Thursday, 12 November 2015

This blog is now closed

This EV blog is now closed, however I am still tweeting @keith__johnston and you can email me at or skype me at keith.johnston1, or view my LinkedIn profile Keith Johnston, The Business of Electric Vehicles.

Monday, 21 September 2015

UK: August EV sales back on track

After a dip in July, the surge in UK EV sales is back on track, with BEVs (pure electric) up nearly 29% YOY and 64% YTD; and PHEVs (plug-in hybrids) up 105% YOY and 383% YTD.

Monday, 24 August 2015

UK Europe's 5th most traffic congested country, London worst city

LONDON, UK – 24 August 2015: INRIX, a leading provider of real-time traffic information and connected driving services, has published its Traffic Scorecard Report revealing UK drivers wasted an average of 30 hours in congestion during 2014. The UK climbed one place to fifth in the list of Europe’s most congested countries, although UK motorists spent 21 fewer hours in traffic than those in Belgium, Europe’s most congested country, where drivers spent 51 hours stuck in gridlock in 2014.
 The UK economy grew by 2.8% last year, its highest rise since 2006 and faster than any other major developed country and double the European Union average of 1.4%[1]. Levels of unemployment also decreased in 2014 by 21% from 2013[2]. These factors, which are driving up consumer spending as well as spurring roadwork and construction projects nationwide, had a big impact on traffic with an increase of private and commercial vehicles on the road and more people commuting to work by car.
Traffic congestion was up in 14 of the 18 UK metropolitan areas in 2014, compared to 9 in 18 in 2013. The biggest increases in congestion were seen in North Staffordshire (+37%) and Greater Coventry (+33%) where drivers sat idle in traffic for 26 and 28 hours respectively. Rising congestion levels in the Coventry area were the result of extensive, long-term roadwork schemes such as Tollbar Island[3].
Population growth and urbanisation are key drivers of congestion, and the UK’s population grew by 491,100 last year, reaching a record high. London’s population also experienced high growth in 2014, increasing by 122,100 people[4]. This contributed to drivers in the capital spending 96 hours on average stuck in traffic, 14 hours more than in 2013, resulting in London becoming Europe’s most congested city. 
UK’s ten most congested metropolitan areas in 2014 (ranked by annual hours wasted):
RankUK Metropolitan AreaHours Wasted in 2014Change from 2013 (in hours)
1London commute zone9614
2Gr. Manchester526
4Gr. Belfast376
5Gr. Birmingham373
6S. Nottinghamshire35-4
7Avon & N. Somerset306
9Coventry & Warwickshire287
10N. Staffordshire267

Monday, 10 August 2015

Survey of 10,000 EV drivers

10,000 EV Drivers Can’t Be Wrong… But They Can Be Different (CleanTechnica Exclusive Interview)

The Ford Motor Company has just come out with a new survey of electric vehicle drivers and the big number has been rippling through the Intertubes: more than 90% of EV drivers love their EVs and will stick with electric for their next car. That certainly vindicates the EV driving experience in general, but there are some intriguing details behind that number, mainly having to do with the difference between different types of EVs.
For that story, we turn to Stephanie Janczak, Manager of Electric Vehicle Infrastructure and Technology at Ford, who graciously spent some time on the phone with CleanTechnica to dig into the details of the new survey.

EV Drivers By The Numbers
The purpose of the survey was to gain a better understanding of just how and why people are integrating electric vehicles into their lives.
Ford commissioned the EV custom survey firm PlugInsights for the survey, so let’s take a quick look at that company first.
PlugInsights draws from a panel of EV drivers primarily located in the US, and samples are weighted according to the latest available monthly sales figures. As the maker of the charging station app PlugShare, the company has a keen interest in helping auto manufacturers grow the EV marketplace:

PlugInsights’ mission is to amplify the voice of the driver to automakers, utilities, regulators, charging networks, financial analysts, and the rest of the plug-in car industry. We want the insights we uncover to light the road ahead for those who are creating tomorrow’s electric vehicles and services.

We’re guessing that Ford culled some particularly useful marketing information from the new survey that it’s not going to share with the competition, so not with us either. However, the numbers released publicly look great for the overall EV market. The breakdown is that 92% of battery electric vehicle (BEV) owners and 94% of plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) owners plan to buy another EV in the future.

More Good Numbers For EV Drivers
Janczak broke those numbers down for us a little more. Among the 92% of BEV drivers who said they would buy another EV, the primary choice was another BEV. The driving experience (“instant power,” as Janczak expresses it) was cited along with an appreciation of clean technology.
While BEV owners tended to say they would stay with full battery technology for a future EV purchase, PHEV owners were more inclined to switch to BEV for their next electric car.

Since many households have more than one car, the survey also delved into second-car ownership. The survey found that, among EV owners, the second car ownership rate topped 90%, and the second car tended to be a gasmobile.
Second-car owners said they tended to use the gasmobile for longer trips, which, according to Janczek, suggests that improvements in battery range will prompt EV owners to replace their second car with an EV, too.

The survey supported that view, and in addition it showed that the tendency for PHEV owners to switch to BEV holds true when it comes to the second car. Among the PHEV owners who also own a gasmobile, 73% said that, when it comes to replacing their gasmobile, they were pretty much split on either a PHEV or a BEV.

EVs & Solar Energy
The real question is why BEV owners are not interested in switching down to PHEV, while PHEV owners tend to switch up to BEV. Janczek spotted a few clues in the survey.

The survey showed that BEV drivers tend to be more aware of, and concerned about, global warming issues, and have chosen electric as part of their lifestyle decision-making. PHEV drivers, in contrast, are attracted primarily by the potential for saving money.

We’re thinking that the group of PHEV drivers who plan on switching to BEV includes a fair number who are attracted by an even greater money-saving potential, as well as some who are developing a keener awareness of the environmental impacts of their personal mobility choices. Of course, with “instant power” as a top attraction PHEV drivers have tasted, they may simply want to drive on electricity more.

According to Janczak, Ford is particularly interested in the relationship between solar ownership and EV ownership as a lifestyle choice, and the survey validates the company’s solar-based lifestyle initiatives.

When asked about their use of solar energy, 83% of EV drivers said they had solar panels at home already or would consider installing them in order to get a true zero-emission driving experience.

Solar adoption at home is important because, as long as fossil fuel power plants continue to supply electricity to the grid, grid-connected EV drivers will be at least partly fossil-powered.

As that 83% figure shows, there is considerable overlap between EV ownership and solar acceptance, which Janczak attributes to an awareness of global warming issues. That supports the idea that EV ownership is part of a “complete lifestyle” focused on reducing emissions.

Janczak also notes that, as far as the chicken-and-egg sequence goes, adopting solar at home doesn’t necessarily come before the purchase of an EV, but the two are related.

You’re Going To See More Connectivity
All in all, the EV driver survey validated the idea that future vehicle ownership will be part of a more holistic, connected, electric-based mobile lifestyle powered by renewable energy.

On the consumer end, Ford has already begun to integrate solar into its MyEnergi package, while integrating vehicle ownership, ride sharing, and mass transit through a suite of connectivity-based initiatives.

Ford has also been highlighting wind and solar-enabled EV charging at selected dealerships, and it has been ramping up its corporate sustainability measures with more solar among many other initiatives, including the introduction of biodegradable car parts.

Though the EV driver survey yielded no real surprises in terms of raw numbers, Janczak said that the passion expressed by EV owners in the survey is another factor supporting the trend toward a more sustainable model for personal mobility.

Friday, 7 August 2015

The UK government wants you to ditch petrol and diesel Figures have been released on how much going for an ultra-low emissions vehicle could save you as part of an initiative designed to wean consumers off petrol and diesel.

The average British driver currently spends 12p per mile on fuel, which could be cut to 2p per mile by going for a hybrid or all-electric car. Apply that saving to the 31.6 million cars in the UK, factor in road tax and that's £24.5 billion motorists are squandering away every year.

The figures come from a consortium of car manufacturers including BMW, Nissan, Renault, Toyota, Vauxhall and the government as part of an initiative called Go Ultra Low, which was setup to dispel myths surrounding electric and hybrid car ownership.

Go Ultra Low campaign head Hetal Shah said: “After buying a house, a car is the second most expensive purchase that most of us will ever make.

"With fuel costs from just 2p-per-mile, no road tax, no congestion charge and free parking in many locations, electric cars certainly present a compelling proposition. Put simply: the more you drive, the more you save.”

The report says you would only need to drive 7.500 miles a year or 140 miles a week to see the costs mitigated, but there's just one problem. Even with the government grant of £5,000 given to vehicles that meet a certain emissions target, they are far pricier than diesel or petrol equivalents.

So although it may reduce your fuel bills and save the planet, you could use the money you would have spent on a pricier electric car on petrol and diesel. The payback time for an average driver is going to be measured in years, unfortunately ─ and that's before you even consider the residuals on a car filled with expensive to replace batteries.

Go Ultra Low pointed out that most manufacturers have cracked range anxiety or at least made it less of a problem, thanks to electric cars routinely having a range of up to 124 miles. Tesla's Model S, for instance, can offer 300 miles on a single charge.

Electric and hybrid cars that have CO2 emissions of 75g/km or less are exempt from vehicle excise duty (aka road tax) and are exempt from London's congestion charge.

The government will end the £5,000 when 50,000 grants have been awarded. After that a new scheme will be introduced, but it is unclear what it will entail and if it will offer the same level of financial incentive. 2,000 grants were claimed in January 2015 alone and estimates suggest it could dry up before 2017 based on the current and expected rate of adoption.

As the technologies for electric cars drop it may well make sense to leave traditional fuels behind and charge our cars at home, but right now that initial lump sum is a luxury for most. It seems, then, the government should make the incentive bigger if it really wants to see a change.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

UK: July EV Data

PHEVs continue their surge, BEVs fall back slightly YOY, overall the UK market continues to surge.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

USA: The Three Major Trends Driving Accelerating Change In Energy and Vehicles Yesterday, the Obama administration issued its Clean Power Plan setting out a clear direction for greenhouse gas emissions reductions from the U.S. power sector. The plan, long under way and the subject of the most extensive consultations the EPA has ever undertaken, is a bold step to overcome congressional inaction to address climate change. In my view, although a federal cap and trade or carbon tax combined with strong efficiency regulations and measures to support renewables would have been preferable, the Clean Power Plan is a huge and important step in the right direction.

However, not everyone shares the arguments supporting the urgent need for this plan. Republicans, the fossil fuel industry, and coal-producing states argue that the plan will lead to a massive increase in electricity prices, that it will put the reliability of our electricity grid at risk, and that it will costs jobs and hurt the competitiveness of the U.S. economy. Nothing is further from the truth. This plan will help the U.S. embark on an energy transformation putting it on the path towards a clean, prosperous, and secure low-carbon future.

The pace of change in our energy system is rapidly accelerating. Three major trends are driving that change:

1) rapidly falling costs for renewables
2) vehicle electrification
3) the explosion in big data and information technology (IT).


Over the past five years, we have seen a boom in solar resulting from the rapidly falling costs of PV modules. Solar photovoltaics have a learning curve of 24 percent, meaning that their costs come down by 24 percent every time installed capacity doubles. But solar is not the only clean energy technology that shows a pattern of such dramatic cost improvements. For onshore wind the rate is 14 percent, and for battery storage more recently the cost reduction trend appears to be above 20 percent. We often struggle to imagine the long-term impact of consistent compounding. With compounding reductions in costs, renewable technologies become cheaper year after year after year, and as a result their competitiveness vis-a-vis fossil fuels in the very near future is no longer in doubt.


A second major trend is only just emerging but doing so rapidly. Electric cars are quickly becoming sexy and soon they will be cheap as well. Tesla’s next model—the forthcoming Model 3—promises to be as fast as a Porsche 911, with a range of 300 miles, and a cost of $35,000 but with very little in fuel and maintenance costs. And the trend is not just towards electrification. In fact, the breakthroughs under way in autonomous (self-driving) cars, integrated mobility-as-a-service concepts, and new business models in the shared economy are likely to have an even bigger impact on the automotive sector, moving us quickly away from gasoline-powered internal combustion engines.


The last trend may well be even more key. For a very long time, RMI has argued that our most-cost-effective energy resource is in fact energy efficiency. Efficiency is now being combined with big data and IT to make our energy demand not just leaner but also smarter. As we deploy IT to manage our energy demand, we will see massive opportunities to integrate renewables, smart appliances, and electricity-based HVAC technologies into intelligent and responsive electrical grids. This newly efficient and responsive demand system will be able to match to supply when it is available and if need be store energy when required.


Together these three trends are setting off a profound energy revolution. When solar-generated electrons become ubiquitous, abundant, and cheap; are stored more easily; are driving a new mobility world; and are matched by smarter on-demand energy use, then economic competitiveness is no longer based on simply burning cheap fossil fuels, but rather on innovation, on the integration of the IT and energy arenas, and on the faster deployment of new integrated solutions at scale. This is in fact the energy future that the Clean Power Plan helps to bring about.

Loud protests that accelerating the transition to the energy technologies of the future will increase electricity bills will soon be recognized as a fallacy of the past. In fact, not only has the EPA estimated that the average household will spend $80 less under its plan, there are now two independent studies (from Georgia Tech and Synapse Energy Economics) that point in the same direction. Their findings are in line with RMI’s analysis in Reinventing Fire, which found that a clean energy future could yield a $5 trillion net present value savings.

Now of course, if your bottom line, your current job, or your PAC contributions depend on carrying on with the fossil-fuel-based technologies of the past, then this is not an appealing outlook. In fact, you can see why some would want to oppose the shift to a better, cleaner, and more-cost-effective energy future. But what that perspective ignores is the long-term impact on competitiveness of sticking too long with outdated industries. In fact, Europe has made a massive bet that over the long run an energy-efficient, renewables-based future will be the winner. And China is investing massively in positioning itself to be the leader of the solar, wind, and efficiency technologies of the future.

So we have a choice. We could extend the life expectancy of a fossil-based energy system that is rapidly loosing momentum, or we can bet on the future of a smart, efficient, and renewable future. The Clean Power Plan will undoubtedly turn out to be a crucial legacy when it comes to climate change. But equally important, one day we will also recognize the wisdom and courage of the Clean Power Plan for America’s economic competitiveness.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

UK: millions of second cars could be electric

In late June, during the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership conference in the UK, Edmund King, the UK Automobile Association president, presented his thoughts on why he believes millions of second cars in households could be electric.

According to King,
74% of AA members park their cars overnight off the road and on their own land (58% on the driveway, 16% in the garage) where, potentially, they could be charged overnight.
50% of 18,688 respondents in AA Populus survey in April have access to two or more cars, 12% of them drive the ‘second’ car.
Second cars are more likely to have access to charging, 79% v 74% overall.
Second cars are less likely to be used for long journeys: never drive between 100 and 200 miles a trip – 25% v 15% overall, never drive 200+ miles a trip – 38% v 25% overall.

The UK Automobile Association says that 2.5 million second cars could be electric and rely solely on home charging.

King says that second cars differ from first cars in the following ways:
Slightly lower range expectation from an electric vehicle – 105 miles per charge v 109 overall.
Slightly lower expectations of reliability and safety.
Slightly less concerned about charging time.
Less likely to be concerned by the cost of battery replacement.
Less likely to be concerned by possibility of increased taxation.

So, your first car might still be ICE, but it’s quite likely that a second car being electric would fit your needs.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Imagining The Future With Driverless Cars 7:00 am. My alarm is yelling at me. I shower and get ready for the workday ahead. Hands need shaking and a deal needs closing with Mr. Bigwig. My phone vibrates notifying me that my car is arriving in 5 minutes.
There are many cars I could use to get around. They used to be called “driverless cars” and then “AutoCars” but once virtually every vehicle on the road became autonomous they were simply referred to as “cars.” Some people actually own their own car. The majority, like me, pay monthly for access to a basic commuter.
Commuter cars charge based on the number of miles traveled, specific city taxes, insurance (still required for some reason), and any incidents and damage charges. I have a separate bill for the one-off special occasion cars. Google’s car is one of the best as far as price due to ads subsidizing the cost and all of the included entertainment features.
The car is scheduled to pick me up at 8:00 am every day. Sometimes it’s a few minutes late. If I’m more than 5 minutes late getting into the car I’ll be charged a fee, have to wait for the next car to pick me up, and my rating will be docked. Currently, I have a 4.8/5 star rating. This means I’ve almost never caused damage to the car and I’m rarely late. A good rating means cars will arrive faster, I’ll be allowed to ride in newer, cleaner cars and my monthly rates will be car low

Having Cars Drive You

I step into the car and sleepily nod to the other commuters already seated and heading into the city. Almost everyone commutes. Living far outside of the city is not an issue when you can work and entertain yourself the entire way. I could choose to ride solo but riding with others is much more affordable. The tax for entering the city on a solo car is outrageous. Every city has a tax on all cars to prevent congestion in the city and to makeup for the lack of funds from the highway patrol of the past.
The door automatically closes as I sit down and settle in for the 54 minute ride ahead.
This car is pretty typical. You won’t find a steering wheel, shifters, brake pedals, airbags, seat belts or really any of the “features” of the death boxes of the past. This car also doesn’t even have a windshield. It has plastic windows on all sides but lacks wraparound glass common on antique cars. There is an emergency button to pull over immediately.
There is a touch panel in the middle of the car. When not in use, the panel scrolls through advertisements and discounts to local eateries and stores. It can be a little annoying at times but without it the Google Car wouldn’t be one the cheapest options. I mostly tune it out. Once in a while the advertisements come in handy. I’m hungry and Google knows my favorite places to eat within a few minutes of my location.
Most of the interactions for this car occur through an app on my phone or tablet. Google’s app is called Google Go. It allows me to change the climate for my seating area, view the route, select entertainment or add in a new destination. When riding with other passengers, new destinations or entertainment require their approval. I ride with the same passengers most days so it’s rare when a detour is needed and we tend to keep to ourselves. If a detour is needed and deemed too long by the other passengers you can be dropped off in an area with low risk of accident and crime and picked up by another car within minutes.
We are zooming along a 6-lane highway. In the morning, the highway uses 5 of the lanes for those entering the city and one for the cars leaving. On the way home, the lanes will switch to prevent any congestion when leaving the city. Nothing really changes other than the direction of the cars. It’s not like there are traffic signs, medians, guardrails or any other “safety precautions” to reposition. Usually we travel behind the road trains (“semi’s” or “trucks”). It’s more efficient for smaller vehicles to draft behind larger vehicles.
Traffic is cruising smoothly at 70 mph — bumper to bumper and door to door. There’s a fast lane to the left that sustains 100 mph. It costs extra but it’s helpful if I’m late.
The cars aren’t perfect but they are getting better. Once in a while there will be a minor issue: repairs to the road, a suicidal deer, making way for an emergency bullet car (bullet cars are allowed to travel much faster than regular cars), or because your car had a mechanical problem. Even the newest cars can still have issues. While rare, it costs you a few minutes while you wait for another car to pick you up. And let’s not mention the car hack that caused all that ruckus a couple of years back.
There are never traffic jams although traffic slows to about 40 mph once we get into the city. When cars need to come to a full stop in the city they will resume by accelerating together in perfect unison.
As we enter the city, traffic slows as the cars stop to drop off their passengers. Cities are much more compact than they once were and also much larger. It’s funny to think that cities used to be full of pavement. Cars sat idly during the day waiting patiently like my dog wagging its tail at the front door. Parking lots are now skyscrapers. There are a couple large battery swap stations on the outskirts of the city which resemble a parking lot though nothing like the vast concrete deserts of yesteryear.
During the day the car never sits in one place for more than about 20 minutes. Many cars will get a rest at night during off-peak hours in one of the car elevators where the cleaning bots scurry to ensure the car is ready for the next day’s customers.
After 54 minutes, we arrive at our drop-off point. We all exit the car and it zips off to pick up the nearest rider. I enter the office to chat with colleagues and prepare for my sales meeting with Mr. Bigwig. I’ll need a fancier car for this. First impressions are important. I can’t have the client thinking I’m an everyday Joe.
There are many types of cars. There is the common cheap commuter car, along with a typical a mid-range, and the luxury style. There are also sleeping cars, party cars, entertainment cars, romantic cars, and a wide range of other niche designs and features. Once in a while after a long night I’ll splurge on the “hangover car” to the office the next morning: no windows, a recliner, the soft sounds of nature and an Advil dispenser; the only way to travel on those days.
Taking out my phone, I open Google Now, “Grab me an empty luxury car with a full bar for a meeting.”
Luxury car
The nearest available luxury car with these specifications is 8 minutes away. Google Now knows that when I mention the word “meeting” to find a car with at least two seats facing each other and a screen for presentations. Behind me is a full bar. I make myself a cocktail on the way which is charged to my account. We arrive at Mr. Bigwig’s place of work and he gets in the car. It’s only 15 minutes to our lunch destination but it’s enough time to start the pitch. I turn on the screens on the side of the car and start talking numbers.
Damn. That meeting was a disaster. Looks like I won’t be getting any business from Mr. Bigwig. Oh well, you can’t win them all. After a short stint at the office, I change into some gym shorts and decide to take an exercise car on the way home to release some pent-up energy.
“Grab me an exercise car with a bike.”
As I step onto the bike the doors shut behind me. Screens surround me and ask what scenery I would prefer for my ride. I decided on the Irish countryside to unwind from the hectic day. The kids will be dropped off by a car soon and the groceries will be arriving shortly thereafter. The family has a full weekend planned. We’re taking a recreation car up to the mountains for a camping trip. It’s a 12-hour drive so we will leave after dinner and sleep on the way.
In the morning, I will wake up and switch the recreation car into manual mode and get behind the wheel. I’ll hit the gas and drive ourselves to a desolate off-road camping spot.

Tougher Air Pollution Targets In EU Could Save €40 Billion In Air Pollution Costs Tougher national caps on the emissions of common air pollutants may soon be headed to the European Union, following the approval of European Commission proposals by the Environment Committee (ENVI) of the European Parliament.

The new caps call for the emissions in question to be reduced by 70% by 2030 (saving an estimated €40 billion in air pollution costs).

The report — coming via Julie Girling (European Conservatives and Reformists, ECR, UK) on the National Emissions Ceiling directive (NEC) — was adopted by a fair margin — 38 votes “for” versus 28 “against” (2 abstentions). Next up is a plenary vote set for October in Strasbourg.

Following the vote, Girling spoke on the topic, making some interesting points:

This legislative process has been overshadowed throughout by the Commission’s threat to withdraw their proposal and their stated intention to hold a review after the European Parliament adopts its initial position. It is estimated that around 400,000 people a year die prematurely across the EU from air pollution. This is not acceptable, we are all directly impacted by this crucial health issue.

I believe my original proposal presented the right balance between ambitious targets and realistic goals. Unfortunately a coalition of socialists, liberals and greens have focused on increasing the already ambitious targets set by the Commission. Therefore I fear that we are now embarking on a long and protracted negotiation, rather than taking the quicker route of improved health for EU citizens.

Green Car Congress provides more:

The Environment committee wants the future NEC directive to include caps on mercury (Hg) from 2020, as well as binding, rather than indicative, new caps in all member states on emissions of the air pollutants sulfur dioxide (SO2); nitrogen oxides (NOx); non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC); methane (CH4); ammonia (NH3); and particulate matter (PM2.5) to be achieved by 2020 and 2030, that are proposed by the Commission. The committee stressed that more ambitious targets should be set in order to reach 2030 goals.

In addition, the committee argues for the creation of fully binding midpoint targets for 2025 and the elimination of offsets for international shipping, amongst other things.

As it stands, air pollution in Europe (according to the European Commission) results in total health-related external costs of between €330–940 billion a year.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

The Fossil Fuel Energy Industry Is Now Entering Terminal Decline

Originally published on RenewEconomy. By Paul Gilding

It’s time to make the call – fossil fuels are finished. The rest is detail.
The detail is interesting and important, as I expand on below. But unless we recognise the central proposition: that the fossil fuel age is coming to an end, and within 15 to 30 years – not 50 to 100 – we risk making serious and damaging mistakes in climate and economic policy, in investment strategy and in geopolitics and defence.

I’ve written previously about 2015 being the year the “Dam of Denial” breaks, referring to the end of denial that climate change requires urgent, transformational economic change. While related, this is different. It is now becoming clear we’ve reached a tipping point where fossil fuels will enter terminal decline, independently of climate policy action.

Given climate policy action is also now accelerating, fossil fuels are double dead. To paraphrase Douglas Adams, “So long and thanks for all the energy”.
I understand this is a very big call, especially in regards to timing. There are many drivers that lead me to this conclusion, but it’s their integrated impact that makes me so confident.

Think of energy like you think about an iPhone
The first and most important driver is the argument I first made early in 2014, in a paper with RenewEconomy editor, Giles Parkinson. For over 100 years, energy markets have been defined by physical resources, supplied in large volumes by large, slow-moving companies developing long-life assets in the context of slow-moving shifts in markets.

The new emerging energy system of renewables and storage is a “technology” business, more akin to information and communications technology; where prices keep falling, quality keeps rising, change is rapid and market disruption is normal and constant.

There is a familiar process that unfolds in markets with technology driven disruptions. I expand on that here in a 2012 piece I wrote in a contribution to Jorgen Randers book “2052 – A Global Forecast” (arguing the inevitability of the point we have now arrived at).

This shift to a “technology” has many implications for energy, but the most profound one is very simple. As a group of technologies, more demand for renewables means lower prices and higher quality constantly evolving for a long time to come. The resources they compete with – coal, oil and gas – follow a different pattern. If demand kept increasing, prices would go up because the newer reserves cost more to develop, such as deep sea oil. They may get cheaper through market shifts, as they have done recently, but they can’t keep getting cheaper and they can never get any better.

In that context, consider this. Renewables are, today, on the verge of being price competitive with fossil fuels – and already are in many situations. So in 10 years, maybe just five, it is a no-brainer that renewables will be significantly cheaper than fossil fuels in most places and will then just keep getting cheaper. And better.

Then we add in electric cars, which are now on the same path – converting a staid, slow moving industry (traditional auto companies like GM) into a disruptive technology-driven one (innovators like Tesla). Electric cars will accelerate the end of fossil fuels by joining with renewables to create a system shift, both directly by using clean power to charge them and indirectly by driving battery costs down to create storage for distributed renewables.

This all then unleashes competition across sectors bringing new players to old industries. For example utilities facing the much discussed death spiral triggered by solar, will find the motor vehicle fuels market very appealing. This would then unleash a huge political and commercial driver for growth in electric cars with the utility sector providing infrastructure to use their product, locking in customers with long-term supply deals backed by renewable power and lobbying for electric cars (to also protect the grid).

Within a decade, electric cars will be more reliable, cheaper to own and more fun to drive than petrol-fueled cars. Then it will just be a matter of turning over the fleet. Oil companies will then have their Kodak moment. Coal will already largely be gone, replaced by renewables.

The incumbents won’t respond in time. They are steeped in their analysis that they are the underpinning foundation of the economy – which of course they have been. This is so deeply ingrained in their worldview they can’t see their error. Energy is the essential foundation of the economy, but we now have a better, cheaper way of producing energy.

Fast beats slow
One of key competitive advantages the fossil fuel industry has had is the huge capital, complexity risk and high level engineering skills required to develop them.

This has two impacts. Firstly it created huge barriers to entry in the market – a disruptive entrepreneur can’t build a coal power station, drill in the deep ocean, buy an oil tanker or develop a coalmine. They can play on the edges, like shale gas, oil trading or mineral exploration, but they can’t play the main game. Secondly the industry has had huge incumbency power – it’s very expensive and politically hard to consciously and deliberately close down such a powerful industry and replace it. Thus action on climate change has stalled for decades.
Both of these benefits are gone when you combine “energy as a technology” with most growth in energy demand being in developing economies.

With renewables already competitive today without subsidy in some markets and the above trends playing out, it is inevitable that before long – maybe a decade – virtually all new electricity generation will be from renewables. Add in the need to be clean – not just for climate change reasons but for local air quality – and the choice developing countries will face will be between large, old, dirty, hard to finance infrastructure that requires heavy government support or small scale, easy to finance, more convenient, popular and clean energy and transport that will get even cheaper over time. Tough choice?

So the very thing that the fossil fuel industry had relied on for its growth – the rapidly expanding need for energy in the developing world – is the very thing that will drive the competition to wipe them out.

It’s hard to know where to begin with what this all means, because this really does change everything. Of course no one can accurately forecast the dates involved. But the assumptions pretty much everyone’s working with – that without policy intervention the energy system will be dominated by fossil fuels in 2050 and beyond – is frankly delusional. How could an incumbent, unpopular and dirty technology with increasing prices beat a disruptor that is cleaner, better, lower risk and falls in price every year?

Once you accept that, whether we stop burning fossil fuels in 15 years or 30 years is important, but it’s not the main question because either way it’s a very different outcome than most are planning for.

As I argued in early 2014, in Carbon Crash – Solar Dawn, the industry’s condition is terminal and once everyone wakes up to that reality, it will die faster because the market will discount it, taking away capital and shifting it to the future winners. This process will drive scale deployment and innovation of renewables while denying capital to fossil fuels, constraining their options.
Then the only logical strategy for fossil fuel companies will be to get their depreciating assets out of the ground as fast as possible and invest zero in exploration and development, instead paying out spare cash as dividends to shore up their stock price. With everyone doing this, prices will fall, chasing the declining market, undermining the value of the fossil fuel industry, and reducing its political influence further.

All businesses, like humans, fight death. And fight they will, with all the considerable power they have. So it will be messy and chaotic, and not consistent around the world. But in the end, the fossil fuel giants have no strategy that involves fossil fuels which makes any business or economic sense.
Other companies like utilities and auto companies, meanwhile, have great options – like taking away a large share of the oil industry’s market with renewable powered electric cars. They know that today we spend around twice as much on motor transport fuel as we do on electricity.

But big oil versus big utilities aligned with big auto is not the only disruptive impact for investors. There’s a whole range of industries that will benefit and join the party that will dance on the grave of fossil fuels: battery manufacturers, copper and lithium miners, electronics producers, software developers, electric engine makers, smart grid builders and, of course, solar and wind power manufacturers, installers and financiers. Shell and Exxon don’t see Google and Apple as competitors, which is just why incumbents so often lose. In combination, these forces will unleash the predictable pattern of technology driven market disruption.

If you think this is all far into the future, think again. In the USA, coal companies have lost around 75 per cent of their value in the past few years, while the Dow Jones went up nearly 70 per cent! And electric car maker Tesla, producing less than 40,000 cars per year, is valued at over half of GM, which produces 9 million cars per year! The market can smell death and knows that fast beats slow.
For climate advocates and policy makers, nothing changes in their approach, but everything changes in the result – and their level of confidence and influence.
With fossil fuels on the run, that industry’s support will evaporate. Governments are much more inclined to regulate when what they seek is already happening, but needs speeding up. So as fossil fuels are falling off the cliff, governments will give them a kick so they can claim credit.

Climate advocates, whose main challenge is speed of action, don’t need to change their approach. Their strategy is working: make fossil fuels harder, make solar easier. The only change, now, is that victory is at hand. Everyone loves a winner.

In conclusion, I will summarise my argument:

• The fossil fuel energy industry is now entering terminal decline and will be all but gone within 15-30 years. The key driver is not what most see as their greatest threat – future climate change policy. It’s that competing energy products of renewables and batteries, in a system with electric vehicles, will behave as a disruptive technology always does, delivering ever lower prices and ever higher quality in a decades’ long period of innovation and deployment, which fossil fuels can’t match.

• Because of the nature of this transformation, there will be a wide variety of new business players entering the market from the side, profoundly changing the market. The obvious example is utilities promoting electric cars as an enormous new market opportunity, which will assist them in avoiding the “death spiral” threat posed by the end of centralised generation.

Joining already are companies like Apple and Google who are both developing battery and car opportunities, with a close eye on the technology integration opportunity. Together this will form a powerful economic force both driving disruption and advocating climate action, undermining the historically dominant political and economic resistance of the fossil fuel companies.

• In combination these forces will unleash the predictable pattern of technology driven market disruption. The incumbents will stay in denial and fail to respond to what’s coming, despite it being obvious. They will hold on and fight against change as long as possible, but in the end will be wiped out by nimbler, new players without the cultural or asset baggage of the old. There will be an unknown tipping point – I think before 2020 – at which time the momentum will rapidly accelerate.

• The key difference in this transition, versus previous technology-driven change, is that it has the added dimension of climate change, making the resulting transformation a very high priority for policy makers and an unbeatable source of public support for the disruptors.

Fossil fuels are dead. The rest is detail.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Driving in the Networked Age

Reid Hoffman via linkedIn: A roadmap for navigating the transition from human-controlled cars to a better driverless future

In the six-plus years that Google has been developing self-driving cars, its test fleet has achieved an impressive safety record: Nearly one million miles of real-world autonomous driving, eleven minor accidents, no injuries, with none of the accidents caused by the self-driving cars themselves.

That impressive track record has people projecting when the first commercially available autonomous vehicles will hit the streets. But commercial availability is just a waypoint on the truly transformative journey that lies ahead of us. And that means there’s a bigger question we should be considering now. Namely, how soon will it be illegal to operate human-driven cars on public streets?

At a conference in March, my friend and colleague Elon Musk raised this proposition, exclaiming that “people may outlaw driving cars because it’s too dangerous.”

In a follow-up tweet, Elon clarified that "Tesla is strongly in favor of people being allowed to drive their cars and always will be."

That perspective makes sense. Although Tesla is developing autonomous technologies, its high-performance cars are a blast to operate in a traditional hands-on manner. Many Tesla customers buy the company's cars precisely for this reason, and as a smart and dedicated CEO, Elon will continue to serve his customers well.

But even though I'm a happy Model S owner myself, I also recognize that self-driving cars have the potential to radically reshape the world in ways that will benefit everyone. In the future, getting from point A to point B is going to be safer, faster, more energy-efficient, more economical, and more fun.

In addition, autonomous vehicles will also be able to share information with each other better than human drivers can, in both real-time situations and over time. Every car on the road will benefit from what every other car has learned. Driving will be a networked activity, with tighter feedback loops and a much greater ability to aggregate, analyze, and redistribute knowledge.

Today, as individual drivers compete for space, they often work against each other’s interests, sometimes obliviously, sometimes deliberately. In a world of networked driverless cars, driving retains the individualized flexibility that has always made automobility so attractive. But it also becomes a highly collaborative endeavor, with greater cooperation leading to greater efficiency. It’s not just steering wheels and rear-view mirrors that driverless cars render obsolete. You won’t need horns either. Or middle fingers.

Already, the car as network node is what drives apps like Waze, which uses smartphone GPS capabilities to crowd-source real-time traffic levels, road conditions, and even gas prices. But Waze still depends on humans to apprehend the information it generates. Autonomous vehicles, in contrast, will be able to generate, analyze, and act on information without human bottlenecks. And when thousands and then even millions of cars are connected in this way, new capabilities are going to emerge. The rate of innovation will accelerate – just as it did when we made the shift from standalone PCs to networked PCs.

So we as a society should be doing everything we can to reach this better future sooner rather than later, in ways that make the transition as smooth as possible. And that includes prohibiting human-driven cars in many contexts. On this particular road trip, the journey is not the reward. The destination is.

The True Transformative Power of Autonomous Vehicles

Human-driven cars won’t disappear entirely. There will be designated areas where people can drive for pleasure – race tracks, larger areas that are similar to golf courses or game preserves, public roads in extremely remote areas, or areas where weather or terrain make it difficult to optimize infrastructure for autonomous driving.

But the benefits of self-driving cars are so significant that in time the public will demand prohibitions against old-fashioned legacy driving in most public spaces.

To date, most discourse on driverless cars has focused on their ability to reduce collisions – especially fatal ones. In reality, driving is already a fairly safe activity. According to Federal Highway Administration statistics, there are around 189 crashes involving injury or property damage for every 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in the U.S., and only 1.04 fatal collisions per 100
million VMT.

But even though collision rates are low, the fact that we do so much driving means that the real tolls that traditional driving exacts are significant. In the U.S. alone, around 33,000 people a year die in traffic accidents. Globally, there are more than 1.2 million traffic deaths per year, with China suffering around 275,000 and India 238,000.

And when collisions do occur, it’s usually the drivers – rather than mechanical failure – who are responsible. In fact, human error accounts for more than 90 percent of all motor vehicle accidents. Alcohol plays a role in more than 1 in 3 traffic-related fatalities.

Replacing the most fallible component in the driving experience – the human driver – will lead to significant reductions in the number of accidents and fatalities that automobility produces.

Autonomous vehicles equipped with lasers, infrared sensors, cameras, detailed 3D road-maps, and other technologies are able to assess their surroundings in ways that human eyes can't. They can detect objects behind walls. They can accurately estimate distance at speed. They can brake and accelerate faster than humans can and change direction with more precision. They don't drink and drive, text and drive, nod off six hours into a long trip, or experience road rage.

But it’s not just the capacity of autonomous vehicles to make a fairly safe activity even safer that makes them so transformative. It’s that they will substantially reduce fatalities and collisions while simultaneously increasing overall transportation efficiency and decreasing our need to pay attention while driving.

If thousands of human-controlled cars suddenly started traveling down highways at 90 MPH, with little space between their bumpers, there would certainly be a lot more than 189 collisions per 100 million VMT. If all those drivers also started texting and watching TV, those freeways would likely begin to resemble war zones.

But autonomous vehicles will be able to pull off such feats. Indeed, their ability to travel at speed with less distance between them can potentially increase freeway capacity by 6 or 8 times.

A world of networked cars will also mean less idling at traffic lights, no stop-and-go slogs during rush-hour, no endless circling for parking. Commutes will be shorter. Crashes will be rarer – so the traffic jams that crashes create will be rarer too. And because crashes will be rare, cars can be built smaller, from lighter materials. If they’re still using combustion engines, they’ll burn less gas. If they’re powered by electricity, they’ll travel farther on a single charge.

Any time spent in cars will also be far more productive. According to Harvard Medical School, the average American driver spends 101 minutes behind the wheel each day. There are 210 million licensed drivers in the U.S., which suggests that collectively we spend around 5.3 billion hours a year wondering why that minivan in front of us is going so slow and listening to soft-rock hits from the 1970s.

Traditional cars liberated us from geography and time. Autonomous cars will liberate us from driving. In the future, motorists will be able to work, sleep, you name it. Watching a game on TV will replace listening to the game on the radio. Enjoying a leisurely meal with a knife, fork, and a glass of wine will replace gobbling down a burger with one hand.

Drinking and driving won’t be a crime – it will be an entrepreneurial opportunity. Texting and driving will still be frowned on – but only because people will be wondering why you aren’t Meerkatting and driving. When you use the word “gridlock,” your kids will have no idea what you mean. But they’ll be able to look it up on Google, even if they’re speeding down the highway at 100 MPH.

Finally, if you find yourself missing the physical pleasures of driving, you're in luck: Just slap on an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset and immerse yourself in a 3D version of Grand Theft Auto. Your daily commute to work will be more tactile and exciting than ever.

On a strictly quantitative level, at least, the man-hours that autonomous vehicles will save each year by making it possible to do other things while driving will far exceed the man-hours they save each year by eliminating fatal collisions. By fully embracing autonomous vehicles, humanity will free up billions of hours to spend in more flexible and potentially rewarding ways. The fact that driverless vehicles will significantly reduce driving-related deaths and the costs associated with them is an extremely valuable aspect of them. But what makes them truly disruptive is not only their capacity to save lives – it’s their capacity to save minutes and hours, and help billions of people live more productively year after year.

Moving Forward, Full Speed Ahead

So how fast can we get to the remarkable future that driverless cars promise? Some observers believe that we’re still at least decades away from a truly autonomous car that can function safely when you throw snow, rain, poor road surfaces and other factors into the mix.

Meanwhile, according to Elon’s estimates, there are more than 2 billion legacy cars on the road, globally. Currently, the car industry can only produce around 100 million new vehicles a year. Just from a manufacturing perspective, it could take 20 years to build a new fleet that approximates the one we have now.

And yet perhaps because announcements like these are coming at such a fast and furious pace, there is still a general consensus to proceed with caution. Two years ago, German automotive supplier Continental AG declared its intention to produce driverless cars that will function with a "zero-percent accident rate." Others suggest that attaining a "four nines" safety level is necessary. That is, these vehicles must operate successfully – i.e. not crash – at least 99.99 percent of the time they're in operation.

The emphasis on infallibility is misguided. Even the best artificial intelligence systems will be hard-pressed to completely protect against falling trees, mudslides, and other “acts of God.” In a world of mandatory driverless vehicles, accidents and even fatalities will continue to occur. To suggest otherwise only sets the stage for class-action lawsuits that could inhibit genuine progress.

In addition, the truth is that infallibility is not necessary to achieve significant progress. Imagine if we were able to make a complete switch to driverless cars in 2016, and 20,000 driving-related fatalities occurred over the course of the year. This outcome would likely be positioned as an unprecedented epidemic of robot car carnage. But a drop to just 20,000 fatalities in one year would actually represent the largest annual decline in U.S. traffic fatalities ever.

When we're able to look past our fears about change and our biases toward the DeVille we know, driverless cars will make driving safer – just as higher levels of automation have made commercial aviation a remarkably safe form of travel. In fact, the Eno Center for Transportation, a Washington, DC think tank, estimates that attaining a 90 percent market penetration rate of autonomous vehicles will save 21,700 lives a year in the U.S. alone.

But why stop at 90 percent market penetration? Why not take it to 100 percent, as soon as possible?

The Great Merge

Long before software companies existed, the American car industry had perfected the art of the incremental upgrade, a new model each year with new bells and whistles. That template for innovation will be applied to autonomous

vehicles, especially by traditional manufactures.

In other words, they’ll gradually add autonomous features until eventually they’ll start selling vehicles that offer what Google’s first prototypes did – i.e. “limited self-driving automation,” or “Level 3” autonomy. These cars will be able to drive themselves for extended periods of time, but will also give drivers the option to assume control when necessary.

Such cars will share the streets with traditional cars, so the driving environment will be mixed on both micro and macro levels. Given how established traditional car culture is – it is literally entrenched throughout the world in millions of miles of roadway – this is inevitable. But it is also likely to prove somewhat challenging.

According to my friend and colleague Stefan Heck, a Stanford professor who is also founder of Nauto, a Silicon Valley startup developing autonomous vehicle technologies, research that Stanford has done shows that drivers resuming control from Level 3 vehicles functioning in autonomous mode take 10 seconds just to attain the level of ability that a drunk driver possesses. And to get back to full driving competence takes 60 seconds.

Because human drivers have little experience interacting with driverless cars, they also tend to act unpredictably when encountering them. That hasn’t been a significant issue to date, because there are so few autonomous vehicles on the road. But as autonomous vehicles become commercially available and their numbers increase, that may change. “There is a real potential for an increase in accidents when we first deploy autonomous cars,” says Stefan.

The most obvious detour around this dilemma is to minimize mixed environments. Of course, America is still a country where the right to drive is considered an essential facet of life, right up there with the right to vote and the right to own a firearm. While car sales dropped substantially in the recession, they’re rising again, even amongst millennials who had once been thought to be far more interested in car access than car ownership.

But the physical act of driving isn’t a natural or constitutionally protected right. It’s a licensable privilege. In the early days of automobility, we had to establish new infrastructure, new rules, and even new values to make them tenable – more police presence, stop signs, traffic signals, sidewalks, one-way streets, parking spaces, speed limits, crosswalks, etc. And it took decades to make the transition, as streets that had once been shared by multiple low-speed users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, horse-drawn carriages, and streetcars, were recast primarily as the domain of motor vehicles.

This time around, the new mode of transportation won't just be far more powerful than the one it is disrupting. It will also be safer. But if we want to move forward, we will have to let go of the past. And just as we reshaped our world for the first generation of cars, we'll need to create new rules and new infrastructure to accommodate autonomous vehicles as well.

Geographic Regions Must Begin to Innovate

In the early years of the automobile age, no federal or even state rules existed. Instead, individual municipalities had to figure out how best to manage this new form of traffic. A similar dynamic is already emerging with autonomous vehicles.

On a state level, California, Nevada, and Florida have led the way in passing legislation that explicitly asserts the legality of autonomous vehicles under certain conditions. Last summer, Iowa's Johnson County approved a proclamation that encourages companies to use it "as a primary location for testing driverless car operations."

In Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan is in the process of building a $6.5 million "city" on 30 acres of its campus to test autonomous cars in a simulated urban environment that will reportedly feature “complex intersections, confusing lane markings” and even “mechanical pedestrians” jumping from behind parked cars. By 2021, the university hopes to use the information it collects from this site to help Ann Arbor adopt a networked fleet of shared, self-driving cars.

In England, the New York Times reports, the British government has invested $61 million “for trials aimed at making Britain a global hub for testing rules for driverless cars and building the components for these vehicles.”

All of this recalls the early 20th century, when some cities, recognizing the transformative impact cars would have, made efforts to accommodate them sooner rather than later. Detroit, for example was the first city to adopt traffic signals, one-way streets, and many other conventions that helped usher in a new age of automobility.

The rewards for the places that lead the transition to a next stage of automobility will be substantial. Indeed, if San Francisco took this lead on this, much of the space it currently devotes to accommodating human-driven cars, including parking garages, parking lots, street parking spaces, private garages, and wide streets – could be freed up for new housing, which it desperately needs.

Still, I doubt major transitional initiatives will happen first in San Francisco or even Mountain View. Instead, they'll happen in places that are eager to be the next San Francisco or Mountain View – places willing to experiment in largely uncharted ways.

Maybe that's Johnson County, Iowa. Maybe it's Singapore, which is also positioning itself as a place that is giving a green light to driverless car experimentation.

A welcoming attitude is a key first step – but there are certainly opportunities to go further than that. To date, most driverless car development has involved trying to create vehicles that can function well in the world that exists now. This is a smart approach that has allowed researchers and entrepreneurs to simply start experimenting, without trying to persuade cities and other institutions to adapt technologies, infrastructure, and regulations that would make it easier for driverless cars to function with maximum safety and efficiency.

But we're now at a point where progress will happen faster if cities and other geographic regions embrace innovation as strongly as the institutions developing autonomous vehicle technologies.

When a Google car currently hits the road, it’s largely functioning as a solo actor and doing all the work to decipher the world it is navigating. But technologies that allow cars to talk to each other, through Wi-Fi-like networks that use dedicated short-range communications frequencies, exist too.

In these vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) networks, cars share information with each other and other smart infrastructure elements – traffic signals, sensor-embedded roads, roadside cameras, eye-in-the-sky traffic drones, etc.

Adding such infrastructure elements is one way that cities could help accelerate the development of autonomous vehicles. Designating some streets or downtown areas as driverless only would be an even bolder and more useful move. Detroit, in other words, has a shot at becoming the Detroit of the 21st century. All it has to do is ban traditional cars from its streets.

New Rules for New Rides

Networked autonomous vehicles will bring new challenges along with new opportunities. Cybersecurity will be an issue. The first self-driving car that gets hacked in some cataclysmic way will generate just as many headlines as the first one that’s involved in a fatal collision (especially if it’s the same car).

Privacy is also a concern. Still, hacking is already an issue with current on-board systems like OnStar. And such systems are already able to collect information about your driving patterns, how fast you go, and more.

On a similar note, the Drug Enforcement Administration and many other law enforcement agencies use license-plate cameras to build increasingly comprehensive databases that keep tabs on millions of vehicles over time. Using a feature built into OnStar called Stolen Vehicle Slowdown, police can remotely decelerate a vehicle that has been reported stolen.

But OnStar and its analogs are optional. Law-enforcement license-plate surveillance relies on a relatively fixed number of data collection points. Autonomous vehicles will literally be able to record and store your every move. And unlike smartphones, you won't be able to leave them behind or disable their GPS if you want to go off the grid for a while. Autonomous vehicles can't function unless you tell them where you're going.

At the very least, the companies developing these technologies will need to be extremely transparent about how they collect and use the data these vehicles generate. And ultimately consumers will likely demand regulations that let them control their privacy – especially if human-driven cars are prohibited.

The algorithms that govern facets of these cars' behavior will also have to be transparent – and codified into law. Already, manufacturers are consulting philosophers to help guide how their algorithms make decisions in moments of emergency. For example, should an autonomous vehicle risk hitting a cyclist in its efforts to avoid a schoolbus that is heading straight for it, if choosing the former course of action will likely minimize overall deaths and injuries? If an autonomous ambulance is racing toward a hospital, should it take riskier actions as the patient it's carrying is moving closer to death? And what sorts of preferences should emergency and law-enforcement vehicles be given in general?

Even in cases of non-emergency, a high degree of transparency is necessary. Every time a passenger indicates a desired destination, an autonomous vehicle must make choices about the optimal route. Presumably, it will do so based on current traffic conditions, as Waze does now. But it's also possible that the companies designing these cars could choose routes for other reasons. For example, advertisers might pay companies to route passengers past their businesses. Passengers with preferred status could receive access to faster streets while others are routed to slower, higher-volume streets.

In some cases, passengers may accept these decisions. You might pay less or receive some other perk if you agree to take the slow route home, or pay more to take the fast one. On a similar note, we will probably see the introduction of literal “marketing vehicles,” i.e., cars that take you to your destination for free as long as you complete a survey or watch a promotional video of some kind.

Because the various algorithms that govern car behavior will encompass issues of liability, risk, and morality, no one company should be allowed to simply make up their own rules. Instead, we’ll need to establish uniform rules and standards through public processes. In the same way that we currently have regulations involving emissions standards, safety equipment, and other aspects of car manufacture, we’ll also have regulations that establish the parameters for how the necessary algorithms operate.

While government will clearly play a role in this regulatory process, we must also consider what limits to place on how government agencies utilize coming technologies. If you become a suspect in a crime, how extensively will police be allowed to examine your driving history? Will law enforcement agencies have the ability to tap into the system and control the routes of persons they want to detain? Public records detailing exactly how such agencies are using whatever capabilities are granted to them will be necessary.

Liability is another major that must be addressed. Because driver error is most often the reason for collisions involving traditional cars, insurance is currently oriented toward individuals. In driverless scenarios, however, a car's occupants will be functioning as passengers, not drivers. Thus, when accidents happen, who will be held accountable?

Because most of the companies that produce driverless cars will be large and well-capitalized, the incentives to file lawsuits – and to award high-dollar damages – will be great. Unfortunately, if the threat of lawsuits is high enough, it could keep companies from offering cars that would ultimately reduce the overall number of traffic collisions and fatalities. Recognizing this, we must start thinking about how to ensure that liability laws fairly compensate victims without unnecessarily preventing the spread of technologies that will lead to better overall outcomes for everyone.

Throughout the 20th century, traditional cars functioned as engines of personal freedom and prosperity. The highly personalized mobility they provided gave people more access to a wider range of jobs, homes, friends, etc.

Autonomous vehicles, in turn, promise a new range of capabilities. But as we merge from our old way of driving to a new one, there will be objections. Some people will characterize self-driving cars as an infringement on personal liberty and an individual’s ability to fully control his own destiny. Others will raise concerns over privacy and the ways that driverless cars will collect and share data in their pursuit of greater safety and efficiency.

But autonomous vehicles won’t curtail personal freedom – they’ll amplify it. Autonomous vehicles will extend the convenience of individualized driving to people who aren’t currently able to obtain driving licenses –senior citizens, people with various disabilities, young people. They will let everyone pursue a greater range of activities while they're in transit. They'll speed up transit times and help people forsake transit altogether. (I.E., your car will run errands for you while you stay at home.) They'll reduce the need to actually own a car, and thus release people from the economic obligations of that.

And privacy norms are not a fixed phenomenon. They change over time, in tandem with new technologies, new social standards, new expectations. As driverless technology evolves, we’ll develop features and policies that will allow people to maintain appropriate levels of privacy. But they will also have access to greater transportation capabilities than even George Jetson ever dreamed of.

An asphalt utopia is on the horizon. It promises streets that will be safer than they were when a tired horse was the fastest means between two points. It promises shorter, more productive commutes. It’s time to put the pedal to the metal in pursuit of this vision, and accelerate toward a world where self-driving cars are not just allowed but mandatory in the vast majority of spaces.