I responded that energy efficiency is always a given and that it is the back bone of any sane energy policy or system. No matter what strategy we use to tame the wild energy that surrounds us, we should use that energy wisely.
However, that said, energy that is wasted while using carbon fuels is especially bad because of the pollution that the wasted energy leaves. It may be economically foolish to waste wind or solar electricity, but it will not make the air unbreathable or contribute to the change of our climate.
One way to measure the efficiency of a system is to look at the economic output vs. the amount of energy that is needed to produce that output.
According to Wikipedia:
U.S. energy consumption in 2004 was estimated at 99.74 quadrillion Btus (1.05 × 1011 GJ) (referred to as 'quads') from all sources (US DoE). Total GDP was estimated at $11.75 trillion in 2004 and US GDP per capita was estimated at roughly $40,100 in 2004 (CIA Factbook). Using a population of 290,809,777 (as per US Census Bureau). This would produce an Energy Intensity of 8,553 Btus (9 MJ)consumed to produce a single dollar of GDP.
As you can see by the graph, Japan, Germany, and Britain use 70% of the energy that the US does for each unit of economic output. This efficiency gives these countries a competitive leg up, especially in a regulated carbon economy.
However, US overall efficiency has improved since the 70's substantially.
If we are to run our economy on high quality non polluting fuels, we will need to use that energy wisely. Of course that means using state of the art light bulbs and windows. It means insulation on your air conditioning ducts, it means thermostats that shut off during peak demand for a few minutes, it means smart appliances, and well designed cars, and trees on the west side, and it means using the computer to see a house instead of driving by.
It means not flying to Boston when a video conference would do.
It means taking the bus or the metro.
It means walkable neighborhoods.
It means eating food that has not been shipped all over the world.
It means building advanced efficient high speed infrastructure.
It means working from our homes, and using our communication tools. (Just think how much energy the now almost extinct fax machine saved during it brief period of life in our offices and homes.)
But in the bigger picture,
it also means looking at the way we use and value energy as a society.
And if the price of energy is cheap,
but the costs of using that energy are high,
we will waste it and pass the high costs of pollution to the commons.
If the price of energy is high,
we will value it and we will tend to not waste it.
High pollution premiums added on to the price of low value energy
will make high value energy the bargain it is.
I may not turn off the lights at 10 cents a KWH but
I would put in occupancy sensors at 20.
That's why a hotel hallway in Europe is dark,
unless someone is walking in it.
We can delay the current crop of coal power plants
if we initiate effective energy efficiency programs that save
energy and capacity now,
But if we are to really move history forward,
we must look at our use of energy from a systems level.
And that will require finding a new way to measure ourselves.
For the GNP is not a measure that should be used without reflection.
It, after all,
" measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor devotion to country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile; and it can tell us everything about America--except whether we are proud to be Americans. RFK
And so it should be for the
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