The Revolution Will Be Motorized – But How?

December 2011

Growing demand, resource constraints, and environmental imperatives will reshape our energy system in the years ahead, revolutionizing the way we travel and the vehicles we drive. This huge transformation poses urgent questions today because of the decades needed for developing new technologies and infrastructure.

ITS-Davis has published a new book, Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways: A Research Summary for Decision Makers, to help inform researchers, planners and decision makers in industry and government about the potential costs and benefits of various alternative fuel/vehicle pathways, and to illuminate viable transition strategies toward a more sustainable transportation future.

The book summarizes insights gained from the four-year Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways (STEPS) research program at ITS-Davis. STEPS began in 2007 with a goal of performing robust, impartial comparative analyses of fuel/vehicle pathways by drawing on expertise in engineering, economics, environmental science and consumer behavior. An interdisciplinary team of 15 Ph.D.-level researchers and 25 graduate students was formed. Funding support totaling $8 million was provided by an extraordinary coalition of 23 sponsors, including government agencies and top automakers and energy companies.

Edited by STEPS director Joan Ogden with technical editor Lorraine Anderson, the book addresses four "big picture" questions in a series of 13 chapters written by ITS-Davis researchers:

  • What do individual fuel/vehicle pathways look like for biofuels, electricity and hydrogen?
  • How do these pathways compare?
  • How could we combine pathways and approaches to meet societal goals for carbon reduction, energy security, air quality and sustainable use of land, water and materials?
  • What policy measures and tools are needed to encourage progress toward sustainable transportation?

Technical aspects, cost, market issues, environmental implications, and transition issues for each individual pathway are explored, creating a strong basis for the development of integrative scenarios to address policy goals such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions or oil dependency. Case studies are presented that could inform carbon and alternative fuel policies in California, the United States, and beyond.

The authors find that there is no single fuel or vehicle of the future. Rather, they predict that we will develop a diverse mix of fuels and vehicle types that vary by region and application. Such a portfolio approach, incorporating efficiency, alternative fuels and travel demand reductions, will produce the best chance of meeting societal goals, they say.

The ITS-Davis STEPS program was designed to provide timely, reliable information to planners and policymakers working on complex issues in energy and transportation. “Our analyses consistently show that there is no ‘silver bullet’—but that with a portfolio approach we can move toward more sustainable systems,” says Ogden. “The long time frame for the revolutionary changes ahead in transportation makes the need for unbiased information more urgent.”

The STEPS program is continuing and expanding with the 2011–2014 NextSTEPS research consortium. Most of the STEPS program sponsors have renewed their funding, and some new ones have signed on. Building on the data from STEPS to create scenarios and tools, and analyze policies, Ogden and her team intend to generate visions of the future and detailed regional studies beyond California—for parts of the United States, China and Europe.