A couple of months ago, in a conversation with some clean energy types, the topic was the despair about the politics of climate change, and uncertainty about how the new minor party Senators would line up on the subject.
I suggested that someone should organise for Ricky Muir, the newly elected Senator, to test drive Tesla Model S. As the representative of the Motorists Party, surely he would be interested in driving last year’s Car of the Year in the US.
And it might just blow away any prejudice he held about new technologies – the confluence of renewables, storage and smart software which promises a revolution in energy management across the world.
Now I’d like to broaden that suggestion. We should get a fleet of the Tesla vehicles and leave them at the disposal of the Coalition MPs and Senators for as long as it takes to erode some of that deep denial and prejudice that this conservative government has about the future.
The past week has revealed just how deep those prejudices lie within the Abbott government. It has happily endorsed the coal industry’s propaganda that coal is good for humanity, it has rejected point blank the data that shows the country is – after Luxembourg – the highest per capita emitter in the world, and reinforced its hatred of wind turbines and its disdain for renewable energy – and it’s admiration of nuclear. Worst of all, it has attacked those who suggest or decide to move their savings from industries in decline to the technologies of the future.
As one government relations officer told me last week: Even when you go and talk about wind farms to an inner city Coalition MP, they come at it from the point of view that climate change is some sort of hoax and a green plot. Wind farms are offensive and dangerous because “that is what I read.” And presumably, what the likes of Joe Hockey have told them.
How would a Tesla possibly cure the deep denial that lies deep within the Abbott government? Because it might just explode some of the myths that are buried within the conservative psyche – one that confuses fears about “intermittency”, “unreliability” and environmental protection as an affront to the modern society; one that inspired even the environment minister Greg Hunt to suggest that those who suggest solar is a better option for the energy poor in third world countries than coal are “against electricity.
I recently took a test drive in one of the four Tesla’s currently in the country, and it was an exhilarating experience. Teslas are unlike other EVs because its founder, Elon Musk, deliberately targeted the luxury end of the market. He was determined to make an impact; and he has, becoming the first EV to win Motor Trends “Car of the Year” award.
“It drives like a sports car, eager and agile and instantly responsive. But it’s also as smoothly effortless as a Rolls-Royce, can carry almost as much stuff as a Chevy Equinox, and is more efficient than a Toyota Prius. Oh, and it’ll sashay up to the valet at a luxury hotel like a supermodel working a Paris catwalk.” And in Australia, many of its first clients will charge their car with solar.
Quite apart from the fact that the Tesla is silent, safe, swift and a sign to the future – at one point, you are invited – on an open stretch of road – to “put your foot to the floor” to experience the extraordinary acceleration of an electric vehicle, and this one in particular.
The effect is profound. At the end of the stretch, as the Tesla slowed and regenerated its charge, the salesman turned and noted the expression on my face: “That is what we call the Tesla smile.”
Tesla is not cheap. In Australia, it will cost around $100,000, and it is competing in a luxury class against BMW’s, Audi and Mercedes. But, the salesman notes, it is faster, cheaper, cleaner, safer and more technically advanced than any of its rivals. It can go more than 400kms on a full charge, and that full charge may cost just $10 of electricity.
The battery – 85kWh – is enough to power an average house for three days, although it should be noted that Teslas will not be used to burn toast or watch TV – they are not designed that way. The battery can be “super-charged” to 50 per cent of its capacity in just 20 minutes at stations that will be sited along the routes between the major cities. That charge will be free, and so will intercity car journeys.
The Tesla is also significant for what it will do in the broader industry, the trillion-dollar energy systems that have influenced economics and geo-politics for more than half a century.
Not only has it changed the consumer perception of EVs, its planned “giga-factory” (which will be run on renewables) will likely more than halve the cost of battery storage. This has implications for EVs and the internal combustion energy, and the transport fuels markets. In combination with solar, it may wrestle control of the transport fuels market from Big Oil, as some investment banks have suggested.
It has implications for stationary storage, and distributed generation and the incumbent electricity industry – and fossil fuels in particular – as numerous other investment banks have suggested.
This is why these major investment banks are signalling that energy systems around the world are likely to be transformed dramatically in the next decade, with a high risk of stranded assets. Even Australia’s energy market operators conceded this.
Which, in turn, is another reason for investors and the managers and trustees of super funds to reconsider their investments – and not blindly follow the pack into fossil fuels as they have done for decades. For this, their acts have been branded almost as “treasonous” by Team Australia, as the Abbott government likes to be known.
There is no doubt that Tesla has and is pissing off many powerful people. The oil industry doesn’t like it because Tesla ain’t using any oil; the car repair and second hand parts industry doesn’t like Tesla because it’s engine is the size of a watermelon and has just 30 moving parts, as opposed to more than 3,000; the dealership network doesn’t like them because Tesla sells direct to the client, often from stores in shopping malls.
But it represents the future – the Teslas of the world, renewable energy systems such as solar and wind, battery storage devices that can store power and regulate the electricity market, and the influx of clever gadgets and software, and new competitors for the incumbents: clean energy, smart software, innovative business models – a different way of using electricity and energy.
A test drive in a Tesla – and a collective Tesla smile in the conservative ranks – might just give then an insight into that future, and reassure them it is not so scary, and not some part of a green plot or climate hoax designed to bring down their society.
Note: Personally, I’d like to imagine a Tesla road trip. The back seat folds down to create a double bed 2m long .(That’s important when you are 1.88m). Yes, it can even have roof racks. Quite like the idea of a surfing road trip with no fuel – or charging costs. And on a hot summer’s night – the deep battery charge means air conditioning can continue without switching the engine on.