Weary Pilgrim – Power
So I took a couple of rides into the near future the other day, and after I reentered our
current universe, I realized I’m really looking forward to the next one...
I test drove two models of the new Tesla – the Tesla S, a sedan that looks like a
Mercedes that went to finishing school, and the Tesla X, which looks like an SUV that is
being used to shuttle Starfleet astronauts.
The ‘S’ used to be the fastest production car made in America – because electric power
has all of its torque ( think of it as twisting power ) available from the first RPM, when you
put your foot into it, you end up in the back seat, wondering who blew the candles out. In
addition to incredible acceleration, it is absolutely beautiful inside. And you get to feel like
George Jetson. But the ‘S’ is so yesterday, because.....
The ‘X’ is now the fastest production car in America – 2.7 seconds to 60 MPH – if this
means nothing to you, just imagine somebody strapped you to an F16 and blew you off
the deck of an aircraft carrier. To complete the entire scify experience, the windshield
starts down around your knees, and curves over and behind you into the rear of the car,
with a progressive tint to the glass. The rear doors are huge gull wings that rise like, well,
....gull wings, so that you can easily step into the large back seat and even access a third
row. The odd thing is, you expect a fuel efficient car like this to be small, but it’s huge –
once you’re into purely electric power, why skimp?
So picture this: I’m driving down128 ( OK. Now it’s Route 95, but I still think of it as 128 ),
doing about 65 in the middle lane, and my copilot, a surprisingly unnervous Tesla
employee, says, “Hit the button on the end of the left stalk on the steering column.”
Check. “Now,” he says, “Take your foot off the pedal.” Check. Cruise control, no big deal.
“Okay, now, take your hands off the wheel.....”
Wait, Wait, Wait! What???? “No, really,” he implores me. “Trust me.” I’m thinking, this guy
used to work for Bernie Madoff.....but what the Hell, it’s only my life, right?
I take my hands off the wheel. And there we are, riding along, following the lane as it
swoops and darts through the countryside of Weston and Dedham, slowing down and
speeding up with the cars around us. In fact, it appeared to do the job of keeping between
the lane lines and keeping up with the traffic ahead of us better than your average
commuter. Meaning me. And we are getting the equivalent of about four zillion miles a
gallon, by the way.
Let us pause in this fantasy (actually it’s a reality, but you had to be there to buy into it ) to
discuss where this power comes from. If you get a special charger put into your home,
you can charge this thing for over 200 miles in a few hours. And there are special
charging stations Tesla has built in handy intersections, like Worcester, Springfield,
Lebanon, NH, Brattleboro VT, and the like, where in about 15 minutes you can add a
couple of hundred miles to your range. If you take all night to fully charge the car, you can
get almost 300 miles out of one charge. So it’s not that big of a pain to keep yourself
rolling. And the Tesla charging stations are free. You heard me, free. If you charge it at
home, it’s tough to figure out how much you really have to pay, but nobody, repeat,
nobody, thinks it’s anywhere near what you pay for gas. In short, you are back to riding
In the surprising world where gas is suddenly $1.70 $1.90 a gallon, it’s hard to get that
enthusiastic about cheaper power. BUT.......how long do you really think this is going to
last? And if it does last, why not drive for, say, half of that?
I have a nephew with the fascinating job of figuring out power and utility needs for San
Diego far into the future. He is convinced that we are slowly heading into a self- sustaining world where many of us are slowly tilting off the grid. Tesla (that company
again) is selling a large battery that hangs on your wall, hooks up to any power generator
you like (for example, solar cells on your roof), and stores enough power for your needs
for a few days.
By law, when you generate more electricity than you need, you sell it back to your utilities.
Sounds cool, but......in Hawaii where electricity is traditionally supplied by oilburning
generators, so many people have installed personal solar fields, the utility companies
can’t figure out how much oil to order into the future – and the transmission lines are not
built to have sudden fluctuations in the flow of power that is the result of folks sending
their excess back to the companies.
In fact, this country is simply not well set up for a gradual transition to sustainable power
and the transmission of enough electricity to charge electric cars. We need a new power
grid and we need it fast. You know what our leaders are doing about this?
Except for Logan airport, good luck finding a charging station in downtown Boston. At this
point, if you want to drive an allelectric car, you need to have a system set up in your
home, and plan your trips around the Tesla network.
When gas was three bucks a gallon, we were just happy it wasn’t four. When it went to
$2.50, we thought we had died and gone to heaven. Now it’s been below two bucks a
gallon for a while and we’re getting used to it. The real bad news is, we don’t have a
congress and a president with enough courage to tack on a 25 cents a gallon tax and put
it into a lock box for improvements to the infrastructure of the country. I hate taxes like
everybody else, but we wouldn’t notice this if it became implemented in nickel raises over
a couple of months. And when we see interruptions in our power grid in 510 years
because we are sending power all over the place in amounts we never saw coming,
somebody is going to tell us we need a tax that is going to hurt a lot more then than now.
By the bye, there are other things about Teslas that pose problems to folks like you and
me. If you order an ‘X’ today, you have to wait a year for it. And if you are willing to wait
that long, be prepared to pay over one hundred Large for it. They are about to announce
a cheaper Tesla, the ‘Three’....but for that one, you have to wait FOUR years.....Yup –
Most people take a look at that, then take a look at the price at the pump, and think, “Not
this year....I’ll do that carbonfree thing eventually, but not this year, no, thank you.” And
who can blame them? What I mean is, who can blame us?
Meanwhile, my house is still not in a flood plain, but I get tempted to go out at high tide
with a yard stick just to make sure. We appear to be the last generation to enjoy global
warming, but the skiing sure sucked this year. How long can we shrug off this climate
thing? Do you think the folks who are cleaning up the flood damage in Alabama and
Mississippi are thinking to themselves, that cheap Tesla can’t get here fast enough......
Meanwhile, we really do need to get on that new electric transmission line thing – it ain’t
sexy, but it’s smart.