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A technology pioneered by electric utilities could help American drivers use 13% less energy. Here’s how.

Transportation accounts for nearly one-third of America’s total energy use.

But, as Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory estimates, an enormous fraction of that energy use — more than half — is currently wasted due to technological and behavioral inefficiencies.

That’s a huge chunk of the nation’s energy picture. So, how can the U.S. reduce its energy waste and create a more efficient transportation system?

The same behavioral approaches that help consumers save energy at home can also drive a smarter transportation system.

Hybrid and electric vehicles are certainly one option. But, there's another promising approach that’s being rapidly scaled in other areas of the energy space: personalized communications and feedback.

A new study from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) finds that many of the same, proven behavioral approaches that are helping consumers save energy at home — those that have collectively cut their utility bills by nearly $700 million during recent years — can also be used to help drive a smarter transportation system.

The report — Energy Savings from Information and Communications Technologies in Personal Travel — highlights how specific behavior-focused technologies could help reduce energy consumption in the U.S. transportation sector 13 percent by 2030.

Transit innovations — such as in-vehicle feedback, vehicle-to-vehicle communications, and real-time transit information — can substantially reduce the amount of fuel consumed each year. In fact, in-vehicle feedback alone (e.g. dashboards found in many hybrids and EVs) could save a whopping 2.6 million gallons of fuel in 2030. Interestingly, with EVs in particular, that kind of efficiency-boosting feedback can also help lower household power bills.

The U.S. could cut energy use in the transportation sector 13 percent by 2030 through several behavior-focused technologies. (Source: ACEEE)

These types of communications can also be a boon to public transportation. Transit ridership applications — those that provide riders with bus and train tracking systems, dynamic maps, updated schedules, and estimated fares via computer or smartphone — could greatly increase ridership, helping commuters save more than two million gallons of fuel in 2030.

And as we’ve previously covered, Singapore’s innovative public transit system represents an excellent case study of how behavioral technology and design can bring energy efficiency to the roadways.

Singapore boasts the world’s most robust transportation system — ranked #1 among 27 major cities by PwC in 2012 — and also one of the most congested. To alleviate its traffic situation, Singapore’s transit authority has launched several commuter engagement tools to encourage ridership during off-peak hours. As part of the program, Singaporeans are offered a free ride or discount if they complete their journey before major commuting hours, given regular feedback about their travel patterns, and given access to a “friends feature” that allows them to compare their travel with peers.

The ultimate proof of these behavioral approaches can be found where they all began: in the utility industry. Behavioral energy efficiency programs — those in which utilities provide their customers with personalized information and advice regarding their energy use — have helped energy consumers save more than five billion kilowatt hours worldwide.

No matter which industry you’re looking at, the right combination of technology and personalized communications can drive powerful environmental and economic outcomes — bringing big benefits to businesses and consumers alike.

Download ACEEE's full report to learn more.

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