The Oxford Martin School Blog
Carbon reduction in transport - more than a matter of choice
01 May 2012 1 comment(s)
When it comes to reducing energy in vehicle transportation you can’t put all your eggs in one basket. Policy assumptions that began to see electric vehicles and hybrids as a silver bullet solution to the decarbonisation of transport are being challenged by early research findings from Martino Tran and colleagues at the Institute for Carbon and Energy Reduction in Transport. They have shown that when you factor in consumer behaviour and the performance of different technologies, you do not get the highly optimistic uptake rates for electric and hybrid vehicles that a lot of policy documents had predicted.
The transport sector is currently 99% dependent on the use of fossil fuels and takes up roughly a quarter of the total share of carbon emissions in the economy. With statistics like these it is no surprise that transport has been flagged by policy makers as an important sector to decarbonise.
Tran’s research is looking at innovative, integrated ways of achieving this decarbonisation; so, not only looking at the technologies involved, but also analysing consumer preferences and behavioural influences. In other words, can more informed understanding of how people adopt and interact with new transport technologies lead to greater carbon reductions in the transport sector?
Tran explains, “We have brought together methodological tools not only to develop a computational model that can assess the full suite of passenger vehicle technologies, energy use and carbon emissions, but also to show how people interact with these technologies, and the likelihood that they will be adopted by different consumers. For example, as electric vehicle performance increases over time and costs decrease, how does that positively feedback on the rate of adoption of such vehicles by consumers? And how does that make such vehicles more competitive against petrol and diesel vehicles?”
The assumption that the private passenger vehicle market is homogeneous is wrong says Tran. “We know from consumer studies that it is heterogeneous and assess how different parts of the market could be incentivised earlier and differently from others in terms of adopting energy saving technologies.”
According to Tran, it is not only different regions and countries that have different demands. He comments, “It’s often thought that it’s the young, tech-savvy people with resources and good jobs who take on new technologies. But studies have shown that pensioners, for example, are much more sophisticated in their outlook of financial benefits and gains. A recent UK study indicated that one of the principal reasons for uptake of hybrid vehicles was for financial gain rather than environmental benefits.” In other words, consumers were looking to save money (on fuel and congestion charges) rather than benefit the environment.
So assumptions about who will take up these new vehicle technologies are being challenged by Tran’s research. As part of the ICERT team, Tran can conduct research on the whole suite of different technologies within the private passenger fleet market - full battery electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, hybrids, advanced conventional vehicles, petrol, diesel, and fuel cell vehicles. “We identify the different attributes of these vehicle technologies and see how they correspond with consumer preferences and can work out which is the most likely technology to be adopted by certain groups,” he said.
Interestingly, he believes that the methodology he uses to capture the interaction between technology and consumers has wider applications outside the transport sector, perhaps to the housing sector, commercial sector and more. Certainly, other members of the Oxford Martin School are interested in these findings concerning interactions between society and technology.
So does the future of passenger vehicle transportation look more environmentally friendly? Tran can’t yet foresee a day when people are all driving electric cars. However, he adds, “I think the market will always be heterogeneous but we are hopeful that it will move away from being dominated by fossil fuels.” To encourage this movement, he believes in the necessity for policy to incentivise further development of cleaner technologies.
Developing countries, in particular, have lots of opportunities to lead on low carbon transportation, says Tran. Because they are not locked into the infrastructure of fossil fuelled transportation technologies, countries like China, India and Brazil have the opportunity to leapfrog older technologies and invest immediately in cleaner technologies. The question is whether they will choose to go for cleaner technologies or not.
Related academic publications:
- Realizing the electric-vehicle revolution
- Agent-behaviour and network influence on energy innovation diffusion
- Technology-behavioural modelling of energy innovation diffusion in the UK
- Coming event "Regulation or price? Analysis of innovative activity in alternative fuel vehicles in a period of economic bonanza and decline" by Dr David Bonilla
Blog written by Communications Officer, Julia Banfield