Autonomous Cars and Mobility Systems To Increase Energy Use

Automated mobility systems will increase transportation energy consumption in years ahead, a new study predicts.

The report comes from Navigant Research, which analyzed how petroleum and alternative fuel consumption is likely to be affected by the growing use of automated mobility systems in light-duty passenger and medium-to-heavy duty goods vehicles. Navigant defines AMS as including autonomous vehicles and on-demand transportation systems.

Developing regions should be consuming a lot more fuel, with India and China leading the way, more than doubling consumption if AMS sees little-to-no adoption. North America, Western Europe, and Eastern Europe are likely to witness energy consumption declines throughout the forecast period of 2016 to 2035.

Displacing dependency on oil as the leading transportation energy source has been a goal for years with governments around the world. Policies have been adopted to reduce oil consumption through subsidies in alternative fuels and clean vehicles, biofuels mandates, and rising fuel economy requirements. That’s spurred design and development of several new conventional, efficient fuel technologies and alternative fuel technologies.

More recently, breakthroughs in vehicle electrification, connectivity, and automated driving are setting up new business models in transportation and channels for long-term savings in transportation costs, according to the study. While government regulations have been based on carbon emissions reductions, Navigant sees cost savings in transportation as an even larger driver of change in energy consumption.

With vehicle lifecycles becoming longer, that should also have a significant impact on the transportation system and regional fuel markets over several decades, Navigant reports. That will be adding more miles driven over vehicle lifecycles.

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The study’s authors assume that booming growth in low-cost, efficient transportation – coming through on-demand mobility services and automated vehicles – may reduce ridership in public transportation. Consumers around the world will likely be using more transportation fuel by using cars for personal mobility and on-demand services, especially small light-duty vehicles. For one thing, automated services are more likely to be using smaller vehicles, the study said.

Transportation energy consumption will be rising in correlation to growth in automated vehicles in the coming years, Navigant forecasted. That will depend on the percentage of automated vehicle adoption, which ranges in the study from No Adoption to a High scenario. Global transportation energy consumption is expected to grow from 80 quadrillion British thermal units (Btus) in 2016 to over 94 quadrillion Btus in 2035 using the study’s No Adoption scenario. It would reach just over 100 quadrillion Btus in the High scenario; that would be 6.7 percent higher than the under the No Adoption scenario in 2035.

Navigant seems to disagree with an argument some analysts make that autonomous vehicles will reduce the number of vehicles on roads.

Navigant sees more vehicles coming to streets around the world as demand increases in the developing world; and as vehicles are used more widely as the technology drastically improves and convenience increases through mobility services and automated systems. More fuel will be needed, whether petroleum or clean fuels such as electricity, natural gas, propane autogas, and hydrogen.

Navigant Research


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