Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Tesla’s average-price Model 3 has a battery range of 220 miles. That range is for Tesla’s least-expensive Model 3 battery. The company sells the same model with longer ranges at higher prices. This version has been updated.
Batteries are the heart and soul of electric vehicles. Yet, it is very difficult to produce a battery powerful enough to drive a car for a significant number of miles without recharging. Tesla’s Model 3 has an average sticker price of $42,900, with the cheapest option offering a battery large enough to fuel 220 miles of driving, a much smaller range than its gas-fueled competitors. Consumers can pay more to get up to 310 miles, but high cost of producing batteries means the sticker price is considerably higher than the $32,500 average price of vehicles sold in the United States.
This comparison understates the price disadvantage of electric cars, as the average vehicle price includes much pricier SUVs and minivans. The apples-to-apples comparison between a midrange sedan and the Model 3 is even greater, which is one big reason consumers still vastly prefer gas-fueled cars.
The Green New Deal’s ambitious goals — a 40- to 60-percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030 — cannot be met unless virtually all transportation and home heating and cooling needs are nearly emission free. That’s because about two-thirds of all U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions come from transportation, electricity generation, and other heating and cooling of houses and commercial buildings. Since it will be much harder to reduce emissions in the other two large categories, industry and agriculture, the three big sectors must essentially be fueled via renewable energy within 11 years to have any hope of meeting the GND’s targets.
That simply cannot be done with existing battery technology without public subsidies that dwarf any politically feasible program. Batteries cost around $10,000 per car, much higher than an internal combustion engine. A government subsidy to offset that cost would cost around $170 billion a year, if all cars sold in the United States were battery-powered. Good luck getting that through Congress.
Even that vastly understates the problem. Electric car batteries recharge by connecting with the electric grid, and that grid is mainly fueled by nonrenewable sources. Solar and wind power, the most commonly touted form of renewables, cannot supply reliable power round-the-clock, which is why current electric systems require “baseload” generation capacity powered by fossil fuels or nuclear energy to power them. In other words, even an all-electric car fleet would not be emission-free.
Improved battery technology, therefore, is the only viable solution to this dilemma. If batteries could be made more powerful, solar or wind power could be stored cost-effectively and shipped to the locations that use electric power. Instead of connecting to a grid of wires, homes and buildings would draw power from on-site-installed batteries, which theoretically could be recharged by on-site solar panels or wind turbines. Cars would also recharge from these home batteries.
A serious Green New Deal, then, would focus like a laser on funding research into improved battery technology. Instead of, as its authors laid out in their proposal, calling for an “economic mobilization” not seen since World War II, they might look to President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 declaration to land a man on the moon within a decade.
counterpointWhat if climate change meant not doom — but abundance?
The fact that green activists such as the authors of the GND do not pursue this avenue raises legitimate questions about their real motives. The text of the GND is chock full of seemingly unrelated goals, such as the provision of job guarantees and union organizing rights, which seems to suggest that the GND’s authors are actually more interested in “mobilizing” U.S. society than in solving climate change in a cost-effective way.
Ronald Reagan noted in his early 1964 speeches this recurring tension between stated goals of “do-gooders” and the means by which they seek to accomplish them. Too often, Reagan noted, advocates called for massive, federal programming when much more limited actions would do. For Reagan, that those actions were either ignored or disregarded when tried made him wonder whether those people were more interested in meeting the need or in having government assume more control.
There was a word for what Reagan said those people actually wanted: “socialism.” In the 1960s, advocates shrank from saying it. Today’s most prominent GND advocates, however, have no such compunctions. Socialism is all the rage on today’s left, and the disconnect between the GND’s text and the realities of combating climate change leaves little doubt over whether the climate horse is driving the socialist cart. Those who want to both battle climate change and preserve American freedom ought to take note and redirect their efforts on a more limited — and more effective — approach.