It’s a scientifically-proven fact: even when electric cars are charged from the average U.S. electricity power mix — which does include a fair amount of electricity generated from coal-fired power plants — electric cars are still better for the environment than gasoline or diesel-powered ones. And as more and more electric cars hit the marketplace and the effects of manmade global warming begin to be felt, we’re seeing more and more governments working hard to encourage their citizens to make the switch to electric or plug-in hybrid cars.
Tax credits and rebates are common. Being able to get other perks — like allowing electric car owners access to bus lanes and single-person access to high-occupancy vehicle lanes — depend on where you live in the world. And while some countries or U.S. states still offer no perks at all for driving electric, the general consensus is that owning an electric car is generally better for your wallet — and the planet — than driving a gasoline car.
To make up for the loss of gasoline tax income, some places in the world charge electric car owners a nominal fee, either recurring or one-off, to ensure electric car owners pay towards the upkeep of their local roads. Some places — like the U.S. state of Oregon — are even toying with the idea of taxing owners of electric cars based on the miles they drive. But to date, we’ve never heard of an electric car owner being asked to pay a surcharge to offset the carbon emissions produced during the generation of the electricity they need to power their car.
Until now, that is, because last week Singapore’s Land Transport Authority (LTA) fined businessman Joe Nguyen, senior vice-president of Internet research firm comScore, Inc a massive $15,000 GSD ($10,849 U.S.) in “carbon surcharges” to offset the carbon emissions his car will be responsible for in its lifetime.
As the Straightstimes reports, while the island state normally applies carbon-related taxes on all imported cars, this is the first time a car with no tailpipe has been fined for its supposed damage to the planet.
Officially, the Tesla Model S isn’t available in Singapore and Tesla has no service centres, stores or charging networks there. But just as Tesla fans are happy to pay top dollar (quite literally) to get grey-market imports into countries like Russia, so too was Nguyen happy to take a chance on importing his dream car from nearby Hong Kong.
For the privilege, Nguyen reportedly paid $400,000 GSD ($289,315 U.S.) for the car itself, more than twice the amount it costs to buy in North America. It’s not clear if that included shipping, or if the shipping was extra. Then he set about spending the next six months trying to navigate the red-tape in his home country so he could successfully register the car for use on Singapore’s roads. At the same time, he applied for the carbon rebate normally offered electric cars by the Singapore Government.
Given an owner of an imported Peugeot Ion had been offered a $20,000 GSD carbon rebate and owners of the BMW i3 and BMW i8 plug-in cars are regularly offered purchase carbon rebates of $30,000 GSD, Nguyen thought he would have at least some success. But things weren’t as easy as he had hoped. In addition to signing papers promising that he would only recharge the luxury electric car at his home, Nguyen was shocked to find a bureaucrat within the government had deemed that his car was responsible for 222 grams of carbon-dioxide per kilometer driven, resulting in the massive $15,000 GSD surcharge.
How did that happen? Being the first Tesla Model S to be imported to Singapore, the LTA looked up the energy consumption of the Tesla Model S using official UN emissions tests (UNECE R101). The data obtained by the LTA stated that the Model S used a massive 444 watt-hours of electricity per kilometer driven, a figure that is not only far higher than any other rating we’ve ever seen for the Tesla Model S but one which would by association mean that a fully-charged Tesla Model S with 85 kilowatt-hour battery pack would only be capable of driving 191 kilometers per charge — or 118 miles per charge.
If that sounds like a ridiculously low figure, it’s because it is. The U.S. EPA, a source we’d trust far more for range and efficiency ratings, says the 2015 Tesla model S 85D uses 340 watt-hours per mile driven, which would equate to around 212 watt-hours per kilometer driven.
Or to put it another way, less than half the energy that the LTA claims.
Using its researched figure, the LTA then applied what it calls “a grid emission factor” of 0.5 grams of CO² per watt-hour of electricity consumed per kilometer. So, for one kilometer of travel, the LTA came to a grand figure of 222 grams per kilometer of CO². Based on that, it then raised the $15,000 GSD bill.
Here’s the really crazy thing though. Using our own calculations (and the EPA’s figures quoted above) even if a Tesla Model S were charged solely from electricity produced using Lignite coal (the most polluting form of coal there is), it would be responsible for 2.17 pounds of CO² per kilowatt-hour of electricity consumed. That’s equivalent to 984 grams per kilowatt-hour, or 0.984 grams per watt-hour.
While that’s more than the LTA’s calculation, the math still works out to be less than you might think, because if we use the official EPA efficiency figure of 212 watt-hours per kilometer driven, the total emissions from the dirtiest form of electricity we can find would be 208.67 grams of CO² per kilometer. And yes, being an island state, Singapore does use lots of petroleum-based electricity generation to power its grid.
But as its own figures show, the average energy mix for Singapore in 2014 was far from the dirty coal-fired generation method we’ve used to base our emissions figures on. Without going into the nitty-gritty of calculating Singapore’s actual CO² emissions per watt-hour of electricity, we can’t say just how far the LTA’s estimations are out, but we’d hazard a guess that it’s a long way.
To end his six-month ordeal, Nguyen ended up paying the $15,000 GSD tax bill just so he could enjoy the experience of driving his Tesla Model S on the roads of his home country. We’re curious to know if you’d have done the same thing.
Give us your thoughts (and pick holes in our math) in the Comments below.
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