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The Coal Powered Car And The Green Electric Dryer

September 26, 2018

Which is more ecologically friendly, a Tesla Model 3 Roadster or an electric dryer?

Did you know the United States CO2 emissions actually have been going down over the past few years? It’s not because we are so great at fighting climate change. No, there’s a much more mercenary reason. Natural gas is cheaper than coal. We’ve been switching our electric grid from coal powered power plants to natural gas powered power plants.

Natural gas (NG) provides more energy (measured in British Thrermal Units or BTU) with less emmissions than either coal or oil. It’s cheaper for energy companies to power our electrical grid. The lower carbon emissions are an added bonus.

Even Climate Skeptics are willing to reduce emissions if it saves money. But, not every change in the name of Climate Change actually reduces our carbon footprint. For example, that $50,000 Tesla not only looks cool, but it’s environmentally friendly, right?

Let’s skip the issues of lithium mining and the long term disposal of lithium batteries. The long term ecological cost of that is uncertain. Let’s just talk about the day to day cost of running your 0-60 in 3.5 second sportscar.

The big deal with Tesla, of course is that it’s an electric car. No smelly gas or diesel liquified dinosaurs for your car. Just pure, clean electricity.

Remember that discussion a little earlier about why the USA CO2 emissions are on the decline? Our electricity comes from a variety of sources.

– 45.50% from Coal
– 23.99% from NG
– 19.30% from Nuclear*
– 6.43% from Hydro*
– 2.10% from Wind*
– 0.95% from Petroleum
– 0.91% from Wood
– 0.42% from Biomass
– 0.37% from Geothermal*
– 0.03% from Solar*
*Renewables

Our electrical grid is only 28.23% renewables. The remaining 71.77% is those nasty dirty fossil fuels. (Okay, Nuclear might not be completely renewable, but it does have zero emissions. And Biomass and wood are not really fossil fuels, but they do burn. And, seriously, wood? Wood produces more energy than solar?)

So, you beautiful shiny new electric car is really being powered mostly by coal. And then some Natural Gas. Kind of gives a different look on the Tesla marketing.

Now, what about my nasty old electric dryer? I have five teenagers at home. Each is responsible for doing their own laundry. That’s a lot of loads of laundry each week. Given the choice, we’ve always had gas dryers. Not only does NG have fewer emissions and cost the electric complanies less, it costs consumers less too.

My current house didn’t come with a gas dryer. It came with a gas dryer. But, now I’m glad. In fact, my electric dryer has suddenly become more ecologically friendly than a gas dryer would be. Two years ago we installed solar panels.

When you install solar panels, you have to decide how many to install. The more panels, the more power you generate. Also, the more expensive it is. We had eight kids at home at the time and designed a solar panel setup that was 85% of our (at the time) current usage. That meant that we generated 85% of our electrical needs from the panels and we bought 15% from the power company.

As the kids grow up and move out, we use less and less energy. We are to the point where we are now producing most of the electricity we use, including all those loads of laundry in our “inefficient” electric dryer. In fact, had we gone with a gas dryer, we would still be producing CO2. Instead, we have turned our dryer into a green, zero emission appliance.

(Well, if we ignore all the related costs of producing solar panels. Nothing is truly free.)

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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(c) 2018 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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3 Comments
  1. Randy Grein permalink

    Not bad Rod, but there are a number of things left out of your analysis. First lithium has a relatively low toxicity, especially compared with the heavy metals. Yes, we need to be careful with extraction as well as recycling, but the large batteries required by cars and busses they will be recycled. Don’t forget that extraction of fossil fuels have a pollution cost as well. As you say, nothing is truly free.

    You are correct that, by itself that Tesla won’t save much compared to a good hybrid. But compared to a similar sports car, or worse an SUV it starts to look better. My non-Tesla electric gets 99-110 mpge – better than any of the hybrids currently produced, and Ford wasn’t trying hard for efficiency. Now that Tesla has shown electrics can be fast, sexy and cool we can go back and design real economy cars. Oh, and let’s not forget lower maintenance. No oil, no transmission fluid to change, and with energy regeneration brake pads last somewhere around 3-500,000 miles. The only maintenance item on mine, aside from the cabin air filter is to replace the coolant every 100,000 miles.

    You are also correct that the grid matters. Back east (heavy coal dependence) full electrics have a carbon footprint no better than a hybrid. Which says something about our choices in power generation. Here in Washington state we have an over-reliance on hydro, but wind and solar are coming on strong. We are nowhere near Germany (85% renewable as of 3 years ago) but over time we can and should do more. Energy capture is up from the original 2% to 27% with the new dual layer cells and estimates are we should reach 40% in the not distant future.

    Electric cars make sense today in urban areas. Not so much for the vast outback, but that could change soon. And I’m sure the transition will take some time, and we may always have some gas powered cars.

    • I’m not knocking the electrics. I’m really poking a but at the self righteous who assume their electric is the solution to the climate change issue.

      I agree we will continue to see a migration. And I’m actually okay with that. I’m certainly okay with renewables. . .so long as we let our migration be driven my the market not the marketers.

  2. For the list of sources, it would be better to call the asterixed items as ‘carbon free’ or ‘none emitting’ where as renewables would have not had nuclear and had wood and biomass instead. Otherwise love your posts as normal, and this could be said about IT data centers with their rapid growth of power use that exceed the renewables available in many areas.

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