Tesla semis and the laws of physics

23 11 2017


Since posting this, Tesla’s semis have been unsurprisingly shelved…….  white elephant from the start!


Tesla unveiled the prototype of its Semi to much fanfare in November 2017.

Successive press events and public test drives built the perception that the Semi would enter production in the near term; numerous large companies made preorders.

Yet, during the Q1 2018 earnings call, the Semi received no mention except in response to questions; CEO Elon Musk essentially admitted the project had been put on hold.

Lack of capital to build a manufacturing plant and apparent technological challenges have raised eyebrows since the unveiling; the financing situation has only gotten worse since then.

It appears increasingly certain that the Tesla Semi will never see commercial production.

ANOTHER excellent and well researched article from Alice Friedemann. This pretty well confirms everything I told our mate Eclipse who believes in all this techno crap, because that’s all it is. I find it baffling how people get taken in by such rubbish.  Even if these trucks were going to be built, it would be a HUGE waste of Lithium batteries, because they are needed elsewhere, in things that we need to carry around for doing useful things…….

Loads of interesting links in the references at the bottom



Tesla Truck

Preface: Most people think that electric truck makers need to tell us the specs — the battery kWh, price, performance, and so on — before we can possibly know anything about their truck.

But that’s simply not true.  We know what lithium-ion batteries are capable of. And we know the kWh, size, and weight of the battery needed to move a truck of given weight a certain number of miles.  That makes it possible for scientists to work backwards and figure out how many kWh the battery would need to be to go 300 to 500 miles, what it would weigh, and the likely price for the battery needed for a truck at the maximum road limit of 80,000 pounds. [in Australia it’s 40 tonnes – our trucks have more wheels! We also have B doubles, some with 9 axles that can haul 64.5 tonnes https://www.nhvr.gov.au/files/201707-0577-common-heavy-freight-vehicles-combinations.pdf ]

S. Sripad and V. Viswanathan (2017) at Carnegie Mellon have done just that.  They published a paper in the peer-reviewed American Chemical Society Letters at the following link: Performance metrics required of next-generation batteries to make a practical electric semi truck.  Below is my review of their paper along with some additional cited observations of my own.

 — Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Derrick JensenPractical PreppingKunstlerCast 253KunstlerCast278Peak Prosperity , XX2 report

* * *

Authors S. Sripad and V. Viswanathan felt compelled to write their paper because there are so many guesstimates of the likely cost and performance of an electric class 8 semi-truck in the media. But these hasty calculations don’t take into account critical factors like the specific energy density of the battery pack, vehicle weight, drag, rolling resistance, battery kwH to go a given distance, and weight of the batteries given current Li-ion battery technology.

The definition of class 8 trucks is their weight of 33,000 pounds or more.  We can assume electric class 8 trucks would have the same basic truck weight, because building them with light-weight aluminum or carbon fiber is too expensive. And unlike cars, where the average income of an electric car buyer is $148,158 (NRC 2015), and the amount of aluminum needed to light-weight the car is a small fraction of what a truck would require, the trucking industry is a cut throat business with razor thin profits.  Light-weighting them is out of the question.

The maximum weight of a truck allowed on the road is 80,000 pounds, so if the body weight of the truck is the minimum 33,000 pounds, then the maximum amount of cargo that can be carried is 47,000 pounds.

The authors found that a 900 mile range [to arrive at kms, just multiply by 1.6] is simply not possible with today’s batteries, because the weight of the battery pack required is 54,000 pounds plus 33,000 pounds truck weight, which is 87,000 pounds, well over the maximum road weight limit of 80,000 pounds. And this truck that can not haul cargo will set you back $500,000 to $650,000 dollars for the battery alone.

A 600 mile range isn’t commercial either. For starters, the battery pack would cost $320,000 to $420,000 dollars, and on top of that you’ll need add another $100,000 for the body of the truck. To move a truck 600 miles requires a 36,000 pound battery + 33,000 pound truck weight and the truck can only carry 11,000 pounds, which is 36,000 pounds less than a diesel truck can carry.

Musk claims the range of the truck can be as much as 500 miles.  Based on the figures in Table 1, that means the battery would cost $267,000 to $350,000 (also add on $100,000 for the truck body), and the battery will weigh 30,000 pounds + 33,000 pound truck weight and be able to carry only 17,000 pounds of cargo, which is 30,000 fewer pounds than a diesel truck.

Even if the range is on the low end of 300 miles, the battery will still be very heavy, 18,000 pounds + 33,000 pounds truck weight and and only be able to carry 29,000 pounds of cargo, which is 18,000 pounds less than a diesel truck.

The bottom line according to the authors, is that a 600 to 900 mile range truck will use most or all of their battery power to move the battery itself, not the cargo. The cost of the battery is $160,000 to $210,000 plus $100,000 for the truck body, so overall $260,000 to $310,000, which is $140,00 to $190,000 more than a new $120,000 diesel truck — considerably more than used diesel class 8 truck, which can cost as little as $3,000.

If anyone in the trucking industry is reading this, I’d like to know if a 300 mile range with just 18,000 pounds of cargo is acceptable.  I suspect the answer is no, because the Port of Los Angeles explored the concept of using an all-electric battery drayage (short-haul) truck to transfer freight between the port and warehouses, but rejected these trucks because the 350 kWh battery weighed 7,700 pounds and reduced cargo payload too much. Nor was the 12 hours or more to recharge the battery acceptable. Ultra-fast 30 min recharging was considered too risky since this might reduce battery lifespan, and bearing the cost of replacing these expensive batteries was out of the question (Calstart 2013).

Even if a way has been found to charge a truck in half an hour without reducing battery life, the amount of power needed to do that is huge, so new transmission, voltage lines, upgrading many substations with more powerful transformers, and new natural gas generating power plants will need to be constructed.  Across the nation that’s many billion dollars.  Who will pay for that?

It shouldn’t be surprising that a truck battery would weigh so much.  Car batteries simply don’t scale up — they make trucks too heavy.  The authors calculated that a 900 mile electric class 8 truck would require a battery pack 31 times the size and weight of a 100 kWh Tesla Model S car not only because of weight, but all the other factors mentioned above (aerodynamics, rolling resistance, etc).

If the Tesla Semi or any other truck maker’s prototype performs better than this, there are additional questions to ask.  For example, new diesel trucks today get 7 miles per gallon. But the U.S. Super Truck program has built trucks that get an amazing 12 mpg. But those trucks are not being made commercially.  I don’t know why, but it could be because this achievement was done by making the prototype truck with very light weight expensive materials like carbon fiber or aluminum, costly tires with less rolling resistance, and other expensive improvements that were too expensive to be commercial.

Performance can also be gamed – a diesel truck going downhill or on level ground, with less than the maximum cargo weight, going less than 45 miles per hour with an expert driver who seldom brakes, can probably get 12 mpg even though they’re not driving a Super Truck.

Who’s going to buy the Tesla Semi, Cummins EOS, Daimler E-FUSO, or BYD all-electric semi-trucks?

Most trucking companies are very small and can’t afford to buy expensive trucks: 97% of the 1.3 million trucking companies in the U.S. own 20 trucks or less, 91% have six or fewer. They simply aren’t going to buy an electric truck that costs roughly 2.5 times more than a diesel truck, carries half the weight, just 300 miles (diesel trucks can go 1,800 miles before refueling).

Nor will larger, wealthier trucking companies be willing to invest in electric trucks until the  government pays for and builds the necessary charging stations. This is highly unlikely given there’s no infrastructure plan (Jenkins 2017), nor likely the money to execute one, given the current reverse Robin Hood “tax reform” plan. With less money to spend on infrastructure, charging stations might not even be on the list.

The big companies that have bought (hybrid) electric class 4 to 6 trucks so far only did so because local, state, and federal subsidies made up the difference between the cost of a diesel and (hybrid) electric truck.  The same will likely be true of any company that makes class 8 long-haul trucks.

I constructed Table 1 to summarize the averages of figure 2 in this paper, which has the estimated ranges of required battery pack sizes, weights, cost, and payload capacities of a 300, 600, or 900 mile truck.

Range (miles) Battery kWh required Battery Pack Cost at $160-$210 per kWh Battery Weight kg / tons Max Payload
300 1,000 $160 – 210,000   8,200 /   9 8.5
600 2,000 $320 – 420,000 16,000 / 18 5.5
900 3,100 $500 – 650,000 24,500 / 27 0

Table 1. All electric truck data from figure 2 of Sripad (2017).   A diesel truck Max payload is 23.5 tons.  The max payload (cargo weight) is derived from the max truck road weight of 40 tons, minus battery weight, minus weight of the truck (17.5 tons).

As to whether the Tesla Semi will perform as well as Elon Musk says, it is not certain he will still be in business in 2019, because Musk and other electric car makers are competing for very few potential electric car buyers and with each other as well. There will never be enough electric car buyers because of the distribution of wealth. Sixty-nine percent of the United States population has less than $1,000 in savings (McCarthy 2016). At best the top 10% can afford an electric car, but many of them don’t want an electric car, don’t have a garage, prefer Lyft or mass transit, are saving to buy a house or survive the next financial crash.  And if states or the Trump administration end subsidies that will further dent sales.

Nor will there ever be completely automated cars or trucks, because unlike airplanes, where pilots have 8 minutes of grace before the crash to go back to manual controls, there is only a second for a car or truck driver to notice that an accident is about to occur and override the system.  The better the system is automated, the less likely the driver is to even be paying attention.  So the idea that the poor bottom 90% can order an automated electric car to their doorstep isn’t going to happen.  Nor can it happen with a driver – there is simply too little time to notice and react.

Just imagine if an automatic truck were hacked or malfunctioned, it would be like an attack missile with that much weight and momentum behind it.

Even if the Tesla semis are built in 2019, we won’t know until 2024 if charging in just half an hour, cold weather, and thousands of miles driven reduces driving range and battery life, if the battery can withstand the rough ride of roads, and be certain that lithium is still cheap and easily available.

The only thing going for the Tesla Semi is that electricity is cheap, for now.  But at some point finite natural gas will begin to decline and become very expensive, even potentially unaffordable for the bottom 90%.  As gas decline exponentially continues, all the solar and wind power in the world does no good because the electric grid requires natural gas to balance their intermittent power. There is no other kind of energy storage in sight.  Utility-scale batteries are far from commercial.  Although compressed air energy storage and pumped hydro storage dams are commercial, there are so few places to put these expensive alternatives that they can make little, if any meaningful contribution, ever.

Meanwhile, this hoopla may drive Musk’s stock up and distract from his lack of meeting the Model 3 goals, but investors have limited patience, and Musk has over $5 billion in debt to pay back.  It may be that Elon Musk is banking on government subsidies, like the $9 million State of California award to the BYD company for 27 electric trucks — $333,000 per truck (ARB 2016), and the Ports of Los Angeles and San Pedro who will subsidize a zero emission truck that can go at least 200 miles.


ARB. 2016. State to award $9 million for zero-emission trucks at two rail yards, one freight transfer yard in Southern California. California Air Resources Board.

Calstart. 2013. I-710 project zero-emission truck commercialization study. Calstart for Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. 4.7

Jenkins, A. 2017. Will anybody actually use Tesla’s electric semi truck? Fortune.

McCarthy, N. September 23, 2016. Survey: 69% Of Americans Have Less Than $1,000 In Savings. Forbes.

NRC. 2015. Overcoming barriers to deployment of plug-in electric vehicles. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Sripad, S.; Viswanathan, V. 2017. Performance metrics required of next-generation batteries to make a practical electric semi truck.  ACS Energy Letters 2: 1669-1673.

Vartabedian, M. 2017. Exclusive: Tesla’s long-haul electric truck aims for 200 to 300 miles on a charge. Reuters.

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33 responses

23 11 2017
Chris Harries

Our big problem here is that the numbers of citizens who understand energy flows and physics are few and far between. So it is really easy for ordinary good people to be sold a lie that magic can happen. This belief in magic technology is also spurred on by everyone’s understandable desire to live the easy life and not feel threatened by Limits.

So… toss into the fray any potential shiny-looking technology and it is just gushingly believed, without analysis. I could easily put a make-believe technology that creates energy from nothing on Facebook and it would get shared around the world and would get a million ‘likes’ from earnest people clutching at straws.

Even if Musk’s truck was technically viable, the energy and resource inputs and time span required to transition the world’s trucking fleets would come decades after we’ve hit the proverbial wall.

23 11 2017

I can’t believe Dave Eclipse is still around!

23 11 2017

I can’t believe he still believes in all that stuff he made us suffer through on roeoz……

23 11 2017
Anthony William O'brien

You raise some serious problems and here is another one. The biggest problem I see is how the trucking industry is structured. Often the truck owner and trailer owner are not the same, so many subcontractors and some big users are incredibly demanding and entirely unhelpful.

In the cities there is some scope for electric trucks if the government chooses to mandate them and support the required infrastructure. Perth to Kununurra hahahaha.

The average age of our fleet suggests even if every new truck was electric it would be some decades before the entire fleet was upgraded.

23 11 2017

Great article. Here she is on Practical Prepping. Listening to just the first couple of minutes is enough to give you the heebie jeebies.

23 11 2017
Jonathan Maddox

Tesla claims that the truck will use “less than 2 kWh/mile” and offers 300 or 500 mile ranges. That corresponds to battery capacities of 600 or 1000 kWh (somewhat better than discussed in the fine article), which if we simply scale up the weight of Tesla’s existing Model S car battery packs, around 80kg per kWh, corresponds to 4.8 or 8 tonnes of battery. (Perhaps in practice larger battery capacities will be used for reliability and headroom, but perhaps also the truck battery packs won’t weigh proportionately the same per kWh as a Model S battery pack).

The two AC electric motors in a Tesla P100D each weigh less than 40kg, and the semi is going to have four similar motors (perhaps a little larger), so add no more than a couple of hundred kilos for motors.

Typical semi tractor diesel engines weigh around one tonne, and they can carry up to 1.5 tonnes of fuel. The engine and fuel (and fuel tank of course, maybe 50kg of it) are what the battery and electric motors replaces, so relative to today’s ordinary diesel trucks, the difference will be somewhere between 2.5 and 5.5 tonnes more than an existing truck, — without any light-weighting from other improvements in the tractor construction, if Tesla has pursued any of those.

The article claims that truck body weight (I assume they mean tractor and trailer together) is around 33,000 pounds (about 15 tonnes) but I’ve seen significantly lower figures quoted, eg. fully laden tractors (with fuel and driver) at 8.5 tonnes, trailer around 4.5 tonnes, total 13 tonnes, leaving about 19 tonnes of legal cargo capacity (80,000 pounds is about 36 tonnes).

The legal cargo capacity would be reduced from 19 tonnes to 13.5 tonnes with the bigger (500 mile or 800 kilometre) battery — that’s two and a half times the 5.5 ton (4.9 tonne) cargo capacity suggested in the table in the article — or 16.5 tonnes with the smaller (300 mile or 480km) battery, still more than double the 8.5 tons (7.2 tonnes) suggested.

Musk suggests that larger battery ranges won’t be needed thanks to fast charging, 400km worth in 30 minutes while the driver takes a toilet and tea break. I guess we’ll see if this is achieved in practice…

Sweating the little stuff can make quite a difference.

25 11 2017
Jonathan Maddox

Typo (or rather paste-o) above: I’ve written 80 kg/kWh as the energy density of Tesla power packs, but that’s not the figure, it’s more like 6.35kg/kWh (weight of Model S P85D’s 85Kwh power pack is 540kg, 540/85~=6.35). I *did* use the correct figure in my subsequent calculations, I just double-checked. I’m confident the Tesla truck’s payload will be two or perhaps even nearly three times Friedemann’s assessment.

23 11 2017
W Shawn Gray

An aside by Mike I do not get.
As context Alice Friedemann talking about a USA Truck Class 8 with an gross mass limited to 80,000 pounds.
{ 80,000 pounds = 36.2873896 Metric Tons (or Tonnes)
88,184.9 pounds = 40 Metric Tons (or Tonnes)}
Mike then remarks in an aside “in Australia it’s 40 tonnes – our trucks have more wheels!”
Under the Australia standard a 5 Axle Semitrailer for the 40 tonnes has the same number of wheels as the USA “18 wheelers” standard configuration. (2 front steering +8 rear driving wheels to make a total of 10 for what we call the “prime mover” which the North Americans call the “tractor”. Plus the 8 wheels (4 wheels on each of the two axles) on the trailer. That is the same number of wheels.
But also in the same Australian class of trucks is the 6 Axle Semitrailer at the 42.5 ~ 45.5 tonnes, with an extra axle and indeed another 4 wheels. But as a generalisation when one considers the rest of trucks on the standards document Mike kindly linked Australia trucks commonly have far many more wheels than just about anywhere else in the world.

23 11 2017
Dennis Mitchell

Maybe we could use a really big rubber band.

25 11 2017

This may seem like a nit, but the widely cited study about Americans having no “savings” is annoyingly flawed.

They asked Americans about their “savings accounts”, not their “savings”. Big difference.

Like (I suspect) many Americans, I have plenty of savings, but I keep it in my checking account or brokerage account, since savings accounts are today yielding a useless 0.04%.

This easily caught mis-fact, and the many directions the author takes this article make it appear that she has a strong, possibly misleading, bias.

25 11 2017
25 11 2017
Jonathan Maddox

This one falls over in the second paragraph where it starts making assumptions based on the power capacity of the existing chargers for Tesla’s cars. New charging infrastructure, with the new gimmicky name “megacharger”, is part of the deal for the trucks as was elaborated in the introduction speech. So was the claim that the truck uses less than two kWh per mile, much less than the deduction in the article.

25 11 2017
Chris Harries

Before we tool up massive factory to churn out millions of new very big trucks and even more factories to manufacture the battery systems and powerful generators that would be needed… let’s just ask one simple question. What goes in those trucks?

Analyse a typical load and you will find that the said truck is carting payloads of Coca Cola or cigarettes or cheap Chinese toys and such from factories and import warehouses to wholesale outlets across the country. Or – just as senseless – to undertake really inefficient transfer of, say, butter in one direction albeit crossing paths with other trucks that are transferring an identical commodity in the opposing direction. Because that’s how our crazy centralised market systems operate.

As always, it’s the reductionist pathway that grabs all the attention… and the grand, masculine technological solution, instead of the slightly messier, but more sensible, systems approach.

25 11 2017

But if we make the things locally to avoid the products passing each other as they go from East – west & vica verka, or from country to country, won’t that give locals actual jobs.

Malcom will never allow that.
Better off buying cheap stuff from overseas and honouring unfair trade agreements.

29 11 2017
W Shawn Gray

Regarding Chris & Mark’s comments about the wastefulness of much of the current road-freight activity. The problem has long been recognized with serious initiatives to address it. A paper in my files from 1995 is worth a read. (Surprised at how many different sources of this on the.)
“The well-travelled yogurt pot: lessons for new freight transport policies and regional production” (the first five pages of )

Click to access wtpp01.1.pdf

(easiest to get at I found) Enjoy.

29 11 2017
Chris Harries

Thank you W Shawn. Good stuff.

The point I was making is that the technological optimists amongst us gravitate, without thinking things through, to applying reductionist, band-aid remedies when our primary consideration should always be to first look at the demand side and not immediately give up because sit looks too hard.

25 11 2017
Jonathan Maddox

“Well actually” the first Tesla semis were hauling batteries, months ago. What the buyers do with them is their own business … which is largely down to their own customers. If Australians didn’t buy New Zealand butter and vice versa, hauling it back and forth (not that trucks cross the Tasman, but I’m sure part of the distance is by truck) wouldn’t be a business.

27 11 2017
Chris Harries

“What people transport in their own trucks is there business even if that business is planet destroying.” What sort of argument is that? That society needs live with non sustainable behaviours and tool up to make sure it keeps happening, because we have no control over our destiny? At some pint every person, every layer of government every corporate business has to be accountable for what they do.

27 11 2017
Jonathan Maddox

“What the buyers do with [Tesla trucks] is their own business” / “What sort of argument is that?”

I’m not presenting an argument, it’s just a fact of life at the moment.

Was your comment about redundant freight intended as a criticism of Tesla’s product?

Tesla and its present car and prospective truck customers are at least having a go at reducing their reliance on petroleum; while I daresay they aren’t entirely innocent, they are probably also far from the worst culprits of thoughtless truck-enabled environmental vandalism.

Indeed some of those customers are long-term backers of collaborative projects to minimise truck movements and emissions:




Criticising Tesla’s truck by accusing other people of environmental vandalism with today’s trucks strikes me as putting the trailer before the prime mover.

I saw some lovely Granny Smith apples from New Zealand when I visited Germany in 1991 and was somewhat surprised. They probably didn’t go all that way by truck. By all means foment protests and boycotts against businesses that ship goods to places which already have equivalent goods. I’d be somewhat supportive of such a movement, I think, but I’m much more enthusiastic about efforts to wean the economy off its present staple energy commodities of coal and petroleum.

28 11 2017
Chris Harries

Thanks Jonathan. You’re reflecting majority opinion and I humbly admit to being one who challenges the dominant paradigm. Because it is that world view that has got the world into rather a pickle.

The average punter dearly wants to get out of their IC car and get behind the wheel of an EV car and will do so as soon as they become affordable enough and their current one wears out. And they dearly want to keep receiving all their consumer goods and so really love the thought of Elon Musk electric freight vehicles sustaining their transport.

This is all understandable and I empathise with their desires, and I have a comfort zone too… so I would really love to agree with you. But then we would both be wrong.

Where I come from is the core problem the drives non-sustainability. Its not a problem of having chosen wrong technologies to deliver things, though that is the common delusion. I do actually support the transition to sustainable technologies but when that’s done within a framework of trying to sustain non-sustainable living patterns and economic, then it becomes a fools dreamland a mass delusion.

My longstanding assertion is that technology amounts to about 5 percent of the human predicament. And so I give praise to those people who are working on that 5%, and wish them well, but if that’s then end of our collective endeavours then their efforts, for all the good intent, are absolutely futile.

That’s where we are at. I think there’s a need to point out these higher priorities.

29 11 2017
Jonathan Maddox

I would like only to reiterate that pessimism backed with incorrect cherry-picked numbers is not “telling it like it is”.

If you want to make extraordinary claims like “we’re all doomed” you need extraordinary evidence on your side, and to give reasonable alternative views and suggestions the benefit of the doubt.

29 11 2017
Chris Harries

Cheery picking is cherry picking. Most people do it. That is, they find the evidence that best fits their point of view. Claiming that “we are all going to be fine” similarly needs reasoned, evidence-based backing, but one person’s reason is another person’s heresy. Even hardened scientists fight each other over interpretation of truth.

26 11 2017

This article is a real mix bag with Alice Friedemann ranging from insightful technical analysis to lack-lustre commentaries. Originally titled “Given the laws of physics, can the Tesla Semi really go 500 miles, and what will the price be?” {Posted on November 21, 2017 by energyskeptic} I find it somewhat odd, sloppy, that the photo at the head of the article is same the Nikola truck PR-image (correctly attributed or erroneously mislabelled per the publishers competence) that graced many an article about the forth-coming Tesla Semi prior to Elon Musk’s much hyped unveiling on 16 November 2017 (five days prior to Alice posting her article). Yes the Nikola line of trucks shares a passing resemblance to Musk’s unveiled Tesla Semi but they are definitely not the same truck. Ironically IMHO the Nikola suit of (hydrogen feed fuel-cells + battery hybrid) trucks for many cases would be preferable to Elon Musk latest battery-only offering.

Alice then moves onto near magical logic asserting “… we know the kWh, size, and weight of the battery needed to move a truck of given weight a certain number of miles. That makes it possible for scientists to work backwards and figure out how …” this is all only true for conclusions with-in the confines of all the assumption made about the many real-world variables impacting on those calculation. Is said truck; correctly loaded to certified designed capacity, under-loaded, over-loaded? Running in hot weather, or cold? Has the driver turned on a heater or air-conditioner? Is the operator scheduling a relaxed energy efficient speeds, or does the operators target fast high-priority loads? Is the route primarily flat rural landscapes, or congested city traffic, or mountainous snow cover peaks. So it comes then as no surprise that Alice predictions are indeed astray, as Jonathan Maddox confirms (23-Nov.2017) in the comments at the article’s end. A lot further into the article Alice her self lets slip that performance of a vehicles maybe altered by many factors with a paragraph opening; Performance can also be gamed –!

On the plus side expanding the article’s scope from the Tesla Semi to also include Cummins EOS, Daimler E-FUSO, or BYD all-electric semi-trucks is a prudent move. Before Alice does an excellent job of expounding in everyday speak S. Sripad & V. Viswanathan insights from academic paper Performance metrics required of next-generation batteries to make a practical electric semi truck.

However the part of this article that deserve most praise is the frank no-nonsense way Alice dismiss the delusional fantasy of self-drive road vehicles starting with the sentence “Nor will there ever be completely automated cars or trucks, because unlike airplanes, …..”

27 11 2017
Jonathan Maddox

Computers are known for being quick; I don’t think Friedemann’s reasoning stands as an argument for the impossibility of automated vehicles of any sort. Indeed, no argument for impossibility is going to stand very long in the face of existence proofs, which are piling up. The arguments will segue from “never” (albeit with the caveat “completely” to leave some wiggle room) and “impossible” to “never catch on” and “impractical” and finally wind up, alas, with the much truer and much more lamentable point that a lot of people are losing their jobs to automated vehicles.

28 11 2017
W Shawn Gray

Jonathan your critique of Friedemann’s flawed reasoning regarding automated vehicles is above dispute. I long along learnt how foolish it was to say never about future developments. Heck Google’s self-drive cars are already being partners in the USA to traffic crashes. Personally from my professional experience with road-transport + AI, it pleased me to see her say the ’emperor had no clothes’ as to the ubiquitous mass deployment of the technology. Eventual I suspect (physical separate) robot chauffeurs will become a more socially acceptable technological solution for the task.

28 11 2017
Jonathan Maddox

Haha! I stepped right into that!


28 11 2017
Chris Harries

Just wrote a post that vanished into thin air and may never surface. But should have added anyway – to Jonathan and perhaps to Shawn too – that I admire his doggedly persistent defences of the status quo. At a philosophical feel I often wonder why some folks are motivated to expend their time and energy doing that since the forces that are behind those efforts are so huge and well heeled. It’s a mystery to me, but doesn’t stop me admiring them. I think of these citizens as like antibodies programmed to defend a system from within. Must say, you do that job well, Jonathan. 🙂

28 11 2017
Jonathan Maddox

For the record, I do not defend the status quo, I’m looking at a world which has many forces for change, some for the worse and some for the better, and I cheer on the movements for the better. The status quo is a human industrial economy which is dependent on petroleum, as Mike frequently insists. Pissing on EVs and solar and wind power with inaccurate information, whether from the likes of Tverberg and Friedemann or (as Mike was doing a couple of months ago) from the publications of the Koch family’s pet think tanks, is effectively defending that status quo, even if peppered with comments that everything is about to collapse.

Furthering the technologies which will replace fossil fuels is actually changing the world for the better. It’s certainly not as good as rapid “degrowth” driven by a pure ideological commitment to an ecologically benign society, but I see no evidence of such an ideological commitment in politics. For the most part the degrowth people seem to withdraw from political or economic engagement and activism, perhaps expecting peak oil to do the work for them. It won’t. The short-term, peak-oil-driven collapse scenario is simply no longer credible: as you and I agreed on an earlier post, “there are ridiculously vast quantities of stuff on earth that we could burn”.

It’s a reasonable question why I bother. I guess it’s the same reason Mike keeps on with his curmudgeonly comments on the optimistic facebook posts from the Climate Council. While the catastrophism and pessimism irritate me no end, and I regard them for the most part as contrary to fact, I know there’s a strong grain of truth to it. We are indeed overshooting the capacity of the Earth’s ecosystems to sustain and survive what we are doing, albeit not in quite the same way as you insist.

I consider people like Mike and yourself highly intelligent and mostly well-informed, and I enjoy engaging with you. So I argue against the catastrophism and the pessimism with the best information to hand.

28 11 2017

Furthering the technologies which will replace fossil fuels is actually changing the world for the better.

That’s the whole point is it not…? NOTHING will replace fossil fuels.

28 11 2017

A pessimist is a well informed optimist…..

29 11 2017
Chris Harries

Thanks again Jonathan,

Then allow me a little space to explain where I’m coming from too. I’ve been intensely involved with environmental advocacy for nearly 50 years and have observed the movement significantly change direction over time. It’s core message during the early part was that our civilisation was going into overshoot because our finite planet has definitive limits in its ability to provide for sustained exponential growth. This was, of course, not welcome news so we earned a lot of negative labels like ‘doomsayers’, ‘tree huggers’, ‘naysayers’ and several dozen other pejorative descriptors. Yet the movement sustained its honest conviction that we have to learn to pull our belts in, use resources more frugally and change lifestyles and economies to match these priorities.

Society refused to listen to those messages, and in responding to mass denial an internal argument eventually came to the fore that society would respond better to positive optimistic messages, whereas negative messages breed fatalism. So the movement learned over time to pragmatically communicate what people wanted to hear, rather than what people needed to hear – this being argued to keep spirits up. I’ve agreed all along that there is good logic that we need to address human psychological frailties and so tailor messages that motivate rather than depress people. Don’t have a problem with that.

There is a serious downside, though. In learning how to fake optimism over time the movement craftily learned the art of deception and became very good at it, albeit all in a good cause. We learned to pull back from saying it as it is and pushed to the top only the good bits that didn’t disturb people’s comfort zones too much. In other words, we learned to communicate dishonestly, and we persuaded ourselves that this deception was necessary in order to succeed. I mostly went along with this too, but was somewhat concerned at the inherent and implicit dishonesty and where this would eventually lead us. More so, I developed a concern that if the movement failed to communicate honestly then it would be (unintentionally) guiding society down the wrong track.

What I learned from my colleagues at that time is that nearly everyone was using a rhetoric that didn’t match their own belief. We were all lying. Today, nearly all sustainability advocates argue publicly that “Yes, we can win!” whilst privately knowing that this rah, rah chest beating is mainly bullshit, and that it leads to complacency. In doing so the movement itself fundamentally switched its core focus (during the late 1990s) from a core conservation message (apply the brakes) to an escalatory stance (press the accelerator).

The magic of renewable energy is what consolidated this fundamental change of direction much more dramatically during the past 15 years – to the extent that the movement has been wildly successful in imparting a subliminal message that our runaway society can indeed be sustained after all, and those limits we used to talk about can easily be overcome by simple tweaking energy supply from fossil fuels to solar and wind. Presto! It goes without saying that society at large really loved this good news story and has soaked it up with relish. By 2017 we had (inadvertently or deliberately) successfully created a mass societal belief that that this transition has already almost been won. We’re on the cusp of victory. Technology has come to the rescue. Those stupid politicians are now the only thing standing in the way from completing the job.

Yesterday I attended a climate change strategy workshop conducted by Hobart City Council wherein one of my good friends, an environmental advocate, argued where this deception has finally landed up. Because that’s where his head has landed up. He put forward a (serious) position that it is now much more efficient and sensible, from a policy perspective, to build a new wind farm than it is to reduce demand by the equivalent amount of energy. I thought maybe he was being sardonic, and so asked it this is honest position and he confirmed this. My friend’s stance is in total accordance with where the sustainability movement has fundamentally shifted… away from focussing on the demand side of the equation to a hard focus on the supply side. Beat the opposition at its own game. Powerup, rather than powerdown.

Don’t apply the brakes has become the sustainability movement’s core message, sitting way above its other messages.

So Jonathan, you queried what motivates me. What my stance has been for several years is that it is ok to tweak messages and even fake optimism to some extent in order to keep spirits up, but take this too far and we risk becoming victims of our own rhetoric – if everyone compliantly goes down this pathway and doesn’t question it. Thus I now argue that it is vitally important that at least some people keep saying it as it is, especially within circles of critical thinkers. In my interaction with family and friends and community and random audiences I don’t spread a fatalistic message, but I refuse to deliberately and dishonestly lead society up the garden path by only telling people what they want to hear.

As for Mike’s site, here at least is a venue where uninhibited, truthful communication can be carried amongst people who think a lot about these things. I accept that this will always be a minority view and an offensive one for those in denial, but my concern for honest communication drives me to redress in a small way the mass delusion that we have helped to create.

28 11 2017

Sometimes posts go to trash, and I have to retrieve them……. just be patient, it’s probably up by now!

29 11 2017
W Shawn Gray

G’day Chris.
A novel experience to be cast as in league with “persistent defences of the status quo”. The global international technological society is going over the cliff as we write. Climate Change is on course to cook the planet, how much where will be down to human collective stupidity with sheer luck of tipping point sequences in an increasingly chaotic climate.

Mike is correct “… the whole point is it not…? NOTHING will replace fossil fuels.”. Which to my mind is a blessing in disguise for those few that get through this philosophical chicane. I should expect to be dead by then, but to my doctors amazement I should have died three decades ago. That experience does reboot ones outlooks. So now when I can think, it turns on finding post-carbon alternatives my grandchildren may be fortunate enough to use in some future persisting sustainable bolthole.

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