The Future of Energy, Part III: Transportation
Developments in the transportation and mobility sectors are moving at lightning speed these days. Multiple countries have announced plans to phase out new gas and diesel cars – even hybrids. A new Nissan Leaf (referred to as the “icon of intelligent mobility”) is sold every 12 minutes in Europe. And FedEx is testing Tesla semis in its ground fleet, reflecting the trend that EVs are being incorporated into business operations across dozens of sectors.
We also see rapidly increasing media coverage about ride sharing, vehicle sharing, autonomous vehicles (AVs), first and last mile transportation innovation, and public transit enhancements.
Big things are happening in big business. But what’s happening closer to home?
I’m a Gen Xer. Many of my friends and colleagues have kids who are teenagers or in their early 20s – Gen Z. A few years ago, I started noticing something that I’ve heard others bring up as well. A lot of these kids have zero interest in getting their drivers’ licenses. They aren’t counting down the days until their “I can drive!” birthdays. Kids going off to college are perfectly fine not being able to legally drive. And they are perfectly fine with their parents schlepping them around as needed. For them, driving isn’t a rite of passage. It’s a hassle.
My Gen X self has a hard time believing it. To my friends and me back in the day, driving meant freedom, independence and adventure. How could these crazy kids not want to drive? To be sure, freedom for teenagers these days is not found on the open road … it’s found on social media. (That’s a different post for another day.) But this shift in attitude felt seismic to me when I first noticed it. And now, I see 20-something couples managing to live and work just fine in places that aren’t large urban cities … without owning a car.
So how will all of this impact the future of energy?
The more direct correlations and impacts on the energy sector pop to mind first:
- Decreased combustion engine sales = decreased carbon-derived fuel sales, which is obviously better for the environment.
- Will the expansion of EV infrastructure (slow) ultimately be able to keep pace with projected EV sales (quickly increasing)?
- Will the grid be able – globally – to meet the projected demand of EVs?
But beyond these impacts, the rapidly developing shifts in business – combined with shifting cultural norms – could cause much farther-reaching effects. It all raises some intriguing questions.
- Businesses are demanding renewable energy. This isn’t a surprise to us. Our most recent Eco Pulse study found that consumers expect that all companies – regardless of sector – should use renewables. As companies seek to “green up” their supply chains to achieve the sustainability goals and benchmarks that are increasingly part of their fiber, and as consumers become increasingly aware of (and engaged in … and critical of … ) business practices and operations, demand for renewable energy will continue to increase. Will utilities be able to keep up and meet the demands of their commercial customers?
- Fewer licensed drivers means fewer people driving cars themselves and having to park them someplace while they work or shop. And, in our most recent Energy Pulse study, we discovered that over half of Millennials are more likely to want as-needed vehicle access and public transportation options to be further developed – so they don’t need to own a car in 10 years. Could real estate currently occupied by parking lots and garages be repurposed for EV infrastructure, like charging stations, which might be charging a fleet of entirely shared vehicles or AVs?
- The design of most new homes includes a two-car garage at minimum. What if homes didn’t require garages anymore – or driveways? What are the energy savings in the reduction of construction materials used (and produced, and transported)? And how might energy efficiency in homes be increased?
- Even if consumers no longer pay for a personal vehicle and its associated expenses (fuel or charging, maintenance, insurance), they’ll likely still need to pay for transportation sometimes. And as we’ve noted, Americans are increasingly changing their buying behaviors to align their spending with their values. Scenario: If I’m paying for a shared ride, I’d pay a little more for it if I were guaranteed a ride in an EV. And if that EV were charged with 100% renewable energy? Even more.
We’ll be watching how this all plays out and uncovering more consumer insights to help the energy and transportation sectors best prepare for and leverage shifting expectations. It should be a heckuva ride – buckle up!