Discussions regarding the impacts to power demand that will result from the broad adoption of connected and autonomous vehicles are only just beginning. A frequently voiced opinion is that autonomous vehicles will reduce energy consumption, thanks to more efficient traffic routing and driving performance. However, little attention has been devoted to examining the additional power consumption that will invariably result for supplementary onboard systems and for networking the vehicle to other vehicles (V2V), to road infrastructure (V2I), and to backend servers (V2C). In a previous study titled “Vehicle Automation and its Consequences,” published in August 2020, we took a broad look at opportunities and risks in the area of sustainable mobility. Our research indicates that the transport sector will not automatically become more sustainable through the adoption of autonomous vehicles. Rather, autonomous vehicles need to be intentionally developed and deployed in a manner that serves the goal of decarbonization. And this can only occur on the basis of informed debate that culminates in targeted policy measures.
This study aims to stimulate further research and debate regarding the energy-relevant aspects of connected and autonomous vehicles. In particular, we hope to spotlight opportunities and clarify latent challenges, with the ultimate goal of supporting evidence-based policy discussion. To be sure, autonomous vehicles can make an important contribution to the Verkehrswende (“transport transformation”) – yet they won’t do it automatically.