Paved with good intentions: When energy efficiency backfires

Right now, I'm reading The Conundrum by David Owen. It's a really interesting book about some of the unintended consequences of the way we approach sustainability and environmentalism.

I'm going to post a full review soon, once I get all the way through it, but so far Owen is making a couple of key points: One that I agree with, and one I think he's oversimplifying a bit. I agree with this: You can't shop your way out of climate change. The tendency to turn environmentalism into a set of luxury lifestyle choices is a huge problem—doing nothing to solve our energy issues and perpetuating an idea that sustainability is "for" some people and not for others.

Owen also talks a lot about the rebound effect (or, as it's sometimes called, Jevons Paradox)—a very real problem that affects our ability to reduce emissions caused by energy use. Basically, it works like this: when you reduce energy use through energy efficiency, you get the same amount of work for less energy investment. That's good. But saving energy also saves money. That saved money often ends up spent in ways that consume energy. In the end, some measure of the energy you thought you saved through energy efficiency ends up not actually being saved. It just got consumed in another place. The result is good for the economy, but maybe not so good for the climate, depending on how the energy in question was produced.

So far, Owen seems to be taking the position that the rebound effect will always negate all the environmental benefits of energy efficiency programs. From the research I did while working on Before the Lights Go Out , my upcoming book on the future of energy, that's probably not correct. Like I say, I'm not done with Owen's book yet, so I'll let you know what he has to say on this issue in more detail later. But I wanted to bring it up now as an excuse to link to an in-depth FAQ on the rebound effect that I co-authored with Karen Turner, an economist who is one of the few people actually studying how the rebound effect works in the real world.

A lot of the statements made about the rebound effect are based on "common sense" logic and computer models that don't necessarily portray consumer behavior in a realistic way. People like Turner, who do empirical research on the subject, present a more nuanced view.

This FAQ—which is basically a transcript of my first interview with Turner, done 2010—will help you understand why rebound happens, why it's not strictly a bad thing, and what (if anything) we can do to make energy efficiency a useful tool in the fight against climate change.

Read The Rebound Effect: Some Questions Answered

Shameless plug: My book, Before the Lights Go Out , comes out April 10th!

Image: Efficient, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from trekkyandy's photostream


  1. When my company went to a 4-day work week, we got an award from the county for saving energy, and everyone spent their Fridays driving all over the place.

  2. There is quite a lack of logic in some of the energy saving options we are offered. We have a gravity furnace dating to the 1940s; sometime called a floor furnace. It is the least efficient gas furnace. It could be changed out for a modern high efficiency furnace. But it hasn’t been because when the electricity goes out, it still works. The wonderful high efficiency one is toast without electricity. So far there isn’t a furnace with a fallback mode to produce heat without electricity. Solve that problem and my resistance to change would go away.
    The generation of electricity is inefficient in that plants of marginal efficiency are brought on line to cover the peak load period. Any scheme that would store power during off-peak periods and make it available at peak would be beneficial. In some small hydro plants the excess off-peak power is used to pump water back up into the reservoir that drives the generators.
    The most important task is reducing load. We can’t go on increasing capacity. Time of day metering and rates may have some impact.

    1. Depending on the efficiency of the current gravity furnace, upgrading to something modern might save you enough to install a backup generator for the whole house…

      1. Given that it’s a 70 year old furnace, I’m gonna guess the efficiency is about as close to zero as you can get and still have something that warms your house up.  

        1.  It might not be as bad as you think.  My house has an American Standard boiler heating cast iron radiators.  While I am guessing it’s only around 40 years old it’s efficiency is on par with the cheapest boiler you can buy today, a little above 60%.

          -My house has a whole lot more issues than an inefficient heating system….like windows that let the breeze blow in for one.  (I’m working on it, albeit slowly.)

    2.  I work at a pump-hydro storage facility as an electrical engineer. Our end to end efficiency is 77%. I came here to learn how this place works, because I think it could be the future of storing industrial wind power when it goes to higher levels of penetration. However, the economics are dying because there is less and less off-peak involuntary power production. Fossil steam plants are can’t be started up and shut down quickly, nuke plants have sweet spots for generation – usually a minimum % of capacity they should be run at – and run of the river hydro is captured or isn’t when the water is there, so all of these created that off-peak power market. Gas fired turbines are eliminating this.

  3. Energy efficiency means “do more with less”. Do more work with less energy, in this case. Doing more with less is a good thing unless it’s applied to people. Which is, of course, where “doing more with less” is most often invoked.

    Arguing against energy efficiency (as a design goal) is ludicrous. Which (scanning the link) it appears was not the intent of the originators.  

    (Falling for scams masquerading as energy efficient is something else. Caveat emptor. Or sue. )

  4. I wonder what the entropy differential is between debt and and savings? 

    Let’s say I save $1000/ year in energy efficiency, of which, $500 pays off a credit card and $500 goes into a savings fund. The fund manager then leverages that $500 into $5000 of derivates. Due to lack of negative feedback (called regulation), the fund oscillates out of control contributing to a global financial meltdown putting people like me out of work. I spend months twiddling thumbs; wasting my productive years drinking more efficiently chilled beer. Sign me up!

      1. No, I’m in a second floor condo on Arrakis. My best shot at a harvest would be nopales and tequila.

  5. The current solution, a world wide recession that puts energy consumption out of the reach of 99% of the population, seems like the best alternative. Pay rent, pay cable, eat ramen. No rebound available.

    1. Remember, you have the option to voluntarily lead the way on this. No reason to wait for the six billionth monkey.

  6. My apartment has a steam heater from the 1940’s that makes the building ridiculously hot.  Every evening when I get home I have to open the windows to let the heat out.

    There’s definitely a certain point where you can “shop your way out of climate change” simply because your current appliances are insanely inefficient.

    As for the notion that environmentally friendly appliances are “luxury lifestyle,” that seems very short-sighted.  Innovation is always expensive when it’s new and becomes cheaper over time.

  7. To pinpoint the original idea, with an open and informed mind, one can take a look at the hybrid, or total electric automobile and understand the delicate balance that is “saving energy.”

    Energy is 1, and right now we seem to only know how to get to that number with a very limited means.

  8. Time. So many devices from minute to massive, have been created to “free up our time”. It hasn’t worked, no one’s life in the United States is easier, we still have a rush-hour that last three, an hour set aside to be happy, rest periods, quite rooms, and entirely too many Time Management “games”; portions of society have been brainwashed into  playing online CHORES and buying a life when they fail. Something isn’t right in this world. 

    1. ask someone who grew up in the 20’s 30’s 40’s  what day to day life was like , i think you will find it is much easier .

    2. I’d modify this somewhat… rather than time, I’d say leisure motivates invention.  I wonder though if there is a corollary(?) to Jevon’s Paradox: any innovation that lightens the load, enables management to add more load.

  9. I am a big proponent of carbon sequestration. Best plan I have is to grow kudzu, okra, hemp, ailanthus trees, and then cut them down and dump them into the Great Lakes where they will not decompose and eventually be silted over. But what about carbon release from transportation? What about the need to replenish the soil with energy intensive refined phosphates?

    I live in an area seriously threatened by global warming. I couple feet of sea level rise and Galveston could not survive the next Ike level storm.  Oh well, I guess we can just build more levees and dikes, but building surge levees east of Houston coupled with the existing retention levees west of Houston would make us into the next New Orleans, which will be gone in a hundred years anyway.

        1.  It’s utterly delicious in bhindi do pyaza. Also delicious, but less healthy, breaded and deep fried.

          But I suspect growing it for food wouldn’t accomplish the goal of carbon sequestration.

  10. Maggie, I am a PhD student in the Energy and Resources Group at UC Berkeley and I study energy efficiency opportunities and related policy, particularly in buildings. I say all this just so you know where I’m coming from and that I’ve definitely given the issues you are raising here some serious thought. The question of rebound / takeback / backfire /Jevon’s Paradox has been around for a long time and it has not been resolved to anyone’s satisfaction. However, you must understand that while the concept is inherently economic in nature, the topic of rebound effects should not be considered the exclusive domain of economists.

    GCM models are famously sensitive to the assumptions behind their structure and economists are famous among social scientists and, increasingly, the general public for assuming behaviors that are not representative of how real people make (or fail to make) decisions. For example, GCM outputs are used on both sides of every “jobs numbers” debate in part because they can be coaxed into showing wildly different outcomes within a range of reasonable sounding inputs. Econometric analyses, like those that Turner does (BTW, I read your interview and she seems thoughtful and careful in her treatment of the subject), are legitimate empirical/statistical tools. However, they are heavily dependent on the availability high quality data. In addition, many of the editorial decision that go into econometric model design are matters of opinion (justified by researchers in various ways), not fact. The standard for what assumptions pass muster vary by academic journal and peer reviewers, so all econometric analyses hinge on arguments in favor of  model structures that are at least partially subjective and qualitative in nature. More importantly, regressions themselves can only show correlation (not causation) and even the correlations they do show are famously sensitive to “omitted variables”, which is to say if you don’t have the data you need to include an important piece of the picture or if you choose to leave it out for other reasons, there are no guarantees that an econometric model is capable of answering the questions of correlation you ask of it, to say nothing of whether those correlations imply causation.

    All of this is to say that the opinions of economists on the existence and causes of rebound are just opinions. It is also possible to make headway on the problem by applying some common sense and I encourage you to encourage your readers (on line and in print) to do so.

    Here’s an important concept: efficiency gains are just one aspect of a much broader process of change enabled by technological progress. When new products and services are invented and brought to market, they can obviously impact energy use. However, in many cases they do so by offering something entirely new. Think about the internet, microwaves, set top DVRs, iPads, wireless networks, digital projectors, and cell phones. For most of us, each of these technologies was either entirely additional to or only partially replaced existing products and services. Our reasons for buying and operating them have little to do with energy costs – we use them because they let us do *new* things. In many cases efficiency gains are in some sense supporting these products (e.g. efficient computing hardware supports battery life and portability), but it would be a bridge too far to suggest that 100% of their existence and use is due to their (efficient) energy use. I think this story of the incredible diversity of products and accelerating innovation in an increasingly globally connected economy is a much stronger candidate for explaining increased emissions than the improved energy performance of products that serve as drop in replacements for technologies that are now familiar to us (like light bulbs, refrigerators, and cars).

    What emerges for me is that rebound is a question of attribution. How do we know when people’s individual energy choices are driven by cost alone? Can we as individuals explain all our consumptive decisions according to some coherent world view? What impacts would we measure in a world where new products are not constantly confounding our attempts to define a baseline against which to measure efficiency and rebound effects?

    In sum, it is both superficially obvious that *something* else happens when people participate in *anything* that saves them money and completely not obvious that efficiency in particular explains more about our changing patterns of consumption than anything else. That being said, some particular cases for rebound effects have far more plausible stories than others. These are often in the industrial or commercial sectors of the economy and are all too frequently to only evidence cited to support far greater claims about efficiency. Think about aluminum production, which lives and dies by electricity prices. Efficiency gains at aluminum plants would no doubt improve the economics of aluminum production, increase production, drive down prices, etc. I have no doubt in my mind that aluminum production is subject to rebound effects related to energy efficiency. However, energy efficiency as most people encounter it in their daily lives has to do with appliances, cars, etc. What role do energy costs play for your watching TV, running your refrigerator, running your wireless network, talking on your cell phone, etc.? If your answer, like mine, is “essentially not at all or very little,” then you can take comfort in knowing that you are in the good company of most other “consumers”. Even though economists euphemistically suggest that those of us not ruled by energy price signals are suffering from “bounded rationality”, I would submit that clinging to a definition of rationality that flies in the face of common sense represents a form of “bounded humanity” and that’s probably worse.

  11. One must be careful when citing “Jevon’s paradox” which, much like “Zeno’s paradox”, bends your mind until you consider the practical outcomes.  The outcomes of Jevon’s paradox have people leaving refrigerator doors open all the time because they are so efficient, and installing high powered lighting in their house that is left on continuously, or running efficient dishwashers daily with only a plate and a fork in there due to perceived efficiency gains.  It turns out that efficiency does not induce demand, to be brief.

    At any rate, this is actually a fairly discredited position (with respect to the above poster), and has been agreed upon by Stanford’s Precourt institute and UC Berkeley’s Business School (amongst others).  Much like any topic, one can find dissenters, or publish books with snazzy titles, but that doesn’t mean the dispute is real.  I’d encourage the boing boing readers to search around more broadly and then reconsider the material presented here.

    1.  There’s one place where I can think of where this is true. Look at where your gadgets are at night… it’s a constellation of LED’s that are probably on all of the time. In my house, it’s actually enough to navigate my living room in the dark.  Would anyone leave a 25W light bulb on at night? Probably not. Those LED’s are mostly not needed, but they are always on, and say 25 of them are 7 or 8 watts. Since these are so “low cost” in electricity terms, they’ve led to them proliferating. Each one is nothing, but get enough gadgets and you’ve actually got a measureable amount of power used for nothing but standing by.

        1.  Ok… seriously? I’m an electrical engineer. I became one just to work in renewables. I have a strong interest in efficiency. I also live in a very rural area that has no cell phone coverage. I have a device that gives me a localized cell signal – but it takes about 30 min to start up after it gets an IP address. I’ve got line of site wireless internet.

          I think I’m a sensible person. As such, I think it’s reasonable for the manufacturers of these devices to limit or eliminate the standby power draw of these devices (and optimize the working draw of them). This is being pushed now through Energy  Star, but I don’t believe it is mandated yet. There’s no reason that these devices have to draw watts while doing nothing, when microcontrollers can draw milli or microwatts to do monitoring. The power costs are minimal, so consumers are never going to drive this… and the manufacturers are never going to want to spend the extra $1-5 a unit to do it.

          I use a smart power adaptor for my laptop, but I’m not thinking of shelling out that kind of money everywhere.

          1. I can only assume that this is a cultural/geographical thing.  But in the UK, if you care about saving power and money, then you turn everything off at night.  There are campaigns for it, and most electronics left on standby use a significant amount of power, and in some cases just as much power as if they’re on (Tivo and Virgin Media boxes etc, are a good example of this – the one I have uses 1 watt less on standby than when it’s on).

            Not that I don’t appreciate the specifics of your example.

            I agree, however, that the responsibility is on the manufacturer.  But for me, turning off a couple plug sockets when I go to bed isn’t enough hassle for me to not bother.  I think my router is the only thing that I never turn off (comparable with your example), well that and the fridge.

            Funnily enough I talk somewhere else on this comment thread about the power of awareness campaigns and how they’re more effective than simple changes in cost – I think this is a great demonstration of this.

  12. I think Jevon’s paradox doesn’t quite exist because the cost to entry is too high.

    People who buy a Prius aren’t likely to be squandering the efficiency on road trips and imported junk. They are likely spending their savings on local groceries, organic cotton clothing, free trade coffee, and those damn carbon offset stickers at Whole foods. The difference in cost between a conventional vehicle and a hybrid or fully electrical vehicle is too high to justify in fuel savings alone, so they are primarily purchased by individuals making a lifestyle choice. The missing part of the equation is the unquantifiable value they place on the feel-good quality of helping the environment and the look-good quality of appearing to help the environment.

    Once all is added up the world is probably a better place. Less emissions, better technology, and a growing market for greener products is very good for the world, however, it is about time they confess their dirty little secret; conspicuous consumption drives the green movement, for better or for worse. 

    1.  Yep. I garden, have solar, and buy meat from a local organic farm. I’ve also got a TDI Jetta that gets 42 mpg. The money I save on power (and fuel due to biodiesel) I spend on really high priced meat… which I think is the true cost of my food, and goes to that farmer having the standard of living I think is needed for a young person to want to choose farming over say… being a trader on wall st. She’s (the farmer) got similar values.  So while there’s money left over from efficiencies and choices like this, it doesn’t necessarily feed the kind of consumption that’s a problem. 

      1. I would echo this, except good food shouldn’t (and needn’t) be expensive, the veg I buy at local farmers markets is better and cheaper than at a supermarket, who pay less for their product. It’s about supply chains, not wages.

        1.  Depends on what kind of food you want. The farmer local to me follows the kinds of practices talked about in section 3 of the Omnivore’s Dilemma – “grass farming”. She uses no machinery, and has 120 acres, of which only 60 are recovered from being brush at this point, but her methods are highly sustainable. They are also highly labor intensive. They are also sustainable in post-peak oil situation. They are not cheap unless the people making the food I eat need to be basically slaves. My father grew up on a farm in Ireland, and when I moved up here told me “don’t even think of becoming a farmer… you’ll never work so hard for so little money.” (We have a place in upstate NY with 122 acres that’s a former dairy.)

          Well, in upstate NY as the average age trends towards the 50’s or 60’s, I think the only way that organic food as a whole will be long run sustainable is if the profession is highly attractive. I mean, I don’t want to be up at 5am in February to milk cows… and then work 12-16 hours of physical labor. Judging on the population drain up here, most other people don’t either. To scale the kind of sustainable food a lot of people want is going to require more than just the organic equivalent of industrial farming, and that’s going to cost real money. Like the kind of money percentage wise that people normally paid for food back in the Mad Men era.

          1. Admittedly I don’t eat meat, so certain aspects of ‘organic’ classification are a little alien to me.

            I’m more referring to the nuts and bolts, i.e. not using environmentally damaging pesticides, rather than live-stock care.

            However I appreciate that the term ‘organic’ has a different meaning depending on both context and geographical location.

    2. This makes sense in the specific Prius case, but not in plenty of cases where the less-well-off gain increased efficiency.

      What about a city providing better insulations in project housing? The extra money saved on heating bills could go a long way for many people — some of it to high-energy-consuming activities.

      This isn’t an argument against efficiency, but it’s wrong to think of Jevon’s paradox, and efficiency in general, as only going towards Priuses.

  13. Seems to me that some folks are missing the obvious solution: make energy cost more.

    Yes, we’re making great strides in energy efficiency in a variety of places. There will always be motivation to do so.

    But one of our biggest problems in terms of the effects energy consumption has on the world is that we have _always_ failed to pay the true cost of energy.

    At a first approximation, we could simply raise energy prices exactly in the same amount as the average efficiency gains, to maintain the status quo in terms of what people spend to accomplish a certain amount of work.

    Even better though would be to perform some real economic analysis to quantify all of the actual costs related to energy production, and embed that into what we pay for energy. This includes (but is hardly limited to) costs to bring power plants up to modern efficiency and pollution standards and capabilities, costs to protect energy sources not under our own control (e.g. the Middle East), and the costs to accommodate the consequences of climate change (e.g. building dikes, relocating lowland populations and structures, reduced crop yields, etc.).

    We pay so little of the real cost of energy today, it’s laughable. It’s time to fix that. In fact, if we did fix that, all of the other stuff would “just work”.

    Raise energy prices as efficiency improves, and the “paradox” just evaporates.

    1. Energy costs more every year; all it translates to is people having less money.

      It’s a silly argument to assert that increasing the cost of something results in less uptake – governments make lots of money making this very same argument with regards to alcohol, tobacco, and soon, sugar.

      1. It’s silly to argue that increasing the cost of something doesn’t result in less uptake.

        Take alcohol, which you mentioned. Studies have shown that increased alcohol taxes lead to decreased alcohol consumption.

        Or take a more pertinent example: gasoline prices. Studies have shown that increased gas prices lead to decreased driving.

        What you’re talking about is price elasticity. Certain things, like smoking, have a very low price elasticity, so changing the price doesn’t affect consumption much. It remains to be seen what the price elasticity of home energy is. Certainly it isn’t zero — when the cost of energy is high, it’s trivially easy to lower the thermostat a couple degrees.

        1. They’ve been trying the expensive alcohol trick in the UK for years, and our alcohol problems just seem to keep getting worse – I guess there are other factors involved.

          IMO peoples reaction to fuel and energy prices is as much from awareness campaigns as much as anything – when people are constantly telling you how expensive something is you’re likely to be more cautious – whereas if the prices increase without media fan fair, and even if the consumer notices it, I would assert that their reaction would often be different.

          So perhaps you’re right when looking at the bigger picture; but I think it’s a little more complex than simply making something more expensive – people need to be told that it’s significant.

  14. Load growth is an aspect of energy efficiency that I haven’t seen addressed very often.  If you look back at the projections of energy loads in the 1970s after the first oil shock, you’ll see that most the forecasts said the US would be using 200 quads or more by now.  To my knowledge, only Amory Lovins was projecting an energy budget of around 100 quads, which is about where we are today.

    Now the conventional wisdom is forecasting 200 to 300 quads of energy by 2050.  Amory thinks it will be more like 150 quads, at much higher efficiencies.  The rebound effect is insignificant within that context.

    What we found when the local solar association was doing solar barnraisings back in the 1970s was that the people who put solar in had more energy savings than originally estimated.  The suspicion is that their attention to the energy issue changed their behavior, an upward bounding effect.

    1.  Yep, I just went through this on installing solar. As I’ve told people I’ve installed, first step is efficiency, so you can install less panels. I redid all of my lights, my fridge, a well pump, and some other stuff (probably would have happened anyway like a new larger chest freezer that consumes 60% of what the old one did.) However, I’m helping other people install now, and the difference in attitude from when I installed ($3.50/w for panels) and now (say $1.25 or $1.50 w) is pretty incredible. I put in 3550 kW, with the intention of staying on that budget (I also have batteries, so my storage limits things too.) The people I’m helping now are upstate NY conservatives (!) who are looking at systems of 10kW…

      Now, as he can afford it, I’m kinda like, who cares? His load is covered. He’s probably going to produce a surplus. But there definitely was a price point which we seem to have passed already where the cost of solar is low enough for people who don’t care about the environment to install solar – a good thing – but the panel cost vs the overall labor and other equipment costs is low enough that efficiency is no longer a necessary first step for financial reasons. OTOH, this author is wrong that this will go on infinitely. If the energy returned on energy invested to make the panels is covered, my coworker’s load is “permanently” (say 20-40 years) removed from the grid. He’s not going to buy another fridge or freezer to soak up his surplus.

  15. “The tendency to turn environmentalism into a set of luxury lifestyle choices is a huge problem”

    Why is nobody talking about this?  This should be the headline for a boingboing story to match every _____saving gadget we drool over.

    1. Because it’s not an easy problem to solve.

      Organic food costs more, fairtrade costs more, efficiency costs more.

      The first 2 are because less people are farming in this way; it’s ‘novel’, or ‘specialist’.  If companies like Kraft, Pepsi and P&G grew some fucking morals then the prices would be significantly lower, because it would form a standard practice.  There’s no reason tat I should have to pay MORE for a potato that was grown in a way that didn’t destroy the local ecology; nor should I pay more for a banana that was grown without slave labour.  I fully understand the reasons why these products cost more, but that doesn’t mean they’re justified.  Quite frankly if it were up to me it would be illegal to grow fruit/veg in a way that damages the surrounding environment – how radical is that.

      The latter is primarily due to R&D and factors into any technical innovation; new tech costs more – that’s not a problem so much as a matter a fact.

      The first two can be solved though.

  16. When repair costs (the parts alone!) exceeded the price of a new washing machine (planned obsolescence??), we opted to buy a water saving Whirlpool washer.  With sensors to detect water levels in relation to clothes quantity, the machine wasn’t made with the water options of small to extra large load sizes. Instead of saving water, I use more than ever because the automatic system fails. First, the water is never enough to cover the clothes, leaving clothes at the top not getting water on them until midway through the cycle.  Second, I am left with too much detergent residue on my clothes.  (I’ll add that I use HALF the recommended amount of detergent.)  So what’s been my solution? I stand over the washer opening and closing the lid to trick the machine into thinking I’ve added more clothes.  In addition, I run the extra rinse on every cycle, whether they clothes are extremely soiled or not, because of the detergent issue.  In the end, I waste my time and more water is used thanks to the extra rinse cycle.  Further, we use more electricity than ever because the wash cycles are longer. 

    1.  My mom reported the same thing.  At this point if I were looking in to a new washer and dryer I’d certainly go for front loading since it by design uses less water, but I wouldn’t look at getting one of the “water saving” ones.  Water’s freaking cheap.

      1. Water is NOT freaking cheap.  I don’t know where you live or how you get your water, but not everyone lives somewhere that an endless supply of potable water is easily available.  In those cases, a water saving appliance that functions as advertised might be a good investment.  BTW, I catch my washer graywater and use it to water my plants.

  17. Just to take a slightly different tack, I found that when my power went off I had to replace every CFL in the house with a conventional incandescent.  It turns out that 60W of CFL which gives as much light as 100W of incandescent makes the generator use twice as much fuel as 70W of halogen giving as much light as 150W of incandescent.

    I can only put it down to weird power factor losses.  Even putting on a single CFL made the genny throttle up and hammer through fuel.

    1.  CFLs are high voltage/low amperage devices.  Your generator might be having trouble keeping the voltage up — a lot of big-values resistors in your circuit (like CFLs) will tend to drag down the voltage out on your power source.  So it might be that the generator is using more fuel to keep the voltage up rather than to deliver enough power.

      Just a guess, though.  IANAEE

      1.  Yup, it’s the fact that your gen needs to put out reactive power as well as real power, which usually appears in the form of higher voltage requirements. Switch to LED’s. CFL’s have a capacative power factor, and since older meters only measure watts they can look efficient when the apparent power draw is actually a lot higher than their rating. LED’s, OTOH, have a PF pretty close to 1. Depends on the driver electronics of course. (Another thing the gov’t could mandate – initially expensive, it would scale to very small additional costs.) The generator should have an easy time with LEDs. They still cost too much, but hopefully that will also improve with scale.

  18. Efficiency is required. However it takes a change in thinking and some commitment. In line with work events, ours participates in a competition to reduce carbon by using alternative methods for travel for 3 weeks in the summer (walk, bike, carpool, public transpo, etc…).  To which I usually smugly say, I walk every day, and have for the last 10 years, I think I win. The response is usually something like, “yeah but you live like 10min away from work!”, to which I respond “Exactly.” My house is not big, nor is it new or as nice as some, but it is 10min from where I work every day. I own a car I bought new in 2002, and I have 65,000km on it, mostly because I never drive it to work.

  19. The very highest-leverage, lowest-cost energy conservation technology is contraception.

    Support Planned Parenthood

  20. “A lot of the statements made about the rebound effect are based on “common sense” logic and computer models that don’t necessarily portray consumer behavior in a realistic way. People like Turner, who do empirical research on the subject, present a more nuanced view.”

    This is why most economists can be ignored entirely – unless they’re behavioral economists.

  21. Jevon’s Paradox, in Capitalism, is offset by increased features which therefore increase price, which reduce your available funds to consume more energy. In Socialism, Jevon’s Paradox is offset by increased inefficiency and malfeasance that lead to much greater price and alternatives to the ‘new concept’ being sought. Either way, you are out your money, you will have no ‘extra change’ left, and chances are, you won’t actually be efficient in the end, once either system is done with your bank account, anyhow.

    1. Sorry dear.
      We started having 2+ TVs when they were all electricity-gobbling CRTs.

      I can guarantee my new 42-inch LCD uses less power than the 26-inch CRT it replaced, as much as I can guarantee I don’t use it more.

      Also, physical transport mechanisms are more power-hungry than solid-state devices, especially these days, so my old VCR used a lot more power than my DVD player, which used a lot more power than my PVR.

      Also, air conditioning? New air conditioners use so little power compared to their 70s progenitors.

      Finally, the real information in those graphics is in the water heating — largely unchanged in terms of technology, but larger in spite of it. That means our energy usage has in fact gone down.

      Should we still be concerned about greater efficiency? Absolutely. But to claim that all new technology is inefficient waste, no.


      1. You’d be surprised. CRTs are high-voltage low-current vacuum tubes. They don’t really use that much power. TVs drew hundreds of watts back when they had a dozen or more tubes, mostly because of the heaters. Solid-state chassis got it down to about 100W for an average set.

        The biggest power draw in an LCD TV is the backlight, which is essentially a  CCFL or LED lamp. Larger CCFL sets can draw hundreds of watts easily, especially if the set is not calibrated and running at full brightness.

        DLP front/rear projection sets have the lamp, which is about 200W. Plasma scales a lot like a CRT of the same size… so a big plasma set uses more power than the largest CRTs ever did!

  22. No one has presented any data supporting this notion.  This notion is nuts.  Yes people use more gadgets now than they used to.  There certainly is evidence for that.  But what’s being suggested here is that collectively we would all be using less energy if our gadgets each used more power, we burned more fuel heating our homes, and our cars got less miles per gallon.  And that is nuts.

  23. Most energy-efficient technologies are more expensive than their inefficient peers, meaning that the energy cost “saved” really goes into paying for the efficient, higher priced gizmo. Case in point: solar. A solar installation won’t pay for itself in energy savings for 10-15 years. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t invest in efficient technology (considering the lifespan of a solar system is typically longer than 10-15 years, you will eventually be saving money) it just means the idea that more efficient technologies leads to more disposable income in the short term is ludicrous.

    Furthermore, if a consumer is switched-on enough to understand why they should choose energy efficient technologies over inefficient ones they are also more likely to spend any extra disposable income on things which don’t overly contribute to waste or the planet’s demise.
    Just because I choose to buy free range eggs doesn’t mean I can then rationalise buying foie gras. Anyone who thinks that way is, pure and simple, an idiot.

    Edit: I am psyched to read your book Maggie. Can I science-nerd out on you and request you sell signed copies in the BB store?

    Edit 2: I am assuming Wiley wrote the blurb on Amazon. Please tell me the book does not validate the farce that is “clean” coal or, if it does, please point me to any trustworthy information relating to its viability. My current understanding is that it’s a big fat joke.

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