Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The long road to energy efficiency

Energy efficiency has long been considered the safe spot for folks who want to build a sustainable future.  The argument goes something like this, "Of course we are going to have to find a substitute for oil someday, but that job will be a whole lot easier and we will have more time to accomplish it if we become more efficient with the energy we already use."  My take on this subject has become one of the more popular pages at the Elegant Technology website.

Energy Efficiency: What every Progressive MUST know
Energy efficiency is the goal of every sane person on earth. What’s not to like? If energy is used more efficiently it solves pollution problems, foreign policy dilemmas, balance of trade issues, etc.
So why aren’t energy efficiency problems being meaningfully addressed? It is tempting to look around for bad guys--oil industry executives, automobile manufacturers and their unions, spineless legislators, the advertising business, insane tax policy, etc.
Folks who wish to blame the “bad guys” have a small point. But when it comes to actually making a society more energy efficient, beating up on the “bad guys” is not very productive. Because the real reason a more energy efficient society never gets built is MUCH more simple and frightening: Energy efficiency is a LOT harder than it looks!!!
Since energy efficiency is obviously a worthy goal, it is necessary for folks to understand just why it is so difficult to achieve. If we do not understand the real problems, then any solution we progressives can offer will fail--along with any credibility we might have as political leadership.
In this piece, I argue that energy efficiency is function of design and that very little can be done to increase the efficiency of something once it is built.
In fact, about the only category that can change its once-manufactured energy efficiency are light fixtures--and then only some of them. This special case is made possible because the part that actually consumes the energy--the bulb itself--is a part that is designed for routine replacement. However, even here, MANY fixtures will only accept a bulb identical to the one originally installed.
To repeat--the search for higher energy efficiency has only one good example of "low hanging fruit" and that is buying better bulbs for light fixtures.  In fact, passing legislative standards mandating better light bulb performance is about the only meaningful energy bill passed during the Bush administration.

And now that 2007 bill is under attack from the lunatic right including radio loudmouth Rush Limbaugh and über-ditz presidential candidate Michele Bachmann.  They even have introduced legislation called H. R. 2417, "Better Use of Light Bulbs (BULB) Act.

Just so there is no confusion:  Energy Efficiency is by far the least controversial path to the future.  Energy efficiency is astonishing difficult to accomplish--in fact the only easy way to get more efficient is to replace old light bulbs with more high-tech varieties.  But even this strategy is now being sabotaged by lame politicians looking to score cheap points.  The only freedom the right wing is concerned with anymore is the freedom to be a total idiot.
Introducing the BUTT Act
Introducing the Better Use of Time and Talent (BUTT) Act.  Each time I am treated to Congress's latest effort to dumb down the issues in order to satisfy the agenda of this or that special interest group, or to indulge in adolescent temerity strictly for the sake of exercising one's frustration over having to abide by the rules like everyone else, I just can't help thinking of a quote from the man who remains perhaps America's most insightful political observer of all time, Will Rogers, who once suggested:
"It's a good thing we don't get all the government we pay for!"
This pearl applies beautifully to the tantrum de jour, H. R. 2417, AKA the infamous "Better Use of Light Bulbs (BULB) Act", a childish, snotty and (frankly) not-so-bright piece of misbehavior which has manifested itself into a proposed congressional act calling for the repeal of light bulb energy standards that are part of the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA), which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush in 2007.
Egged on by bitter venom dispensers like Limp Dishrag or Rash Lumpskull or whatever their names are, it seems that some in Congress will use any excuse to exercise their egos and indulge in their petty resentment without regard for the time and money they waste, resources that could be put to much better use in constructive efforts toward public service or even perhaps, (do I dare suggest?) acts of leadership.
They prey on the willing ignorance and enthusiastic distrust of those who have been exposed to just enough of the facts to eagerly believe that they will suddenly be forced to use some new and scary product of someone else's choosing, in this case, mercury-laced, expensive compact fluorescents, which actually represent only one of the options available.
What they conveniently decline to mention is that manufacturers are already producing a variety of new energy-saving bulbs for residential and commercial use, including incandescent bulbs, that look, feel and operate just like the ones we've been using for many decades, they just happen to be about 30% more energy efficient.
Oh, and by the way, those energy standards that are set to go into effect in January are expected to save consumers more than $10 billion a year on electric bills. But hey, what does that matter when compared to being told what to do? Rogers is also quoted as having remarked: "I don't make jokes, I just watch the government and report the facts!" more

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Jonathan, I laughed (a rare occasion in my economic reading these days) to see the BUTT Act proposal.

    I believe the followup Act should be the BAGS Act (Better Use of Government Service). Taking cue from our corporate overlords, there should be a government 'better use' rating system created by and managed by the GAO, rating the legislative value of all federally elected officials. Then prior to all elections, the lowest 20% BAGS are laidoff and are unable to seek re-election.

    BUTT and BAGS Acts seem perfect reflections for our legislative times, no?