for the downside of stopping FF consumption, and I said “death”… and you’ve still not shown that people would NOT die, on a massive scale, if we stopped using FF.

              Until you do that… you’re laying in a big pile of fail.

              I see you admitting that you don’t know any positive externalities… as predicted.

              That you can’t name any positive externalities, then clearly, just as I said… you don’t care to know. It’s just something you say now, strictly for political purposes, devoid of a useful knowledge of it. (which was my entire point on the subject).

              And now… again, without you even noticing, you prove my point about China.
              Their beef is smog… not efficiency.

              Exactly as I said.

              You seem to be saying that China could not in fact put 2+2 together… because they built and still have a massive coal generation capacity… and according to you, they didn’t know that coal plants polluted… and so built them by mistake… and are now backing off.

              Clue: They are not that stupid. They knew, well in advance, that coal plants produced pollution… BUT THEY BUILT THEM ANYWAY.

              So my question for you has not changed… WHY did they build a coal infrastructure, knowing it was a polluter (as you said, they can put 2+2 together!), given how inefficient FF generation is??? (which means that they must also like wasting money, right).

              Until you understand why they KNOWINGLY built polluting coal plants, you will never understand this issue. It is FUNDAMENTAL to the entire discussion.

              According to you… they could have solved everything with abundant solar energy… and have no explanation why they didn’t…

              Like I said, to you, this must be confusing… why they would toss money and health away like that, for no apparent reason.

              WHY they want to get away from it is obvious even to a child… which is why it wasn’t brought up.

              The reason WHY they BUILT IT IN THE FIRST PLACE is the issue that was raised, to which you still have not been able to address, due to your lack of understanding of the entire issue….

              So I’ll just wait till you (once again) fail to get back to me on that.

            • peter farkas

              You either ignore it or can´t read: I am talking
              about transition from FF in 25-30 years. No one wants to shut down FF from
              tomorrow. So no one will die.

              China built coal plants because it was cheaper to
              build them in the past, because they were not accounting for externalities
              connected to coal plants – I wrote it clearly. This is not situation today –
              with externalities, which they learnt in hard way, it is cheaper to shut down
              already built coal plants – which is total waste of money invested just few
              years ago. Your china example failed completely.

              You are
              talking about how much FF did contribute to Chinese GDP in the past, I add
              without FF we all, not just Chinese, would not be where we are today.

              But important
              is what we want for future and today we already have cheaper, cleaner and more
              abundant sources of generating electricity and most of heat than FF. With
              carbon tax it will be also cheaper to produce fertilizer from renewables.
              Carbon tax will just speed up this transition. It should be neutral carbon tax
              in order to protect those who are most affected by this transition and plus you
              don’t want more taxes in economy. That is difference between us – you are
              talking what FF did in the past, but for me it is important what we will do in
              the future. You live in the past as your Chinese example showed and don’t realize
              that already today vast majority of new electricity generation is in US, Europe
              is already coming from renewable and China started to go in this direction too.
              If you think coal has so bright future go and put all your money where your
              mouth is and buy coal companies stocks. In 10 years you will have other
              problems than writing bullshit on internet.

              I am still
              waiting for top 10 positive externalities of burning FF. I named one, you are
              not able to name any? I thought so.

            • Ryder

              Also… *who cares* if it is “revenue neutral”, can you even provide a coherent reason why that matters *at all*?

            • Rikaishi Rikashi

              It’s just politics.

              Certain factions have become religiously devoted to starving the government of funds. The revenue-neutral feature of carbon-tax policy attempts to avoid running afoul of that argument by addressing the stated concerns of the starve-the-beast crowd.

              The problem is that the real, less-frequently stated goals of those who want to restrict revenue is in fact to prevent the re-distribution of wealth. Since revenue-neutral taxation inherently requires re-distribution, offering it as a policy feature only helps in the public arena. It garners no actual support from most of the big-government crowd even though it addresses theirtheir publicly stated concerns.

              It would have to be revenue-neutral in a way that conforms to trickle-down theory in order to garner their support.

            • Ryder

              “starving the government of funds”, I don’t think that’s an issue, irrespective of what people are devoted to, as annual deficits in the hundreds of billions already mean that the government is completely starved, and is well negative. I get your point, but given this reality… the entire notion is almost entirely meaningless.

              Since government takes in a boatload of cash every year, and pays it ALL back out… then the entire apparatus of government is “revenue neutral”… at least up until the point where it starts to borrow and spend even more. You can’t starve something that can print it’s own food 🙂 This is the idea behind Modern Monetary Theory.

              I think instead that the point of “revenue neutral” is rather meaningless wording intended to convey some notion (incorrectly) that the act is benign. It’s a bit of political slight of hand.

              Every spending program is essentially “revenue neutral”…

              Saying we’re going to use a gas tax to fund an on-going “road maintenance” program, is not different to saying “we’re going to add a gas tax and transfer that tax to road repair companies to maintain the roads… so it’s “revenue neutral”.

              It’s just silliness.

    • Joe

      Excellent. I find the constant screaming of leftists for the government to take over more of our lives to prevent warming (that is inevitable by their own models) tiresome. Is no one grateful for fossil fuels? I am. We are all dead without them, within months.

      • Ryder

        Thanks, sir… and really… it is *AMAZING* to me, that Tim’s readers will sign on to the AI/singularity work that Tim has done (we are dead between 7 to 60 years from now thanks to an AI from hell, OR our problems are solved by then, thanks to a nice AI), then will turn around 180 degrees, and declare that we’re doomed 100 years from now if we don’t all drive a Tesla.

        Which is it?

        This compartmentalization of thought is really amazing. It’s like politicians… who magically change their thinking depending on context.

  • jaime_arg

    Jesus Christ, I had to scroll forever to get here! Long post is long.
    Now for my actual comment:

    WAIT, you have a turtle?

    • Mehmet

      Ahahaha yes, how come we never heard of this turtle?
      And a shit-rolling turtle nonetheless !

  • Marthinus Bosman

    *Click on link*
    *Computer freezes for 10 seconds*
    “Fuck, this is gonna be a good one”
    **refer to image**
    *Ultimate Nerdgasm*

    Alright, other than that. Love everything about this.

    There’s probably a reason oil companies can’t just go into electricity production, better than coal amiright? And lastly, what’s Elon’s hope for innovation in batteries with the Gigafactory, seeing that whoever makes batteries extremely less shitty will also be a little rad compared to Elon? (I’ll google all of this at some point, but after **refer to image** reading, my brain is dead)

  • Mehmet

    Another great post with no questions lingering.
    Now how can people help/spread the message/go solar etc?

    • Vinay Kapadia

      I just went solar! Well almost, I’m still awaiting final inspection before the panels are connected to my electrical panel. I’m so excited for when it finally happens!

      It’s actually incredibly worth it, especially here in Washington (I don’t know the laws and incentives in other states). Even if you totally disregard the fact that you’re benefitting the environment, it’s even financially smart.

      Basically, I had to get a loan to get the panels. But, here in WA, whenever I overproduce (panels make more than my home is using) I send the extra to the grid. When I underproduce, I use power from the grid. Sending power to the grid rolls back my meter, and using it rolls it forward. So basically I only pay for electricity if I end up using more than I produce. I will generate enough power to not ever have to pay, unless for some reason I start to use a ton more.

      On top of this are the one time incentives. I’m getting a $500 referral bonus because someone referred me (I can refer other people and collect $500 each time this happens). Also, our utility will give me $1500 just for installing the panels. And the best part (and this is a federal government thing, so anyone in the US can get it) I’ll get an income tax credit of 30% of the cost of the panels!

      And now the best incentive, Here in WA, every month the utility gives me a check worth $0.54/kWh of how much I produce, regardless of whether I consume it or send it to the grid! That by itself covers the loan payment. So to sum it up, I pay $0 down and $0/month out of pocket, and just use the incentive money to pay for the loan. All the electric bill savings is just icing on the cake!

      There are other ways to make this better. Right now my natural gas bill is kinda high because I have gas heating, stove, and water heater. The heating is really expensive to replace, it would have to replace the whole system which is crazy, so I’ll never end up replacing that. The stove, my wife really likes gas stoves so I won’t replace that. But the water heater can easily be replaced by an electric, saving me the gas money!

      Do some research. Find a good company in your area and get a quote, they usually do free estimates.

      I’m also looking to buy an electric car, but the only one I really like right now is the Tesla, and I can’t afford an $80k car. When the Model III comes out, I’m hoping to get that.

    • gerber

      Contact your local Councilman, Mayor, Congressman, Senator. They are in the pocket of the oil and auto companies. Tell them you want YOUR tax dollars spent on Solar power.

  • Semmel

    One question that I have since I can remember thinking about the change to enventironmental friendly energy: why cant the big oil companies not prepare for the change and invest in renewable energy sources? Why do they care where their money comes from? What is wrong with making revenue with wind, solar, wave, etc engery? In principle they can do both. And if they own oil fields, there is so much more useful products that can be made with oil, why burn most of it when there is an alternative? Wouldnt that make even more money for them? I absolutely dont get it.

    • gerber

      That question has been put to Exxonmobil; and their reply is; “We are an oil and gas company, nothing else.” Pleading with the polluters has never worked; it’s like asking an avalanche to stop falling. The best option is to do what Elon Musk is doing and create a new reality.

      • Pen Guin

        Oil companies could make lots of money turning oil into food.

        • jeffhre

          They have farmers doing that… at much lower margins, while taking far higher risk.

    • BP, British Petroleum, does have an “alternative energy page; but you can’t find any Solar research there, just mainly biofuels and a bit about Wind energy. It is a start in the right direction, though.

      • jeffhre

        Didn’t BP sell their solar assets?

  • Harpreet Singh Sandhu

    People like Elon musk are proof that humanity isnt a lost cause. Otherwise after reading some comments here it seems that people will blame everything from the Sun to the stars and even the earth for the catastrophies we create, but ignore the obvious. they mostly read just one or few dissenting opinion(s) which suits them and stick to it, blocking out the others. How how long can they ignore the 97% really intelligent people, who happen to be experts on the subject and with years/decades of research to back them up. And those 97% are screaming at the top of their voice.

    My suggestion is a little less democratic, but i beleive we must keep a record of the most vocal and influential climate change deniars. After 25-30 years we must hold their kids responsible for the damage they have done. People wont like this, but it will be effective deterrent…

    Just consider this: Species are dying everyday because of our attitude and stubborness, and the planet wont be left fit for millions of species because of our actions (actions of just 1 species). Its their survival vs our democracy/freedom/free speech etc. the climate change deniars are aiding and abetting a genocide on a massive scale, even if they are naive enough not to beleive it. there should be this deterrent where such people fear the society’s reprisal. And as they most probably wont live to see the damage, so shaming them wont work. its better if we decide to hold their next generation responsible, that will put some fear of god into them.

    • Myles

      Sins of the father, sins of the child? That’s a terrible and amoral stance to behold. The idea that we should punish children for their parent’s crime is not befitting of humanity.

      • Harpreet Singh Sandhu

        According to scientists the “sixth mass extinction” is underway. “Everyday, an estimated 100 plant and animal species are lost (GO EXTINCT) to deforestation” . . . “A conservative estimate of the current extinction rate indicates that about 27,000 species a year are being lost.” Source:-National Wildlife Federation. Is this befitting of humanity??
        And you are worried about human morals?? We bomb and maim and cut and burn people by the millions because of oil, but we cant have financial and societal reprisals for families aiding and abetting climate change? i suppose you get your morality from the Bible. PATHETIC..

        • Myles

          Being moral is easy when nothing is wrong. It is only when things are difficult are morals are truly tested. It sounds like you fail this test.

          I don’t appreciate the ad hominem attacks about getting my morality from the bible. I am an atheist. To put the issue merely as a choice between human extinction and immoral punishment of innocent parties is a false choice. We can change as a species; people like Musk are proof of that. Furthermore, justification of violence by saying that other people commit violence is a terrible, amoral, and illogical way to live.

          I seriously hope you seek professional help.

          • Harpreet Singh Sandhu

            And i hope you take reading lessons.
            Didnt i say already say in my post 1 that i am a big beleiver that people like Elon musk give hope?? And when did i ask for violence to be commited? Maybe this is something that goes on in your mind and you are a supressed homicidal maniac.
            Now listen again, the question is that whether or not we will hold someone responsible for the mass extinction of species (not just humans) that continous due to our ways. Climate change deniars are holding us back or at least delaying change, while they profit immensely from the current system and they will pass on their wealth to their children. What i suggested is that there must be societal and financial repurcussions on their children as they themselves wont live long enough to be held responsible. And this isnt retribution, its a deterrent. And it may help in saving countless humanlives and other species. Does this have any space in your moral book??
            By your logic, its hugely immoral that the west held Japan and Germany responsible for WW2 for so many decades. Stop this moral policing you HYPOCRITE..

            • Myles

              “And as they most probably wont live to see the damage, so shaming them wont work. its better if we decide to hold their next generation responsible, that will put some fear of god into them.”

              What am I supposed to take this to mean? Do you have any other canards to trot out – your ad hominems are getting pretty tiresome.

              And to say “well, we won’t be violent” kind of sidesteps the whole issue. You are still punishing people who have not committed a crime. In no way can this be considered moral. Respond to this and maybe we can have a civilized talk (but I doubt it).

              “By your logic, its hugely immoral that the west held Japan and Germany responsible for WW2 for so many decades.”

              This is an accurate statement. It’s actually funny how you use this argument, when the world’s awful treatment of Germany after WW1 is one of the main reasons we had WW2 in the first place. For that, thanks for proving my point.

              All of your arguments are common logical fallacies or just plain insults. This is the sign of either someone who is not arguing in good faith or someone who is just so deluded that it’s impossible to convince them of anything. In either case, this argument is unproductive.

            • Harpreet Singh Sandhu

              How come you still cant understand?? Morals are no excuse for killing off millions. we are in an extinction level event and we need norms and rules that work. The perpetrators need to be deterred at all costs. If the Govt.’s decide to criminalize climate change denial like holocaust denial, then i will drop my stance AT ONCE. Untill that happens, common citizens have to use the promise that “they wont forget” as a deterrent.
              It seems you badly want me to endorse violence, so it can be easier for you to just demonize me. I am talking of FINANCIAL and SOCIETAL reprisals. These should be extended to all the beneficiaries of the crime (descendents, corporations) etc. GET IT???
              If you commit a fraud today and then transfer the money to your kid and die, the govt. will still come after the money. How is my suggestion different???
              My example for Japan and Germany was an effort to show the hypocrisy moral policeman like you have. There are many such examples.
              You want to win the argument, i get it. Come up with a better idea to deter climate change deniars and i will be convinced immediately (i.e. if you want to deter them). Or else, it is very clear that you only care about first world morals. And you’d rather let millions die in places like Bangladesh than upgrade your thinking..

      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        Sins of the father, sins of the child? That’s a terrible and amoral stance to behold.

        North Korea believes in such “collective responsibility” and “collective punishment”, as did many Asian societies historically. Comes with the territory when the individual is less important than the Collective.

  • Wakefiled

    Fantastic. You took ideas that people basically know about a bunch of things and tied them together to create a global visual on how they all work together in a way you’d never actually do yourself.

    Such an enjoyable read.

    Have the Space X article ready for Tuesday ok?

  • Corrupt Network

    Your website is so damn ugly, but it’s content so good. What should i do?

    • Wakefiled

      Keep visiting and reading.

      You’re welcome.

  • Louis A. Cook

    I wonder motorcycles came up in Tim’s visit? I could see this being a logical move. The scale of the investment could be an easier sell for a lot of people, and seeing them around could further the cul-de-sac effect.

    Also, this might be my favorite post ever. Compared to other long posts like AI, I actually finished this one in one sitting because I could not stop reading it. Thank you so much for that.

  • thetropicalpenguin

    i dream of a day when the Philippines finally decides to get its shit together and allow Tesla to break into its market.

    a Model 3 is now in my bucket list

  • austin

    weeeeeelllllll….. the SOUND AND FEEL if a good gas-burner sports car are more ADRENALINE-INDUCING than an electric car

    so that is A reason to like gas burners…..

    • Rikaishi Rikashi

      One of the selling points of the Model S is that the sound and feel are superior to any gas car. Silent, instant acceleration, like a quiet man with a big stick, gives a better adrenaline surge. And you can get that with your family/commuter car that you use every day instead of some shockingly inefficient racehog that you’d barely ever drive off the drag strip.

    • bammerburn

      Last year, I bought a 44 horsepower electric motorcycle while I also had a 117 horsepower SuperSport gas motorcycle. The electric motorcycle gave me a bigger adrenaline rush than the SuperSport… so, I sold the SuperSport off.

      Electric propulsion is frickin’ awesome. And doesn’t annoy other people when you have a happy throttle hand.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      Which is why gas-burners will probably hang on in specialized niches.

  • Anissa Rara Kinasih

    I hope I will be one of those lining up for the Model 3 in 2017. Do they shipped to Indonesia?

  • Greg Alexander

    I also found it very long. A Tesla enthusiast or a WaitButWhy enthusiast will read, but if Elon wants to get an easy message about Electric cars generally I suspect this doesn’t fit the bill. Elon didn’t want an article about him, I wonder whether he (similarly) wanted an article about Tesla… or an article about Electric cars, given the mission of Tesla.

    In any case, I’m a new WaitButWhy enthusiast.

  • Vartika ‘Angel’ Gupta

    Tim. Marry me. 🙂
    I went through all those 19000+ words and couldn’t get enough of you! Nerdgasm! An Ultimate post about an Ultimate Personality’s strife to prevent from extinction atleast 8000 years before Ice Age really strikes.

    Waiting for Model 3. Might shift to USA if you say yes 😛

  • Deksel

    Phew, and with this one, you are definitely in my blogger hall of fame. And yes, of course I want a model 3. (No, wait, I want a model S. My big scheme is the other way round I guess: buy a model three, impress important people with it so they’ll give me a better job that will buy me a model s).
    By the way, did you know your AI post got translated to Dutch by the best (and probably only serious) journalistc TV program in the Netherlands. I think I bullied at least 20 people into discussing it nights and nights.

  • Derek Gore

    I was lucky enough to become aware of the Radman when he was doing his PayPal predecessors. So in the years between 2003 and 2008 before he actually had a car on the road, and was going through all the trials and tribulations, I was much like a one man cheering section clapping with one hand only in the middle of the Gobi desert watching a tree fall without making a sound and wondering if that meant I was not there or the tree wasn’t?

    Yes it was that bad.

    Then he made the car. And the people were glad? No! Now I was clapping out load with two hands but most folk said huh? Never happen. “But it already did happen!” I would retort ( and that not being the glass flask so often misrepresented as becoming increasingly popular in states like Colorado.)

    However being the encouraging type I decided that the banks were paying me only 100 bucks a year interest for each $10k they had the pleasure of using of mine??? They explained how it was a half percent but that was an APY instead of the APR WHICH USED TO BE COMPOUNDED INTEREST FOR US not the bank! Having recently retired and after using all of my salary to buy funds in 2008 and 2009 when they were cheap utilizing all that I had learned from Warren Buffet in a transcendental moment reading an interview with him online. It was a seminal moment without watching young women who are guaranteed to be 18 plus the milliseconds it took to get here. Warren ( I call him that since I too now know his secret to stock market success) said, “Buy low, Sell High” I heard heavenly music and turned down Led Zep.

    So now realizing that the answer to life happiness and everything is not only 42, but buy low and then to sell high. I realized I could not legally do that except for three days after selling high. Or if I moved to Colorado where I grow it sell it high anytime I wanted with the help of electricity indoors which powers Tesla cars. (I had to use three ropes to lasso this feedback into the topic.

    So being upset at letting the banks hold my money was losing it slowly to them! Then just before I took my savings, which were an undisclosed sum for privacy purposes between $29.99k and 30k and bought stock in Tesla at 17 and 22.50.

    Now the folks who did not like me because I was a fan of a guy doing things they could not comprehend, saw and didn’t like me because I made a lot of money putting my money where my mouth is. Granted if one just pops up and sees it then says hmmm they will consider it too big a risk. The experienced folks ( who were not rich somehow but invested in stocks all the time and knew things like shorts which was silly because we shorted the basketball team in HS, how can you do that to a stock?) all told me to get out at $90 to sell before it went down after I had already weathered their roller coaster ride for three years and was starting to like this first ever individual stock I’d ever bought for the thrill of the peaks and valleys. Besides no one could scare me away from trying to help Radman make this good thing happen. I was now part of the team so I only sold my original amount of capital plus $5k to be able to say no matter what that I made a profit. But that left more than 3/4ths of my money value still there at $90. Now my little expense account and petty cash has become real money.

    And I in my tiny small way have contributed to his success in more than one hand clapping.

    I have driven a Tesla once, and am waiting to hear if I won the raffle in Denver with only 5000 tickets sold for charity of a Tesla Model S brand new and under warranty. See, to buy a Tesla I would have to sell half my shares and he isn’t finished using even my little now approaching a quarter of a significant figure. I still don’t understand shorts, as Tesla is the only stock I’ve ever bought individually. I am a retired enlisted guy no millionaire, yet. I bought more recently twice as my piggy bank filled up again. Besides, I hear folks who short Tesla get beat up badly. What a dumb thing to do.

    Oh and I liked the article.

  • AsamiSato

    Wonderful article! I am hoping my Honda Civic will make it to 2020, but I will hopefully be in the market for a Tesla car then!

    The main issue with electric cars that I don’t see an easy solution for is for people who live in apartments or who have to park on the street. This is a real problem because I feel like the people most open to this kind of innovation are people who live in cities, and people who live in cities are less likely to have a garage they park their car in every night. I hate to say it, but having to take a car to a charging station every couple days (of which at first there will be few so probably having to drive out of the way) would be reason enough for me (and many others) to not want to buy an electric car.

    • bionelly

      This problem occurred to me, too. Personally, I would absolutely LOVE to get a Tesla the instant it becomes affordable to me, but I don’t have a garage and running an extension cord all the way to the parking lot doesn’t seem like a great option. By the looks of things, even in a few years the nearest Supercharger station will still be about an hour’s drive away from my home. So until Supercharger stations become as ubiquitous as gas stations, it’s not going to really be a practical option for people in my situation.

      • jeffhre

        Look up the charging company Ubitricity.

        • bionelly

          Hmm, looks like a good concept. Unfortunately it doesn’t appear to be available in the US, and also it would be something apartment-dwellers wouldn’t be able to acquire on their own, instead relying on the owners of the property where they park to decide to install it. If it becomes more widespread it could be a good solution to this problem, though.

          • jeffhre

            They plan on marketing it in California, and Ca just passed legislation saying multi family dwellers can’t be stopped from making a reasonable effort to install equipment to their cars.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      I figure I’ve got a few more years on my ’96 Del Sol, and am seriously considering an Elio (three-wheeled ultra-small gasburner) as a replacement. I think it’ll be a few more years before I’d spring for an electric, especially since I will probably be retired by then. My only complaint about an Elio is lack of hauling capacity; on occasion, I have to haul trunkfuls of stuff.

  • Myself248

    Okay, so where’s the lithium come from? It’s not as bad as oil, I know — oil is a use-once material, whereas lithium batteries serve for years and then get recycled and serve again.

    But we don’t have enough lithium in the battery-ecosystem for it to be steady-state yet, and getting there will require *decades of lithium mining*. For that time period, lithium-exporting countries will be the new oil-exporting countries.

    Wikipedia has a longer list, but the top lithium producers are Chile, China, and Australia. Food for thought.

  • Robin M

    Very nice article, makes me want to buy a Tesla.

    I have one question though. Oil is indeed used in the transport and energy industry, but you seem to have left out a third oil-muncher: the petro-chemical industry. And while it is ‘easy’ to see how to transcend from oil-based transport or energy production to more renewable ways, this is much, much harder for this industry. If you look around you at an average desk, the majority of the stuff you have is made from oil. Significant efforts are being done to produce the same chemicals from biomass, but it might be too little too late. Maybe Musk can focus some of his (seemingly) limitless enthusiasm on the acceleration of the bio-based economy? The technologies (Bio-electrochemical cells, pyrolysis, microbial fermentation,…) are there. They just need more scale and momentum.

    Keep up the good work!

    • moderatesunite

      true, but it’s much less of an issue for 2 reasons.
      1. because only about 10% of oil is used for the chemical industry
      2. because these things are not usually burned and so don’t enter the atmosphere and contribute to global warming

      there are plenty efforts underway to make various plastics or chemicals in more sustainable ways, but the consequences of any one of those succeeding or failing is much less important for the near term, than replacing the industries that burn the fossil fuels and send their waste into the atmosphere.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      And as EVs reduce the need for petroleum motor fuels, more is available for petrochemical manufacture. Oil companies would probably transition into chemical companies, with motor fuel becoming a smaller proportion of their business.

  • Jon Busey

    I thought about this for a day then just decided to buy $23k in Tesla stock after I got up this morning. Your research surpasses what most do for a master’s thesis, and I commend you on your work.
    I’ll read everything you write. Ever. From now on. Thanks!

    • Tomas Bonsembiante

      I was thinking about that the whole time I was reading this article.

      • Matt Menezes

        Some people think their stock is quite a bit overpriced. For instance, the stock price supposedly already has a successful SUV built into the price. That means if the SUV is successful, the stock will stay where it is. If the SUV isn’t successful, the stock will take a beating.

        I personally think there’s still room for growth, but I’m just sharing what analysts are saying…

        • Tomas Bonsembiante

          Oh I didn’t know that their stock already incorporated that, this is why I love this website, no where else on the internet do people explain stuff in such a well worded and civilized manner.
          Good day kind sir.

  • Justin Partridge

    Does the average new car in the USA really only get 23MPG, or is that a typo?! In Europe you would struggle to buy a car that managed that poor fuel efficiency, and most people would be looking for twice that in a new car. Of course more fuel efficient cars for the USA (like the rest of the world already have) may be one way for big motor manufacturers to delay the inevitable for a few more years…

    Edit – did some quick googling – A PEUGEOT 308 1.6 BlueHDi Active 120 S&S, which is around £20k (so not cheap but certainly affordable gets 91MPG. There are several other models from Citroen, Skoda, VW etc that manage the same sort of figures…

    • Ryder

      It’s my understanding that there are versions of the VW Beetle that get mileage that puts the US sold VW’s to shame… but US environmental regs don’t allow sale here. Go figger.

      • Anonymous Joule Thief

        not the vw vehicle, so much as the tech under the hood. not so much that it’s not allowed as they’ve made a business decision with the thought being that US drivers want power over efficiency. also, problem with it being diesel and gov’t not taking into account additional mileage per gal, but looked at the particulate coming from them before urea scrubbing.

        think i got most of that right, but it’s been a while.

        • jeffhre

          LOL. Urea. Scrubbing. Good for athletes foot also?

    • jeffhre

      The US and EU use very different cycles to measure MPG. They have to be converted. The UK uses imperial vs US gallons to measure consumption. They too have to be converted.

      That said the US consumption rates are essentially pitiful. Where Honda’s CEO said they will not build anything stupid big, US drivers often feel they must have a 98 pound driver ferrying the largest and heaviest passenger vehicles ever made to soccer (football) practice, to pick up their 74 pound payload.

    • ScribblePouit

      This is not a typo. The average is low because of the success of the pickup trucks. To give you an idea, below are the best selling cars in April 2015 in the US:

      – Ford F series (18 mpg city, 25 mpg highway)
      – Chevrolet Silverado (18 mpg city, 24 mpg highway)
      – Ram 1500-3500 (17 mpg city, 25 mpg highway)


      There’s no evidence that this trend will change in the next years. Actually because of the low price of gas, their market share has increased over the past months.

      • jeffhre

        Yet measured on the EU or Japan rating cycles, they would have much higher MPG. That does not lead to realistic comparisons.

        • ScribblePouit

          You are probably right. I would like to see a comparison between countries in the same unit (MPG, l/100km or whatever).
          What I wanted to share was that if the US want to get to the level of the EU or Japan, downsizing cars would be an easier short and medium-term solution than switching to electric cars.

          • jeffhre

            Absolutely right. And since most folks are not taking the “easy way” the government has adopted CAFE, with the not exactly unanimous backing of the industry, to move the process along.

            • ScribblePouit

              I did not know about the CAFE standards, thanks for mentioning them.

  • Gwen

    ▬▬▬▬★★★★ that’s a full enjoy with waitbutwhy——- ▬▬▬▬▬☛ Continue Reading

  • Le Mentec Fabien

    Thanks a lot, I wish there was more articles like this. Especially, thanks for taking the time to explain the big picture.

    I agree on almost every points, but noticed a few shortcuts here and there. For instance, you wrote a paragraph on how energy production is more efficient in the factory than it is in a gas engine. It is true, but you should have mentioned the problem of energy transport in the same paragraph to be fair. It completely changes the numbers.

    • jeffhre

      True. Transporting energy to individual gas burning power plants is incredibly energy intensive. It takes from 4 to 6 kWh of energy to refine, deliver in diesel trucks, and pump electrically into car gas tanks, each gallon of gas. That is a cost of billions of kWh of energy for the US alone.

      Coal powered generating stations can receive coal trains that are a mile and a half long – twice a day!

      • Now let’s do the same comparison with nuclear ;).

        • jeffhre

          Yes do! The petroleum industry stopped publicizing their energy use numbers in 2005, for some reason. By the time you get the nuclear industry to talk about the energy used in refinement, enrichment, reprocessing, and those buildings at Oak Ridge that no one ever talks about, I’ll be sitting under some paid off PV panels. What is the annual power bill at Paducah, Kentucky?

          • That’s a pretty crappy comparison you want to make here. If you want to include “well-to-grid” mining, refinement and enrichment for nuclear, you have to do the same for solar.

            So we go to silicon production, purification, runoff removal, wafer production etc. etc., write that off over a generous 30 years (life of the cell), add the glass and compare it to the power produced by the resulting cells in those 30 years.

            i guarantee you that with nuclear, the power/damage ratio will be at least an order of magnitude higher.

            • jeffhre

              I simply said what is there? I asked you to make the comparison. Because nothing you do is crappy!

              “So we go to silicon production, purification, runoff removal, wafer production etc. etc., write that off over a generous 30 years (life of the cell), add the glass and compare it to the power produced by the resulting cells in those 30 years.” Interesting assessment. I’ll see if I can find where that comparison has been made.

            • jeffhre

              No, OK, thanks!

            • Anonymous Joule Thief

              Oh yes, the glorious process of mining uranium…so clean, just ask the Navajo people how it works for them. Of course, cleaning up these sites will be carbon free, right? Big heavy equipment that all use batteries, er, right, no pollution?

            • Bit disingenuous, aren’t we, @Anonymous Joule Thief? Do you think making solar cells is carbon free? Battery material mining and purification? Rare Earths in Wind turbines or the steel concrete in the towers?

              it all depends on EROEI (Energy Returned on Energy Invested), and Nuclear is looking pretty good there.

              As for the Uranium mining – we wouldn’t need it with a decent fleet of breeder reactors. There is enough fissionable material for decades in so-calles “nuclear waste”.

            • jeffhre

              I clearly made no comparison to nuclear. Show your numbers and complete the well to grid for nuclear.

  • ceek

    These two graphics give contradictory data about where our electricity comes from. The first shows that it’s mostly from coal. The second says it’s much more diversified. Which is it?

    • jeffhre

      What are the titles of the graphics.

    • Bob

      Yeah What Jeffhre said. The second chart you pasted shows the breakdown of all US electricity production. The first just shows where emissions come from.

    • jeffhre

      Thanks for showing the offending graphics. They differ since they are illustrating what has happened, or potentially what will happen, over many different years. Is there another contradiction?

    • NorwegianThirtySomething

      The graph you’re showing here shows carbon emissions, not sources of energy. Solar, Nuclear, Hydro and Wind don’t have carbon emissions.

    • Unclever title

      The top graphic there is about US Carbon emissions, not electricity production. Apples to Oranges.

      The graph about US energy consumption: />

      Shows a similar diversity of sources to those pie charts

  • Dawn

    ▬▬▬▬★★★★ that’s a full enjoy with waitbutwhy… ▬▬▬▬▬☛ Continue Reading

  • GMdV

    I really enjoyed this article, but I got a some remarks:

    – First of all: you haven’t divided the share of petroleum used for transportation between public and private transportation. Electric vehicles can only (barely) replace the private share, but they’re not well suited for industrial use (big rigs, planes, ships, etc…). So the potential savings from completely replacing our ICE cars with electric vehicles is half of what you are suggesting they could be.
    For those kinds of applications, fuel cells make much more sense.

    – Second of all: rare earths are an ugly beast. They are located in very few countries and most studies agree on the fact that a widespread adoption of electric vehicles woukd lead to shortages of those elements.

    -Third of all: adopting electric vehicles would only cut a small slice in the world energy consumption, which wouldn’t save us from the impending doom of running out of fossil fuels. At the time being we haven’t found a technology (apart from a widespread use of nuclear power, which has its own (huuuuge) share of problems) that can effectively replace fossil fuels as pur main energy source. I really think this is the great filter for our civilisation.

    • Tipsy

      Elon Musk disagrees with you, think everything (including jets) with go electric, except for Rockets.

      • GMdV

        Let’s assume we develop a technology that can replace fossil fuels in planes/rigs/etc… (which is really not likely to happen, electric power simply isn’t well suited for some kinds of uses. E.g. jet planes: battery power density will never be on par with that of fossil fuels, meaning that battery packs will always be way too heavy for any plane to fly. Solar powered planes are simply impractical and the advances that will be made in solar panels technology (the third generation of solar panels, those based on organic cells, quantum dots or other technologies, are won’t be available before 10/20 yrs and their real world efficiency is still unclear) will never allow a “real plane” (as in: one that can actually carry people and goods) to fly on solar power alone)

        Anyway: even if that was the case, we would still not be solving the huge problem of fossil fuels RUNNING OUT.
        Electric vehicles are actually nothing more than a stopgap, and always will be, until we find a way to effectively replace fossil fuels as our main source of energy.
        And that goes along with stopping climate change, of course.

        • Tipsy

          Sorry if I trust the Rocket engineer, who says if he had the time he’d build a vertical take off and landing electric jet, over you.

          • To be fair, even Elon says (watch his MIT talk) that his electric VTOL plane would rely heavily on computer control (via getting rid of ailerons, elevators, rudders and such, and replace them with gimbaling engines), would not be able to glide, and would have a way worse weight/cargo ratio.

            Oh, and that it is only possibly with batteries that are > 400 Wh/kg.

            • Tipsy

              You’d wanna hope they’re reliable as fuck if they wont glide.

            • Indeed.

        • JoSCh0001

          I remember reading 10, even 5 years ago guys talking about how electric cars won’t have reasonable ranges or even above 100 miles for decades. I suspect that those same guys are very worried about rare earths, big rigs, planes, etc.

          • GMdV

            Potential rare earths shortages are confirmed by many scientific studies on the matter.
            Still, you are missing the point of what I’m saying: going electric won’t save the world until we find a viable alternative to fossil fuels as our primary energy source.

            • JoSCh0001

              There are a bunch of technologies in the hopper, and many that are already viable and getting better every day. Solar, wind, nuclear, biofuels, synthetic “rare earths” etc. I guess some people are optimistic after reading something like this and others just… aren’t.

            • GMdV

              Or maybe there are people who just got their degree in energy engineering and spent the past five years studying the actual state and future developments of all these technologies and the answer they got from all this is: at the moment we’re pretty much fucked. 🙂

              Except maybe for nuclear fusion. That might work, in the very long term.

    • Ryder

      OMG… puleeze. We’re NEVER going to run out of fossil fuels. Ever. How did this myth ever get started?

      And nuclear has no more or less problems than anything else, they are just of a different nature. Nuclear is, so far, proving to be the SAFEST form of energy, in terms of fatalities… even better than wind and solar. We were *sold* on irrational fears… marketers of the great nuclear apocalypse cemented this fear into our culture, and we’ve never really recovered.

      How do we know? We can see it.

      When the tsunami hit the west coast of Japan… a *real* disaster with tens of thousands of lives lost… entire cities removed from the face of the earth… the media did what? They focused on the Fukushima power plants… with a radiation death toll of exactly zero.

      This is the result of irrational FEAR. Piles of bodies ignored… and instead wide-eyed focus on the tick of a Geiger counter… because they don’t understand it… and remember Godzilla movies from their childhood, no doubt.

    • Widespread use of nuclear power does not have a “huuuuuge” share of problems. Please read up on your Barry Brook, mmmkay?

      • GMdV

        Chernobyl? (Human mistake)
        Fukushima? (Natural disaster)
        The radioactive wastes that have to be isolated for thousands years?
        How are these not huge problems?
        Alright, breeder reactors produce very little wastes, but they still need thousands of years before they decay into less radioactive forms.
        Plus there’s a huge problem of acceptance in our society. Common people are scared of nuclear power, my country, for example, voted to ban nuclear powerplants after Chernobyl happened.

        • Even the current share of problems you mention is not “huge”, and as you state yourself, all are solvable by deploying nuclear technology that is already developed.

          Chernobyl took, depending on how you count, between 34 and 3000 lives.

          Fukushima took none, by any measure.

          All in all, Nuclear has the lowest death count per Terawatthour of energy produced, by a LOOOOONG margin:

          Yup, that’s even lower than solar and wind.

          Radioactive waste does not have to be isolated for thousands of years. It SHOULD, but even if simply “detained” for just a few decades, its dangerousness is not even comparable to the NOT-AT-ALL-decaying poisons freed by burning fossil fuels.

          As you mention yourself, breeder reactors (and even better, IFRs or LFTRs) can get rid of the current crop of “spent” fuel (which really still contains almost 99% of its original potential energy).

          As for acceptance: Originally well-meaning, but now dangerous organisations like Greenpeace have been doing anti-scientific propaganda against nuclear. Which is ironic, because nuclear alone has the potential to save the environment in the short term. Like Elon Musk, I am also a big fan of solar, but it simply can’t be ramped up soon enough to make a meaningful impact re: replacing coal and gas.

          • GMdV

            Don’t get me wrong: I’m aware of the data’s on death count and the other datas. I’m totally pro nuclear power and I know that the propaganda against it is largely exaggerated.
            But still I’m not convinced it’s a completely viable and sustainable solution to the world’s energy need in the long ter, as in with no harm whatsoever for us and the environment.
            I mean: when a nuclear disaster strikes, it strikes hard.
            Also I can’t seem to find the projections on uranium availability, but even that is poised to finish, eventually, isn’t it?

            There’s another thing I was actually thinking of, today, but it’s more of a personal doubt than anything else. Since nuclear power is not suited for variable loads, is a power grid solely based on nuclear power for the base load and other renewables for the peak loads sustainable?

            • With LFTRs an IFRs, we have nuclear fuel for hundreds of years from the current “nuclear waste”- that way, we can kill two birds with one stone.

              Even longer Term, we can go to Uranium from seawater and/or Thorium from “fresh mining” – thorium is actually quite plentiful. Personally, I think we should “save up” the Uranium, as reactors for starships are probably easier to build with Uranium / Plutonium as fuel ;).

              No harm whatsoever – you are clearly right, that is not possible. But neither is “no harm whatsoever” possible with any other form of energy generation. A denser energy is probably best for generating the least amount of damage per unit of energy generated.

              As for the variable load question: Correct, but I see the grid going to basically a caseload function anyway – peaks will most likely be shaved off by on-site generation at the point of consumption.

            • Headless Unicorn Guy

              Another legacy of the Cold War Nuclear Arms Race — a lot of American and Russian nuke plants were built primarily to breed plutonium (reprocessed from spent fuel) for bombs; the Atoms for Peace power generation was a public sideline.

            • Headless Unicorn Guy

              Legacy of the Cold War, where NUCLEAR mean Nuclear War and the KGB bankrolled Western peace and anti-nuke movements as part of a Hearts & Minds strategy. The USSR and Cold War are gone, but the momentum (and True Believers with The Cause) remains.

  • The “canopy” metaphor of innovation is worth the time spent reading this all by itself. Very nice job. Now go put your carpal-tunnel splints on.

    One quibble:

    “You could replace 70% of US gas car miles with EV miles with no changes to the grid.”

    I’d like to see your sources and math on that one. I suspect that you could do a 70% replacement and not exceed peak current capacity, but then what would you do when the rest of the things that require peaking today (e.g. air conditioners) were switched on? I understand the “charge during off-peak hours” argument, but that’s only going to go so far. If you’ve got 70% EV penetration, some fraction of those are going to need on-peak charging.

    I agree that rooftop solar helps a lot in this area, but in some sense it’s in a race with EV adoption. If rooftop solar installation rates are high enough, then the changes to the grid are mostly at the end of the pole for electricity sell-backs, and that scales pretty smoothly. (At the worst, you don’t get to sell back your excess energy, but you still get your Model 3 charged in the garage, and you can do desperate hand-to-hand zombie-stabbing in air-conditioned comfort.) On the other hand, if the EV adoption swamps the rooftop roll-out, then the changes to the grid are for additional peaking and transmission capacity, and that’s a large-scale infrastructure change.

    Hopefully you’re going to do a maxi-post on Elon’s vision of how the grid evolves. If/when you do, I hope you’ll spend some time on energy density. I think that renewables (esp. wind) may be able to be jiggered to deal with the current industrial demands, but I’d expect us to invent some new technologies that require extremely large, extremely dense energy sources in the future. Continental-scale water desalination tops my list, but eventually I’m going to get pouty if I can’t have my antimatter spaceship.

    • NorwegianThirtySomething

      In Norway, there have been calculations done that if absolutely all personal transportation (cars) was electric instead of fossil-fuel driven, the reuired electricity would be 5% of our country’s total output.

      And that’s without factoring in the lessened need to power refineries. And those babies gobble the gigawatts, baby…

      • jeffhre

        Wow! In any case, without refineries, the peaks would all be replaced with completely different consumption curves.

      • OK, you’ve goaded me into taking a stab at this quantitatively. Not a very exhaustive stab, but a stab. I don’t think I’m going to do Norway, since it’s only got a population a little bigger than Alabama and doesn’t get hot in the summer.

        Here we go:

        1) 70% EV car passenger-mile penetration. In 2013, that would have been 2.0 trillion passenger miles. Driving a bit less than 6 days a week, that gives about 6.4B passenger-miles per day.

        2) An EV can do 3 mi/kWh.

        3) It turns out that there’s no such thing as a “load curve for the entire US”. So, instead, I’m going to use the New York Independent System Operator, because it happens to be an ISO that serves exactly everyone in New York, and it publishes hourly load stats. The highest load in late July 2014, was on July 23. Here are the hourly numbers, in MW:

        Time MW delta-peak
        00:00 18,626 08,676
        01:00 17,823 09,479
        02:00 17,356 09,946
        03:00 17,043 10,259
        04:00 16,984 10,318
        05:00 17,452 09,850
        06:00 18,706 08,596
        07:00 20,615 06,687
        08:00 22,298 05,004
        09:00 23,637 03,665
        10:00 24,767 02,535
        11:00 25,594 01,708
        12:00 26,198 01,104
        13:00 26,753 00,549
        14:00 27,101 00,201
        15:00 27,213 00,089
        16:00 27,302 00,000
        17:00 27,144 00,158
        18:00 26,371 00,931
        19:00 25,425 01,877
        20:00 24,722 02,580
        21:00 24,182 03,120
        22:00 22,685 04,617
        23:00 20,821 06,481

        The peak 1-hour load was between 16:00 and 17:00, and averaged 27,302 MW, while the minimum load was between 04:00 and 05:00 and averaged 16,984 MW. We can make the (iffy) assumption that we can get “unused capacity” but subtracting the load for any hour from the peak load. Note that late July is about as hot as it gets, and ought to run the system at something close to what the ISO considers safe capacity. (Almost everybody adds adds a 20% margin onto their annual peak load, but charging EVs isn’t going to make them change their minds about that. The consequences of falling short are fairly catastrophic.)

        4) New York’s a nice big state. (I would have used California or Texas, but California doesn’t publish hourly numbers and the ERCOT ISO isn’t exactly contiguous with Texas.) However, while It had 6.2% of the US population in July 2014, it only had 4.6% of the cars, so let’s take 4.6% of our 6.4B passenger-miles, giving us 294M passenger-miles.

        5) Let’s now assume that 85% of those passenger miles (250M) are represented by people who come home exactly at 18:00 and plug their EV into the wall, and expect it to be ready to go the next morning at 07:00. (Note that forgetting to plug in your EV is probably a bit of a career-limiting move, so people are going to get into the habit of plugging the car into the wall before they go into the house to kiss the spouse and kids.)

        6) 250M passenger miles @ 3 mi/kWh = 83M kWh = 83,000 MWh. That’s what we have to deliver over the 13 hours between 18:00 and 07:00. Can we do it? If we add up that “unused” peaking column, it comes out to 108K MWh of energy, so we’re probably OK. Note that we’re not wildly OK, and states with a higher number of per-capita passenger miles could be in mild trouble. But we’re in the ballpark.

        7) But wait! We’re assuming no grid changes, so the chargers are probably sucking down power as fast as they can once they’re plugged in. The standard Tesla Model S charger pulls 10 kW. If we also assume that 70% of the cars in New York are EVs, we get 85% of 70% of 5.1M cars @ 10 kW = 30,500 MW, all plugged in right on the dot of 18:00. Since we only have 931 MW of unused capacity at 18:00…

        8) Hello darkness, my old friend.

        So: chargers have to be smart enough not to hurt the grid, which requires a rudimentary “smart grid” at the very least. The smart grid would let the EV tell it it needed to charge and the grid would then compute the number of cars charging and tell them all how fast they could charge. But this is some non-trivial infrastructure.

        The other issue here is that we’re assuming we’re charging EVs with peaking plants. Peaking plants are expensive power. A cheaper way to go would be to add more baseload power. But again, that’s a grid change.

        On the other hand, if everybody has a 10 kWh Tesla Powerwall hanging in their garage and a bunch of solar panels on their roof, maybe that’s enough energy stored over the day to shift the point where we start drawing from the grid from 18:00 to, say, 20:00, at which point… we still don’t have enough unused capacity to pull off the rest of the 30,500 MW load.

        I would rate the statement that “the grid has enough capacity to handle 70% of the passenger miles” today as requiring large number of caveats, at best. You either need a genuine smart grid or a buttload of solar and battery storage.

        • Ivan

          Your Math seem’s to be SOLID! – But in real life, I would say half or even less of the cars will have to fill from ZERO to 250 miles each day. Witch means, 50% (pure guess on my end) cars would not start from ZERO – but let’s say from 150 miles already. I dont have any source on this, but some friends who have EV’s – they almost never charge from ZERO.

          • I’m more worried about the coming-home-from-work peak, even if it’s only 10-20 kWh total, than I am about the full overnight load. Somebody up-thread (see tech01xpert’s comment here) confirmed that most of the chargers do have scheduling features on them, so you plug it in at 18:00 but the charge doesn’t start until midnight, for example. If people actually use that feature, that would help enormously. However, if they’re their usual gadget-impaired selves, there could be a problem.

            If the chargers phone home with sufficiently precise geoloc information, and the charger companies’ servers are sufficiently wired into all of the local utilities to distribute load heuristically (as opposed to with direct feedback from the power company), and the end-user isn’t so paranoid that he/she is willing to wait overnight for a charge, and the default mode for the charger is to load-distribute, then it looks like something close to 70% EV passenger-miles is possible.

            • jeffhre

              A lot of ifs…

          • jeffhre

            80% of driving in the US is 37 miles per day or less according to EPA stats. Check this by multiplying the amounts by 365! For 250 miles per day I get 91,250 miles of driving per year, a bit higher that the 13,000 miles or so a year average often quoted by news media. I believe EU averages are lower than the US.

            • Headless Unicorn Guy

              And don’t forget the difference between Eastern & Western US. Driving conditions & distances are very different.

              Eastern US (and Great Lakes area) were settled first; many of the major cities were laid out in the 19th Century when rail was the only large-scale transportation. As a result, they are less car-dependent.

              (op cit tale about a NY Congressman once trying to outlaw private cars with the comment “They can always take mass transit.” Said Congressman’s district was part of Manhattan Island.)

              But out here on the West Coast, most if not all of the settlement boom took place after WW2, when cars & suburbia were dominant. Plus distances between towns & cities are greater once you get west of the Appalachians and Mississippi River. So unrefuelled range has always been more important the farther west you go.

            • jeffhre

              As you know, much of the growth in Southern Ca was supported by the Pacific Electric rail system. It was dismantled before the huge suburban cul-de-sac post war boom though.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy

          The standard Tesla Model S charger pulls 10 kW. If we also assume that 70% of the cars in New York are EVs, we get 85% of 70% of 5.1M cars @ 10 kW = 30,500 MW, all plugged in right on the dot of 18:00. Since we only have 931 MW of unused capacity at 18:00…

          8) Hello darkness, my old friend.

          Where I am, they’ve just put a new powerplant online — four big gas turbines running on natural gas, located in the middle of East Anaheim’s industrial district. Since gas turbines go to full power within seconds to minutes after startup, it’d be a natural for peak load operations, adding power to the grid as-needed.

          There was also talk of large trailer-sized modular turbine powerplants to come online for peak hours only, but I don’t think that got beyond design studies.

          • You can either go for lots more peaking capacity (which has moderate capital cost but extremely high operational cost–they’re inefficient single-cycle gas turbines, instead of the combined cycle plants), or you can go for more intermediate load capacity (which has higher capital cost but lower operational costs–they use the more efficient combined-cycle systems). Either way, it’s more expensive to add intermediate or peaking plants than it is to add base load.

        • Anonymouus Joule Thief

          Something to take into account…you did indeed bring the addition of solar into the equation, but forgot an important aspect of it’s implementation on residential housing. Solar panels provide shade, which in turn keeps housing cooler, reducing kW used for AC and in turn freeing up some capacity for charging you’re EV.

          Also to consider is since 70% market penetration won’t happen over night, people will be buying more efficient appliances, more efficient LED lighting, presumably anticipating somewhat higher usage for EV when sizing their solar PV systems (presumably solar installers will steer them towards this) and while there might be some dimming, I don’t think that it will be ” hello darkness” per se.

          • I think this is all doable, but I’m still skeptical it can be done without active load management by the utilities, i.e., a smart grid.

            There are basically three ways to manage the load spike that occurs when everybody plugs in their car as they come home:

            1) Everybody has enough battery capacity at home to dump some significant fraction of the accumulated accumulated charge into the car. Note that a cloudy day can mess this up. This is also way, way expensive for the near term.

            2) Over-the-top smart (i.e., not integrated directly with the utility) chargers, which can talk back to the mothership at Tesla, GM, Nissan, etc. to spread the load over the night. I can’t really tell if this can solve the problem or not.

            First, the mothership has to have fine-grained geoloc and an intimate knowledge of the utility layout in order to be effective in the load distribution. That’s doable, and may turn out to be a lot cheaper (and safer) than a smart grid where the utility is controlling the consmers’ devices.

            Second, however, is more problematic: Consumers are notoriously bad at any sort of sophisticated setup, and their motivations aren’t necessarily aligned with the goal of reducing peak load. What they want is a fully charged car ASAP, just because they want to be able to make an emergency trip or leave earlier in the morning. So first you have to give them a better motivation (steep discounts on off-peak power will certainly help), then you have to allay their nighttime range anxiety (i.e., that they have enough juice to go to the hospital or to help Grandma when she’s fallen and can’t get up), and then you have to get them to set the charging schedule properly.

            3) Go to a smart grid, where the utility doesn’t give you a choice about your motivation and your range anxiety. This is expensive for the utility and has a variety of safety and security problems.

            Bottom line is going to be that if we went to 70% EVs over a very short time span (say, ten years), we’d be in trouble. And even if we get there over a longer time span, we’re going to need somewhat more intermediate capacity (since the total charging load would require running the current grid at near peak capacity all night, which is expensive), and a lot more peak capacity (for cloudy days), and we’re going to need some form of load control that works reliably.

            This is all doable. My complaint (up above about 3 levels now), is that it’s not doable with the existing grid in the near-term.

    • Lukas Abegg

      I’m not an expert at all, but I’ve read that the Tesla Powerwall has
      some sort of “smart grid” features built in (mainly software, I guess?). Seems
      that Tesla is about to tackle the grid problem as well.


      • I don’t think the problem is the Powerwall; it’s the EV charger. The Powerwall doesn’t have enough capacity to charge the EV (10 kWh vs. 60 kWh for the standard models), so at best it can shift the evening charging peak a couple of hours–which definitely helps, but doesn’t solve the problem.

        On the other hand, as the residential battery capacity approaches the EV capacity, and the solar capacity is large enough to charge the residential battery completely over the peak sun hours, then things start to change pretty substantially. You’ve still got problems with cloudy days and needing a lot more peak capacity in the grid (which is expensive to add), but the whole system hangs together pretty well.

  • Alex

    Holy **** Tim, what have you done here?!
    It was a very interesting article totally worth the hours spent reading it. Thanks!

  • Ash

    That was a masterful mini-book, and I learned so much. But my favorite part was the footnotes.

  • James

    I’m really enjoying this book so far.

  • Steve Ryu

    Umm isnt Mars farther away than Venus ?

    • Jamie

      Yes. The article didn’t suggest otherwise, did it?

  • Helen

    ▬▬▬▬★★★★ that’s a full enjoy with waitbutwhy ********* ▬▬▬▬▬☛ Continue Reading

  • Ian Freud

    Counterpoint: Tesla still haven’t overcome the problem of energy density – which is the *real* reason EVs haven’t yet gained traction:

    In short, a kilo of petrol or diesel contains an order more magnitude of energy than a kilo of batteries. At the moment, being able to build lots more batteries in a “Gigafactory” doesn’t make batteries any better as a means of transporting energy.

    None of this is to say that EVs aren’t the future – they are – but the big section in the post dealing with “why EVs haven’t taken off” misses some pretty critical stuff that Tesla hasn’t come any closer than anyone else to solving.

    • Ian Freud

      And on a related note, energy transportation is the other part of the problem. A petrol car carries its energy with it: transporting energy from a power plant to a remote location loses a *lot* of power along the way, making it less efficient to do so. As cost is inextricably bound up with efficiency, these are big deals when trying to transition to EVs. Tesla at the moment is using licensed battery technology from other people (I believe Samsung) so strip away the marketing and the company hasn’t solved these problems. I hope they do, but there are big problems which are bound to inextricable physical laws that haven’t as yet been cracked.

      • jeffhre


      • Jeff

        But how about the efficiency lost getting petrol to the refinery and through the refinery process and then to the gas station?

      • Andre Needham

        “transporting energy from a power plant to a remote location loses a *lot* of power along the way, making it less efficient to do so” is not a true statement. Electricity transmission losses are measured in the single digits. From US EIA data, transmission losses are under 7%.

    • Jeff

      But…who cares? Right now a car can get how many miles per tank? 300? 400? 500? The Tesla gets 265 and the Roadster gets 350. There’s a quote in the post about Musk saying they could make cars with 500 mile ranges right now but the price would be too high. Presumably, Gigafactory = lower price of batteries = future 500 mile-range Teslas. So if the range of a gas car and EV are the same, who cares about energy density?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        As long as you don’t have to sit around for six hours charging.

        A few times a year, I have reason to drive from LA area to SF area. 400 miles/600km, usually with one fill-up (10 minutes max) around the halfway point. (Was able to do it on one tank until my transmission blew & the replacement’s 5th was geared differently, increasing my high-speed cruise fuel consumption by 5-10%.) Total trip time (including meal stops), six-eight hours.

        Under non-Tesla EVs and assuming I-5, I’d have to stop and recharge (six-eight hours) at Grapevine, stop and recharge (six-eight hours) at Kettleman, stop and recharge (six-eight hours) at Santa Nella (where the Gilroy Cutoff cuts off of I-5), then after all those recharge stops (over a couple days) finally pull into my destination. Then the same four-step going back.

        With a Tesla (which I can’t afford), I’d have only one stop-and-recharge (half an hour) around Kettleman.

  • Jerry Bradbury

    2 Wait, What!?? moments for me: the flush door handles on the Model S and the fact that ALL of Tesla’s patents are open source. Amazing. #1 is a game changer. #2 is a world changer.

    I thought headlights that turned as the car cornered was a brilliant and logical innovation but the big 3 car makers and their political stooge managed to kill the Tucker Torpedo in 1948 before it ever hit the market. No car since has had that feature. Historically the best way to slay the dragon is to cut off its head. We have yet to see what they will try to do to Tesla but I sincerely hope that what the old guard did to Preston Tucker will not be repeated with Elon Musk.

    • GMdV

      Aston Martin has been using flush door handles on its cars since forever.
      A different kind of flush door handle was used on the Fiat Barchetta in the 90’s.
      The Jag F-Type uses handles that pop out of the door when you need them, as well.

      It’s definitely a nice and scenographic solution, but far from being unique.

  • Mark Monnin

    Just FYI: “The Wright Brothers’ 12 second, 120-foot-high flight” seems to be wrong. Wikipedia says “The first flight, by Orville at 10:35 am, of 120 feet (37 m) in 12 seconds, at a speed of only 6.8 miles per hour (10.9 km/h) over the ground, was recorded in a famous photograph.[35] The next two flights covered approximately 175 and 200 feet (53 and 61 m), by Wilbur and Orville respectively. Their altitude was about 10 feet (3.0 m) above the ground.” 120 feet in 12 seconds = 10 feet per second = 6.8 miles per hour

    • Ryder

      Ya, the 120′ was the *distance* of the flight… good catch 🙂

    • Reint Harkink

      Not the Wright Brothers but Gustave Whitehead was the first to fly an airplane; see “”

      It was in the summer of 1901 that
      Whitehead flew his airplane, which he called the Condor. In the early
      hours of 14 August 1901, the Condor propelled itself along the darkened
      streets of Bridgeport, Connecticut, with Whitehead, his staff and an
      invited guest in attendance. In the still air of dawn, the Condor’s
      wings were unfolded and it took off from open land at Fairfield, 15
      miles from the city, and performed two demonstration sorties. The second
      was estimated as having covered 1½ miles at a height of 50 feet, during
      which slight turns in both directions were demonstrated.” The length of
      flight and altitude reached make the Wright’s first powered foray pale
      in comparison.

  • Vinay Kapadia

    Hey, have you seen The Oatmeal’s review of the Tesla Model S?

    • Keir

      I was literally about to post that.

      • Vinay Kapadia

        Awesome! Great minds and all 🙂

        • Art

          He linked to that article in the post!

          “I get now why Matthew Inman calls his Model S a “magical space car”—because that’s how it felt.”

          • Vinay Kapadia

            Ah, don’t know how I missed that 🙂

  • David

    I noticed that Tim was talking about a lot of pros and cons but never mentioned the lifecycle of a battery. If the battery costs the better part of the car price, what happens if it, after a few years, loses capacity and the recharge intervals increase? Is there any guarantee or replacement that Tesla (or any other company) is doing? Is there any outlook that batteries are improving in this section?

    • jeffhre

      No, Tesla offers no warranty. Unlike other car makers, when you leave the store you are on your own – cue tumble weeds blowing by. No car companies have warranties on batteries, they are simply too volatile.

      • David Hrivnak

        Not true as Tesla has an 8 year unlimited mileage on their Model S batteries. I have an 6.5 year old Roadster and still get over 215 miles on a charge. Yes that is down from the 235 when new but still very usable.

        • jeffhre

          Thanks for your reply. And thank you for not being defensive about clearly the dumbest answer in the world which is an obvious invitation for David to enjoy discovering for himself the real answers.

          Clearly Tesla has decided to meet or exceed the overly protective CARB ZEV guidelines where ever it opens up new sales channels. Seriously – a $69,000 car with an average ASP of $110,000 and no warranty!

          Glad to hear your battery is holding up as expected. Are you considering the new upgrades?

      • NorwegianThirtySomething

        That’s absolute rubbish, and you know it.

        • jeffhre

          Of course I do. I’m helping my buddy David support national cognitive dissonance week!

      • JoSCh0001

        Curious how you post this 7 days ago and don’t reply to David. Also curious how you don’t have access to google but you’re able to post here.


        • jeffhre

          Yes, curious.

          • JoSCh0001

            You replied somewhere other than the reply button and didn’t understand the edit button? I guess that explains how you don’t understand google. At least you’re secure in your wrongness. You should run for office.

            • jeffhre

              Oh, did I rain on your parade, LOL! Still over 500 comments to go.

            • JoSCh0001

              You figured out the edit button, hooray! #yougetacookie

              You’re still wrong about warranties. Apologize.

            • jeffhre

              588 comments to go…

            • Headless Unicorn Guy

              I smell Troll.

            • jeffhre

              “You replied somewhere other than the reply button and didn’t understand the edit button?”

              Yes. I did. I now realize it hurt you deeply – and for that I apologize.