How Driverless Cars Will Upend Energy Markets

What began as one of ten “moonshot ” projects for the company is now proceeding steadily as Google intends to test prototype models of its self-driving vehicles on public roads this summer, claiming its computerized cars are actually safer than those steered by humans. These new vehicles come equipped with standard automated additions, such as cruise control and parking assist, pushing the boundaries of machine control even further. The plan is to eventually deliver a car that can automatically drive from origin point to destination without any human intervention at all.

Google’s fleet of automated cars have already amassed more than 1.7 million miles on the road – while experiencing a mere dozen accidents. None of the accidents caused any fatalities, and Google maintains that incidences were caused by fallible humans rather than the driverless vehicles themselves. With this remarkable record backing them, Google will now move forward to test cars that it has built in-house rather turning to traditional model manufacturers such as Lexus to house the software.

Assuming that Google’s driverless technology will ultimately prevail, achieving mainstream acceptance and widespread public adoption, the reverberations of its success will be felt throughout several key industries. The introduction of automated vehicles stands to impact both economic and societal aspects of travel and transportation.

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With the implementation of automatic vehicles on major roadways we will likely see accidents decrease considerably. A large percentage of car crashes and other accidents are the result of human error, risks which would be almost completely eliminated with the adoption of cars that drive themselves. This change will lead to lower insurance premiums (even the eradication of traditional car insurancealtogether) and significant savings for consumers. Road congestion will decrease and travel times will diminish, as the vehicles communicate wirelessly with one another and work together to keep traffic flowing smoothly.

Experts believe that autonomous vehicles will become the norm within the next ten years. What was once a space age innovation has become a very real way to mitigate many of the problems associated with traditional automotive driving.

Google’s uniquely designed prototypes, bearing a resemblance to other diminutivevehicles like the Smart Car, are capped at a speed limit of 25 mph and fitted with a steering wheel and brake system per California road requirements. The company is said to be producing many of them in America’s first-and-forever Motor City, Detroit, MI. Google engineers are hesitant to test the tiny cars on snowy roads, however, so they will be taking to the streets of Mountain View instead to undergo trials.

And while Google is at the forefront of the “connected” car revolution, it’s not the only name in the game. Apple has been keeping its efforts largely under wraps, but there are strong indications that it is also seriously working on a driverless project. BMW, Audi, Tesla and Mercedes-Benz are all developing their own solutions as well. In Audi’s case, we soon could see some serious competition between the luxury automaker and Google emerge, as the two top contenders duel to bring a driverless product to market.

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Audi intends to ship its A8 sedan with automated technology perhaps as early as 2017. A specially equipped Audi Q5 has already made a 3,400-mile trek from San Francisco to New York with the computer in control of the vehicle 99 percent of the time. Another challenger to come from left field in the driverless space is Chinese search leader Baidu, which is also looking to premier a fully automated vehicle within the year. Of course, bringing these prototypes up to speed is still a long way from anyone being able to purchase one. But we’re getting closer.

Of course, the automated, “driverless” nature of the cars also stands to impact the way in which we consume and utilize carbon-based fuel. Smaller and more aerodynamic, these cars have the potential to reduce overall transportation energy demand if put to widespread use.

Assuming they catch on, these cars will change everything about how we get around. Once we no longer need humans at the wheel, vehicles will be able to travel together in close fleets, moving at one steady speed and drastically reducing wind drag.

The Rocky Mountain Institute has concluded that platoon travel alone could reduce fuel consumption by 20-30 percent. Additionally, these vehicles are highly compatible with car-sharing programs, and, using their ability to communicate, will also be able to reduce the fuel consumption and emissions associated with searching for a parking space. This opens up additional unforeseen possibilities – what if our new autonomous cars have a “valet” function, which allows them to operate not only driver-less, but totally passenger-less? May we one day find ourselves sending our cars out to run errands, or pick up the kids from school?

On the other hand, in a study from the University of Michigan, research concluded that the use of driverless automobiles will lead to increased energy consumption, as people tend to run more separate errands with them than they would if they were driving themselves. However, “the upside is that vehicles could drive much more efficiently,” said Ethan Elkind, associate director of the Climate Change and Business Program at the University of California at Berkeley. Nearly every firm currently working to develop a self-driving vehicle model is also opting to power it using alternatives to fossil fuels. “Renewables”, such as electricity and hydrogen, will likely play a large part in the future development of autonomous vehicles.

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Cleaner-running cars may prevent autonomous technology from falling victim to its own convenience. According to Direct Energy, increased vehicle electrification and a more expansive charging infrastructure will have enormous implications as the industry moves towards a “smarter” energy grid system. Connecting vehicles directly to a power grid which intuits energy supply and demand stands to disrupt driving even further, as EVs and autonomous driving technology continue to evolve alongside one another.

To this end, self-driving technology stands to not only impact energy markets, but other important aspects of the transportation sector as well. As alternative fueled, autonomous vehicles are introduced in the personal vehicle market, they’re just as close if not closer to implementation in other areas too. On May 6, 2015, in the state of Nevada, the first self-driving truck hit American roads. The Freightliner Inspiration Truck from Daimler will surely result in a massive ripple effect throughout the country when it begins taking over roadways en masse.

Overall, these drone-like, computerized automobiles stand to slash hundreds of billions of dollars of annual revenue, or even trillions, from a diverse array of entities. Everyone from health insurers to car wash operators, gas companies to parts suppliers, will be impacted by the arrival of the self-steering vehicle.

Of course, erasing all use of traditional automobiles that use gasoline and oil does not seem likely anytime soon. But these driverless cars, when they do arrive, will change our relationship with fossil fuels forever.

By Maria Ramos for

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  • kimyo

    this type of post, it’s really product placement, yes? like the rolexes in the bond movie or the pizza tie-in in the ninja turtles canon.

    we aren’t going to fix the grid with more technology. smart cars / meters are not a step forward when your 50+ year old system is riddled with design flaws (95% fossil/nuclear-based, vulnerable to emp, terrorist attack)

    decentralization and micro-scale power generation will provide resilience and reduce waste. it is what will happen, regardless, so let’s not waste resources implementing 768 mph monorails. if we were living in a pixar movie, then sure, we could put smily little electric self-driving cars everywhere. we’re not, though, and we have a limited amount of fossil fuels left to transition to what’s next.

    Government Agency Warns If 9 Substations Are Destroyed, The Power Grid Could Be Down For 18 Months

    nine interconnection substations and a transformer manufacturer and the entire United States grid would be down for at least 18 months, probably longer.”

    Electric cars could boost CO2 emissions in some provinces

    Trying to go green by replacing your gas guzzler with an electric car? In some provinces, that may actually be worse for the environment, a University of Toronto researcher says.

    In Alberta, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, electric cars generate more carbon over their lifetimes than gas-powered cars, said Chris Kennedy, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Toronto, in an interview with CBC’s The Current Tuesday.

    Tesla Battery Swap Unused Over Busy Holiday Weekend

    In approximately 43 hours of observation between Friday, May 22 and Monday, May 25, Daily Kanban did not observe a single battery swap take place at Tesla’s Harris Ranch, CA, battery swap station. This finding comes in spite of analysis by the American Automobile Association and IHS Automotive that this year’s Memorial Day weekend traffic is likely to have been at its highest level in a decade.

    Tesla appears to have anticipated high levels of traffic over the holiday, as a notice posted on the Harris Ranch Supercharger station directed owners to two extra Superchargers installed behind the battery swap station for “additional convenience” over the holiday weekend. In spite of the addition of these two extra plugs, Daily Kanban witnessed several demand peaks over the weekend that left customers waiting in lines up to seven vehicles deep for access to Superchargers. If Tesla would be serious about battery swapping, which supposedly takes the same time as gassing up a car, nobody would have had to wait.

    if our children are to have a future, washington’s blog needs to stop posting propaganda.

    • m96

      Eeh.. of course extracting oil and going to war for it will be much cheaper..
      Nothing beats an electric motor for efficiency and low maintenance. Fixing the batteries are a very concentrated problem in comparison. Also.. its the only chance people will have to produce their own fuel.

  • So when my car is 10 years old, it’s rusted out and doesn’t start. How’s the “self driving” gonna be doing? Maybe it’ll trick you and drive you right to jail. This seems like a HUUUUUGE disaster waiting to happen. They recall billions of cars because they can’t make an AIRBAG correctly….but they’re going to make great “self driving cars”! No way is this a good idea. And I don’t believe their safety statistics (so far).

    • m96

      Probably a much bigger disaster to let humans drive 🙂 Seen that so far.. Hehe.. a fact is a fact not something you believe or not 🙂 Those systems will have backups. Or do you find your typical airliner crash now and then too due to faulty systems?

      • kimyo

        Airbus issues software bug alert after fatal plane crash

        Airbus has issued a critical alert calling for immediate checks on all its A400M aircraft after a report identified a software bug as having caused a fatal crash in Spain earlier this month.

        • m96

          And one human pilot crashed an airliner deliberately not a long time ago..

          • kimyo

            470,000 Vehicles At Risk After Hackers “Take Control & Crash” Jeep Cherokee From A Sofa 10 Miles Away

            In what is being called “the first of its kind,” reports that hackers, using just a laptop and mobile phone, accessed a Jeep Cherokee’s on-board systems (via its wireless internet connection), took control and crashed the car into a ditch from 10 miles away sitting on their sofa. As The Telegraph details, the breach was revealed by security researchers Charlie Miller, a former staffer at the NSA, and Chris Valasek, who warned that more than 470,000 cars made by Fiat Chrysler could be at risk of being attacked by similar means.

      • “Let humans drive”? Are you a statist? Have faith in letting someone else have total “safety” and “care” for you?

  • oh god

    Maybe in 30 years culture will change.But anything and I mean anything computerized can be hacked.They can already hack your car.So that is the problem with the future of driverless cars.No matter what some technocrat tells me the truth is a machine is a machine.It has no moral compass other than what is programmed into it and by logic could be taken out or altered. I guarantee you a fully driverless car country is only 1 hack away from a 100 thousand car pile up.

  • To be honest, being in car financing, sometimes we look at all the different aspects of the new trends in the market so we can advise our clients on what car is best to buy. And let me just say that the electric car looks promising still!