Home > Economics - General > Reasons to be cheerful, Part 3: Energy efficiency

Reasons to be cheerful, Part 3: Energy efficiency

July 8th, 2011

There are plenty of reasons to be gloomy about the prospects of stabilising the global climate, but there are also some promising developments, so I’ve started a series on this topic. Part 1 on peak gasoline herePart 2 on solar PV here

This post is about energy efficiency, which is often neglected, but is likely to be the biggest single source of emissions reductions over the next few decades. I’m going to define efficiency fairly narrowly, to refer to technologies that deliver essentially the same services using less energy than those they replace: so, for example, I’m including more efficient airconditioners, but not “smart” systems that cut off when demand is high.

The shorter version is

1. With existing technologies or straightforward extensions, it’s possible to double energy efficiency (reduce energy use per unit of energy services by 50 per cent) at relatively low cost and with marginal changes in performance.
2. With rising carbon prices over time, it’s likely that further improvements can be made in many areas

3. Concerns about possible rebound effects (aka the Jevons paradox) are misplaced

The first question to ask is what improvements in energy efficiency are available, at low cost, and why these improvements have not been made already. I can’t do a comprehensive survey, so I’ll just look at a few cases to indicate what is possible

* Motor transport – the Obama administration pushed through substantial improvements in fuel-efficiency targets as the price of bailing out the car industry during the crisis and is now seeking more dramatic improvements by 2025, with a likely target of 56 mpg, a doubling relative to the 2010 level of 27.5. From this report, it seems clear that these targets are technically feasible, and, while the costs (aorund $2000/vehicle) will not be trivial, they will not make cars unaffordable either.
* Set top boxes – according to this NY TImes article, they are among the biggest single energy users in many US homes. Most householders are simply unaware of how much energy these boxes are using, and the providers have no real incentive to economise, although it would be easy to reduce energy use by 50 per cent or more
* Light bulbs – the replacement of incandescent light bulbs by low-energy alternatives is already well under way. The current alternative, compact fluorescents have some problems, but have improved greatly under the pressure of market demand. A likely superior alternative, based on light-emitting diodes, is on the horizon but not here yet.

In most cases, the obstacles reflective inadequate information organisational inertia or market failures, and the best way to overcome them will include regulatory changes as well as price incentives. This is most obvious in the set-top box example, but it is also relevant when consumers (who commonly face high borrowing costs) need to pay an upfront cost for energy savings that will be received over a long period and may be hard to measure credibly. Also, in many cases, such as that of rented houses or company car fleets, the buyer of the house may not be the one who bears the associated energy costs.

Some people have worried that an increase in energy efficiency will simply result in an increase in the demand for energy services, so that energy use will not decrease much and may perhaps increase. The general point (with reference to labour rather than energy) goes back at least as far as Jevons. But this refers to an exogenous increase in energy efficiency, meaning that energy services become cheaper. Where the increase in energy efficiency is driven by an increased (price or regulatory) cost of energy use, we are (in the jargon of Econ 101) moving along the demand curve, not shifting the supply curve. So, there will normally be no rebound effect.

A doubling of energy efficiency across the board is probably the minimum we need to have any chance of making the kinds of emissions reductions that are necessary to stabilise climate, while allowing currently poor countries to catch up to the living standards of developed countries. As these examples (and they are typical of other areas I’ve seen) show, that’s feasible with existing technology. In most cases, that will still leave plenty of room for improvements in efficiency relative to the maximum level that is theoretically possible. But it will take the power of price incentives to ensure that the research is done to make this theoretical possibility into a reality.

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  1. iain
    July 8th, 2011 at 21:45 | #1

    The evidence, so far, is that energy efficiency measures haven’t led to any overall (total) reduction in national energy use figures. I’m happy to be shown otherwise..

    Nature had a summary for and against of this debate recently


  2. fred
    July 8th, 2011 at 22:06 | #2

    Efficiency measures can significantly reduce usage on a regional basis.

    At least when considering water usage it can.

    In 2005 the daily per capita average usage of water for South East Queensland was 300 litres.
    Under the Target 140 scheme, which was a scheme that promoted reduced usage by improving efficiencies, this was reduced by 57% down to 129 litres of water per person per day within 2 years.

    With minor changes to our habits and routines we can dramatically decrease wastage.
    If we can do it with water we can, probably, do it with energy.

    Worth a try.

  3. July 8th, 2011 at 22:12 | #3

    iain – Germany.

  4. sam
    July 8th, 2011 at 22:28 | #4

    I don’t agree this was about introducing new technology to reduce water use. Residents were simply told to reduce consumption at great personal cost which made their lives much worse. It was very unpleasant to take a 4 minute shower. We could reduce water consumption down to 10 litres a day if we needed to, we would just smell a lot more. If this is “increased efficiency” then I don’t want to be efficient.

  5. Hermit
    July 8th, 2011 at 23:15 | #5

    If I can throw around a term from Econ 101 there are utility-preserving substitutions and those that diminish utility. I think the Navy likes sailors to use 8 litres of tepid water per shower whereas the average punter likes many times that, accompanied by billowing steam. We could take the bus to a restaurant on a Friday night but we drive the car instead. Perhaps the return bus trip takes the gloss off the evening.

    I think for people to adopt voluntary efficiency there will have to be strong social norms, not just high energy prices. There is a sense of entitlement that will hang around for decades. I think a workable strategy may be ‘soft rationing’. Thus your power bill gives you enough low tariff kilowatt-hours to run a modest flat screen TV, a five star fridge and one room with heat pump thermal comfort. Energy use beyond that (policed by carbon cops) may be considered indulgent such as plasma TVs, a second fridge or multi-room ducted air. That should show as a premium rate on the power bill.

    How much could soft rationing achieve? I suspect no more than 20% or so of current household energy use for the middle classes. Yet we already have a couple of billion more people aspiring to join the middle class. Assuming equal numbers of already-theres and aspirants subtract 20% efficiency savings then add 60% to upgrade from poor to the new frugal middle class and we still need 40% more energy.

  6. stockingrate
    July 8th, 2011 at 23:19 | #6

    As QLD population has, is, and will grow the impact of regulatory water per capita reduction on state consumption has been, is being, and will be eroded.

    By reducing waste without stopping population growth the impact of the efficiency is to make us more vulnerable to drought as the buffer of consumption reduction has gone.

    During the drought the efficiencies did not allow maintenance of food production in the Lockyer.

  7. fred
    July 8th, 2011 at 23:20 | #7


    No it wasn’t just about new tech, that’s a straw man or straw woman.
    You can have savings and reduce waste without new tech.
    And the water savings were not anywhere near based on 4 minute showers, another strawperson.
    Here is a brief description of the water saving scheme’s main tenets:
    “The Target 140 program included:
    • The Residential Excessive Water Users Compliance Program under which households
    which use above a specified allocation without a legitimate reason are exposed to
    • Water restrictions.
    • Requirements for industry to implement Water Efficiency Management Plans.
    -Requirements for new houses to substitute 70,000 litres per annum from rainwater or local
    recycling and to incorporate water efficient fixtures.
    • A comprehensive water rebate scheme.
    • Pressure and leakage reduction programs. Brisbane City Council has saved 20 megalitres
    (ML) of water per day under such a program.”

    You will note 4 minute showers is trivial in context.

    So efficiency is very much a viable option despite your personal objection.

    There is a reason why we have one of the highest per capita energy usage rates in the world – we are wasteful and prolifigate in our systems and outlook.

    There is lots of fat which could be trimmed from the beast that people would barely notice [did you notice the 20 litres plus per day per person saved by Brisbane council?] for significant impact.
    Lets give it a go.

    For example [and please pardon the somewhat self righteous aspect of that which follows] my houshold , which is fairly standard for my region and demographic, uses about 60% of the average Oz domestic domestic consumption and we are an all electric household with an extra element [we have to pump our domestic water] over and above the ‘norm’.
    Its not hard to decrease energy consumption, with just a few minor changes in routine etc considerable savings can occur.

    Attitude is part of the equation.

  8. Fran Barlow
    July 8th, 2011 at 23:35 | #8

    Either possible exception for those who daily undertake labour in which the become heavily spokesman it’s hard to imagine why showering need exceed four minutes.

    Just saying … YMMV

  9. stockingrate
    July 8th, 2011 at 23:35 | #9

    Not to mention dead gardens.

  10. sam
    July 8th, 2011 at 23:45 | #10

    Ok sure, but points 1 and 2 in your description impacted hugely on my quality of life. I prefer to have a 20 minute shower, or even a bath. It’s certainly true that we can reduce our resource use, but don’t tell me there isn’t any personal cost. It’s not “a few minor changes,” it’s incredibly unpleasant.

    At the time, Anna Bligh pointed to the ability of those in SE Queensland to make sacrifices as evidence that neither population, nor industry growth needed to be curbed. There’s something especially enraging about an austere disciplinarian who sells what she forces you not to use. Conservation is of no use while we have leaders that ignore physical limits.

  11. fred
    July 8th, 2011 at 23:49 | #11

    ” I prefer to have a 20 minute shower…”

    Jesu you’re joking aren’t you?

  12. sam
    July 8th, 2011 at 23:55 | #12

    @Fran Barlow
    No one needs a shower more than 4 minutes long, I *want* it, that’s all. I’m much less happy when I don’t have it. And if it wasn’t for the extreme pro-growthers who want to see Brisbane turn into another Tokyo I could have it, without any water recycling or desal.

    stockingrate, Too right, dead gardens, and children who never knew what it was to play in a sprinkler on a hot afternoon.

    fred actually, even 20 minutes is conservative for me. It still feels a little rushed.

  13. Michael
    July 9th, 2011 at 00:15 | #13

    LED lights are only “on the horizon”?

    Then why is half my house lit with them?

  14. Freelander
    July 9th, 2011 at 00:27 | #14

    I would imagine that, given the dramatic reductions in the cost of electronic components, and before that many other mass produced products, photo-voltaics would, after a few years of volume manufacture, experience cost reductions which would make it cost competitive (and, of course, that would happen so much faster if a decent regime of emissions pricing were already in place).

    Has anyone come across any research that has estimated the types of cost reductions that could be expected with volume production?

    I suppose we will have to wait for China to do it?

  15. fred
    July 9th, 2011 at 00:32 | #15

    See, there are 2 problems revealed there Sam.
    Firstly your sense of privileged self entitlement and bugger the rest of us.
    Secondly equating water efficiency, and I presume energy efficiency similarly, with trivia such as shower times.
    Most of the water saved in SEQ came from the non-domestic sector, I repeated the info about Brisbane Council, just them alone, no-one else, saving 2 megalites per day on infrastructure improvement but, alas, some people want to drag the discussion down to trivia like showwer times.
    I shake me head in disbelief at how a urgent topic can be derailed so easily.

    Yeah, dead gardens, particularly back yard veggie stuff, is a real issue.
    They should be exempted from water restrictions because they save money on food, are energy efficient and provide valuable leisure input to lots of people.
    In the rush to save water [and I’m basing my experience on the situation in South Australia] the needs of many were put behind the wants of a few in many ways.
    I’m looking at irrigators with that statement.

    Anyway here’s a suggestion for saving energy.
    Drive along a main city drag well after midnight sometime and observe all the businesses that have advertising signs lit up despite the business being closed.
    Turn them off.

  16. Sam
    July 9th, 2011 at 02:14 | #16

    I understand your point, but here’s my objection.

    I always used to be able to do this. Domestic water consumption never used to be a problem in Australia’s major cities. People enjoyed long showers, and there was plenty of water to go around. No one was buggering anyone else. High water use was a birthright, and we weren’t hurting anyone. So what changed?

    Well there was a cyclical drought, but there had been droughts before without a large impact on urban water supplies. The structural reason was high population and industry growth – two policies I’m against on non-water-related environmental grounds anyway. Now, if a war or other emergency required a temporary period of austerity I’d be all for it, but there was nothing of the kind. It was just a foretaste of the really negative consequences these bad, go-for-growth policies are going to produce eventually anyway.

    As I said before, leaders like Bligh actually cited austerity as proof that their fantasy of never-ending growth was reasonable. I believe that with a premier this deranged, austerity saves no water in the long run. Anything you don’t use will be wasted in a new outer-suburban development project. And that project will do more than just waste water, it will also destroy our precious biodiversity. It will bulldoze places that were once wild and sacred, where birds used to nest, and hikers used to rest.

    I don’t feel as though I have a sense of privileged self entitlement. I feel like a very powerless person having life’s simple pleasures bargained away for me by a bipartisan group of very idiotic politicians, in exchange for more pointless suburbia. I feel very put upon when other citizens scold me into worsening my life still further, while ignoring the fact that the forces that got us to this state of affairs will, if left unchecked, eventually destroy us, or at least make us unrecognisable.

  17. fred
    July 9th, 2011 at 05:17 | #17

    Nice response.

    I can’t disagree with most of what you say on general principles with the caveat that being from SA I dunno about Bligh and her mates specifically but what you say resonates with what I hear [though my sources eg media aren’t trustworthy] and, further, the infinite growth outlook is a universal disease, Rann and co [including the COALition] have the same ‘if it moves shoot it, it its still chop it down’ ethos.

    The problem is, I more humbly suggest this time around, that climate change and the absolute need for preserving, nay even expanding, biodiversity puts imperatives upon us all to consume less.
    Less energy, less water, less land and whatever else we are so relentlessly destroying.

    And that means we have to play smarter.
    Which includes being less wasteful of what we have that is a diminishing resource eg air, soil, critters, energy, what have you.
    We are prolifigate and wasteful in Oz and have to pull our heads in a bit and be less greedy and selfish about these scarce necessities.
    You and me and him and her.
    [Incidentally, domestic water has been a problem in Oz cities before, I remember when Adelaide had water restrictions yonks ago and my rellies there were whinging about restrictions whilst I was wasting water in my city cos it come out of the end of a pipeline from the Murray. ]

    I got my back up with the appearance that you were objecting to one of the answers to the problem, namely be more efficient, by countering with a triviality.

    There are lots of ways to reduce energy consumption that involve minimal disruption, lets explore them.
    And if some of us have to reduce our use, well then so be it, sorry, but in the final analysis, bottom line as they say, we can’t keep justifying our high personal levels of consumption when there isn’t enough to go around for others.

    Again, thanks for the response.

  18. John Quiggin
    July 9th, 2011 at 06:13 | #18

    I’ve found everything Ted Nordhaus has written to be tendentious and wrong, and the Nature report, as I read it, says that he is wrong again this time.

  19. Scott
    July 9th, 2011 at 07:10 | #19


    Thanks for the heads up about set-top boxes. I have a Cisco set-top box with PVR option, which is the worst sort of energy drain. I had noted that our electric bills are a bit larger then this time last year, but I wasn’t aware of why.

    To be honest, I don’t know how to plug this energy hole. This technology is pretty raw and the thing needs to reboot daily as it is, which is a pain in the arse. It is wonderful to have, since we can watch when we want when we want to, and my wife has issues with insomnia so she needs to have it available at 3am. (So turning it off overnight doesn’t work for us).

    I suppose I will just have to pay up. Since in my part of Canada we get our electricity from hydro electric systems, we don’t burn coal, but still… I guess I should send a complaint to my cable provider.

  20. Ikonoclast
    July 9th, 2011 at 07:44 | #20

    It is very complex to do a full energy accounting on energy use. This is not saying we should not attempt it. The first example I use is so-called power saving light bulbs. Let us ask some pertinent questions;

    1. Do they take more energy to manufacture. (I don’t know.)
    2. Do they fail sooner and need earlier replacement? (In my experience, yes.)
    3. Do I use more petrol in trips to the lighting store to replace them? (It feels like I do.)
    4. Are they more polluting in manufacture and disposal? (Not strictly an energy question.)

    When it comes to solar and wind power are the fossil fuel energy inputs measured in any full accounting of solar and wind efficiency?

    The facts that energy accounting is so complex and energy efficiency is so important suggest that the best approach would be to remove all subsidies on private and business energy generation and consumption. Where economies of scale, natural monopoly effects and national strategic planning suggest public energy generation is more efficient and more equitable (power stations and the power grid) then luxury tariffs should be applied to defined luxury use above an acceptable base use.

    Sam’s shower parable does have a valid point. (I don’t mean the actual 20 minute hot showers.) It seems clear that corporate capital is “blanket” applying scarcity and growth pressure arguments in all cases (whether these are valid or not on each case by case basis) to justify widespread excessive price rises. The power of oligopolies to dominate the Australian market and raise prices in anti-compettive ways is out of control.

    Energy efficiency is a necessary but not sufficient step in fighting climate change and resource depletion. The power of oligopolist corporate capital and fossil fuel mining companies must be broken before we will have any chance of enlightened policies in these matters.

  21. John Quiggin
    July 9th, 2011 at 08:09 | #21


    It’s easy to find life-cycle analyses for light bulbs, and your reported experience is far off the norm (so far, in fact, that I suspect your prejudices may be coloring your perceptions). The standard finding is that compact fluorescents last, on average, 10 times as long as incandescents.


    Unless you bought one really bad batch, the likelihood of experiencing shorter lifetimes for the number of lights in an average house is infinitesimally small.

  22. Freelander
    July 9th, 2011 at 09:53 | #22

    Ted Nordhaus, apparently “Ted holds a BA in history from the University of California, Berkeley.“ Apparently no one has given him a wikipedia entry so far.

    Has to be sad when one of these try hard self promoter crazies hasn’t even managed to have one of their followers write a wikipedia entry. Doesn’t appear to have stopped the media from taking him seriously.

  23. Ken Fabos
    July 9th, 2011 at 10:04 | #23

    May, I like a long hot shower – one of the few indulgences in a fairly frugal lifestyle – but we rely on earth dams and tanks, not a mains supply of water. And solar hot water too – but when the dams and tanks are struggling from drought I wouldn’t treat that ‘treat’ as an entitlement. Having lived rough for a time I can assure you that it’s possible to stay clean with less than a litre of water a day and no shower at all – laundering clothes can use a lot more water but when it gets down to it ‘whiter than white’ goes the same way as the luxury hot shower when the water gets scarce (and increasingly muddy). It’s a matter of priorities, not entitlement.

    Ikonoclast, despite it being a complicated exercise a frank and true accounting of costs, internal and external, look essential. The looming sustainability crisis (combined of multiple crises on many fronts) requires a broad across the boards honesty that currently is absent. What we are seeing from the Coalition (and Labor too) is the inadequate puffed into policy and called a ‘solution’ and that involves a foundation of falsehoods; we’ve cheated our way successfully so far, using finite resources and eating away at environmental capital like we can always find more and it’s so ingrained to pretend away the long term consequences that the very idea of running on honesty has become a fringe radical one. Thus Australians have no problem with this being other nation’s problem to solve whilst we maintain the advantage that comes with doing the least we can get away with.

  24. July 9th, 2011 at 10:10 | #24

    Ikonoclast, are you putting compact fluorescents in recessed fittings? If so, heat build up can cause them to fail. Apparently it is possible to get compact fluorescents that are, “Suitable for enclosed fixtures”. Using lower wattage bulbs can also help by reducing the amount of heat produced and and you might want to look into LED lights and see if they’re suitable.

  25. BilB
    July 9th, 2011 at 11:03 | #25

    I’m with Ikonoklast on the compact flourescent experience. I find them a poor experience. Though the poor life can be offset with a cheaper product. I found better pricing at GoLo for these, and I believe that the cheaper product lasts better than the name brands. I use them in my business and at home in a large range of mountings.

    For real impact with energy efficiency without a reduction in life style Australia should:

    1 Finish the national building insulation programme started by Gillard.
    2 Apply an agressive national solar water heating installation programme with backup heating from heat pumps.
    3 Apply an agressive incentive programme for the introduction of electric vehicles, of all forms. And by incentives I mean for industry to build and import vehicles, and install charge points.

    These measures on their own will reduce energy consumption nationally and increase employment.


  26. BilB
    July 9th, 2011 at 11:28 | #26

    Ken Fabos, that was a very good summary there. I agree with you on the cleaning rational, other than for me a shower is an essential comfort. In the 70’s I built a recirculating shower for the 2 metre square accomodation that I lived in for 18 months, and this was publicised in the SMH at the time so recirculating showers cannot in principle by restricted by patent. Obviously the water must be reheated on each pass as water loses much of its heat in the fall from the shower rose to the pan. My first, very rough knock up design had a problem with water channel contamination. This problem I have resolved and will prove in the system to be built into the boat that I am building for my daughters. In the first design the water reheating was achieved with a copper coil which sat on the gas cooker while the shower was running. I have a far better solution for the next version. Recirculating showers require a change of water after the cleaning, prior to the stand and soak (think dishwashers). Japanese people understand this. An hour long shower can be had with just 4 litres of water.

    All of this when combined with an expandable shower closet (patented and named “expandasuite” [not by me though I did have some design input]) can provide maximum cleanliness with a minimum of space and water consumption (though not necessarily energy).

  27. Fran Barlow
    July 9th, 2011 at 11:42 | #27

    Sam said:

    No one needs a shower more than 4 minutes long, I *want* it, that’s all. I’m much less happy when I don’t have it.

    Oh I totally get that. Stuff that one does purely for one’s own pleasure is on a different metric. Still, given that the resource is a common one, it’s fair that if yoyu want this or any other pleasure, that all of the impositions on the system your pleasure makes ought to be internalised correct?

    Now personally, I can’t see what is wrong with recycling water. In a scenario like that, long showers at modest cost could be the ticket. Or you could acts as Ken Fabos has, or get a rainwater tank. All good.

    Each of us has our own little luxuries which demand no rational defence, but we ought to bear those costs ourselves, IMO.

  28. Ikonoclast
    July 9th, 2011 at 12:35 | #28

    @John Quiggin

    Some of my compact flouroescents were in enlosed spaces where, as another post said, heat can lead to early failure. But my experience elsewhere has not been good. Maybe I did get a bad batch. But tell me is this testing independent, reputable, repeated and repeatable?

    I am highly sceptical of the quality of flouroescents coming from China and they all seem to come from China now. My small diameter circular flouros (diameter about equal to length of A4 page) have had absolutely abysmal performance on repeated occasions since only Chinese manufacture has been available. Many compact flouros and standard flouros now give poor quality light in a very greeny-yellow part of the spectrum. It’s sickly light and the light quality seems to deteriorate even further before complete failure.

    Frankly, I’d like to see family cars over 2.5 litres banned or else have their rego doubled or trebled. That would go a long way to saving more energy than light-bulbs. I’d also like to see much tougher quality controls on imports. There are many safety issues and quality issues with imports now. China is a major offender with poor and dangerous products. Personally, I boycot Chinese products as much as possible on both quality/safety grounds and on the basis that we should not trade with totalitarian states.

  29. ken n
    July 9th, 2011 at 12:38 | #29

    I think you might be a bit too optimistic here, JQ.
    Domestic use of energy in Australia is something like 10% of the total. Electricity specifically is, I believe, a bit less. So you need to make a very large reduction in domestic use to make much difference to the nation’s use.
    This is very well discussed in David McKay’s book Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air http://www.withouthotair.com/. His main theme is “every big bit helps” and he points out that many of the suggestions made – such as turning off phone chargers when not in use – produce trivial savings. I suspect the set-top box story is similar. The NYT piece does not say how much US energy consumption would drop if the boxes disappeared.
    The incandescent light bulb story is an interesting one. The ban has been pushed by Philips which was not making money out of bulbs because they were so cheap. Philips had LED technology in development. Making your competitor illegal is an effective market building technique. (This problem of industry capture need to be watched in all aspects of carbon reduction law).
    LEDs are used in commercial situations and for car headlights and also bike lights but they are a bit too expensive for widespread domestic use yet. And they haven’t got the light balance quite right yet. But I am sure Philips will eventually do very well out of it.
    There are significant opportunities for energy savings in industry but they need investment in new plant and such. That’s difficult to justify unless the business is growing.
    A carbon tax can of course change the equation but it needs to be well about $30 – and imposed without compensation – to get Australian manufacturing to move much.
    Japan made big improvements in the 80s, following the oil shocks, as its industry was growing. (That is why the Europeans were so anxious to get 1990 as the base year in the Kyoto Accord, but that is another story.)
    Motor vehicles I don’t know much about. Quite good improvements have been made, mostly by making cars lighter through use of plastics and making them a bit smaller. I understand that most engineers believe that only incremental improvements can be made to the internal combustion engine – but I’d be happy to be shown to be wrong by something who is familiar with the issue.

  30. may
    July 9th, 2011 at 13:05 | #30

    @Ken Fabos
    i haven’t said anything about showers


    shower on -wet down-shower off-soap and scrub-(hair as well sometimes) shower on-rinse-hot water off-cold blast-cold water off-rub dry-feel great.

    iv’e never timed it but the time spent scrubbing is definitely more than four minutes and the time spent wetting and rinsing is definitely less.

    anybody who spent time as a child in a family that relied on tank water doesn’t need to think about not wasting water.
    it’s in the bones.

  31. BilB
    July 9th, 2011 at 14:17 | #31

    Ken N, I think that your 10% domestic electricity share figure is way out, though I have not yet found a definitive evaluation of the split. Anyone?

  32. ken n
    July 9th, 2011 at 14:40 | #32
  33. ken n
    July 9th, 2011 at 14:47 | #33

    Some good stuff from ABARE, too.
    The graph on energy intensity is interesting. I think this is a worldwide pattern and especially in countries like china and india. I guess you would expect them to be on the steep part of the S curve for growth in energy efficiency.

  34. Ken Fabos
    July 9th, 2011 at 15:01 | #34

    Sorry May, I meant Sam – and it was more to the wider point that we do a re-evaluation of what’s essential usage when it’s in short supply. We are extravagant consumers of resources and we would not be impoverished by husbanding some of them – like the water tank running low, our environmental resources are nearing their limits and need to be used more wisely. Too bad we aren’t very wise.

  35. Sam
    July 9th, 2011 at 15:56 | #35

    I agree with everything you’ve said in response. There are some luxuries we in the west have enjoyed (like cheap coal powered electricity) that were always doing damage to the collective welfare.

  36. Sam
    July 9th, 2011 at 15:57 | #36

    @Fran Barlow
    I also agree with all of this. Sorry, I should have put the two responses in the one comment.

  37. BilB
    July 9th, 2011 at 17:45 | #37

    Thanks Ken N 32,

    That was a good choice as it puts 2007 domestic electricity (230 peta joules) at a 62.5: 159.5 ratio or domestic is 28% of the total 222 billion kilowatt hours for 2007.

  38. ken n
    July 9th, 2011 at 17:50 | #38


  39. BilB
    July 9th, 2011 at 18:10 | #39

    From your link

    “Household electricity consumption rose to 231 petajoules (PJ) in 2006-07, up 39% from 1997-98”

    231 peta joules. 1 petajoule equals 277 777 777.78 kWh. So 231 peta joules equals 64.16 billion kilowatt hours. 2007 total electricity consumption for Australia was 222 billion kilowatt hours. So 222 minus 64.16 is 157.84 which yields a 64.16 to 157.84 ratio. Or 28.9% domestic electricity content of Australia’s total electricity consumption.

  40. Ben McMillan
    July 9th, 2011 at 18:10 | #40

    @ken n
    The ABARE data is counting primary energy consumption, and waste heat generated at coal power stations is tallied as being consumed in the electricity sector, rather than by the end user. Since coal plants are less than 50% efficient, this is most of it.

    Obviously reducing consumption in households also reduces consumption at power plants, so 10% is misleading as an estimate of the impact of residential energy efficiency programs.

    says that the australian household sector is responsible for 17% of greenhouse gas emissions (mostly from power stations)

  41. ken n
    July 9th, 2011 at 18:26 | #41

    OK, folks, do the arithmetic any way that makes you comfortable. !7%, 28.9% – whatever you like.
    All the sources I read say 10-12%
    But the issue raised by JQ was what impact on total energy consumption households can make by behavior changes or small technology changes.
    And, even if we accept your figures, changing your light bulbs or switching off your set-top box (unfortunately) does not make a great difference.
    McKay’s book really is worth reading and the line “every big bit helps” is important.
    The idea that if each of us makes a few small changes, it will all add up to a lot is dangerously misleading.
    To reduce greenhouse gas emission enough to make a difference (and i agree we should) will involve significant pain and sacrifice.
    Governments should be more honest about that. A carbon tax of $20-30 is nonsense.

  42. PSC
    July 9th, 2011 at 19:53 | #42

    JQ –

    If it’s specific technologies, like light bulbs and set-top-boxes which lead to energy efficiency, why does not a central-command/control model work best – as per Abbott/Hockey? We simply put regulation in place which says “don’t use inefficient technology”, and good result flow?

    The (Howard) greenhouse office put in place policies to limit the power consumption of devices on standby. Is this not appropriate?

  43. July 9th, 2011 at 22:58 | #43

    PSC, I think that a carbon price works best when people care about the price. Electricity wholesalers care a lot about the price of electricty so a price on carbon has a big effect on emissions from power plants. When people don’t care about the price because the true cost of something is hidden (set top boxes, phantom load, uninsulated buildings, dark roofs, etc.), or too small and fiddly to worry about (phone chargers), or when people are playing status games (cars), then efficiency standards can be helpful.

  44. July 9th, 2011 at 23:26 | #44

    I think there’s a key point being missed in a lot of discussion here. Sitting in the dark certainly reduces energy consumption, but energy efficiency is really about achieving the same utility with less energy. In a residential situation that would include better insulation of building fabric, leak reduction (to reduce infiltration of outside air), double glazing of windows, heat pump space and water heating (possibly solar thermal) and high efficacy lighting (and/or sensor lighting), along with good solar passive design if building on a greenfield and energy efficient appliances. I can’t comment on the economics of Passivhaus in Australia, but anecdotally these houses require no space heating (or cooling, presumably) at all. Reducing shower times to 2 min and finishing up with a shock shower is commendable – and would probably make me cry – but this isn’t really in keeping with the general intent of the energy efficiency concept.

  45. BilB
    July 10th, 2011 at 00:05 | #45

    Ken N,

    There are a few factors flying around here. There is total residential electricity consumption, total residential energy consumption, total residential CO2 emissions, some other.

    So total residential electricity consumption (2007) appears to be 28.9%, residential CO2 emissions appear to be 17%, and I am guessing that the figure that you have in mind is the residential total energy consumption (all fuels) at 10% to 12 % for some year, perhaps.

    One possible outcome from an efficiency focus is that technique and efficiency commitment developed at home can infuse into the commercial and industrial sectors. And visa versa for that matter. Industry is, after all manned by regular people who mostly all go to work every day. Japan is now proving that energy saving is very effective and, according to contributor sg who lives in Japan, does not restrict peoples life in any significant manner.

  46. Dick Veldkamp
    July 10th, 2011 at 03:31 | #46

    Dear Prof Quiggin,

    I skimmed through the discussion here, and it seems that participants are not aware of this piece of research: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/dgoldstein/Rebound-5-7-2011-FINAL.pdf
    Result in one sentence: there is no or hardly any rebound effect. Improved energy efficiency works!

  47. John Quiggin
    July 10th, 2011 at 05:16 | #47

    Looking at the cases I’ve mentioned, only set-top boxes are specifically domestic. Workplaces use a lot of lighting and industries of all kinds use motor transport. I didn’t intend my claim about energy efficiency to be confined to the household sector.

  48. ken n
    July 10th, 2011 at 07:41 | #48

    And nor were my comments limited to the household sector JQ. My point was that oit is dangerous to suggest that the needed reductions in carbon can be made with little inconvenience.
    Imagine if, instead of his “I have nothing to promise you but..” speech Churchill had said “We will nip over to Europe and knock off these Nazis over the weekend without raising a sweat”
    I know you are not saying this but many, including Gillard, are close.
    And Dick, I don’t think anyone here suggested that there was a rebound effect. Improved energy efficiency, however achieved, is likely to reduce energy consumption in most countries.

  49. John Quiggin
    July 10th, 2011 at 08:19 | #49

    Ken, I agree. My point would be more that, without energy efficiency improvements, the task of reducing emissions at the required rate would be exceptionally costly. With energy efficiency, the costs are significant (several per cent of national income) but not unbearable.

    Dick V – thanks for this link, which I will follow up

  50. ken n
    July 10th, 2011 at 10:10 | #50

    OK JQ – we are close. Significant improvements in energy efficiency are certainly possible but it will take much more than a few tweaks. Quite a few years ago I tried to justify a co-generation plant for a factory – producing electricity and raising steam. The economics then were not even close. I doubt that the gear has got a lot better so it would take a very big increase in energy prices to push it over the line. A pity, because I really wanted to do it.
    And the incandescent bulb issue is almost entirely a domestic one – factories, warehouses, shops and offices have long used fluoro tubes.

  51. aidan
    July 11th, 2011 at 14:39 | #51

    There are definitely some gains to be made with education. I’d like to start with the idiots who design greenfields developments so as to make it very difficult to properly site a house for solar gain.

    I’d then progress to the architects and designers who clearly have no idea about ANY solar design, let alone good stuff. As long as the place has ‘3 different materials’ and a portico over the front door then it’s A-OK.

    Finally I’d have a word to the people who do have good solar access and keep their curtains and blinds closed on a sunny winter’s day. I live in Canberra, and on one small stretch of my ride to work this morning I passed 23 houses (here it is marked as a walking route ) and none had unblocked windows. Approximately 4 of the houses had blinds that were at least open on some windows, the rest were completely shut.

    It was cold at 8.30am with an apparent temp of 0C, but solar gain can make a real difference. We didn’t have to heat our home at all between 10am and 4pm the day before, even though the apparent temperature never rose above zero (max actual temp was 8.2C at 2pm). We don’t have a solar passive house, it is a well insulated brick veneer that we’ve altered a little to maximise solar gain. Nothing very special.

    You can lead a homeowner to free heating, but can you make them use it?

  52. James A
    July 11th, 2011 at 16:16 | #52


    I am studying Architecture at the University of Melbourne and in a course on Urban Design a source from a professor (which I have not got in front of me) from around 2005 (so before the massive growth in Plasma TVs) stated that something like 48.7% of energy used in Melbourne was by Transport, and that cars are the least energy efficient by a significant factor, and that was before considering the embodied energy of construction and maintenance of roads and freeways.

    Until there is a concerted effort by industry and government to enable (particularly) commuters to reduce car use, then I fear even the most well intentioned CPR schemes are going to be a drop in the ocean. A London style mass transit system and a rethink of car dependant new suburbs is the best forward, but clearly governments lack the courage and or intelligence.

    On a side bar, I left school in 1991 and went to a Ross Gittens HSC economics preparation course in either 90 or 91. I remember him vividly talking about reducing greenhouse gas then (he made a joke about methane and cattle emissions), so sadly it is not like this is somehow a recent concern. The older and the more informed I get, I am sorry to say I dont share your optimism. If I was a gambling man, my money is on the end of civilisation within the next 100 years triggered largely by the positive feedback of released methane from the thawing Russian permafrost.

  53. Jim Birch
    July 12th, 2011 at 10:41 | #53

    I read somewhere that the federal government is working on standards for sleep mode power consumption for household electronic devices. Apparently around 10% of household consumption currently goes to sleeping devices and this could be reduced to a couple of percent with no usability impact by better design.

    There’s also a change in electronic technology occurring – driven to a significant extent by the desire to extend the run time for smart phones and portable computers – that reduces power consumption by switching off unused subsystems and varying processor clock speeds based on processing requirement. This is trickling out to other deviceds. Power consumption per compute unit is becoming a selling point in big computer installations where low power not only reduces electricity bills but also reduces the aircon requirements.

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