Autonomous Electric Taxis Could Dropkick Global Warming

Many of us have begun dreaming of a future where most of the cars on the roads are autonomous cars, and of course electric cars. Beyond dreaming, many are expecting this will be a reality before we shed out human flesh and… well, I’ll leave it to you to guess what’s next. But how would that actually affect global warming? Should we jump for green joy or weep about our inability to solve simple problems?

The answer seems to be the overly enthusiastic one that involves leg muscles.

Smart people at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) — who probably got picked on too much in high school but are now working to save humanity’s ass — have found that autonomous electric taxis could really land a good dropkick on global warming.

Jeff Greenblatt and Samveg Saxena - Sustainable Energy Systems Group, Energy Technologies Division - Berkeley Lab.
Berkeley Lab researchers Jeff Greenblatt (left) and Samveg Saxena. Actually, these guys look cool as cheesecake. (Photo by Roy Kaltschmidt/Berkeley Lab)

The findings: “The analysis found that the per-mile greenhouse gas emissions of an electric vehicle deployed as a self-driving, or autonomous, taxi in 2030 would be 63% to 82% lower than a projected 2030 hybrid vehicle driven as a privately owned car and 90% lower than a 2014 gasoline-powered private vehicle.”

Nearly 50% of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions savings would presumably be from matching customers with the right size taxi — one just fitting their needs, not oversized and transporting a bunch of useless metal and plastic around town.

Greenblatt-fig-3
Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions intensities per mile for conventionally driven vehicles (CDVs) in 2014 and 2030, and autonomous taxis (ATs) in 2030. Cost-optimal vehicle technologies indicated by asterisks: ICEV, internal combustion engine vehicle; HEV, hybrid-electric vehicle; BEV, battery-electric vehicle.

Shuweet, eh?

Naturally, a big portion of the GHG dropkick comes from the super efficient motor of a battery-electric vehicle. However, there are other things that give autonomous vehicles a green edge as well. Berkeley Lab informs us:

“Self-driving cars have additional efficiencies that have been covered in other research, such as the ability to drive closely behind other autonomous cars to reduce wind resistance (‘platooning’), optimally routing trips, and smoother acceleration and braking.” A lot to love.

“These are all incremental, but they do add up,” Greenblatt said. “However, we didn’t even include these effects in our baseline results, and we still get huge savings without them.”

We’ll have to wait to see if this autonomous electric vehicle fantasy land turns into a reality. I’m certainly hoping it does!

More info on the study, published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change, can be found here.

Zachary Shahan

is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy since 2009. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he's the founder and director of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.