Tesla Adds New Evidence: Renewable World is Cheaper, with Less Impact

April 10, 2023

Tesla, in a new comprehensive report, becomes only the latest in a line of studies showing that a transition to clean energy is not only do-able – it is positively compelling economically.

Yahoo Finance:

Last month, Elon Musk announced his visionfor Tesla and a sustainable future, but was vague on specifics. On Wednesday, the company laid out in detail the math behind his so-called Master Plan 3 including what the economy at large might look like in a greener future and how much it would cost compared to the alternative.

Tesla’s report finds that an economy built on sustainable energy is not only feasible, it is economically preferable. The switch would require “less investment and less material extraction than continuing today’s unsustainable energy economy,” Tesla found. The investment needed to develop a sustainable economy—based on an electrical grid and manufacturing industry powered by renewable energy and electrified transportation—would be $10 trillion, but sticking to oil, coal, and natural gas would end up costing $14 trillion globally over the next two decades, according to the paper, a difference in price roughly equivalent to the annual GDP of Germany.

Elements of the sustainable economy that would require investment include factories for wind turbines, solar panels, and electric vehicles, recycling facilities for batteries, and mining and refining infrastructure for raw materials such as lithium and nickel.

The higher costs of a fossil fuel-dependent economy would stem from dwindling hydrocarbon supplies in the future that would make remaining reserves more expensive and lost efficiency. Tesla’s report pointed out how current technologies, such as gas furnaces and combustion car engines, can be highly inefficient, and only 36% of energy produced with current sources leads to useful work or heat in today’s economy. Meanwhile, moving to a sustainable economy, while expensive, presents “zero insurmountable resource challenges,” although the report noted that increasing mining, refining, and manufacturing infrastructure will require trillions in new investment.

Oxford University:

Transitioning to a decarbonised energy system by around 2050 is expected to save the world at least $12 trillion compared to continuing our current levels of fossil fuel use.

For decades, scientists have called for a transition to clean energy to prevent the worst impacts of climate change but fears that such a transition would be costly and harm the economy have held back progress. However, a study published in Joule today shows the reverse: an ambitious, decisive transition to green energy technologies such as solar, wind, and batteries, will likely save the world significant sums of money.

The research shows a win-win-win scenario, in which a transition to nearly 100% clean energy by 2050 results in lower energy system costs than a fossil fuel system, while providing more energy to the global economy, and expanding energy access to more people around the world. This result is based purely on the economics of different energy technologies, even without accounting for the costs of climate damages and climate adaptation that would be avoided by such an energy transition.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the costs of fossil energy have skyrocketed, causing inflation around the world. This study, conducted before the current crisis, takes account of such fluctuations using over a century’s worth of fossil fuel price data. The current energy crisis underscores the study’s findings and demonstrates the risks of continuing to rely on expensive, insecure, fossil fuels. The research confirms that the response to the crisis should include accelerating the transition to low cost, clean energy as soon as possible, as this will bring benefits both for the economy and the planet.

Canary Media:

Years of analysis have made it clear that replacing most of the coal plants in the United States with a mix of solar panels, wind turbines and lithium-ion batteries can save billions of dollars and prevent air pollution while fighting climate change.

Now, with Inflation Reduction Act tax credits and federal financing on the table, the coal-to-clean transition is not just more cost-effective than ever before — it can also be accomplished by building clean energy close to retiring coal plants.

So says the latest Coal Cost Crossover report from think tank Energy Innovation. The report finds that all but one of the country’s 210 coal plants could be shut down and replaced with clean energy and batteries at a net savings to energy consumers, up from 72 percent of coal plants as of Energy Innovation’s last such analysis in 2021

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18 Responses to “Tesla Adds New Evidence: Renewable World is Cheaper, with Less Impact”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    Golly-gosh, why hasn’t solar taken hold sooner?


  2. Solar is about as different from coal as you can get. It has the lowest capacity factor of any electricity source. It requires more backup, storage or electricity imported from far away. Nuclear is the most like coal making it the best carbon free replacement. Unlike gas, both coal and nuclear fuel can be stored on site.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      Solar is about as different from coal as you can get.

      For once we can agree on something.
      Mining coal either gives workers lung damage (shaft) or damages hundreds of thousands of square hectares of habitat (mountaintop removal), and releases additional CH4 into the atmosphere. Combusting coal puts particulates (some radioactive) in lungs of humans and other animals, and before basic filters (that the plant owners fought), left arsenic and other heavy metal residues in soils downwind of plants.

      Solar farms (which can be easily removed, if desired), don’t need rail lines to feed them, nor need slurry pits to store waste. They require modest worker skill levels to install, monitor and maintain, and are compatible with many forms of shared-site agriculture (crops or livestock).

    • Gingerbaker Says:

      “Solar … has the lowest capacity factor of any electricity source.”

      Well, except in France, where fully 1/2 of their nukes are off-line. As if capacity factor is important to an integrated system ( It’s not).

      “[Solar] requires more backup, storage or electricity imported from far away. ”

      Solar doesn’t require any backup at all. Our future integrated power system does, regardless of how that is composed and it ain’t going to be 100% nuclear. One has to wonder why you continue to argue this way.

      “Nuclear is the most like coal making it the best carbon free replacement.”

      Nice non sequitur. Nuclear is not the best coal replacement, because – in case you still have not received the message – it is too expensive, too slow to build, is dangerous as hell comparatively, and has this curious problem with radioactive waste that has never been solved.

      “Unlike gas, both coal and nuclear fuel can be stored on site”

      Unlike gas, coal, and nuclear – Wind, Water, and Solar don’t require any fuel at all. They are not at the mercy of easily escalating fuel prices. They require a capital expense. And then they last for decades with minimal maintenance.

      But keep pitching nuclear. Somebody always does, and it might as well be you.


      • The guy in the video is Doyne Farmer. It looks like he’s the new energy guru for Net Zero types. He’s a smart interesting character. I wrote a blog post about him:

        The Eudaemonic Cloistered Professor

        I think his full speed RE buildout prescriptions are fool hardy. Retaining and developing nuclear expertise is a good hedge in case this RE stuff does not work out, which I don’t think it will.

        • Gingerbaker Says:

          ” in case this RE stuff does not work out, which I don’t think it will.”

          There are something like 186 published studies saying it will work, and about 7 that say it won’t get to 100%, but something less – but you think it won’t work.

          Why in the world would I agree with the 7 and not with the 186?

          Already, Iowa gets 63% of its electricity from wind and sun, 83% total with hydro. Denmark already gets 44% of its juice from wind, 61% with solar added.

          It wasn’t long ago that RE deniers were telling us that wind and solar would never get past 20% penetration – now there are dozens of countries surpassing those estimates.

          I think you need to smell the coffee. RE is just getting started.

          • John Oneill Says:

            The East and West parts of the Danish grid are actually more tightly linked to the Swedish, Norwegian and German grids than to each other. It’s only the large flows of hydro and nuclear power from the North, and mostly coal power from the South, plus exports the other way, that keep Denmark’s power stable.
            There are fifteen countries getting 20% or more of their electricity consumption from nuclear (Japan, United Kingdom, and the United States did too, till recently, Germany and Taiwan a decade or so back.) I’d be very surprised if there were ‘dozens’ getting that much from wind and solar – half a dozen in Europe, plus Uruguay and Chile, according to Electricity maps. Even Brazil only manages 15.3% W&S, versus 72% hydro.

          • Gingerbaker Says:

            Here is an outdated list of RE penetration among countries. The sector has seen significant growth for the past seven years, and most of that is not represented in the list. Even so, the number of countries getting significant wind and solar is surprising:

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_renewable_electricity_production

        • greenman3610 Says:

          A lot of taxpayer dollars have gone to “retaining and developing nuclear expertise”, especially recently. So a lot of nuclear projects in the pipeline, we’ll see if they work. But we won’t even have that opportunity until at least 2030 in the US. Meantime we have coal plants scheduled to shut down, because they are expensive, very old, polluting, and killing people.
          please outline your solution to keep the lights on while we are waiting for “next gen” nukes. I’d really like to hear.
          BTW, great to see you at the McKibben event last night.


          • I’d be wary of closing too many coal plants too fast. Germany has kept its grid stable by retaining its coal plants at low capacity and great cost. There are some experts who think US shale is peaking. Gas has increased greatly as a proportion of electricity generation. Despite all their green talk, Google tells me half of all electricity generated in California is from gas. Germany is planning to build something like 25 GW of gas plants.

      • John Oneill Says:

        Even with 48 % of its nuclear capacity offline, French nuclear still has a far better capacity factor than solar – and that does matter, unless you have something else to keep the lights on. Last year was about the worst ever for EdF, their nukes only provided 57% of the country’s power, versus the usual 70+ %. They have 4.5 times as much nuclear as solar capacity, but got 15x as much power from it, even last year.
        Nuclear doesn’t have to be that expensive – countries like Pakistan, India and Bangla Desh are building it, and in about half the time recent European and US plants have taken. UAE and Saudi want to build reactors so they can export more gas. If nuclear is cheaper than gas in the Gulf, why does it have to be dearer everywhere else ?
        Nuclear ‘waste’ is only so in the sense that the early oil drillers in Pennsylvania used to throw the gasoline fraction of their oil into the rivers, as they could only sell lamp oil. 95% of the energy in natural uranium is left in the depleted uranium at the enrichment plant, and in the ‘spent’ fuel. Unlike gasoline, though, uranium takes up very little room. It will still be there when we decide to use it in fast reactors, and it hasn’t hurt anyone in nearly seventy years of civil nuclear power.

        • Gingerbaker Says:

          Over 4000 people have died as a result of dozens of nuclear power accidents and radiation events over the years:

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_and_radiation_accidents_and_incidents#:~:text=1%2013%20February%201950%3A%20a%20Convair%20B-36B%20crashed,former%20Soviet%20Union.%20Criticality%20accident.%20…%20More%20items

          And again, capacity factor doesn’t matter when you have complementary sources. Which will, according to the scientific consensus, keep the lights on and do a better job of it than what we have in the US right now.

          • John Oneill Says:

            ‘Over 4000 people have died as a result of dozens of nuclear power accidents and radiation events over the years’
            No, about 60 people died from one accident (including 15 children from thyroid cancer – a much larger number were successfully treated.) The 4000 figure is an estimate made on various assumptions, which is not supported by any evidence – nor would any be expected, as the natural rate of cancer, and the margin of error, swamp any expected effect. Rates of cancer in areas with high natural radioactivity, modern understanding of DNA repair processes and apoptosis, and rates of cancer consequent to medical radiation treatment, would suggest a lower figure.
            About 1,500 people are estimated to have died from the ill-judged evacuation from round Fukushima Daichi. Deaths from the Mayak disaster can be blamed on weapons development, not energy production, as can Soviet submarine accidents.
            This Canadian research on the effects of extremely low radiation dose on yeast cells is giving results opposite to those predicted by LNT (the ‘Linear No Threshhold’ hypothesis.) https://podcasts.google.com/feed/aHR0cHM6Ly9hbmNob3IuZm0vcy8yMzc3NTE3OC9wb2RjYXN0L3Jzcw/episode/MzNmYWFmNjctOWFkZS00ODgxLWIyYzgtMWQ2YTdjNmI2YzQ4?sa=X&ved=0CAUQkfYCahgKEwjI6sPRpaj-AhUAAAAAHQAAAAAQpxU

        • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

          We need technology on grids that can power cooling (A/C, heat pumps) during more frequent and more intense heat waves (including France). These heat waves affect river temperatures as well as sea water temperatures.

          • John Oneill Says:

            If warm water conditions happen more frequently, that can be designed for. South Korea has just built four of its APR1400 reactors, designed for the chilly Sea of Japan, in the United Arab Emirates, where the Persian Gulf water can reach 35 degrees C. France’s losses of generation from low river flows and high river temperatures since 2020 have averaged 0.3 % of annual output. Their less than stellar capacity factor, from leisurely maintenance outages, is much more costly. Equivalent reactors in the US have nearly all been uprated, to the equivalent of adding another 8 gigawatts, and their refuelling and maintenance outages have been gradually reduced to about 32 days average. Accident-Tolerant Fuels, now being trialled, could push the capacity factors even higher, by allowing plants to run for two years before refuelling, instead of eighteen months. https://www.world-nuclear-news.org/Articles/Westinghouse-accident-tolerant-fuel-gets-NRC-appro

          • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

            “France’s losses of generation from low river flows and high river temperatures since 2020 have averaged 0.3 % of annual output.

            Aye, with the existing designs and siting of NPPs, increasingly over-warm cooling water is analogous to “the sun not shining or the wind not blowing”. The heat waves (and floods and coastal erosion and stalled freeze waves) are part of the playing field now. In the case of France specifically, their old nukes are can be backfilled by solar+storage, and their new nukes are over budget and take forever to build.

            As for the future improvements in NPP design, I’ll file them (with all of the other promises I’ve heard in the past four decades) under I’ll Believe It When It’s Implemented and running (and not just in prototypes).

  3. John Oneill Says:

    The East and West parts of the Danish grid are actually more tightly linked to the Swedish, Norwegian and German grids than to each other. It’s only the large flows of hydro and nuclear power from the North, and mostly coal power from the South, plus exports the other way, that keep Denmark’s power stable.
    There are fifteen countries getting 20% or more of their electricity consumption from nuclear – Japan, United Kingdom, and the United States did too, till recently, Germany and Taiwan a decade or so back. Matter of fact, the UK still does, if you count imports from France; Electricite de France owns all the reactors in both countries. And Italy imports about ten percent of its power, largely nuclear, from France, and more from Switzerland and Slovenia, despite having banned domestic nuclear since Chernobyl.
    I’d be very surprised if there were ‘dozens’ getting that much from wind and solar – half a dozen in Europe, plus Uruguay and Chile, according to Electricity maps. Even Brazil only manages 15.3% W&S, versus 72% hydro.

  4. John Oneill Says:

    Here’s some more recent figures – 11 countries get over 20% W&S – I’d missed Australia and Luxembourg. https://www.visualcapitalist.com/mapped-solar-and-wind-power-by-country/


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