Transportation is inextricably linked with (green) buildings. And for a number of reasons — peak oil, national security, price gouging, and concern for the environment — the current oil-based transportation system is dying. Its death started with hybrids, and to a certain extent, continued with natural gas vehicles. With the advent of electrical vehicles, we will all witness the slow, prolonged, and painful death of oil-based transportation. Tonight Dateline NBC gave us a glimpse of the next generation of transportation in Tesla Motors. The future of electrical cars is bright, but let's be clear: it's complicated, too.
If you watch the above video, you hear Jason Calacanis (owner of a Tesla Roadster) and Elon Musk (founder of Tesla Motors) talking about electrical vehicles. Calacanis, a self-proclaimed Corvette guy, says he's done with Corvettes (he has two Tesla Model S sedans on order) and hasn't been to the gas station in four months. Repeat, that's four months of no gas station. In the future, like Calacanis, most people will have no need for a gas station.
A Pricey Beginning
But to be clear, in the near term, electrical vehicles won't be for the price sensitive consumer. The Tesla Roadster starts at ~$109k, and the Model S is supposed to be ~$50k. Figure in generous federal tax incentives and cheaper potential fuel prices, you still have to be able to buy the car to begin with. But a transportation world with Tesla vehicles is kind of picturesque, I'll agree. These cars are beautiful, and they perform.
Although Tesla is somewhat first to market, they're not alone. A number of other electrical vehicles will hit the market in late-2010, early 2011, and sometime thereafter. Some of these include Ford Focus BEV, Nissan EV, Dodge Circuit, Smart EV, Mini E, Aptera, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Subaru R1e, and BYD e6, etc. The list is long and will certainly get longer.
What is The Source?
As we move from oil to electricity, we have to ask: where's all this electricity coming from? Nationally, based on 2006 measurements, electricity mostly came from coal (49%), natural gas (20%), nuclear (19.4%), hydroelectric (7%), other renewables (2.4%), and petroleum (1.6%). Coal is not clean by any stretch of the imagine, and nuclear, let's face it, has complicated waste storage problems. Natural gas is cleaner than oil, but it's not clean. In short, we really need to tie renewable energy to the advent of electrical vehicles. Otherwise, the next generation transportation system won't be all that clean. It can be though.
A Perfect World
Electrical vehicles should be charged at home (or work) using renewable energy gathered from rooftop solar, geothermal, small wind, and/or a portion of utility-scale green power. Solar panels, green tech, an energy storage system, and everything else may be expensive in the near term, but costs will go down eventually. A short-term solution may be green power purchases through electricity companies. A better solution is to make buildings more energy-efficient, because the less energy wasted on operations, the more that can be used on vehicles.
From our perspective, to prepare for a future of electrical vehicles, the first step involves making buildings more energy efficient. It'd be nice to use energy-efficiency savings to power these vehicles. Then, going forward with a partially decentralized solution, start generating green energy on these efficient buildings to make them net zero energy or resource positive. We're doing one good thing by phasing out oil, but as we phase into greater electricity use, we have to have to do it right. And clean.
Photo credits: Tesla Motors.