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Fueling Our Fleet

If solar becomes the main energy source in 30 to 50 years, how will it affect transportation?

Of course, no one knows what the future will bring. That’s why organizations use scenario planning to examine how drivers of change could create vastly different future scenarios. It’s then that the interplay of various scenarios pushes organizations to think beyond the constraints of how the world works today to envision a completely different tomorrow.

As we look that far down the road, one scenario features solar as the primary energy source, with energy storage readily available. Within that scenario, questions will arise on how vehicles will be powered, what will happen to fuel costs and what will be the effect on revenue sources.

  • It’s easy to imagine the entire fleet is made up of electric vehicles that are powered by alternative energy — including solar. A Bloomberg New Energy Finance report predicts that the sale of electric vehicles will hit 41 million by 2040, making up 35 percent of new light duty vehicle sales. So what happens if/when container ships and railroads are powered by solar energy? What if our roadway infrastructure can be used to capture and distribute solar energy?
  • If fossil fuels are no longer the primary source that moves personal vehicles, heavy trucks, rail or ships, fuel costs could decline sharply, driving transportation costs down. That decline could be good for the consumer, but what happens to the businesses and infrastructure that carry fossil fuels? And what about transportation agencies that rely on fossil fuel taxes as their primary revenue stream?
  • How will energy producers and transportation agencies update their revenue models? The U.S. Department of Transportation recently funded eight road usage charge studies across the country as a step in exploring how revenue transitions might happen. Burns & McDonnell is assisting with one of those studies in hopes of better understanding what the future will hold for our industry.

As you can see, the challenges and solutions of a future solar scenario are largely based on technology, as well as how quickly people are willing and able to adapt. Will we go all solar? Only time will tell.

It takes an innovative culture to fuel solar power — and success — in the future. To encourage others to jump on board, Burns & McDonnell is leading national research that examines how we will move and connect in the future. On behalf of the National Academy of Sciences, we launched the 20-108 Innovation Lab in hopes of inspiring public sector transportation agencies to pursue the knowledge and creativity needed to sustain a culture of innovation as well as share successes and lessons learned.

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Julie Lorenz
Written by Julie Lorenz
Julie Lorenz leads the strategic consulting and public engagement services for the Transportation Group at Burns & McDonnell. She has more than 20 years of experience in communications, public affairs and policy development in the transportation industry.

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