Expert Voices

Self-driving cars may increase transportation’s energy footprint

Self-driving electric vehicle, Navya Arma, developed by a French company Navya Technologies SAS, during the first test drive on a public road in Tokyo, Japan on December 22, 2017.
A self-driving electric vehicle on a test drive in Tokyo. Photo: David Mareuil/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A shift to connected and automated vehicles (CAVs) could reduce the energy consumed by the U.S. light-duty fleet by 60% — or it could triple it, according to National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates. The range stems partly from differing expectations of the engineering performance of CAVs and their associated infrastructure, but much more so from their anticipated levels of use.

Why it matters: CAVs are seen by some to herald a lower-energy future, but they could actually have the opposite effect if their convenience spurs more driving.