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Greens Missing the Green Revolution

Texas is coming up with green solutions without looking for them.  Businesses in the heartland of brown jobs may not intend to reduce their carbon footprint, but they are always looking for ways to save money.  Finding more efficient ways to allocate energy is one of the places they’re starting.  The Economist reports:

For many years energy efficiency was the poor relation to cutting-edge clean technology initiatives like wind and solar. But now the more workaday strategies are getting a new look-in. Efficiency measures can often save as much power as the more glamorous efforts can produce, at a fraction of the cost. One widely used estimate comes from a 2009 report from McKinsey, which reckoned that America could reduce its non-transport energy consumption by roughly 23% by 2020 through efficiency savings alone.

Some cities have come up with specific targets for efficiency. In San Antonio, the municipally owned power provider, CPS Energy, has plans to cut its consumption by 771 megawatts through energy efficiency by 2020, using various incentives and nudges. Customers who buy highly efficient cooling systems rather than the minimum-standard kind can, for example, get a rebate to make up the difference in price. As the more efficient systems yield lower bills, this is quite an attractive proposition. The 771MW figure represents about 10% of the utility’s current generation capacity, or about as much as a typical coal-fired power plant can produce. This summer, in fact, CPS announced that it will shut down a 900MW coal-fired plant by 2018, a Texas first.

Greens spend much of their time and money trying to make energy more expensive so that people will consume less of it or consume more of the ‘right kind’ — expensive and inefficient energy produced by alternative sources like wind and solar power.  This is an uphill battle and puts greens on the wrong side of politics more often than not.  More expensive energy means fewer jobs and less freedom, and surprisingly large numbers of people object.

Energy efficiency is something else.  People actually like lower energy bills — and of course if people consume less energy there will be less pressure on the environment.  If the green movement could bring itself to shift its own energy and commitment from Solyndra-type grand interventions to conservation and efficiency projects, the world would be a cleaner and greener place.

More efficient energy use won’t solve all the world’s problems, and it doesn’t satisfy the statist, anti-capitalist instincts of many environmental activists, but it offers the environmental movement its most promising route of advance under contemporary conditions.  The key to all politics is to give the people what they want — and what they want is cheaper energy and more jobs.  The greens’ job isn’t to change human nature; it’s to connect what people want with what our planet needs.

Efficiency is a good place to start.

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  • Merrill Guice

    The old efficiency fallacy. The more efficient you make something, the more of that something you use. Following the 1970’s, the US Economy drastically reduced the number of joules required to create a unit of GDP. Overall energy use went UP.

    If you have ever visited a freezing shopping Mall in Dallas, you will understand that the cheaper you make chilled air, the more chilled air you will have.

    Efficiency is a good that a free economy will always seek. Just don’t confuse it with energy policy.

  • Toni

    @Merrill #1

    Well, OF COURSE energy use increased after the 1970s! In the ’70s the world thought the world was running out of oil and natural gas. Prices went sky high.

    But two things happened. The US natural gas industry, which had been regulated into sclerosis, was deregulated. Oil had never been regulated (except Jimmy Carter’s gas station lines), but both oil and natural gas producers had brought to market MASSIVE new supplies.

    About that time, guess what. The world learned that it was not (and still isn’t) running out of oil and natural gas. The world was so awash in oil that by 1986, the price fell to 25% of its 1981 peak! Natural gas took longer but fell as much. Prices took decades to exceed those 1981 highs.

    Econ 101: When prices fall, demand rises. Meanwhile, the US population has grown by 40% since 1980.

    Econ 101: When prices rise, demand falls — because both businesses and consumers use it more efficiently. If you don’t like efficiency, well, I hope you’re still using your 1984 IBM PC.

    BTW, the Dallas mall in summer is as cold as a Denver mall is hot in winter. Why this is, I don’t know. One late December, I arrived at the Denver airport in subfreezing weather. My cab had been so hot that I stood outside the airport to take off my coat, and unstrap, unsnap and unzip my garment bag, and put my coat on a hanger in it, and finally restrap etc. my garment bag — and only then was I beginning to get cool. Go figure.


    I grew up under the flight path into Philly International Airport.

    Compare the amount of sound from and old line 707 and the amount generated by the late generation Boeings, for example, and you can see this effect at work.

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