10 January 2010

Counting the cost of energy

The problem with energy,” says the earnest civil servant across the café table from me, “is entropy. Actually, three problems. Where the energy comes from is a problem. Where it goes to when we’re done with it is a problem. And the process of using it is a problem. Those three things will always be true. They will always cost us in money, resources and consequences.” Then she adds, looking nervously about her: “But saying so is a shortcut to a short career. People want to hear that they can have unlimited free supplies, without spoiling their view, while saving the planet at the same time ... juggling things to try and square that circle is mostly computerised data analysis.

The analysis to which she refers is not just application of a known set of techniques to a static set of criteria. Not only is the landscape changing as technologies and economics shift, but the analysis itself invariably informs change in both methodologies and approaches that in turn alter the criteria on which the analysis was based. This is not unique to energy issues, nor to the present time, but it does become more acute when (as here) both policy and innovation respond to pressure in an area where margins have become the main area for advance. As Tom Tietenberg commented in a recent survey of energy efficiency effectiveness, ‘policy makers must recognise an expanded set of barriers and respond with some ingenuity in applying an expanded set of available instruments’.1 [More...]

  1. Tietenberg, T., "Reflections – Energy Efficiency Policy: Pipe Dream or Pipeline to the Future?" in Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, 2009. 3(2): p. 304

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