The August edition of Science Magazine dedicated an eight page long focus article on how to leap the efficiency gap. This gap consists of the imbalance between the wide range of energy efficient technology that is readily available on the market and the rather small share this technology represents in the daily practice of industry, buildings, and transport.
The article goes back to the seventies, when physicist Arthur Rosenfeld abandoned his focus on particle physics to shift his work at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) on energy efficiency research. In the eighties, human ecologist Edward Vine joined the laboratory, which marked the start of an ongoing — albeit friendly — argument between the two thinkers. While Rosenfeld always trusted that new technologies would bring the solution, Vine did not cease to emphasise that a change in behaviour and decision making is required for spurring energy efficiency forward.
Science Magazine suggests that today, the tide is turning concerning this discussion: 'For the most part, energy-efficiency programs around the world have followed Rosenfeld’s line. They offer financial incentives for adopting energy-saving, cost-effective technology, and trust that consumers will follow their self-interest. Yet many researchers are now coming to Vine’s point of view. Consumers don’t seem to act like fully informed, rational decision-makers when they make energy choices.'
Steven Chu, Nobel Prize winning physicist and now the U.S. Secretary of Energy, believes that the technology is readily available and only needs to be implemented: 'Energy efficiency isn’t just low hanging fruit’, he has declared, ‘it’s fruit lying on the ground.'
So why is this fruit not being picked up? Science Magazine cites David Goldstein of the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC). He believes it is not the human psyche that prevents efficient technology from being picked up, but rather 'market failures'. The latter term groups several market barriers, of which the most important is the 'principal-agent problem': the purchaser of the energy using technology is not the same as the purchaser of the energy itself. This not only happens in business-to-business environments, it also occurs in everyday consumer life. Think for example about hotel guests who don’t have to pay for their energy consumption, or landlords who buy cheap, inefficient technology because the tenants pay the utility bills.
The Science article also tackles the question whether energy should be made more expensive to stimulate efficiency. Both followers and opponents of this thesis were asked for their vision. According to Lee Schipper of the Precourt Energy Efficiency Centre (PEEC) at Stanford University 'The single most important step in that direction [of conserving energy], is to make energy more expensive'. This vision is at odds with that of David Goldstein, who is convinced that 'low energy prices and efficiency can coexist'.Log in to post comments