Ph.D., Director for Research at the Alliance to Save Energy
Karen M. H. Hughes
Director, Strategic Initiatives at the Alliance to Save Energy
In 2013, the U.S. government adopted the goal to double U.S. energy productivity by 2030, seeking to get twice as much GDP for each unit of energy consumed. At that time, it was already clear that the transportation sector consumed roughly three-quarters of U.S. fossil fuels; that the international use of fuels for transport was projected to grow drastically; that freight movement was a critical element of the economy; and that achieving our climate goals simply couldn’t happen without real solutions for transportation. Today all those needs are just as urgent, but the tools we have to address them are evolving rapidly.
A number of trends are at play. The fast uptick in urbanization and economic development across the globe are putting more cars on the road, and more pressure on parking and traffic. Oil consumption by freight vehicles is expected to overtake consumption by passenger cars around 2030. At the same time, energy efficiency has become a significant job creator in the United States, governments and consumers are increasingly aware of climate change, and although oil prices are low, consumers still value a car’s fuel economy and its impact on their finances. It is with this backdrop that new technologies are emerging that have the potential to change our strategy from “let’s make it a little bit better” to “let’s rethink transport.”It has never been a more exciting time to think about the future of movement and the opportunities to enhance energy productivity nationally and globally.
Advanced vehicle technologies are being quietly built into most new cars today, from vehicle sensors to stop-start systems, turbo charging, and light weighting, all helping to get more out of every unit of energy. Electric vehicles (EVs) are being purchased three times as quickly as hybrid vehicles were in their first three years on the market. An array of estimates from sources as disparate as Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the International Energy Agency, and OPEC suggest EVs will become a key pillar of vehicle stocks by the 2040s.
New information and communications technology are enabling greater ease, safety and affordability of carpooling and car sharing. Vehicle automation is also advancing quickly, with impacts ranging from start-stop batteries that reduce idling to fully autonomous vehicles (AVs). In just the last few years, the national conversation has shifted from viewing AVs as unbelievable, to agreeing that they are inevitable.
It is hard to overstate the impacts that these trends could have on energy productivity. Electric vehicle power trains are estimated to use half the energy of gasoline internal combustion engines on a well-to-wheel basis; freight system energy needs could be reduced by 20 percent through supply chain design changes; and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that combining the optimal energy-saving benefits of automation, shared mobility, and electrification could reduce energy use in passenger transport by as much as 90 percent. However, as with all energy transitions, these high levels of opportunity will evaporate without the right policies and leadership from governments, companies, and citizen advocates.
We’re working toward this goal in the United States, and support is burgeoning from every sector. In October of 2017, the Alliance to Save Energy announced a new Alliance Commission on U.S. Transportation Sector efficiency, comprising corporate executives and public sector leaders who hold the keys to unlocking improved energy efficiency across the sector. At the same time, we look to leaders from around the world to ensure that every country has the opportunity to prosper from the technologies that can radically improve our global energy productivity and help meet international climate goals.