Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy

Examining the Future of Mobility and Its Energy Impacts

January 13, 2017

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A new report from the Energy Department examines how future changes in transportation and mobility will impact energy consumption in the U.S. | Photo by Dennis Schroeder/NREL

A new report from the Energy Department examines how future changes in transportation and mobility will impact energy consumption in the U.S. | Photo by Dennis Schroeder/NREL

A massive wave of transformation is underway within the transportation sector. Today, Americans have more options and access to real-time information to help choose their travel options than ever before. With the widespread adoption of smart phones, consumers have almost instantaneous access to live traffic data, up-to-date public transit schedules, or rides available through shared mobility options, such bikeshare, carshare, and on-demand mobility services, like Lyft or Uber.  

Additionally, significant breakthroughs in a wide range of technologies, including advanced vehicle powertrains, sensors, computing, and data analytics, are enabling greater connectivity and the integration of fully-automated, self-driving vehicles.

This change in the transportation sector could enable numerous benefits – such as unlocking tremendous economic value and delivering unprecedented gains in safety, affordability, and accessibility. However, the ways in which people move in the future could have a profound impact on energy consumption. For this reason, it is critical for the Energy Department (DOE) to better understand the broad range of possible mobility futures.

Over the past few months, DOE has been convening and consulting a broad range of stakeholders from government, academia, automotive and high-tech industries to help us define the possible scenarios—or mobility futures—for the future of the transportation sector, and also to understand the positive and negative impacts of these scenarios on our energy consumption and economy. We have laid out this thinking in our new report, The Transforming Mobility Ecosystem: Enabling an Energy-Efficient Future.

In this report, DOE considers two factors with the highest potential to transform the sector, namely vehicle control (driver-only vs. fully automated self-driving) and vehicle ownership (per­sonal ownership vs. fully shared), and four possible futures that emerge from the combination of these two factors. We examined the aspirational and cautionary outcomes with respect to energy consumption as determined by the various market, technology, and policy factors.

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This report posits that these different mobility futures will likely co-exist and that the prevailing models and transportation modes will vary across the country depending on the particular region or community (e.g., urban, rural). Additionally, we identified a broad range of possible ripple effects that changes to mobility could have across the broader economy, including U.S. competitiveness, technology, vehicle design, supply chain, manufacturing, and jobs.

This report sets the stage for future engagement with public and private sectors to address the many compelling questions and research opportunities that have been raised throughout creation of this report, which once answered will enable us to navigate our way to the most aspiring, energy-efficient mobility future.