Automated vehicles: more driving, energy wasted, & congestion

Preface. There’s no need to actually worry about how automated vehicles will be used and their potential congestion, energy use, and whether there are enough rare earth minerals to make them possible, because they simply can never be fully automated, as explained in this post, with articles from Science, Scientific American, and the New York Times: “Why self-driving cars may not be in your future“.

There are two articles summarized below.

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report ]


Taiebat, M., et al. 2019. Forecasting the Impact of Connected and Automated Vehicles on Energy Use: A Microeconomic Study of Induced Travel and Energy Rebound. Applied Energy247: 297

The benefits of self-driving cars will likely induce vehicle owners to drive more, and those extra miles could partially or completely offset the potential energy-saving benefits that automation may provide, according to a new University of Michigan study.

Greater fuel efficiency induces some people to travel extra miles, and those added miles can partially offset fuel savings. It’s a behavioral change known as the rebound effect. In addition, the ability to use in-vehicle time productively in a self-driving car — people can work, sleep, watch a movie, read a book — will likely induce even more travel.

Taken together, those two sources of added mileage could partially or completely offset the energy savings provided by autonomous vehicles. In fact, the added miles could even result in a net increase in energy consumption, a phenomenon known as backfire.

Traditionally, time spent driving has been viewed as a cost to the driver. But the ability to pursue other activities in an autonomous vehicle is expected to lower this “perceived travel time cost” considerably, which will likely spur additional travel.

The U-M researchers estimated that the induced travel resulting from a 38% reduction in perceived travel time cost would completely eliminate the fuel savings associated with self-driving cars.

“Backfire — a net rise in energy consumption — is a distinct possibility.

Mervis, J. December 15, 2017. Not so fast. We can’t even agree on what autonomous, much less how they will affect our lives. Science.

Joan Walker, a transportation engineer at UC Berkeley, designed a clever experiment. Using an automated vehicle (AV) is like having your own chauffeur. So she gave 13 car owners in the San Francisco Bay area the use of a chauffeur-driven car for up to 60 hours over 1 week, and then tracked their travel habits.  There were 4 millennials, 4 families, and 5 retirees.

The driver was free.  The study looked at how they drove their own cars for a week, and how that changed when they had a driver.

They could send the car on ghost trips (errands), such as picking up their children from school, and they didn’t have to worry about driving or parking.

The results suggest that a world with AVs will have more traffic:

  1. the 13 subjects logged 76% more miles
  2. 22% were ghost errand trips
  3. There was a 94% increase in the number of trips over 20 miles and an 80% increase after 6 PM, with retirees increasing the most.
  4. During the chauffeur week, there was no biking, mass transit, or use of ride services like Uber and Lyft.

Three-fourths of the supposedly car-shunning millennials clocked more miles. In contrast to conventional wisdom that older people would be slower to embrace the new technology, Walker says, “The retirees were really excited about AVs. They see their declining mobility and they are like, ‘I want this to be available now.’”

Due to the small sample size she will repeat this experiment on a larger scale next summer.

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11 Responses to Automated vehicles: more driving, energy wasted, & congestion

  1. Joe Clarkson says:

    An experiment like this needs to continue for more than a week. Just the novelty of having a chauffeur driven car would promote maximizing use of the driver. Let the experiment continue for a few months to see what the equilibrium usage rate would be.

  2. NJF says:

    Techno jeebus strikes again. Even most millennials are yawning at these silicon valley journal articles now. They’ve begun to have as much follow-through as Marvel comics.

    Road transportation is broken, but not because it isn’t automated. It’s because people weren’t satisfied with simply replacing horses (the gold standard for millennia who could only sustain a trot of appx. 8 mph long-term) and instead insist on 70-75 mph speed limits that chew up the roads (especially the semi trucks going that speed) and lead to unmitigated slaughter when they crash at those speeds.

    Some people act like reducing the speed limit to 55 is an assault on their freedom. Jesus, is going twice the speed of a racehorse at a dead-out sprint really that tyrannical of a suggestion? Especially to dramatically reduce vehicle weight and material use, cost, road repair and construction costs, and lost lives?

    Plus, fast speed limits are all psychological manipulation. People would rather go 50 mph half the time and 0 mph the other half than go 25 all the way, so arterials get built, idiotic Radburn pattern suburbia gets put up, everything becomes 5 miles away, and then gas gets too pricey and the whole thing is useless.

    • david higham says:

      Perhaps the future will see the ‘End of speed’. I was thinking about horses too. They aren’t automated vehicles,but they have many times been used as something better: self homing transport.
      The horse often got used to a routine,and could be relied on to
      bring the cart or buggy home with little or no guidance. Horses
      used on milk or ice deliveries would generally know the routine
      as well,and know where they were expected to start and stop.
      Self replicating as well. No mining or manufacturing required.
      Not much use in today’s cities. Smaller everything is required:
      smaller settlements,smaller populations,slower speed.

      • energyskeptic says:

        My great grandfather was a doctor in Oklahoma. After a night call far out in the country, he’d crawl into the buggy and the horse would take him home. He sure hated cars when they came along, that quickly ended the “automatic” horse travel.

  3. When a barrel of crude oil doesn’t hold enough energy to lift up itself from deep in the underground riding on a flying carpet into the refinery and then into the fuel tank of your car, the barrel cannot lift up another barrel of oil to make that magical journey, too.

    Yet, our Economics, science, academia and the media educate people relentlessly, deceptively and hypnotically that the single barrel can, in fact, lift up not just one but 2, 14 and 20 other barrels, only not itself, though!

    The claim is that, yes, a one barrel wouldn’t be enough for achieving that, but a million barrel will be more than enough to extract, collect and utilise another 20, 14 or at least another 2 million barrels!

    It is this ambiguity systemically injected into the consciousness of humanity since the early steam engine in the 18th Century what has led the world to go extreme today and think autonomous vehicles, solar, wind, nuclear, fusion, hydro and others – are green and save any energy.

    In the video below, you’ll see a driver has been replaced in an autonomous vehicle with an army of technicians that use extremely energy-intensive devices to manufacture and operate, integrate and run on-premise, in the cloud, by countless transmission towers on streets, satellites in the space, countless mobiles, coffee cups, meals, medicines, trucks, cars, trains and ships, metal furnaces, mining machinery, assembly lines – just to replace a human driver!

    Classic EROEI metrics were and are deceptive all along: “No energy store holds enough energy to extract, collect and utilise an amount of energy equal to the total energy it stores”.

    “No energy system can produce sum useful energy in excess of the total energy put into constructing it. This universal truth applies to all energy systems [- the sun, fusion, nuclear, solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, autonomous vehicle, EVs, spaceships, and you name it]. Energy, like time, only flows from past to future”.

    • NJF says:

      A barrel of oil does do that though… It doesn’t take an entire barrel of crude to lift up another barrel of crude. “Gushers” like Spindletop accessed oil that didn’t even need to be pumped; the weight of the earth pushed it up…

      • Sen. Tulsi Gabbard has called recently to take the US Off Fossil Fuels (OFF).

        I am confident she genuinely believes it is an option, among others, to take her country OFF.

        It is not.

        OFF is the coming reality forced on humans by Physics.

        Mind sets trying to easing the harsh Peak Oil Musical Chairs game-reality the world has entered since coal peaked in Britain, back in 1913, making assumptions, such as ‘a gushed oil barrel is enough to lift 2, 14 and 20 more oil barrels’ – will be back-off and acknowledge the laws of physics, sooner or later.

        i.e. what energy was put earlier in the rig that brought the gushed oil up, what energy has rotated it, transported it to site, activated it, then the energy put just to collect the oil extracted, taking it to the refinery after building it, fueling the refinery, transporting the refined product to the point of use, and sustained the people exercising the process end-to-end – for that super barrel to be back to where the oil well is installed to extract the next barrel?

        Is this entire process can be achieved with a barrel of oil that has gushed for a week or a month – creating a lake of wasted oil?

        In the US, reports inspire that activated pumps bringing oil to the surface are in millions today?

        Depending on the size of the pump, it generally produces 5 to 40 litres (1 to 9 imp gal; 1.5 to 10.5 US gal) of liquid at each stroke. Often this is an emulsion of crude oil and water. Pump size is also determined by the depth and weight of the oil to remove, with deeper extraction requiring more power to move the increased weight of the discharge column (discharge head).

        A beam-type pumpjack converts the rotary motion of the motor to the vertical reciprocating motion necessary to drive the polished-rod and accompanying sucker rod and column (fluid) load. The engineering term for this type of mechanism is a walking beam. It was often employed in stationary and marine steam engine designs in the 18th and 19th centuries.

        In the early days, pumpjacks worked by rod lines running horizontally above the ground to a wheel on a rotating eccentric in a mechanism known as a central power.[2] The central power, which might operate a dozen or more pumpjacks, would be powered by a steam or internal combustion engine or by an electric motor. Among the advantages of this scheme was only having one motor to power all the pumpjacks rather than individual motors for each. However, among the many difficulties was maintaining system balance as individual well loads changed.

        Modern pumpjacks are powered by a prime mover. This is commonly an electric motor, but internal combustion engines are used in isolated locations without access to electricity, or, in the cases of water pumpjacks, where three-phase power is not available (while single phase motors exist at least up to 60 hp,[3] providing power to single-phase motors above 10 horsepower can cause powerline problems,[4] and many pumps require more than 10 horsepower).
        Common off-grid pumpjack engines run on natural gas, often casing gas produced from the well, but pumpjacks have been run on many types of fuel, such as propane and diesel fuel. In harsh climates, such motors and engines may be housed in a shack for protection from the elements. Engines that power water pumpjacks often receive natural gas from the nearest available gas grid

        What gushing that is claimed to be empowering all these pumpjacks and the vast industrial base behind them?!