The Problem With Relying on Energy Efficiency to Reduce Emissions? People

The connection between energy use and emissions of air pollutants, including GHGs, is uncontroversial.  It is also widely, if not universally, accepted that there is a lot of low-hanging fruit in energy efficiency.  I agree completely with both propositions.

Nonetheless, a recent article in Energy Research & Social Science (fee required for full article), reported in Tuesday’s Washington Post, provides a useful — and somewhat humorous — note of caution.  The article concerns how people use thermostats.  We’re not even talking smart grid stuff here; just programmable thermostats.

According to the article, 40% of programmable thermostat owners don’t actually program them, and 33% have overridden the programming features.  And here’s my favorite, from the Post story:  approximately one-third of those studied

believed in the myth that “turning down the thermostat at night or when people are not at home used more energy than keeping the house at the same temperature all the time.”

Energy efficiency is obviously an important element of an overall program to reduce emissions of GHGs and other pollutants from power generation.  However, designers of energy efficiency programs probably should spend some time studying human behavior if they want to design programs that actually work.

2 thoughts on “The Problem With Relying on Energy Efficiency to Reduce Emissions? People

  1. Thanks for the article, and I could not agree with you more. There is a lot that can be done, however, to manufacture things that rely less – or not at all – on human behavior to conserve energy. Appliances could be manufactured to have greater intrinsic energy-efficiency and last more than a couple of years, as they did in the recent past.

    We can now plug stereos, TVs, and other appliances into power strips that eliminate “Dracula load,” the energy the appliances use when they are turned off. But this requires humans to act (to turn the power strip on and off). Couldn’t the power strip technology be embedded in the appliance itself so that humans didn’t need to flip a switch? It just doesn’t seem like it would be that difficult to do.

    Cell phone chargers used to keep pulling juice even when the phone was fully charged if the charger remained plugged in. Stopping senseless energy waste thus required human intervention – the phone owner had to unplug the charger. Now, more and more chargers automatically stop pulling juice when the phones are fully charged.

    The efficiency of the electric grid could be improved, which is not dependent on human behavior and would increase the energy efficiency of virtually everything.

    There are countless opportunities to increase energy efficiency in ways that don’t require human action. We should probably focus on these first and foremost, since human behavior is so unreliable.

  2. Pingback: The Problem With Using Economic Incentives to Reduce Water Use? People | Law and the Environment

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