Will autonomous vehicles increase US transport energy use?

Light-duty cars are expected travel around 3.3tn miles by 2050 – 18% higher than last year

The adoption of autonomous vehicles in the US could lead to an increase in energy use in the transportation sector.

That would depend on how those vehicles are powered and a possible rise in overall light-duty vehicle travel, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

On-road vehicles, including light-duty cars, buses and commercial and freight trucks, are significant consumers of energy in the US, with light-duty vehicles alone accounting for 21% of total consumption.

The EIA’s analysis expects light-duty vehicle travel to continue to increase, projecting the miles travelled to reach 3.3 trillion by 2050 – 18% higher than the 2017 level.

It suggests in one scenario, the perks of driverless cars could lead to people hitting the road more often than they currently do.

Under that scenario where autonomous cars are popular and powered by electricity, the EIA calculates there would be a 14% increase in the number of miles driven in 2050 – from 3.3 trillion to 3.8 trillion.

That’s in comparison to a scenario where self-driving cars would make up around 1% of new car sales, mainly used for ride-sharing and powered by gas.

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