Energy Efficiency Can Make The Environment Worse Off

How? By making energy so much cheaper that people demand and use more of it. In today's paper, New York Times' excellent science reporter John Tierney looks at the "rebound effect" of increased energy efficiency. The article cites a new study, "Energy Emergence: Rebound and Backfire as Emergent Phenomena, by the environmental/energy think tank the Breakthrough Institute. The report reviews the economic literature and finds: 

...extensive evidence that a large amount of the energy savings from below-cost energy efficiency are eroded by demand rebound, and that in some cases the rebound exceeds the savings, resulting in increased energy consumption from efficiency, known as backfire.

Tierney explains:

While there’s no doubt that fuel-efficient cars burn less gasoline per mile, the lower cost at the pump tends to encourage extra driving. There’s also an indirect rebound effect as drivers use the money they save on gasoline to buy other things that produce greenhouse emissions, like new electronic gadgets or vacation trips on fuel-burning planes...

Consider what’s happened with lighting over the past three centuries. As people have switched from candles to oil-powered lamps to incandescent bulbs and beyond, the amount of energy needed to produce a unit of light has plummeted. Yet people have found so many new places to light that today we spend the same proportion of our income on light as our much poorer ancestors did in 1700, according to an analysis published last year in The Journal of Physics by researchers led by Jeff Tsao of Sandia National Laboratories...

...if your immediate goal is to reduce greenhouse emissions, then it seems risky to count on reaching it by improving energy efficiency. To economists worried about rebound effects, it makes more sense to look for new carbon-free sources of energy, or to impose a direct penalty for emissions, like a tax on energy generated from fossil fuels. Whereas people respond to more fuel-efficient cars by driving more and buying other products, they respond to a gasoline tax simply by driving less.

A visible tax, of course, is not popular, which is one reason that politicians prefer to stress energy efficiency. The costs and other trade-offs of energy efficiency are often conveniently hidden from view, and the prospect of using less energy appeals to the thrifty instincts of consumers as well as to the moral sensibilities of environmentalists.

But if the benefits of energy efficiency have been oversold, then that’s more reason to consider alternatives like a carbon tax, and to look more carefully at the hidden costs and trade-offs involved in setting rigid standards for efficiency. Unlike a carbon tax, which gives consumers and manufacturers an incentive to look for smart ways to save energy, a mandated standard of efficiency can reduce flexibility and force people into choices they wouldn’t ordinarily make....

Tierney then quotes Sam Kazman from the free market think tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute:

“Efficiency mandates have become feel-good mantras that politicians invoke,” Mr. Kazman said. “The results of these mandates have ranged from costly fiascos, such as once-dependable top-loading washers that no longer wash, to higher fatalities in cars downsized by fuel-efficiency rules. If the technologies were so good, they wouldn’t need to be imposed on us by law.”

The fact is that markets already strongly encourage people and firms to use energy ever more efficiently. As I noted in a 2009 column, How Green Is Your Crystal Ball?, a 1980 National Academy of Sciences study asserted that strong policy measures would be needed to dramatically boost energy efficiency by 2010. What actually happened?

Were various energy conservation measures adopted by federal and state governments over the past three decades responsible for substantially lowering the amount of energy Americans use? Nope. In 2004, Resources for the Future, a think-tank based in Washington, D.C., performed "a comprehensive review of energy efficiency programs in the United States, with a focus on the adoption of energy-efficient equipment and building practices." They found that energy efficiency programs reduced annual primary energy consumption by 4 quads below what it would otherwise have been. So most energy efficiency improvements in the U.S. over the past 30 years were adopted without government mandates.

The 1980 report also confidently predicted that "technical efficiency measures alone could reduce the ratio of energy consumption to gross national product...to as little as half its present value over the next 30-40 years." According to the a new NAS report, energy use per dollar of GDP has already fallen by 44 percent since 1980, dramatically exceeding expectations without dramatic government intervention.

Conclusion: Energy efficiency tends to encourage more energy use, not less. Assuming man-made global warming is a big problem, increased energy efficiency is not likely to be a big part of the solution to it.

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  • Edwin||

    well duh...

    the problem/environmentalist-solution is to also make energy more expensive, which they do through ethanol mandates, carbon rationing, etc.

  • Mike M.||

    Exactly. Get a load of this: in the U.K., people are now being told that it's possible that soon electricity generation may be rationed there and power no longer available to their homes 24 hours a day!

  • Gilbert Martin||

    Well that's just what the totalitarian Obama regime's minions want to do here as well:

    "We need to make sure that we're really moving electricity in the smartest way and using the most cost-effective electricity at the right time of day. Eventually, we can get to a system where an electric company will be able to hold back some of the power so that maybe your air conditioner won't operate at its peak, you'll still be able to cool your house, but that'll be a savings to the consumer. And so [we will be] giving people and companies a role in the management of how we use electricity."

    Carol Browner on Climate Change: "The Science Has Just Become Incredibly Clear" - US News and World

  • Zeb||

    That's pretty dumb (what Browner said). She seems to have no idea how electricity works.

  • Carol B.||

    It all flows from pipes in DC, right?

  • Edwin||

    Yeah, I guess that's why it always says DC!

    There's another kind that comes from Atlantic City.

  • Edwin||

    Yes that's pretty stupid. And wow, she's the head of the whoite house's energy policy board. You'd think they'd hire someone who understands basic physics.

  • ||

    Why would we think they'd do that? They always hire the worst people for every position, like the tax evader to head Treasury.

  • cynical||

    Do you? "Power" can't be held back, but if load is suppressed by disabling or downgrading appliances, expensive peaking units can.

  • Zeb||

    Yes, I do. My reading of what she said was that the power companies could somehow accomplish this by doing something with the supply ("hold back some of the power", not "inhibit the use of power"). What you are talking about is doing something with the load to reduce consumption.

  • Newton||

    For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. I told you people a LOOONG time ago. But did you guy's listen? Nooooo.

  • ||

    Edwin: I agree that's what they are planning, but they won't admit it in public. See my column, Energy Price Deceit.

  • ||

    Fucking threaded comments, how do they work?

    I keed! I keed!

  • Edwin||

    I think it's pretty public - that's pretty mcuh their stated public position. They just don't usually frame it direcxtly that way.

  • Fiscal Meth||

    I would spell it "dirextly". Cool word though.

  • ||

    They found that energy efficiency programs reduced annual primary energy consumption by 4 quads below what it would otherwise have been

    But with the TK 421 Modification you can tweak it up another 3-4 Quads per Channel. But that's technical talk. That really doesn't concern you.

  • celtigirl||

    The problem I've found with TK-421 is that he's never at his post!

  • ||

    By making energy so much cheaper that people demand and use more of it.

    No way, man! That energy that we save from efficient devices goes into a big barrel that we can tap into later. See? We don't need to build moar capacity. And the money we save is totally not spent on other energy using gadgets. Not at all.

  • Edwin||

    here's a little unintended consequence - OK, so congress has mandated CFLs, well every kind of fluorescent light needs a ballast, including CFLS - on CFLs it's in the white plastic base of the bulb. The ballast changes the electricity to a form that can work in the bulb. One disadvantage of fluorescent lights is that the ballast can wear out very quickly if the lights turn on and off very often.
    However, having the lights off whenever no one's around is one of the best ways to save on electricity. Motion-sensor switches are cheap and easy to install, and are used frequently in common areas in commercial and residential buildings and public spaces, etc.
    However, now that all bulbs are going to be CFLs, it's going to discourage landowners who have typical bulb fixtures from using motion sensor switches as an energy saving device, because they'll have to buy new bulbs much more freqeuntly. They'll isntead spring to leave the lights on most or all of the time.

    My company recently faced this problem moving into our new office, though in our case the fixtures were already the fluoresecnt-light-tube type ballasts, which were chosen for uniformity with the rest of the building and the cheapness of the bulbs/tubes and the energy efficiency. Though the situation I noted above still applies to anyone landowners who have the old type light fixtures.

  • ||

    However, now that all bulbs are going to be CFLs

    Wait, I thought the incandescant was the one going away. They're not doing away with HIDs, are they? I think the state is probably the biggest user of those.

  • Edwin||

    I don't think HIDs are going away, just incandescent

  • Zeb||

    HIDs are a lot more efficient than fluorescents, so I would think not.

  • ||

    They sure are, but they still use a lot of juice. And that's bad, mmmkay?

  • Zeb||

    MMkay. But if parking lots and warehouses are not illuminated with a sickly orange glow, enough people will cry about safety that it will trump all other concerns.

  • cynical||

    Yeah, once I put a CFL in the light over my garage (has a photosensitive thingie so it turns on at night). Unfortunately, it has some twilight flicker issues. The bulb was dead by the next morning.

  • ||

    Conclusion: Energy efficiency tends to encourage more energy use, not less.

    I think you can absolutely conclude that government-mandated energy efficiency tends to encourage more energy use. It's more of a coin flip with energy efficiency improvements that happen naturally and organically, without government intervention. It's difficult to predict.

    Several people have claimed that tankless water heaters make them use more hot water, because they don't worry about it running out and are more easily able to fill their hot tubs, take long showers, etc.

    Note that, e.g., all the high speed rail projects try to sell themselves as saving energy-- but also depend on a lot of projected induced travel in order to make their revenue numbers. Even if you save energy per passenger-mile, if you increase the number of passenger-miles, it's not really saving energy.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    Note that, e.g., all the high speed rail projects try to sell themselves as saving energy-- but also depend on a lot of projected induced travel in order to make their revenue numbers. Even if you save energy per passenger-mile, if you increase the number of passenger-miles, it's not really saving energy.


    Even so,. more passenger-miles for a given amount of energy is surely better than fewer passenger-miles for a given amount of energy.

    Why is there so much fuss abiout conserving energy, as if it is somehow qualitatively different than saving labor, rent, or taxes?

  • #||

    because its being forced to save energy at the expence of paying more in real terms on taxes, labor, rent, etc.

  • Jersey Patriot||

    This is commonly known as Jevons Paradox.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    It would apply to efficiency in other areas.

    Efficient land use leading to more production per square foot would encourage the use of more land.

    Efficient labor use leading to more production per worker would encourage the use of more labor.

  • rather||

    I won't use them because of the mercury, and the light just sucks

  • Barely Suppressed Rage||

    Cold fusion. We need more federal funding into cold fusion research.

    There is free energy in the phlogiston, I just know it.

  • H man||

    You forgot zero point energy. That is the wave of the future.

  • ||

    Seriously, if we come up with a clean, very low-cost energy process, there will be consequences to that, not all of them good. Lot of heat to deal with if we're all using tons of energy.

  • ||

    Speaking of fusion, can there be anything more frustrating? Aside from the moving "just twenty years away" business, there's also waking up daily to a giant fusion reactor in the sky. That's like a big Nelsonian "Ha, ha!" from nature and/or God.

  • ||

    Legalization and Fusion: Always 'Just 20 Years Away'

  • ||

    Maybe that's why neither has happened--they're inexorably linked.

  • ||

    Meanwhile, members of Congress are lobbying the administration to release supplies from the Strategic Reserve, to put a cap on prices.

  • ||

    They came through week before last on a green energy drive and replaced all the bulbs, ballasts and fixtures in our building. The lights are now so bright in my office, they are only turned on when I want to horrifying people with how bright they are. I work with my overhead lights off all day.

    ENERGY SAVINGS!

  • ||

    Are they brighter than the sun? Give me your address there.

  • ||

    When the Hamiltonian Tan dies, we should research his skin. I believe it is a 100% efficient absorber of solar energy.

  • ||

    Hamilton died 20 years ago. His stored reserves of solar energy that's sustained him since.

  • ||

    Plausible.

  • ||

    Fucking scarce resources- how do they work?

  • ||

    I work with my overhead lights off all day.

  • ||

    Fucking squirrels.

  • ||

    Larry Eisenberg, SUPER genius.

    "Larry Eisenberg had a vision. "Amazing," he called it. "Spectacular."

    The Los Angeles Community College District would become a paragon of clean energy. By generating solar, wind and geothermal power, the district would supply all its electricity needs. Not only would the nine colleges sever ties to the grid, saving millions of dollars a year, they would make money by selling surplus power. Thanks to state and federal subsidies, construction of the green energy projects would cost nothing upfront.

    As head of a $5.7-billion, taxpayer-funded program to rebuild the college campuses, Eisenberg commanded attention. But his plan for energy independence was seriously flawed.

    He overestimated how much power the colleges could generate. He underestimated the cost. And he poured millions of dollars into designs for projects that proved so impractical or unpopular they were never built.

    These and other blunders cost nearly $10 million that could have paid for new classrooms, laboratories and other college facilities, a Times investigation found."

  • ||

    California doesn't deserve its weather. We should seize it.

  • ||

    The weather or California? Either way, I'm with you.

  • ||

    We just steal their weather. And replace it with Maine's.

  • ||

    So, my senior year in college, I go to Maine for the better part of a week on vacation. In August. It was around 80°, so we spent some time at the beach. Then I went into the water.

  • ||

    What's it like when your junk makes a fist?

  • ||

    Not so bad.

    Now, when your junkfist starts punching you, that's a problem.

  • ||

    Considering that I have endured cold mountain streams yet found Maine's excuse for an ocean unbearably chilling, well, I think Maine shouldn't be allowed to have beachfront anymore.

    On the plus side, cheap lobster!

  • Zeb||

    I have pretty much never been in the ocean south of Cape Cod, so to me, ocean water is just supposed to be that cold. I tend to forget that salt water can actually be warm. I prefer the rocks to the beach anyway.

  • ||

    Thus we see an example of a defense mechanism at work. Observe this specimen carefully, students.

  • Zeb||

    Is that a response to me? I'm confused.

    Fucking threaded comments, etc.

  • ||

    Yes, it is, though I endorse and support your second statement.

  • Almanian||

    Fucking Ford - my 2011 Super Duty pickup and and 2011 Mustang GT both have WAY more power than the '10 and older models....but ALSO get better gas mileage.

    SO....yup, driving more. And faster (cause it's so FUCKING fun to stomp on the go-fast pedal).

    Those clever bastards - curse you, Ford Motor Company!

    *shakes fist*

  • ||

    Thanks to state and federal subsidies, construction of the green energy projects would cost nothing upfront.

    Ow, fuck!

    That hurt my widdle head!

  • ||

    The feds do print their own money don't they? ;-)

  • JD||

    No, Obama's unicorn shits money for green energy subsidies.

  • ||

    People make decisions based at the margin. As long as the marginal cost of one more unit of something is less than the marginal benefit, they will keep consuming it. In economics you do all these neat calculations and draw lots of pretty graphs and produce analsys that leads to lots of counter intuitive conclusions (like increasing the fuel efficiency of cars will actually increase the demand for gas and miles driven because it increases the marginal value of each gallon you put in your car).

    But to understand this requires rational thought. Something that is well beyond the typical NYT reader and certainly the typical environmentalists.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    But to understand this requires rational thought. Something that is well beyond the typical NYT reader and certainly the typical environmentalists.


    How is it that environmentalists are so ignorant of these things?

  • ||

    Their calculations have an emotion variable most science avoids.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: John,

    As long as the marginal cost of one more unit of something is less than the marginal benefit, they will keep consuming it.


    The assumption that seems to drive the article is that people will consume more gas as their cars become more efficient, but they seem to forget that people's TIME is also a good, and that people face opportunity costs when it comes to where they choose to drive. For this reason, I do not believe the direct relation more efficiency = more usage stands on its own. Certainly as the cost of gas decreases, people will be enticed to use BIGGER and more comfortable vehicles, and when gas prices increase, people settle for more efficient cars. But that does NOT translate to sudden changes in the DISTANCES they drive.

    I mean, really, are people suddenly going to become traveling gypsies just because their vehicles are more efficient? Are they also suddenly more efficient with their time? That's not how it works.

  • ||

    No they will not be traveling gypsys. But millions of people will make all kinds of small decisions like living just a little farther from work, driving on one or two trips that they wouldn't have otherwise that when taken in the aggregate will make a big difference.

  • ||

    This was even better: I actually schadenfreudegasm reading it.

    "Dozens of District residents who installed solar panels on their homes under a government grant program promoting renewable energy have been told they will not be reimbursed thousands of dollars as promised because the funds were diverted to help close a citywide budget gap."

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/.....02910.html

  • ||

    "But, but... don't libertarians believe in contracts? A government promise is a verbal contract!"

  • ||

    Unfortunately, they didn't stiff my staffer and his partner, in their $1 million+ home and $300K+ annual income, who had a $40K solar array installed basically for free, with all of the handouts (and would not have gotten the system without the handouts).

    Oh, and he firmly believes "the rich" don't pay enough taxes. In his case, I agree.

  • ||

    I shouldn't laugh. But I will.

  • x,y||

    "I'm not ready to throw a Molotov cocktail at the D.C. government, but I'm very disappointed," Levy said. That money "is my backup fund I use in case of sickness, my safety fund."

    Just awesome. Envirohipster spends his safety net on solar panels.

  • ||

    I'm finally going to replace all my incandescent bulbs with CFLs. Gonna save so much money on my electric bill that I'll be able to fly out to Vegas two weekends per year.

  • Old Mexican||

    "While there's no doubt that fuel-efficient cars burn less gasoline per mile, the lower cost at the pump tends to encourage extra driving."


    You mean people would drive twice their way to work just for the hell of it?

    This is what happens when people lack at least some basic training in economics. A more fuel-efficient car will entice people to choose more OPTIONS as to WHERE to drive, but that does not mean they will be driving MORE always. Marginal Utility - helloooooo!

    "There's also an indirect rebound effect as drivers use the money they save on gasoline to buy other things that produce greenhouse emissions, like new electronic gadgets or vacation trips on fuel-burning planes"


    OMG, people actually making choices with their money! The world will come to an end!!

  • Kristian Holvoet||

    Interesting. So we are lighting as much area as we can afford. If we make lighting cheaper, we light can and (apparently) will light more areas. How can all the geniuses have missed that?

    I mean, compare the night time photos of North Korea, Eastern Europe and Europe. Cheaper / more reliable lighting => More lighting.

    The sad thing is this is news.

    It also is why opening up ANWR, increasing yield from oils sands/shale, and so on will INCREASE demand for oil.

    And god forbid we get room temp super conductors before green power generation increases (this would reduce transmission loss of power, the demand would skyrocket).

  • Old Mexican||

    "Conclusion: Energy efficiency tends to encourage more energy use, not less. Assuming man-made global warming is a big problem, increased energy efficiency is not likely to be a big part of the solution to it."


    Which is why we should all go back to using wood-fired pits for our energy consumption - you cannot get less efficient than that... Imagine just how much the world would be saved!!!!

  • ||

    Yeah, fuck all that improved standard of living. If only people died at 40 like they used to. Think of the energy savings!

  • JD||

    Think of the healthcare and Social Security savings!

  • lurker||

    The New Yorker had a pretty good article on this topic in their Dec 20 & 27 issue:

    http://www.newyorker.com/repor....._fact_owen

    (Subscription required for full text.)

  • Chris Lindsay||

    "Energy Efficiency Can Make The Environment Worse Off" because "making energy so much cheaper that people demand and use more of it."

    What fallacy is this, "denying the correlative?" or something similar?

    If you make anything cheaper, then it'll be used more. Why? Not because it's cheaper, but because there's more people using it. And the environment is going to be impacted by the human footprint.

    If 1/4 the world got wiped out by a disease, then instantly the environment improves. No change in efficiency or energy technology, just less people using it.

  • Jennifer||

    I've been stockpiling incandescent lightbulbs, because every CFL or LED light I've tried either gives me a headache, or is just bleak and cheerless and depressing. The hell of it is, even with all-incandescent illumination I'd wager my electricity use/"carbon footprint" is still lower than most households -- I watch TV on a small-screen set from the late 1990s, put on a sweater before I'd turn up the heat, rarely run the AC in summer -- yet some pious fuckhead with a "Respect Mother Earth" bumper sticker on the SUV he drives on his 60-mile commute between his job and his 5,000-square-foot McMansion with big-screen TVs in every room insists that I, reading by the light of a 60-watt bulb here in my little apartment, am chiefly to blame for whatever future electricity shortages might plague us.

  • ||

    Unmutual hoarder!

  • Jennifer||

    An unmutual hoarder who might make a profit after the incandescent ban comes into effect, PL. I don't use 100-watt bulbs for lighting but I've added a few to my stockpile for possible future resale. A friend of mine who lives in Europe tells me that ever since the EU ban on 100-watt bulbs came into effect, the bulbs sell for up to ten times their original price on the black market. (They're also useful in cold climates if your water pipes run along an outside wall; put an unshaded lamp with a 100-watt bulb under your sink, and the heat will ensure the pipes do not freeze.)

    I also have a stockpile of dishwasher detergent with phosphate. It's cool, in a way; I'm reaching the age where I am less interested in all-night parties and more interested in cozy domestic crap, yet even simple things like "illuminating my home" or "loading the dishwasher" now gives me the same badass rebel street cred I used to glean from stunts like "Getting stoned and having sex with my boyfriend on the altar of the chapel where Father Whosis broadcasts his weekly televised Mass."

    Good times, good times.

  • ||

    You could sell them on European eBay right now.

  • Jennifer||

    I'd rather wait until I can sell them on American eBay, because most eBay bidders calculate the shipping costs into their bids; if I think "I'll pay up to $30 for this item" but the shipping cost is $9, that means I will only bid $21. Once American eBayers are willing to pay the same price as Europeans for a 100-watt bulb, the lower costs to ship within America means higher profits for me. Woo-hoo!

    Sure wish I'd stockpiled enough phosphate detergent to sell, though. That goes for CRAZY prices on Amazon.

  • ||

    Don't be so sure. I know some eBay sellers who specialize in overseas transactions, and they get high markups and pass the cost of shipping on to the buyers. People are crazy. Of course, the sellers I know are dealing in name-brand apparel, which is a different market.

  • Highway||

    One day I was wearing my 'Pave the Planet!' T-shirt that, as a roadway designer, I find amusing. Some self-absorbed wannabe hippie driving a Mercedes looks at it, gets a horrified look on his face and says "Pave the planet??? That's terrible. Why would you want to hurt the environment so much? I drive 50 miles every day so that I can live close to nature!!!"

    Some people just don't get it...

  • Cyto||

    Although I agree with your sentiment, I'd be willing to bet that your small screen TV uses more power than a 52 inch LED tv. ----

    A quick check with google shows that the first LED 52 inch TV I came across uses 95 watts. The best I could come up with in 60 seconds for a CRT TV showed rough equivalence with 1999 25 inch TV - could be more, could be less. So on second thought I won't take that bet. Still, with a dozen years of development you can get much, much more display area for the same power use. Pretty impressive.

  • Jennifer||

    There's also the energy cost of making a new TV in the first place; even if an LED TV uses less electricity than my old CRT, it takes energy to MAKE the new TV, so if I throw away a workable old TV to buy an energy-efficient new one, that's still a net increase in my energy consumption. So I intend to keep my old TV until it reaches the point where it no longer works.

  • ||

    Was a sad day when by 1992 Sony Trinatron finally died 3 years ago. Ride that muthafucka till the wheels fall off.

  • Chris Lindsay||

    The same goes for any innovation and efficiency...food, shelter, etc. The more it becomes efficient, the more it'll be used, which will have impact on the environment.

    I must be missing something, and I apologize if I am...but this whole article seems like an Argument from Logic Stretching.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Chris Lindsay,

    I must be missing something, and I apologize if I am...but this whole article seems like an Argument from Logic Stretching.


    It is stretching logic a wee bit too much. Efficiency means doing more with less (or with the same.) In the case of a more efficient car, it would mean moving the same distances you previously traveled but less times at the pump. That's it.

    In the case of CFLs, more energy efficiency would not necessarily mean people would use MORE electricity, as just how many bulbs can you install in a fucking house? I installed pretty much the SAME AMOUNT of bulbs in MY apartment as there are available sockets, because I don't want to turn my house into a Goddamned AIRPLANE FINDING SPOTLIGHT. One more unit of light is NOT going to make one Goddamned difference to me (marginal utility works in mysterious ways...), so from where do these "economists" come up with the canard that more energy efficiency = more usage?

  • Jennifer||

    One more unit of light is NOT going to make one Goddamned difference to me (marginal utility works in mysterious ways...), so from where do these "economists" come up with the canard that more energy efficiency = more usage?

    From history, among other things. I recall reading another article on this theme some months ago: when gaslights were first invented, contemporary journalists reported that they were intensely bright and dazzling, almost blinding ... yet a gaslight only emitted as much illumination as a 25-watt incandescent. By modern standards, even people like me who are somewhat photosensitive think "A room illuminated by a single 25-watt bulb" is too dim for comfort, yet ~150 years ago that same level of indoor illumination would make people exclaim over how dazzlingly bright your home is.

  • Your Majesty||

    Low-flow toilets turned Mr. Hankey from a one-flush to a five-flush. Thank you, Al Gore!

  • ||

    so from where do these "economists" come up with the canard that more energy efficiency = more usage?

    Assuming efficiency = lower cost, from the same place they get the wacky idea that people will use more of something as the cost goes down.

  • 16th amendment||

    Another issue that I've been thinking about are digital frames versus printed photos. People say you save the environment by not printing paper. But then you have electricity usage to run the digital frame, as well as the energy to make the digital frame itself. But on the other hand you get the convenience of being able to change the photos as often as you want.

    Say you keep a frame at work. I read that a frame is 10W. Say you keep it on for 8 hours and turn it completely off for the remaining time, not standby. So the energy per day is 0.010*8=0.080 kwH. 5 days per work-week, 4 weeks per month, or 1.6 kwH per month. And 10 cents a kwH, that's only 16 cents.

    At snapfish, a 5x7 costs 79 cents. Plus you have to have it shipped to you, and I didn't factor that, but suppose you do it at the local store where I'm sure it's a little bit more. It could end up $1 a picture. I don't know how much of that $1 goes towards energy usage.

    So it looks like if you're gonna have one picture for a long time go with prints. But if you're going to keep changing the picture then go with a digital frame.

    But the cost of a digital frame, about $100 for a decent cheap one, is itself about 100 pictures.

    Also, people don't pay for the electricity they use at work. The company does.

  • 16th amendment||

    One of the new laws that drives me crazy is the push towards paper bags, enforced at the city level through new laws banning evil plastic bags. People think they're being green by using paper bags, which will degrade over time. But:

    (1) Most modern plastic bags are now biodegradable. One of the grocery stores here offers recycling of paper bags with the recycle sign.

    (2) Manufacturing a paper bag consumes more energy. I read that producing a paper bag consumes 1 gallon of water, 50 times more water than producing a paper bag.

    (3) Transporting newly created paper bags to the grocery store costs more money because paper bags occupy more space.

    So which is better?

    The most logical answer for the government is to tax bags to encourage the use of reusable cotton bags (which don't need double bagging and don't break). Some grocery stores already give you 5 cents back, although Trader Joes does not.

  • 16th amendment||

    One of the new laws that drives me crazy is the push towards paper bags, enforced at the city level through new laws banning evil plastic bags. People think they're being green by using paper bags, which will degrade over time. But:

    (1) Most modern plastic bags are now biodegradable. One of the grocery stores here offers recycling of paper bags with the recycle sign.

    (2) Manufacturing a paper bag consumes more energy. I read that producing a paper bag consumes 1 gallon of water, 50 times more water than producing a paper bag.

    (3) Transporting newly created paper bags to the grocery store costs more money because paper bags occupy more space.

    So which is better?

    The most logical answer for the government is to tax bags to encourage the use of reusable cotton bags (which don't need double bagging and don't break). Some grocery stores already give you 5 cents back, although Trader Joes does not.

  • Neu Mejican||

    A couple of comments.

    Efficiency is good, regardless of the macro-economic effects on overall energy usage.

    The rebound effect, (as mentioned in the article) is more important in the production sector than the consumer sector. More efficient consumer goods do not have a rebound effect for reasons already noted (I can only vacuum my house sooo much, or I am unlikely to double my driving because I get twice the gas milage, etc...).

    No one that I have seen promoting energy efficiency as an important piece of the overall energy picture has marketed it as THE SOLUTION. It is most often paired with other factors such as pricing of pollution (e.g., carbon taxes), or as a way of making less efficient, but cleaner, energy production options viable. If you don't need the energy density of fossil fuels to do the work you need to get done, you may cut them out of your process. Most often this requires higher energy efficiency. As an example, Lovins talks about designing energy efficient housing that doesn't need an active heating and cooling system AT ALL. In these cases, the efficiency increase is unlikely to have the rebound effect because it has transformed the way you approach the problem.

    I do find the think tank that did this to be an odd group. Their agenda is less than clear, but they seem to be using this report to promote the idea of subsidizing zero-carbon energy production. I wonder if they see the work of Lovins et. al as a threat to that agenda.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    Efficiency is good, regardless of the macro-economic effects on overall energy usage.


    It depends on the costs of efficiency.

    Surely it makes no business sense to use a ten million dollar engine that gets 150 miles per gallon, even at current gas prices.

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