Intelligent Efficiency: New Ways to Travel and Save Energy

Jan. 6, 2015
Intelligent efficiency promises new ways to save energy — from the cell phone app that tells you when the subway will arrive, to the car that ‘talks’ to nearby vehicles to improve traffic flow. Here’s a look at what’s to come.

Washington, D.C Metro, Credit: ingfbruno

We’ve been hearing for years about smart energy appliances that ‘talk’ to the grid. Here’s one better.  How about cars that talk to each other to save energy?

Known as vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V), it is one of the fascinating intelligent efficiency technologies described in a new report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

Intelligent efficiency comes from information and communications tech (ICT) that is able to note events in the environment, predict what may happen next and respond accordingly.

It is used in many transportation services — from the cell phone app that tells you what time the subway will arrive, to a car that senses the action of other vehicles around it and even communicates with them.

These technologies are important for several reasons, not the least of which is that they can make personal travel safer and less frustrating. But they also can help us save energy. Transportation accounts for 28 percent of energy used in the U.S., 60 percent of that from cars, light trucks and motorcycles.

If we use intelligent efficiency in a bigger way, we can cut back on the amount of energy we use in transportation by 13 percent, according to the report.

There are a lot of different ways intelligent efficiency works in transportation. One of the most intriguing involves vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications.

Everyone by now has heard of the self-driving car. That’s the end goal. But even before cars become that smart, they are going to provide some pretty impressive wireless data exchange.

At its simplest form, one car senses another and adjusts accordingly. But V2V systems also will allow vehicles “to talk to each other about their speed and upcoming traffic conditions, as well as potential road obstacles, thus reducing emissions, fuel consumption, and the potential for congestion,” ACEEE said.

Cars  may be able to network their cruise control activity  to “cooperate” with other vehicles on the road and form a “platoon” for saving fuel, the report said.

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Eventually, the tech also is expected to allow for communication between vehicles and buildings.

This is all still very experimental for cars — development is bit further along for commercial vehicles.  The EU and Japan have successfully tested V2V that reduced distances between vehicles by about 33 feet, which improved the overall efficiency of the highway system, ACEEE said.

Meanwhile, there are other forms of effective, albeit less exciting, forms of transportation efficiency that are growing in the U.S. Car sharing services are burgeoning, according to the report, and can be found in 50 cities. Bike sharing membership also is on the rise. In addition, 60 percent of transit agencies now provide real-time travel information  via smart phone, according to U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group.

With gasoline prices falling, it will be interesting to see if the trend toward intelligent efficiency continues in personal travel. Barriers already exist to wide-scale adoption, among them lack of understanding of the benefits, high up-front costs of researching and developing ICT-related systems, and regulatory obstacles. Then there is  the ongoing love Americans have for their cars and the “perceived freedom that comes from driving,” ACEEE noted.

But the smart phone has changed American behavior in many ways. It has made us appreciate inter-connectedness and ready information. Perhaps we will carry the enchantment we derive from the smart phone to the smart car.

Download ACEEE’s full report, “Energy Savings from Information and Communications Technologies in Personal Travel,” here.

About the Author

Elisa Wood | Editor-in-Chief

Elisa Wood is the editor and founder of She is co-founder and former editor of Microgrid Knowledge.

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