Inside Clean Energy: Tesla Gets Ever So Close to 400 Miles of Range

The increased range is a step toward bringing EVs—and their contribution to combating climate change—into the mainstream.

Feb 20, 2020
Tesla Model S. Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Inside Clean Energy

Tesla already makes an electric car that has the longest battery range in the industry—373 miles. Now the model has gotten an update that will push that up to nearly 400 miles. 

That's a lot, and it's a step toward electric vehicles that can ease drivers' fears of running out of power on long trips without access to a charging station. Overcoming those customer concerns can help EVs break out of their niche status—EVs and plug-in hybrids comprise only about 2 percent of the new cars and trucks sold in the U.S.—and provide a realistic pathway to reducing vehicle emissions.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted on Friday that his company's Model S sedan now has an estimated range of more than 390 miles, the result of hardware and software improvements.

A list of the EVs with the longest ranges in the 2020 EPA Fuel Economy Guide is pretty much a list of Tesla products. Tesla has the top 14 spots, including variations on the Model S, Model X, Model Y and Model 3.

It's important to note that most of these come with premium prices. The Model S Long Range, for example, the 390-mile version, has a base price of $74,490.

Tesla Drivers Go Farther

Also, drivers need to be aware that the range can vary considerably, depending on driving style, temperature and what accessories—radio, heat, phone charger—are being used. In other words, an aggressive driver in sub-zero conditions who is using every onboard accessory will have less battery range than a driver lollygagging down a country road in springtime.

Last year, AAA issued a report showing range loss of about 40 percent when it tested five EV models in cold temperatures, and also found some loss during unusually hot weather. The models tested were the BMW i3s, the Chevrolet Bolt, the Nissan Leaf, the Tesla Model S and the Volkswagen e-Golf.

Automakers' efforts to expand range are a way to counteract the many factors that can reduce range, said David Reichmuth, a senior engineer in the Union of Concerned Scientists' clean vehicles program.

The aim for automakers is to reassure customers that an EV can work for them, even if few people would drive their EV more than 300 miles.

Reichmuth sees a parallel with the way Tesla calls attention to its nationwide network of supercharging stations.

"That does help them sell cars, even though virtually no one is probably driving a gasoline car or an electric car from coast to coast," he said.

I also spoke with Reichmuth about the report he released last week, an update to one he did two years ago. The earlier report found that an average EV accounts for lower emissions than a gasoline vehicle, even when accounting for emissions used by power plants in places that still rely heavily on coal to make electricity.

What's changed in two years? The emissions benefits of EVs are increasing because our sources of electricity are getting cleaner, with the closing of coal-fired power plants, and with the growing efficiency of EVs.

Check out the report and bookmark it to share, the next time someone suggests that the emissions benefits of EV vanish if you take into account power plant emissions.

Solar Jobs Are Rising in 31 States. Here's a Look at Utah.

Solar jobs increased in 31 states last year, and you might be surprised by some of the places where the fastest growth is happening.

The country had 249,983 solar jobs as of November, up 2 percent from the prior year and coming after two years of decreases, according to the new edition of the Solar Foundation's National Solar Jobs Census, released this week.

Florida and Georgia were among the leaders in the number of new jobs and in percentage growth, as recent policy changes by regulators have encouraged new projects. Solar also is growing quickly in New York, in part because of climate and energy legislation that encourages solar.

But I want to direct your attention to another one of the leaders, Utah, where solar is on the rise largely because of market factors, not state policy changes. The state had 7,107 solar jobs in November 2019, up 1,062, or 17.6 percent from the previous year.

U.S. Solar Jobs

Utah has been a late-bloomer in solar power, despite having an enviable level of sunshine.

"It took a little bit long for us to get to the point where it was apparent that these were low-cost resources that can help from an economic perspective to bring down rates in the long run," said Kate Bowman, renewable energy program manager for Utah Clean Energy, an advocacy group.

The growth is coming from several utility-scale projects that are under construction, such as the 122 megawatt Cove Mountain 2 project being built to provide electricity to a Facebook data center.

Vivint Solar, a national solar company that is based in the Salt Lake City metro area, is also contributing to local jobs. The company designs and installs solar in about 20 states.

Utah's Republican-dominated state government hasn't gone out of its way to encourage solar. The most notable policy change was a 2017 decision by regulators to reduce the net metering rates that rooftop solar owners receive for selling excess electricity back to the grid. The changes were a compromise, with only a slight decrease in rates.

There is a pending proposal from the utility Rocky Mountain Power that would cut rates much more, which renewable energy advocates say would harm the rooftop solar market. I'm watching this case and will let you know what happens.

Bowman says rooftop solar is well-suited to Utah. While growth varies from year to year, she expects substantial growth in the long run.

"The idea of rooftop solar does gibe with the culture of independence and self-reliance that exists here," she said.

Credit: Alexandra Beier/Getty Images

Credit: Alexandra Beier/Getty Images

The Solar Foundation, an advocacy group, has been doing the national jobs report since 2010. The figures are compiled by BW Research Partnership, an economic consulting firm, using employer surveys and other methods modeled on the way the federal government puts together employment data.

There are many plots and subplots in this year's report, tied to the phaseout of federal tax credits, the Trump administration's tariffs on imported solar panels and many changes in state solar markets.

I'll leave you with just one of the most important of those factors: California, the nation's largest solar market, with nearly one-third of all solar employment, saw its jobs decrease by 3.4 percent, the third consecutive year of decreases.

The California market has been going through a transition in which solar companies are relying less on door-to-door sales, leading to fewer sales jobs, and some larger projects have been delayed because of the difficulty of getting necessary connections to the grid, the report says.

But there are signs that jobs will rebound this year: A building code that took effect Jan. 1 requires rooftop solar on new houses, and wildfire-related power outages are making more customers explore buying solar and battery storage.

How About a Ban on Gasoline Cars? Or, a Ban on Wind and Solar?

Washington State and Wyoming lawmakers have introduced bills that reflect the divide in approaches to the energy transition, and by extension, to climate change.

Washington's House Bill 2525 would require that all new vehicles run on electricity by 2030, effectively banning gasoline-powered cars and trucks. The bill, which I read about in E&E News, did not pass out of committee, so it's almost certainly not going to become law.

Credit: David McNew/Getty Images

Meanwhile, a Wyoming bill would require utilities to get all their electricity from a list of sources that includes coal, natural gas and oil, but not utility-scale wind and solar. Senate File 125, which I read about in the Casper Star Tribune, also failed to pass out of committee.

Suffice it to say that the probable path toward the energy transition will not include a ban on gasoline vehicles as soon as 2030, and I don't expect any state to pass something as hostile to renewable energy as the Wyoming bill.

What the bills show is a deep frustration with the energy transition, with many leaders wanting to accelerate the move to clean energy and others horrified at the impacts on jobs and communities tied to fossil fuel industries.

Inside Clean Energy is ICN's weekly bulletin of news and analysis about the energy transition. Send news tips and questions to dan.gearino@insideclimatenews.org.

Facebook Twitter Google Plus Email LinkedIn RSS RSS Instagram YouTube