A team of researchers has put a little more thought into a topic I’ve been curious about for a while: what will be the environmental impact of self-driving cars?
The projection is that an self-driving cars will increase energy consumption by 5% to 60%, as people increase automotive usage.
It’s worth noting that this is an increase in energy used, which is correlated with environmental impact, but the fuel used to provide the energy matters greatly. Gasoline is a relatively unfriendly fuel for the environment, whereas electric cars charged by wind power are very environmentally friendly. In between, it gets a little fuzzy, although studies indicate that driving an electric vehicle powered by coal-fired plants is probably worse than a gas-powered car.
Of course these studies rely on significant assumptions about how people will behave in a future autonomous vehicle world, and we’ll have to see how those assumptions play out in practice.
One line of thought is that autonomous vehicles may be more problematic in Europe, where train-travel is currently common and might decrease, as compared to the US, where autonomous vehicles will mostly be a substitute for human-driven vehicles.