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AASHTO Journal

EIA Report: Autonomous Vehicles Could Boost Energy Consumption, Light Vehicle Mileage

Autonomous vehicles are one of the main sources of uncertainty in the future of U.S. transportation energy consumption, according to a May report by the Energy Information Administration as autonomous vehicle technology has the "potential to change travel behavior, vehicle design, energy efficiency, and vehicle ownership," the agency said.

Analysis in EIA's Annual Energy Outlook 2018 indicated that "widespread adoption" of autonomous vehicles could increase overall light-duty vehicle travel and, depending on how they are powered, lead to slightly higher transportation energy consumption.

On-road vehicles, including light-duty vehicles, buses, and commercial and freight trucks, are significant consumers of energy, the agency stressed – accounting for 31 percent of all delivered end-use energy.

062918driverless.jpgLight-duty vehicles alone account for 21 percent of total delivered end-use energy consumption, EIA noted, with the agency projecting the light-duty vehicle travel will only continue increasing in the future, rising to 3.3 trillion miles by 2050, which is 18 percent higher compared to 2017 miles-traveled data.

EIA's analysis assumes that autonomous vehicles as a share of overall U.S. light-duty vehicle sales will increase to 31 percent by 2050, and though more all-electric and hybrid-electric autonomous vehicles are expected to be in use by that year, conventional gasoline engines are expected to remain the most "common technology" powering light-duty vehicles.

As a result, up to 4 percent more "transportation energy" is expected to be consumed in 2050 as fuel efficiency improvements driven by beefed-up Corporate Average Fuel Economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards will only partially offset increased levels of light-vehicle travel due to wider adoption of self-driving technology, the agency noted.

And although long-haul commercial trucks are assumed to start using automation technology to improve fuel efficiency through platooning, where groups of vehicles travel in a tight formation to reduce aerodynamic drag, EIA said diesel consumption should remain "virtually unchanged" through 2050 in its report. 

Photo: Ford Motor Co.

Questions regarding this article may be directed to editor@aashtojournal.org.

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