The glitch in people saving energy and power is information put to use.  The problem is important as many people ascribe to saving energy – the effort of research, the costs and the work involved vs. the simple habits of turning out the lights or turning down the thermostat.  Some blame can be laid on the media and political scolding worrying at conservation as a topic vs. efficiency gains.

Columbia University, Ohio State University and Carnegie Mellon University researchers found that many Americans have a very poor understanding of energy use and savings. Many of the 505 participants believed they can save energy with small behavior changes that actually achieve very little, while severely underestimating the major effects of switching to efficient, currently available technologies.

Some 20%, that largest part of the group cite turning off lights as the best approach – an action that affects energy budgets in a small way.  Opposed to that very few people in the study cited buying decisions that would cut energy consumption dramatically, such as more efficient cars (cited by only 2.8%), more efficient appliances (cited by 3.2%) or weatherizing homes (cited by 2.1%).

Perceived vs Actuial Energy Use. Click image for more info.

As an idea that one might consider pretty well beat into the general population from the late 1970s on, small conservation is likely maxed out.  The major payoff, to the end consumer’s bills, the grid operator’s new investments and the fuel supplier’s share of the market as well as cutting the national energy import bill could reduce the energy required by 30%.  There is a stack of research already on the shelf showing efficiency gains overwhelm the small conservation return without waiting for new technologies, making big economic sacrifices or consumers losing their sense of well-being.

Lead author Shahzeen Attari, a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University’s Earth Institute and the university’s Center for Research on Environmental Decisions, said multiple factors probably are driving the misperceptions. “When people think of themselves, they may tend to think of what they can do that is cheap and easy at the moment,” she said.

On a broader scale, she said, even after years of research, scientists, government, industry and environmental groups may have “failed to communicate” what they know about the potential of investments in technology; instead, they have funded recycling drives and encouraged actions like turning off lights. In general, the people surveyed tend to believe in what Attari calls curtailment. “That is, keeping the same behavior, but doing less of it,” she said. “But switching to efficient technologies generally allows you to maintain your behavior, and save a great deal more energy,” she said. She cited high-efficiency light bulbs, which can be kept on all the time, and still save more than minimizing the use of low-efficiency ones.

Big Brother and the fellow travelers seem to have missed the prime point.

A major example of how choices un-thought through can have a major impact – people commonly think that using and recycling glass bottles saves a lot of energy; in fact, making a glass container from virgin material uses 40 percent more energy than making an aluminum one – and 2,000 percent more when recycled material is used.  Choosing aluminum has a big effect in efficiency, something hardly ever considered.

Another major example is the hard math behind personal vehicle fleet economy.  It’s fine for consumers to choose a higher mileage per fuel unit when buying new, but the major gains across an economy depends on getting the very poorest economy vehicles out of the fleet.  The 100-mpg vehicle is great and needs developed, but getting all those <1 to 20 mpg vehicles retired will payoff across the economy far quicker and in a bigger share of the total fuel consumed.  15 million miles using a 15 mpg fleet uses a million gallons, doubling the economy to 30 cuts that million to one half million.  The 30-mpg increased to 45-mpg reduces fuel demand to a third of a million gallons saving 1/6th of a million gallons.  In this simple example it’s three times more effective to get low mileage vehicles out of the fleet than to push higher mileage.  The effect also reduces the total market demand cutting costs for everyone.

Whether the transport fuel choice is a fossil fuel or an alternative, electric power geothermal, nuclear or coal fueled, getting the efficiency up matters most and is most effective when retiring the least efficient first.

The study authors spend 6 pages getting the point across, and the work is a lucid as any academic work is likely to get which might help get the concepts into the media and politics.  The study is heavy on behaviors and perceptions rather than what pays off, thus offers a sense of what is happening out there in the public’s mind. It’s important that more people catch on – reducing the market demand or slowing the growth helps keep prices and costs down for everyone.

But a review of the history to date isn’t encouraging, it’s the consumer getting informed – not the government, media and academics busybodies – that gets results.  Working on the lowest efficiencies, starting with personal transport in a good state of tune and fully inflated tires, space heating and air conditioning in a carefully weatherized structure, and high efficiency water heating are the big three items that everyone should have in mind.  Get those handled adroitly and the lights and big screen TV will hardly matter while still saving serious money.


8 Comments so far

  1. JPK on August 23, 2010 6:06 PM

    I personally believe that humans are not only as consumers who influemce our decisions in purchasing and usage, but also as producers who can solve problems and taking on the challenges that are deemed complicated.

    This needs to be discussed on the merits of such a phenomenon, but be careful what is trying to tell us the truth about consumer choices: For example, choosing aluminum has a big effect in efficiency, something hardly ever considered.

    More about this phenomenon later.

  2. JPK on August 23, 2010 6:28 PM

    And on thing before writing this comment: can you have an idea on personal decisions regarding effeciency gains?

    Please give explanations about energy conservation to because, you know, it’s not just knowledge that have a lasting impact on society in general. It is about how ordinary humans among us can solve specific problems whether in the form of simple steps or big steps (if you like) can make such a difference in the real world.

    Therefore, it needs substance to make the case for the role of humans as both consumers of goods & services and as producers in solving problems both small and large. That will come from reliable sources of information (not the wrong information) that counts. I shall see later.

  3. JPK on August 23, 2010 9:03 PM

    As I continue to write on this earlier, it is important for this website how humans among us have a role to play not only as consumers of goods and services but also as producers in solving problems and taking on the challenges that are deemed complicated.

    Question: Can knowledge alone solve the really complex dillema over energy consumption? Yes it does. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to do what you are supposed to do, isn’t it? That doesn’t do enough justice to prevent such guilt-tripping sort of practice from happening.

    So be aware of your own self. Otherwise, you are still obsessed with consumption even more.

    Neglecting the importance of balancing both consumption and production remains a broad matter of concern not just for us ordinary people around the world, but also policymakers, public officials, organizations, the business community, etc.

    Also, do you really have any idea in claiming that “getting all those <1 – 20 mpg. vehicles retired will payoff across the economy far quicker and in a bigger share of total fuel consumed"? Can you claim, too, that "15 million miles using a 15 mpg. fleet uses a million gallons, and doubling the economy to 30(?) cuts that million to one-half million"? And finally, can you even claim that "the 30-mpg increased to 45-mpg reduces fuel demand to a third of a million gallons saving 1/6th. of a million gallons"? That is more likely to be true, in other words – even when fuel consumption is high or what not.

    More on this later.

  4. JPK on August 24, 2010 6:37 PM

    Welcome back, and I am writing further about the dilemma concerning energy efficiency.

    For people, like me, doing the right thing can do a lot better to save energy like, say, maintaining a personal vehicle in a good state of tune and fully inflate the tires (that also applies to public transport, albeit in a differently complex fashion), space heating (applicable only in areas where weather conditions are of four-season variety which means there is snow)… more on this later.

  5. JPK on August 24, 2010 8:37 PM

    Welcome back again. I would like to add this write-up that placing an “air conditioner in a carefully weatherized stucture” sounds meaningful, in my opinion, and is nothing but simply good for all intents and purposes, is it not?

    All you have to do is to have these measures taken to save energy – if you like – and do good to others. (Please remember that space heating is only applicable in areas where weather conditions are of four-seasons variety, meaning there is snow in the winter months.) What you have to really understand, however, is the question of growth skepticism in both energy & transportation sectors.

    Can we ordinary people confront the elitist, hysterical, cynical, politically-motivated, confusing, cowardly-delusional, and dangerously stupid effects of this philosopical and ideological phenomenon? It’s a intellectual disaster waiting to happen.

    Now, back to the issue of energy efficiency AND supply. It would be foolish to ignore the reality that the differences CAN be a headache, when it comes to selecting the right kind of materials in terms of energy efficiency, reliability, durability and other attributes.

    Do you have any examples please? Do you really have any idea on thinking about the consequences have on a broad energy sector? Any suggestions on how to deal with other issues, especially when it comes to the environmentalist ideology of various issues such as climate change? I have no idea at this point in time, so wait for the experts to tell us about the current situation that affects both the energy and transportation sectors.

    Next will be how to choose a vehicle that is seemingly efficient – or what not. The details will be written by me soon.

    Remember: please do specific about how to tackle the issue affecting energy & transportation sectors. Thank you,

  6. JPK on September 22, 2010 8:32 PM

    Sorry, I am not writing the details in regard to vehicle efficiency, because it is too lenghty to do that.

    Anyway, please let me know about the merits of vehicle efficiency and technological improvements, can I? Thank you again,

  7. Kathryne Michalczik on February 12, 2011 4:46 AM

    Just discovered this blog thru Bing, such a way to brighten my day!

  8. sterydy on February 12, 2011 9:58 PM

    What a great blog. Good job

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