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NREL Leads Effort to Get Traffic Moving in Right Direction

August 17, 2015

The Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) will serve as the lead organization in developing a tool travelers and transportation officials can use in helping guide people through a city in the most energy-efficient way possible.

"Using real-time traffic and GPS data, along with simulations that take into account demographic information and trips via ride-sharing programs, the Connected Traveler project will move beyond existing transportation studies that look at only roads and drivers," NREL Transportation Technology Deployment Manager Alex Schroeder said. "The effort will examine traffic in a major metropolitan area with multi-modal transportation and the necessary real-time and historic data the project requires.

"The idea behind the project is that travelers may be willing and able to adjust how they get somewhere if they have current data and are incentivized to act on that information in a way that also delivers energy savings," Schroeder said

Real-time information delivered via a smartphone would give a traveler options such as changing departure time or route, taking mass transit, carpooling, and even considering an alternate destination. These recommendations will be based on preferences and will provide an experience and level of service comparable to normal travel patterns, but will be optimized to create greater overall traffic efficiency.

NREL will be working with several university and industry partners to tackle this multi-disciplinary challenge. Traffic congestion in 498 U.S. metropolitan areas increased gasoline consumption by 2.9 billion gallons in 2011, according to an analysis by Texas Transportation Institute.

The federal Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) is funding approximately $1.6 million of the Connected Traveler project, which is expected to begin in October. Participating organizations and universities are funding the remainder of the project's expense. NREL will also receive project support from the Colorado Energy Office.

The Connected Traveler project is part of NREL's increased focus on efficient mobility systems that complements the laboratory's expertise in efficient vehicles and low-carbon fuels. This emerging approach to sustainable transportation augments ongoing work by NREL that is aimed at taking a systems approach to the broader network of travelers, services, and environment in order to optimize mobility and significantly reduce related energy consumption.

NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy's primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. NREL is operated for the Energy Department by The Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC.

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—Wayne Hicks