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Yes, Energy Efficiency Matters

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Henry Craver's picture
Small Business Owner Self-employed

As a small business owner, I'm always trying to find ways to cut costs and boost the dependability of my services. To that end, I've become increasingly invested in learning about energy saving...

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In the ongoing conversation about the future of energy, there’s a noisy subset of commentators who insist energy efficiency doesn’t matter, or that it’s been good but we don’t need more of it. The only sensible way to keep up with electricity demand while cutting emissions, they say, is through technological innovations that produce more clean generation. Conservation, in their view, is a waste of time and effort.

This viewpoint was summed up by Michael Shellenberger, an author an self-proclaimed eco-modernist, on the Conversations with Coleman podcast a couple months ago during a segment on the unpopularity of nuclear power: 

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“If you have nuclear power plants ... there’s no basis for moralizing. So if you’re someone who gains a lot of pleasure from telling other people how to live their lives...nuclear is a bummer because it means there’s no basis for your demands for radical silo transformation.”

I don’t totally disagree with Shellenberger. The same way some insist technological ingenuity frees us from any need to cut back, others insist technological innovation can play little to no role in protecting our environment. Both groups are wrong, in my opinion. 

Innovation in the field will take us to the carbon neutral promise land one day. But that day is a ways off, and in the meantime we’ll need to consume less. 

This fact is evidenced by two of the most advanced renewable economies in the world: Germany and California. 

Germany has been aggressively pursuing renewables since 2012 but has yet to cut their emissions. That’s because their wind field generation scales with wind, and not demand. When the turbines fail to meet customer power demand, the country falls back on dirty coal plants. Moving forward, if Germany has any hope of meeting their Paris goals, they’ll have to reduce consumption when their renewables aren’t cutting it. Advances in battery technology will help, but new storage won’t completely solve the problem any time soon. 

California has found itself in a similar predicament, albeit compounded by extreme weather and forest fires. The state has pursued ambitious renewable goals for some time now. The reliability consequences of the initiative have been clear the past two summers. High demand during heat waves has required utilities to cut power to swaths of customers. The damage, however, has been greatly mitigated through residential response programs. Improved conservation and EE systems will be required as California continues its push for 100% clean energy. 

Luckily, it seems policy makers are privy to the importance of energy efficiency on the road to a carbon neutral grid. For example, the US Department of Agriculture recently announced $464 million in funding for renewable and energy efficiency projects in rural parts of the country. In Texas, where I live, projects funded by this initiative are already underway. The Stephenville Type B Economic Development, for example, has received $100,000 to conduct 81 bioenergy and energy efficiency site assessments for agricultural producers.

The infrastructure bill also emphasises energy efficiency, as I’m sure you know. 

The successful transition to a clean grid will require an assortment of technologies and strategies. Be weary of those who insist on a simplistic, single dimensional approach, whether it be one of technological might or radical conservation. A mix of both are likely needed.

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Sep 16, 2021

"Innovation in the field will take us to the carbon neutral promise land one day. But that day is a ways off, and in the meantime we’ll need to consume less.
This fact is evidenced by two of the most advanced renewable economies in the world: Germany and California."

Henry, you've probably noticed that the largest problems with reliability and failure to meet carbon goals  are in the countries/states with the most renewables. You seem not to have noticed, however, that those two entities are the same ones that are working overtime to close their nuclear power plants.

It's not complicated: renewables are the problem, nuclear is the solution - it really doesn't get simpler than that. Diablo Canyon Power Plant is, right now, generating 2.3 billion watts of carbon free energy for a marginal cost of 2.91¢/kWh - with the plant paid off, it's the cheapest dispatchable power on the planet.

Efficiency, as Shellenberger points out, is irrelevant with nuclear energy. Use as little or as much as you like - no guilt. Innovation? None of that needed, either. Pressurized water reactors that were built forty years ago run day and night, 24/7/365, and they've only become better with maintenance and fuel improvements.

"High demand during heat waves has required utilities to cut power to swaths of customers. The damage, however, has been greatly mitigated through residential response programs."

No, it hasn't. California's DR response programs have never made a significant contribution to meeting demand. It's one of the myths perpetuated by a natural gas industry that benefits tremendously when they don't work.

"The successful transition to a clean grid will require an assortment of technologies and strategies."

No, it won't. Generating a reliable supply of public electricity is hard enough with only a few sources of generation. Doing it with an assortment of technologies and strategies makes it a non-stop headache - in hot weather, and cold. And somehow, natural gas is always called in to come to the rescue, to balance frequency and voltage, to fill in the gaps in wind and solar generation. It's almost as if natural gas thrives on a grid that's unreliable...in fact, it's very much like that.

 

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