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15 Jan 2021, 12:55
Charlotte Nijhuis

Autonomous vehicles not automatically more sustainable – study

Clean Energy Wire

The transport sector will not automatically become more sustainable through the adoption of autonomous vehicles, according to a study conducted by transport think tank Agora Verkehrswende*. Autonomous vehicles need to be intentionally developed and deployed to drive in an efficient manner, the think tank writes. Although autonomous vehicles are thought to save energy due to more efficient traffic routing and driving performance, significant increases in power consumption are also possible, the think tank says. This is due to the additional power needed for supplementary onboard systems and for networking the vehicle to other vehicles, to road infrastructure, and to backend servers. Therefore, factors that impact the efficient deployment of autonomous vehicles should be discussed by stakeholders in the early stages of development, the think tank argues. Autonomous vehicles can make an important contribution in the shift to a sustainable transport system, "yet they won’t do it automatically,” said Agora Verkehrswende director Christian Hochfeld.

To encourage the efficiency of automation components, European vehicle emissions standards should be reformed to focus on energy efficiency instead of carbon emissions, the think tank writes. In addition, vehicle networking systems should be designed using a “lean” approach, whereby the advantages of additional connectivity are weighed against increases in energy demand. The study further recommends that the amount of data transmitted to and from other vehicles be minimised. Autonomous vehicles should also be included in vehicle sharing services and public transport networks, and targeted regulations should be used to promote the efficiency of the IT infrastructure used to manage vehicle networking, the study recommends.

*Like Agora Energiewende and the Clean Energy Wire, Agora Verkehrswende is funded by the Stiftung Mercator and the European Climate Foundation.  

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