IEA plots path to halving fuel used for road transport in under 40 years

Two reports released on Wednesday by the International Energy Agency (IEA) show how the right policies and technologies could improve the fuel efficiency of road vehicles by 50% by the middle of the century, saving as much as four-fifths of current annual global oil consumption.

The transport sector currently accounts for a fifth of global final energy consumption, and increased demand from this sector is expected to make up all future growth in oil use worldwide. But there is massive potential for fuel efficiency improvements to reduce demand for transport fuel, and the two reports show how the world could stabilise demand for oil even if  the number of road vehicles (passenger cars, two-wheelers and freight trucks) doubled by 2050. 

“Tackling road transport energy use is vital to enhancing energy security and reducing carbon dioxide emissions globally,” IEA Deputy Executive Director Richard Jones, said as he launched the reports. “Conventional combustion engine vehicles are set to be around for a long time and without the right policy mixes, like the ones described in these publications, the demand for energy from road vehicles will be unsustainable.”  

One report, Technology Roadmap: Fuel Economy for Road Vehicles, describes the technologies needed (such as high-pressure fuel injection systems) to achieve a much more efficient road-vehicle stock by 2030, while the second, Policy Pathway: Improving the Fuel Economy of Road Vehicles, describes the policy packages, made up of fuel economy labeling, standards and fiscal policies, that can help deliver improved fuel economy.

With the right policies, countries can use available, cost-effective technologies to greatly improve the fuel economy of road vehicles over the next 10 to 20 years, and at the same time save billions of US dollars in fuel costs.

But governments need to act quickly. The new IEA "fuel-economy readiness" index measures the extent to which countries have implemented steps that will fully exploit the potential of existing fuel economy technologies and maximise their use in vehicles. It reveals that very few have all the pieces in place to capitalise on the full potential of fuel economy improvements that could be achieved in the coming two decades.

The Technology Roadmap, the latest in a series of IEA publications that focus on global low-carbon energy technologies, from biofuels to smart grids, recommends:

  • further research, development and demonstration in some technologies – such as waste heat recovery devices – would help to make vehicles more efficient and cost-effective over time;
  • specific global fuel-economy improvement targets and milestones that countries should implement; and
  • policies, including fuel economy standards, fiscal measures and information programmes, to dramatically improve the fuel economy of road vehicles. 

The Policy Pathway, which offers detailed guidance for governments on how to put in place policy measures to increase the fuel efficiency of vehicles, includes information on:

  • how policies should be designed and the critical elements to planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating fuel-economy policy packages; and
  • highlights lessons learned and examples of good practices from countries with experience in implementing fuel-economy policies for vehicles.

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