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Bruce F

(1)

Interesting points. Are you familiar with Jevons paradox?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jevons_paradox

Bruce F

(2)

Nevermind, I just saw something in the footnotes. Thanks for the blog!

Courtney C

(3)

Thank you for writing this article and explaining why the energy efficiency madness only creates more problems. Whenever people try to give me long rants about how green energy will save the planet I can refer them to this. For too long I have argued that energy efficiency can only work if society rethinks and backtracks on modern conveniences they refuse to give up. People look at me like I have three heads for insisting on riding my bike or walking instead of driving short distances, using my effective dumb phone instead of constantly buying new ones, building a well insulated small house instead of living in a large house with air conditioning, using an integrated fish pond system to clean my dishes with carp instead of a washing machine, and growing most of my own food to avoid the fuel and plastic waste. If people are willing to be a little imaginative and less lazy we could deal with many of our environmental issues. I won't hold my breath for that.

Jan Steinman

(4)

the advance of solid state lighting (LED), which is six times more energy efficient than old-fashioned incandescent lighting, has not led to a decrease in energy demand for lighting. Instead, it resulted in six times more light.
Ha! Caught me!

I designed a lighting system using copper wire, low-voltage transformers, alligator clips and halogen lights. I had three strings with 150 watts on each. I took pride in providing such "task lighting" instead of "area lighting," and life was good.

Now, 12V MR-16 LED lamps are common and cheap. My spouse wanted more light on the kitchen counter. We had a dark spot in the living room, and we needed to extend one of the strings there, possible only because we could use LEDs instead of halogens.

Bottom line: we have more lights, using the same amount of electricity. Jevon's Paradox is a bitch.

There are practical benefits to doing things this way. My spouse likes "a bright house," not desiring to feel deprivation, leaving the task lighting on in the kitchen "because it brightens the dining room." So much for the benefits of task lighting. Admittedly, getting through a northern winter without a major bout of depressian is aided by plenty of light.

So, do we succumb to "shivering in the dark," or do we take the gift of efficiency (with its ominous, hidden footprint) to improve our mental state?

JK

(5)

Taking aside those virtual savings and the quest to reduce energy use in the EU, I don't understand why we have to connect energy efficiency and saving energy.
To me energy efficiency means only that we can use energy more efficiently. Not that we use less.
Of course defining "efficient" is possible only within some kind of ideological framework, but within one I would say that the problem is not comparing servies, but units.
For example: going fast has greater value than going slow taking into account limited human life, therefore we should compare fuel consumption not against distance, but speed (not J/m but J/(m/s), which translates to Ns istead of N showing visibly that now we only compare how hard we "push" and not how long)
Having said that, I would agree that increasing energy efficiency is not a way to reduce energy use, only to use it more efficiently and there's no miracle cure other than just restraining ourselves.

Israel Walker

(6)

Excellent work as usual.

You can make a very similar argument about budgets: Spending money on crap you don't need is a loss, no matter how good of deal you get on it. It seems to me like your argument is "The efficiency of random widgets isn't important, because if we met human needs more efficiently in the first place, we wouldn't need the widgets". Are you familiar with "Fundamental Human Needs and Human-Scale Development" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamental_human_needs. It might be a good baseline to start from.

Within your same mode of thinking, I'm also struck by the logical opposite: efficiency in reclaiming ambient energy doesn't really matter. A boat mill that is only 5% efficient wastes exactly? You can't really waste ambient energy.


Dragan Jovanović

(7)

There is no need for policy to think about all those technical details. Such thinking is both difficult and authoritarian. Same applies for efficiency and sufficiency. Thinking from policy point of view, there is only one tool which is needed - Pigou tax. If something (like dirty energy) generates negative externalities, then tax it proportionally. Period.
Leave everything else to market. People and companies will think about ways to avoid taxated consumption, in both quantity and quality ways, in a way that fits them best personally.
So there is no need to compare anyone's way of life with anything else, it all becomes just a matter of style.

Marcel Hänggi

(8)

I'd argue that sufficiency is efficiency on a systemic level. Spacial planning e.g. can save very much energy because one's personal daily mobility can be reached with less traffic if jobs, schools, shops are close. Driving less is considered as sufficiency, but providing a city with high accessibilities leads to more mobility with less traffic: it's efficient! Friedrich E. Schumacher, in his Small Is Beautiful, called this the "efficiency as seen by a buddhist economist".

Patrick

(9)

I've always had an issue with the argument that increased efficient leads to increased use. That is absolutely true up to a point of maximum utility, but after that you just have energy savings.

I used to work for a solar company that installed off-grid systems and we would see exactly what Jan Steinman wrote about with lighting. However, when the room was bright enough for all parties, gains in efficiency did not result in an increase in usage. If someone had enough incandescent lights in their home to satisfy them, they didn't double (assuming double efficiency for the sake of argument) the number of bulbs they used when CFLs were introduced and they didn't double them again when LEDs were introduced. When you have enough lumens you don't add more when technology increases efficiency.

The same argument is often made for commuter vehicles. If commuting becomes cheaper people will move farther and farther from where they work because the housing farther away is cheaper. Someone driving half an hour each way might choose to move an hour out if commuting was cheap enough, but very very few people are going to live 2, 3 or 4 hours away from where they work regardless of how cheap it is to commute. It would not be worth the time.

I had an old 25mpg Subaru Outback. I bought a new Priuc C which is roughly 50 mpg the way I drive. I had already been driving everywhere I needed or wanted to with the Subaru, so my driving habits didn't change when I got a more efficient vehicle and I saved money and energy. I now have a company car (also a Prius C) and I no longer pay for fuel at all, but again, since I was already going everywhere I needed or anted to go effectively having "free fuel" didn't increase the amount of fuel I was using.

Veerle Raskin

(10)

So, this confirms again that supply side solutions are no real solutions. I have sort of come to the conclusion that people and society will use up all the energy that is available to them, for as long as it is affordable.

Jeroen van den Bergh

(11)

Interesting piece. But it continues the mistaken idea that rebound is a reason to discard energy efficiency improvements. What is missing in the analysis, though, is that rebound can be controlled with adequate "rebound policy", which would cause energy efficiency to automatically become much more effective in contributing to less energy use (or fewer carbon emissions). See this paper for more details:
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10640-010-9396-z

Mattias

(12)

@Patrick #9

About 'commuting', you will probably find the Marchetti's constant[1] or de BREVER-wet [2] interesting. So since Neolithic times, people spend 1 to 1,5 hour on transport. So 'time spend' is indeed a constant, but not 'travel distance', which has increased a l-o-t the last years (and so the energy use).

Most people who have a 'company car' or 'salary car' *will* probably have an increased amount of fuel. According to a study [3] 84 to 93% of those with a company car take their car to go to work, compared to 59% with people who don't have such a car. That same study also found that people with a company car have 9200 extra driven kilometers!

Think carefully about your situation. Suppose you have to go somewhere and you could go by public transport. But you will have to pay a ticket. And than you see your company car on your drive way, which rides totally for free. What will you choose? What will most people choose in the same situation?

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marchetti%27s_constant
[2] https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/BREVER-wet (Dutch)
[3] https://www.bondbeterleefmilieu.be/sites/default/files/fiche5_bedrijfswagens_110705.pdf (Dutch)

Nikolay Ivankov

(13)

Thanks for an extremely mind-provoking article! One quote here is very precise

This is sure to be controversial, and it risks being authoritarian, at least as long as there is a cheap supply of fossil fuels.

Now, as a child I've seen the "saving policies" being gradually introduced in my family due to an economic collapse. First we've had to sell the car because we were not in a position to buy fuel. Then it became way too expensive to use public transportation. At times, there was no electricity for many hours, the temperatures indoors dropped to 16C, and I, a thin boy of eight, have been freezing at home alone, struggling to save some warmth by keeping my arms inside the sweater... it didn't really help, I've been getting cold every now and then. And by the way, when electricity was going down, so did the elevators, and I've had to climb to the 11 floor. And when the water was off... well, use your imagination.

Still, we've had food every day, even occasionally meat, "seasonal" and conserved fruits and vegetables - we've had an extreme luck of having our own garden and potato field and three extremely laborous grannies (one of them never married). I even had an opportunity to eat some cheese several times in the year 1992, bought especially for me by another childless grandauntie. My future wife was by far not that lucky.

Whatever the cause, I've live through the gradual application of these "sustainability" policies. To everyone who thinks of them as being just "controversal" - wish you to experience it yourself.

JamieB

(14)

Completely agree with Patrick (9).

Taking the UK as an example, domestic lighting is totally saturated thanks to halogen downlighters which now account for half of domestic lighting demand. Consumption by downlighters will be cut by about 75% by switching to LEDs. There will doubtless be some rebound due to people being more casual about leaving lights on after the switch, but that will be dwarfed by switching from 30W-50W halogens to 5W-10W LEDs. People already have a crazy number of downlighters in their living areas; they're not going to add more.

UK domestic lighting demand fell of a cliff thanks to the switch from GLS to CFL and will fall off a cliff again thanks to the switch from halogen to LED, no question.

Would making lights less efficient force people to use their lights less? I'm sure they'd be a bit more diligent about switching off when not in use but they're not going to reconfigure their lighting set up and they're certainly not going to use their lights 25% of the time.

The idea of making energy using products less efficient in order to increase the cost of service so that people use less energy seems sub-optimal to say the least. Surely if you want to use cost-of-service as your tool to reduce energy demand (which is controversial) then increasing the price of energy whilst making energy using products more efficient would be the logical way to do it. It would have the same outcome but wouldn't mean needlessly designing inefficiency into our energy system.

Note that the above example is for an affluent country where ownership of energy using products is pretty saturated. We're seeing sustained reductions in domestic electricity consumption as a direct result of energy efficiency measures and these reductions will continue into the future for quite a while yet. In less affluent countries where ownership of energy using products is at low levels then naturally we would expect energy demand to grow as more people start to purchase these things. Energy efficiency will allow much needed development and energy access to take place with reduced impact which is a good thing isn't it? The idea of foisting less efficient products on developing countries is, in my view, perverse.

I completely agree that the EU target is bollocks and we need to be achieving absolute, not relative, reductions. I am also a strong advocate of low tech solutions like line drying, better body insulation and bike use, but I just don't see that energy efficiency inhibiting the adoption of those solutions significantly. A far stronger factor is the mindset perpetuated by the media that these are 'hair shirt' privations that hark back to the 19th century. That is the main barrier, not energy efficiency.

kris de decker

(15)

Nikolay Ivankov (#13)

"As a child I've seen the 'saving policies' being gradually introduced in my family due to an economic collapse....To everyone who thinks of them as being just 'controversial' - wish you to experience it yourself."

You raise an important issue that will be the topic of the next article. Some people have insufficient access to energy, a condition which scientists and policy makers call "energy poverty". Your description fits that definition. People living in these conditions need MORE energy, in spite of climate change and all the other environmental problems. However, there are other people who use much more energy than they "need". They should use LESS energy. Energy use needs to be redistributed to solve the problem.

@ Jan Steinman (#5)

"So, do we succumb to "shivering in the dark," or do we take the gift of efficiency (with its ominous, hidden footprint) to improve our mental state?"

That is a very difficult question. See also my comment to Nikolay above. If the absence of light makes people depressed, you could argue that it is a need and not a luxury. But then again, thinking like this could lead to even more light, because indoor light levels are still very much lower than outdoor light levels. And we feel at our best when the sun shines.

@ Coutney C (#4)

"Using an integrated fish pond system to clean my dishes with carp instead of a washing machine"

You made me curious.

kris de decker

(16)

@ Patrick (#9)

"When you have enough lumens you don't add more when technology increases efficiency"

Your clients did not buy double the amounts of bulbs when CFLs were introduced, because that's not how it works. They will probably only renew their bulbs if the old ones die and need to be replaced. Lighting habits change gradually over time, which makes them hard to notice unless you do historical research or observe these trends over a lifetime. Much of the rebound effects of LEDs have also crossed product categories, see for instance the giant digital screens popping up everywhere (same LED-technology).

Also, let's assume that you are right and that there is a level of light that is bright enough for all parties, in a domestic context. How do you know if this level of light and energy use is sustainable? It's easy to think of a world in which everything is perfect but you also have to keep in mind that high energy use comes with a cost. Considering the environmental constraints, we probably can't have all that we can imagine.

@ JamieB (#14)

"We're seeing sustained reductions in domestic consumption as a direct result of energy efficiency measures and these reductions will continue into the future for a quite a while yet"

Sorry, but the article has made clear that this is bullsh*t.

"The idea of foisting less efficient products on developing countries is, in my view, perverse."

The article is not advancing that idea.

"The idea of making energy using products less efficient in order to increase the cost of service so that people use less energy seems sub-optimal to say the least."

The article argues that we should combine efficiency with sufficiency.

kris de decker

(17)

@ Jeroen van den Bergh (#11)

Thanks for the link. But in contrast to what you write I do not argue that rebound is a reason to discard energy efficiency. I argue that the need for equivalence of service is the reason to discard energy efficiency. And in fact I don't discard energy efficiency at all, I conclude that it should be combined with sufficiency in order to reduce energy demand.

JamieB

(18)

What's bullshit? That UK domestic electricity demand is reducing or that the reduction is due to energy efficiency measures or that it'll continue for the foreseeable future? All three statements are correct. Demand for domestic lighting and refrigeration services in the UK is saturated and since the mid-2000s efficiency has been pushing demand down. Surprisingly even consumer electronics and ICT energy demand appear to have started to trend down too, primarily thanks to everyone having plenty of TVs and the switch to mobile devices.

Looking at EU28 gross inland consumption data I see that it is trending down quite nicely too and is 10% lower than its peak in 2006. There was a particularly big drop in 2009 due to the financial crisis but t returned to the trend line in 2010 and has continued reducing since, even while the EU economy has been growing. Is EU28 demand reducing fast enough? Manifestly not.

Re-reading your piece I realise I was so distracted by the suggestion in the penultimate section that energy inefficiency might be a good thing that I forgot that you switch back to endorsing energy efficiency in the conclusion (to be honest I'm a bit puzzled as to why you put that penultimate section in the piece).

I think we're basically coming from the same position: as long as society is demanding more of a service then efficiency can only stem (or at best modestly reduce) the increase in absolute demand. Where I think we probably diverge is the extent to which society will accept reductions in service demand.

In my view the potential for reduced service demand is big in the transport sector and there is some potential in the domestic sector but I think that potential will be limited by the attitude society currently has towards what is perceived as privation.

Personally I'll accept saturated demand for services because then efficiency can do its job, but if we can reduce service demand too then I'm all for it as it will mean we'll get to where we need to be faster.

Larry Edwards

(19)

Efficiency is, as noted in the article, "inefficient" when it is the driving factor. However, the article did not recognize that this is the condition it used for the evaluation.

Efficiency is however "efficient" in the case where it is necessary for sufficiency. That is, when the supply or availability of "something" is restricted.

As Herman Daly put it: "A policy of 'frugality-first' induces efficiency as a secondary consequence. Efficiency-first does not induce frugality, it makes frugality seem less necessary."

Now consider the case of the need to reduce CO2 emissions to essentially zero in western nations by about 2035 and globally by 2050 (as the carbon budget for 1.5 or 2oC is currently understood). The increase so far in renewable energy in minuscule in comparison to any nation's overall energy consumption. Electricity and fuels are overwhelmingly from fossil sources. This means that either informal rationing (e.g. by price or taxes) or traditional rationing (by coupons or smart cards) of fossil fuels will be necessary if we are avoid catastrophe -- until renewable energy supplies can catch up to what is considered "sufficient."

Rationing as mentioned here would be with an annually declining cap (directly or indirectly) on carbon in fossil fuels. (And of the two methods the first would be inherently unfair, and the latter would give equal access. Past rationing, e.g. in WW-II has included price controls, to have low prices.)

The interesting thing with rationing is that it will drive efficiency, hence avoiding rebound. It will do so because efficiency becomes a necessity for sufficiency (and some luxury), instead of being primarily a means to monetary savings.

kris de decker

(20)

@ Jamie B

All three statements are. First, because you are making exactly the kind of abstraction that the article is arguing against. It is always possible to demonstrate "energy savings" or "avoided energy" because of efficiency, you just need to set the parameters right. Second, you cannot simply attribute any reduction in energy use to energy efficiency. There are many other factors at play.

For example, gas and electricity prices in the UK have more than doubled between 2002 and 2016, and there was a major economic crisis that was not limited to 2009, as you seem to suggest. Energy use declined in almost all European countries between 2008 and 2014, and only went up again in 2015 and 2016, when economic growth returned. Also in the UK, by the way:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/633503/ECUK_2017.pdf

"Final energy consumption increased by 2,167 ktoe (1.6%) in 2016 to 140,668 ktoe. The domestic sector saw the biggest increase in both absolute and percentage terms; by 1,249ktoe (3.1%)."

And look what happens when we define and measure energy efficiency as domestic electric use alone:

"Average gas consumption increased by 4.6 per cent to 13,801kWh, and by 1.7 per cent on a temperature corrected basis. Average electricity consumption continued to fall, by 0.8 per cent to 3,889KWh in 2016"

We can still pretend that energy use goes down, while it actually goes up. Just set the parameters right. Looking at these figures, it could very well be that domestic electricity use in the UK has declined because people have switched from electric to gas powered water boilers and cooking stoves.

In a similar way, the switch to mobile devices may have led to decreased energy use in the home, but if you define and measure energy efficiency not only at the level of end use devices but also at the level of the network and the data storage, it becomes clear that mobile devices have actually increased energy use: http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2015/10/can-the-internet-run-on-renewable-energy.html

Israel Walker

(21)

Efficiency is always a ratio. Productive efficiency, energy efficiency, time efficiency, etc. It's all arbitrary value X divided by arbitrary value Y. Those values and those ratios have no intrinsic meaning or utility. In a world of nearly infinite numbers to collect and compare, we are guided on what efficiencies we will concern ourselves by our ethics, the numbers themselves are amoral. Numbers cannot tell us what we should do, only what we can. Our values tell us what we should do.

I am sorry I keep harping on this but it cannot be escaped: this is ethics conversation, not a technological one. Efficiency, in and of itself, means nothing. The concern is why not how, and if the answer to why is "So the endless growth model can continue, but with slightly less pollution per dollar of GDP growth", then that is exactly what you get, as the article points out extensively.

If the answer to why is "so that billions of humans like us don't have to suffer and die from privation" we might get something else all together.

There is more than enough time and money on earth for everyone to live a decent life. We make, for instance about 200% more food than it takes to feed everyone and there many more homes than homeless people. For that to change the food and homes are going to have to be taken from their current lawful owners and given to someone else. If there is a way to do that without authoritarianism, I'm all ears.

Bruce Teakle

(22)

Thanks Kris for your excellent article. It helps me greatly with what has recently been on my mind: that reducing carbon emissions can only occur by people becoming poorer (in the economic sense, not necessarily in experience). The question of efficient lighting discussed above is a good example: if LED lights allow a family to save money (instead of increasing lighting), then the savings will be spent on energy-consuming products, perhaps travelling by Prius instead of by bike, or eating more cheese. As you point out, real reductions in energy consumption are consequences of economic constraints - people getting poorer. The value of efficiency is not in reducing energy consumption or emissions, but in improving the conditions for people who are poor through low income or high energy price.

kris de decker

(23)

@ Bruce Teakle

I agree but you have to make a distinction between people who use "too much" energy and those who use "too little". See the next article: http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2018/01/how-much-energy-do-we-need.html

JamieB

(24)

@Kris

I don't see how what I'm saying can be described as an abstraction. The EU target of X% reduction compared to some assumed counterfactual is, sure, but the electricity demand reductions that we're seeing in the UK are very real. I don't see how you can argue otherwise.

1) "UK domestic electricity demand is reducing". It really is! See Table 3.01 of ECUK. It peaked in 2005 and is 14% down in 2016, in spite of there being 10% more households over the same period.
2) "The reduction is due to energy efficiency measures". Sure it's not *all* due to physical measures - prices have an effect as well, naturally, as they drive behaviour change (which is energy efficiency as well). But real electricity prices have been stable for the past 3 or 4 years and yet electricity demand continues to drop because people steadily replace their appliances as they break and people are starting the switch to LED lighting.
3) "It'll continue for the foreseeable future". Well only time will tell but as long as we continue not to take any meaningful steps to electrify heat, I can't see how it can go anywhere but down. All end uses of domestic electricity are now flat or trending down and there are still an awful lot of inefficient appliances and lights to swap out.

Regarding the final energy consumption data you cite, don't forget that weather has a strong effect but temperature-corrected final energy demand in the domestic sector did increase slightly (1.4%) between 2015 and 2016. The main reason for that? We've more or less stopped insulating homes in the last couple of years.

LorenzoM

(25)

I think the problem resides in our capitalist "self regulating" market democracies.
As we now are used to think, control over energy consumption takes away "freedom" from cityzen's lives.
If we want to guarantee a free market, of course democracies cannot avoid letting producers sell and overproduce, and people to buy and overconsume.
If we base our economy on GDP, we cannot avoid improving fossil energy use. If we do the contrary, as you stated ("...This is sure to be controversial, and it risks being authoritarian, at least as long as there is a cheap supply of fossil fuels...") freedom as we know it - which is substantially freedom to consume energy - will end.
So the only way is to change our culture, and it will be a long long way, hoping we have time enough.
Thank you for you effort.

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