Autopilot

A self-driving car. / Photo by: Grendelkhan via Wikimedia Commons

 

Several decades from now, a large portion of new car sales is expected to be either autonomous battery electric vehicles or hybrid electric vehicles. While the demand for gasoline and car emissions will go down, the need for energy may rise, based on a study conducted by the Energy Information Administration.

The EIA predicts that transportation is likely to use fewer amounts of electricity and gasoline by 2050, a result of newer and efficient vehicular models. But the reduction will depend on the advancement of self-driving cars. A team of researchers from the agency conducted a study that involved three different settings to determine the energy cost of future transportation.

One of the settings involves self-driving cars that only take about one percent of all new car sales in 2050. These AVs primarily utilize gasoline and feature a ride-sharing system. The other two settings include AVs that take up about one-third of the sales and are classified as private vehicles which either have pure-electric motors or gas-electricity hybrid ones. The research team also estimated the chance of people going for hands-free driving, in case self-driving systems do not become popular in the future.

For any setting that suggests self-driving, light-duty vehicles are prominent, the miles traveled would be 14 percent higher or nearly 3.8 trillion miles, compared to the 3.3 trillion miles in a scenario wherein AVs are unpopular. As a result, the energy demand would increase by four percent. However, if models have a more fuel-efficient system, the increase in energy cost would be comparatively smaller.

“Autonomous vehicles are one of the main sources of uncertainty in the future of US transportation energy consumption, as autonomous vehicle technology has the potential to change travel behavior, vehicle design, energy efficiency, and vehicle ownership,” researchers noted.