Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Why Energy Efficiency Isn't Enough

Can energy efficiency and conservation alone solve the CO2 problem? An op-ed in today's Oregonian by Kumar Venkat discusses this and other aspects of the problem.
Can we rely primarily on energy efficiencies in the meantime? Up to a point, yes; but efficiencies are not a panacea for all our energy problems. Energy efficiencies are known to cause rebounds, which can reduce potential energy savings by stimulating additional energy use.
This is Jevons Paradox, and you can see it in gasoline consumption in the US over decades.

Here's a back of the envelope calculation:
Take CO2 and population data from the World Bank, for 2009. Assume that
  1. OECD countries cut their per-capita CO2 emissions by 30%. 
  2. the per-capita emissions of the non-OECD countries reach a factor F of the OECD countries (currently F=0.29).
  3. the world's population increases to 10 billion, with all the increase in the non-OECD countries. 
Then this would be the world's total CO2 emissions, as a function of F, as a factor of 2009's CO2 emissions:

In other words, even if we cut our emissions by 30% and everyone in the world attains this standard of living, emissions would be 2.5 times today's.

You can't even get to today's (already unacceptable) levels of emissions, and F=1, unless the cutback = 72%

I don't see how you can possibly get enough cutback in emissions with conservation and increased efficiency, unless most of the world stays poor. The demographics swamp everything.

And if we have to reduce emissions by 80% of today's, it's impossible without new technologies (at least in energy storage, if not renewable energy). Impossible. You can't even get close.

You must either (1) invent new ways to store energy, or (2) new ways to generate noncarbon energy. Lots of it, on demand. R&D is the only answer.

Note: the only data I used is (2009):

OECD population: 1.225 B
non-OECD population: 5.536 B

OECD per-capita emissions: 9.83 mt
non-OECD per-capita emissions: 2.88 mt

(Remember, US per-capita emissions in 2009 were 16.9 mt.)


charlesH said...

"R%D is the only answer."

Correct. An opinion also shared by Piekle Jr., Hansen and many others on both sides of the CAGW debate.

David Appell said...

But that doesn't mean a carbon tax is a bad idea. It means the opposite, since it will incentivize such R&D.

Steve Bloom said...

CharlesH makes things up again. Jim Hansen believes no such thing. How satisfying it must be to never have to fact-check yourself.

But wait, David. Doesn't Jevon's Paradox mean that we will use the proceeds from a carbon tax to subsidize more fossil fuel? And that as new energy technologies come on-line, we'll just keep using more and more energy, including from fossil fuels? I mean, why would we not? I'm confused...

Joe Romm writes his old favorite post yet again, as if fresh for you.

charlesH said...

Hansen believes and R&D AND a carbon tax. I'm sure he believes in lots of other things I didn't mention.


"The Liquid-Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) is a thorium reactor concept that uses a chemically-stable fluoride salt for the medium in which nuclear reactions take place. This fuel form yields flexibility of operation and eliminates the need to fabricate fuel elements. This feature solves most concerns that have prevented thorium from being used in solid-fueled reactors. The fluid fuel in LFTR is also easy to process and to separate useful fission products, both stable and radioactive. LFTR also has the potential to destroy existing nuclear waste, albeit with less efficiency than in a fast reactor such as IFR."

Since a carbon tax is not politically doable, then R&D is the only answer as David says.

David Appell said...

I disagree that a carbon tax isn't doable. Australia did it, and their political environment is about equal to the US's. Most people understand and accept that CO2 emissions have a negative side (even if the details aren't known), and everyone accepts that fossil fuels are polluting and this is impacting health. A small carbon tax ($10/mt?) would put the infrastructure in place, begin to pay for the damages, and incentive R&D. Without this incentivization I don't see how the R&D can proceed -- do you?

David Appell said...

Steve, the point of a carbon tax to incentivize R&D for noncarbon energy. Or am I not getting your point? I am all for getting govt out of all subsidies for energy industries (but not R&D), as long as the energy is appropriately priced.

Dano said...

Oh, wow - there's a shocker: Charles shilling for nukes.

Guarantees aside, you can't escape the fact that there are too many humans on the planet.

I = PxAxT



charlesH said...

"Guarantees aside, you can't escape the fact that there are too many humans on the planet."

I'll bet Dano doesn't want cheap energy so those too many humans can afford lots of stuff.