The Energy Efficiency Dilemma: Chasing the Red Queen

Posted by Energy Wire on January 20, 2011 at 5:17 PM

We’ve posted about “The Efficiency Dilemma”, as covered recently by The New Yorker. Here’s the gloomy hypothesis:
Saving money on fuel costs through increased efficiency only results in those savings being directed to further, increased fuel consumption.

That reminds us a bit of the Red Queen from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass:

"It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"

But according to the "The Efficiency Dilemma", we’ll never get to “somewhere else” – the Wonderland of Sustainable Energy Consumption.

It’s an important debate surrounding energy efficiency, and one that we’ll continue to watch.

Meanwhile, other thought leaders in energy economics have weighed in on The New Yorker piece.

Amory Lovins of Rocky Mountain Institute discounts the Efficiency Dilemma’s “rebound effect”.  Just because you’re realizing an energy savings, he says, you’re not going to “heat your house to sauna temperatures, or rewash clean clothes.” In fact, energy savings are poorly understood and accounted for, and are therefore not responsible for changed behavior.

Ultimately, says another commentator, the problem isn’t energy efficiency. It’s the fact that richer societies and growing populations simply use more energy.

The solution, adds a third, is to use energy taxes to dissuade stepped-up energy use, and offer subsidies to drive the purchase of energy-efficient appliances.

Photo credit: Rachel Roses

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