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Researchers forecast light-duty vehicle electricity use in 2050 considering electrification, autonomy and sharing: 13-26% of total demand

Considering electrification, autonomy and sharing (the “Three Revolutions”), a team from Boston University and the University of California, Berkeley projects that electricity use from light duty vehicle (LDV) transport will likely be in the 570–1140 TWh range—13–26%—respectively, of total electricity demand in 2050. Their open-access study appears in the journal Energy Policy.

The researchers also project that, depending upon the pace at which the electric sector decarbonizes, this increase in electric demand could correspond to a decrease in LDV greenhouse gas emissions of up to 80%.

For their study, the team used an expanded Kaya identity framework, and modeled vehicle stock, energy intensity, and vehicle miles traveled, progressively considering the effects of each of the three revolutions.

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Research approach.

The conventional Kaya identity used in transport energy and emissions forecasting considers vehicle miles travelled (VMT) and average energy density in kWh/mile to calculate total energy use.

This approach is useful when models predicting aggregate total travel are stable enough to perform well over long forecast periods and fleetwide average energy intensity can also be projected with confidence. Unfortunately, few of the conditions that make this aggregate approach useful hold today. Traditional forecasts of aggregate VMT began losing accuracy following the Great Recession of 2008, well before the sharing and autonomy disruptions had much of an effect. Autonomy is expected to greatly disrupt these forecasts, possibly along with new preferences for walkable urbanism, ridesharing, and other changes.

There is no silver bullet to address these difficulties, but we gain a little tractability with a conceptual framework based on an expanded identity of the following form.

Σi [vi,t * ĸi,t * ei,t] = Φl,t

where the stock in year t of EVs of a motorized vehicle type i is denoted by ĸi,t, vi,t is the average miles traveled by that vehicle type in year t, and ei,t is the average electricity use of the vehicle type i per mile traveled during year t, which we refer to as electric intensity (EI).

… The uncertainties and potential errors in this approach remain large, but at least they are disaggregated within a more flexible and transparent framework. For example, this framework allows us to treat electric non-autonomous and autonomous cars and light trucks all separately, adjusting use intensity for vehicle type as well as allowing the composition of the fleet to migrate from one type to another.

—Fox-Penner et al.

Based on their modeling, the researchers propose that while electric and autonomous passenger vehicles will represent a large and important new demand driver for the electricity sector, it should not be difficult to supply.

The team suggests that rapid and complete transport electrification with a carbon-free grid should remain the cornerstones of transport decarbonization policy in the near term.

However, they add, long-term policy should also aim to mitigate autonomous vehicles’ potential to increase driving mileage, urban and suburban sprawl, and traffic congestion while incentivizing potential energy efficiency improvements through both better system management and the lightweighting of an accident-free vehicle fleet.

The realm of potential transportation futures is still highly uncertain. Researchers have just begun to estimate the true impacts of automation and transportation as a service on transportation energy demand. Given the significant implications of electric and automated vehicles on greenhouse gas emissions, infrastructure development, and social systems, there is an obvious need for further work. Future work should aim to condense the available evidence of the impact of these emerging travel modes while understanding their adoption trajectory. The results of such work could then be integrated into our modeling framework. Research that would inform such work is currently ongoing or has yet to be done.

—Fox-Penner et al.

Resources

  • Peter Fox-Penner, Will Gorman, Jennifer Hatch (2018) “Long-term US transportation electricity use considering the effect of autonomous-vehicles: Estimates & policy observations,” Energy Policy Volume 122, Pages 203-213 doi: 10.1016/j.enpol.2018.07.033.

Comments

Engineer-Poet
electricity use from light duty vehicle (LDV) transport will likely be in the 570–1140 TWh range
Hmmm.

570 TWh/yr = 65 GW
1140 TWh/yr = 130 GW

Now where have we seen numbers on this order before?  Not bad for 14-year-old estimates.

HarveyD

Regardless of the age of certain estimates used, this is a reasonable compilation of the electrified vehicles impact on USAs e-energy required by 2050.

The wide difference between High-Low e-energy estimates are justified by the many existing variables and more. However, future greater use of very low cost (or free) driverless public e-buses/trains, where politicians have enough vision do promote it, and lighter more efficient electrified vehicles together with incorporated improved (50%) solar panels could have a major impact on the NET total extra energy required.

Secondly, a noticeable portion (or all) of the extra e-energy required could be offset with savings/reductions in e-energy used to heat/air-condition badly designed- constructed homes and buildings and the used of inefficient heat/air-condition units.

Arnold

While we might see a societal reduction in transport us per capita in some densly populated first world areas in part owing to better planning and public transport this will likely be offset by increases in developing economies.
Globally electricity consumption will increase dramatically from current usage Double more? With high transport requirements triple sounds conservative even with higher efficiencies including the 2X+ higher efficieny for e- transport over ice.
The need to grow solar and wind resources is obvious. While improvements in storage and smart grid tech are likely to greatly increase efficiency and grid capability, the increase in generation from solar and wind will be incremental proportional to continuous deployment.
Doubters will say that high r.e. generation is not appropriate as the technology isn't ready but it is necessary to both drive innovation and have any chance of meeting today's requirements let alone that expected in 2050.

HarveyD

I fully agree that REs will play an increasing role as major suppliers of clean e-energy. Something like 50% (in USA) by 2050 is a strong possibility. Many countries may come close to 66%, specially with improved Solar /Wind facilities.

Supplying clean e-energy for BEVs and FCEVs will never be a major problem as long as the sun is shining and wind keeps on blowing. Matching clean e-energy production to electrified vehicles requirements should not be a major endeavour.

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