Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Folly of Efficiency

Amory Lovins has been preaching the gospel of energy efficiency since the 1970's. He has been heard. Almost every electronic gadget in my apartment is energy efficient, from refrigerator, to my Mac Mini that is chewing on 25 Watts of power at any given time. Of course I still need my energy efficient air conditioning, and I watch TV on my energy efficient 26 inch LCD TV, which doubles as the Mac Mini's monitor.

I saved so much on electricity by using my Mac Mini, that I went out and bought another computer, an energy efficient iMac. I don't think this is what Amory Lovins had in mind when he told us about the virtues of energy efficiency.

I would love to own a plug-in hybrid car. Not a Prius, but one of those Volts EVs that GM says they are going to build in 2010. The things come equipped with a little 300 cc gas engine for recharging the battery in addition to the plug in recharger. I wonder, will I remember to plug it in for the night. Knowing myself, as I do, I can see the process of plugging it in every night getting old real fast. I hate to do unnecessary things. There is cute little engine sitting in the Volt, all hooked up to the battery. Why should I plug the Volt in at night, as long as there is enough juice left in the battery to start it in the morning?

You see how I think? No doubt Mr. Lovins would like to sit people like us down, and lecture us about commitment to energy efficiency. But I would tell him that my Volt still gets better gas milage than my old Honda Accord. I am doing my part in the fight CO2. In fact I am so pleased with my new Volt's gas millage, and it utter quiet, that I drive it everywhere, and every chance that I get. In fact I have started taking long distance driving trips again, because my gas milage is so good. You see how I think?

Economists tell us that increases in efficiency lead to increases in demand. This was discovered by William Stanley Jevons over 150 years ago. Professor Jevons looked at the history of the coal industry in the UK. He found that increases in the efficiency of burning coal, paradoxically lead to an increase in the demands for coal. This lead to what is known as Jevons' paradox. Efficiency increases demand. My dream Volt is going to put me in the drivers seat again, because the gas I pay for will go further, and I can forget about post-peak demand gas prices. Economists have repeatedly demonstrated that Jevon's paradox hods in numerous circumstances.

So if we want to control CO2 emissions, we are going to have to contend with Jevons' paradox. That means that we are going to have to find a way to motivate me to plug in my new Volt every night.

One scheme would be to tax my gas use. Just slap a hefty tax on me for every gallon of gas I pump. That might well alter my behavior. I might start looking for a car which generates electricity with an energy efficient Stirling engine! That will show them. They can't stop me from driving by raising my gas tax! You see how my thinking works?

There are several potential solutions to Jevon's paradox. One is a sort of cap and trade. We could ration gas. Every driver would be allotted an equal ration. Say we each can use 4 gallons a week. It sounds drastic. I know it does. I picked the 4 gallon figure for a reason. During World War II, Every American family was allotted just 4 gallons of gas a week. They had to make do the best they could. Now the rules would be that drivers can either use their gas ration or sell it. That's right, create a legal black market for gas rations. I know this sounds crazy, but it benefits the poor, and give wealthy people to gasoline for their Hummers, while limiting CO2 emissions. What are the poor going to do for transportation, if they sell their gas ration? Why take the electrical bus.

Now what I would do in that situation is plug my volt in every night, and sell most of my gas ration on the legal black market. I can get by very nicely with a 40 mile a day driving limit. In fact, with the money I make selling my gas ration, I can afford to purchase a PV roof rack for my Volt, and extend my driving range, by adding Solar generated electricity to my battery. You see how I think?

Those rich folks who bought my gas ration for their Hummer, what happened to them? Well I saw them the other day standing beside the road, next to their Hummer. I stopped to see if I could help. "We ran out of gas," the man said. He pointed to my Volt. "Get good milage?" he asked.

"I never use gas anymore."

"Hhhhhmmmm," he said.

1 comment:

Greg Barton said...

You've just reinvented carbon credits. :)


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