The Economist recently published an excellent article titled Energy efficiency, The elusive negawatt. Example after example show ways that there is a huge opportunity to take advantage of latent energy efficiencies. The article shows how programs and efforts have been successful at decreasing energy consumption in many effective and profitable ways. It quotes analysts who predict that between 50% to 66% of needed greenhouse gas reductions could be averted through efficiency gains.
But the teaser tells the tale of where the article will end up (hint: not where I would have):
If energy conservation both saves money and is good for the planet, why don’t people do more of it?
The answer is found in the final 2 paragraphs:
The culprit is something called the “rebound effect”. Falling demand for electricity or fuel brought on by an efficiency drive should lead to lower prices. But cheaper energy, in turn, is likely to prompt greater consumption, undermining at least some of the original benefits.
And, in a classic example of entirely missing the point of their own article the author states:
[the rebound effect] cancelled out roughly 26% of the gains from energy-efficiency schemes; the other put the figure at 37%. Either way, negawatts are worth pursuing. But they are unlikely to satisfy the world’s thirst for energy to the extent their advocates assume.
What ticks me off here is that the simple last calculation isn’t done.
If the primary effect of conservation through efficiency results in 50% of target greenhouse gas reductions, and the rebound effect reduces that by 37% then conservation should result in 31.5% reduction. If the numbers are 66% primary and 26% rebound then the net would be 48.8% reduction.
Almost as though through clenched teeth and bitten tongue, surrounded by statements that suggest otherwise, the author slips in that “negawatts are worth pursuing”.
Um, yeah. The opportunities don’t require any grand new technology. They don’t require any sacrifice of profits by corporations (quite the contrary) nor do they requires consumers to give up anything (quite the contrary: they are the beneficiaries of the rebound effect!). They are available immediately. Many existing programs show they work. They are obvious and can be simple.
And just so as not to miss the conclusion, perhaps it’s worth emphasizing the numbers:
Energy conservation through efficiency can achieve between 30% and 49% of greenhouse gas reduction targets.
Worth pursuing? Perhaps.