Long-term Transportation Electricity Use: Estimates & Policy Observations

Graph of LDV greenhouse has emissions

“Can the electric grid accommodate a future with autonomous electric vehicles? What are the GHG emission implications of this future? How should policy makers grapple with these new technologies?”

These are the questions posed by Boston University’s ISE director Peter Fox Penner and researchers Will Gorman and Jennifer Hatch in their new paper published in Energy Policy. The team found that the light duty vehicle fleet will likely increase electricity demand by 570-1140 TWh. Based on historic power plant expansion, the researchers believe the U.S. grid should be able to adequately expand to meet this future demand even as autonomous vehicles begin to roam our streets. Furthermore, the researchers found that electrification combined with a carbon-free grid could dramatically reduce emissions, though their calculations suggest that even without significant grid decarbonization, the shift to EVs will still slightly reduce GHG emissions. The team advises that in the near term the combination of vehicle electrification and grid decarbonization should remain the cornerstone of policy focused on GHG emission reduction in the transportation sector. In the long-term, however, policy should turn to alleviating concerns that result from autonomous vehicles’ potential to increase driving mileage, suburban sprawl, and road congestion.

Read the paper