Energy Efficiency is a No Win Game

The promoters of green technology such as President Obama are engaging in a no win game with their obsession with energy efficiency. Increased energy efficiency will not meet our civilization’s needs for energy nor will it help us avert energy shortages. Only new sources of energy such as low energy nuclear reaction (LENR) will be able to do that.

The problem with energy efficiency is an obvious one that its promoters rarely talk about: increased efficiency increases the use of energy. Efficiency makes it cheaper and easier to use energy so people use more energy. That increases the demand and explains to why the demand goes up as efficiency increases.

The result is similar to what happened to information when the internet and computer technology made it cheaper and easier to get than ever before. Not only was more data than ever generated, more was used. Since vast amounts of new data became available people started using it and finding uses for it.

The same thing happens whenever a new technology makes it more efficient or easier to do something. Take driving, as cars get more advanced and efficient driving gets easier so people drive more. Or airplanes as they got more efficient people flew more.

What this means is that projects such as President Obama’s “smart grid” are doomed to failure on some level even if they succeed. If the smart grid works and makes electric usage more efficient people will use more electricity. So we’ll need more electricity.

It also proves that developing new sources of energy is a smarter strategy than increasing efficiency. LENR would seem to be an obvious source of energy to develop because it is nonpolluting and doesn’t require the use of fossil fuels. Another would be small scale hot fusion.

Naturally the development of effective LENR would greatly increase energy usage because it would be far more efficient than present day energy sources. LENR power plants might not require the transport of large amounts of fuel such as coal or natural gas. Nor would they require a huge transportation infrastructure. This would increase the amount of energy available because the energy now expended hauling fuel to burn to produce electricity could be used for something else. The same with the energy used to extract fossil fuels from the earth.

Another benefit from LENR is that the energy expended to move energy to homes and businesses to burn to produce heat and heat water could be used for something else. That too would make more energy available.

The most likely result of this huge energy surplus would mean that people would find other uses for all that surplus energy. One likely usage would be in computers and data center. Other usages could be in increased manufacturing activity and new kinds of transportation.

Simply increasing energy efficiency only makes the energy situation worse. It doesn’t make more energy available but it increases the usage and demand for energy. This doesn’t mean energy efficiency is a bad thing, it simply means that it won’t achieve the goals that some Americans want it to achieve.

If we increase energy efficiency without developing new sources of energy we are headed for disaster. We’ll increase energy usage and demand for energy but we won’t be able to meet that demand. That means the US Department of Energy needs to start paying as much attention to new sources of energy as it does to so-called efficiency.


6 Responses to Energy Efficiency is a No Win Game

  • Bart S says:

    Your story is simply not true. Energy usages are going down for cars (at least in Europe, not so much in FAT america…), electricity usage per home is going down because of energy efficient machines and lightning and efforts of people. Insulating homes makes sense and does not increase energy usage. True that if people save some money they spend it again, so there is a sort of ‘rebound effect’ but that is lower than the saving in the first place. With increasing energy prices due to peak oil, people will become more energy efficient, they will have to.

    • jennifer says:

      Energy usage isn’t necessarily going down. One problem is that energy use simply gets shifted around so people don’t see it. For example people buy a hybrid car they use less energy to run it but it takes more energy to manufacture it. If a person switches to cloud data storage instead of printed documents he saves energy but the cloud uses more energy at data centers. Much of today’s energy efficiency is an illusion designed to make people think they’re saving energy and help them feel good. If what you say is true why is the US Energy Information Agency projecting that we’ll need to increase electricity production by about 40% in the near future.

  • Bernd Haas says:

    Increasing energy efficiency does NOT make the energy situation worse: We can run more usefull things with the same energy which will lead to more value creation and prosperity. But you are true, we still need new energy sources to run all the smart projects (water desaltination, terra forming, …) we are dreaming of.
    By the way, Germany has reduced in 2011 its total energy consumption about 5.3 % while the economy growth is 3 %!

    • jennifer says:

      Actually I’m not sure energy efficiency has a big effect on the energy situation either way. I’m aware of the situation in Germany. One interesting problem Germany may face is that the money not spent on energy will be spent somewhere else. That will mean increased production of goods and services and surprise greater energy use. 3% is not that great a rate of economic growth. Those who think increased energy efficiency alone will solve the problem are wrong.

  • Mark Stout says:

    The problem with your original premise, cheaper energy means more energy use, fails to take into account that the actual energy being used is substantially reduced or lifestyles. The LED uses 85% less energy than the incandescent and the fluorescent uses 65% less energy. The 98% efficient hot water heater uses 36% less energy than your run-of-the-mill 62% hot water heater, and the 96% efficient furnace uses 16%-18% less energy. Properly air sealing and insulating the building and tightening the HVAC ducts helps reduce the amount of time and frequency the hot water heater, furnace, and air conditioner need to operate, further reducing energy use another 40%-50%. When the entire house heats up within 4 minutes and stays that way for the next 25 minutes, there’s no need to crank the heat or keep it cranks because you will already feel comfortable. This is where lifestyles come in. Lifestyle is driven by comfort and dollars. Some people will pay to be comfortable and others will wear a sweater or long sleeve shirt to save move. But when you feel comfortable in your house the need for the long sleeve shirt, or cranking the heat, goes away.

    • jennifer says:

      I think you just proved my point. increasing efficiency makes energy cheaper which leads to more energy use. You’re right about lifestyle too one problem is that increased energy efficiency gives people less incentive to save energy or alter their lifestyles to use less of it. That leads to more energy use.