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Thursday, November 28, 2013

What does it really mean to conserve energy?

How many times have you heard something along the lines of: “Turn the lights out! Electricity doesn’t grow on trees...”

Sure, we all know the world consumes too much energy – that’s been becoming increasingly more obvious over the last half-century. But what does that mean exactly? Is it too many air conditioners trying to combat hotter summers? Too many cars on the road? Poor building insulation?

Well, turns out scientist aren’t all that certain. Through careful analytic study, they’re learning more each and every day. Economists at MIT and the University of California, Berkeley recently launched E2e, a new project which will attempt to address global energy consumption and all its complexities.

 “Almost all of the previous work on energy efficiency comes from engineering studies, which look at what’s possible under ideal conditions,” says Michael Greenstone, co-director of the E2e project. “We wanted to ask a slightly different question — what are the actual returns you could expect in the real world?”

Back in 2009, McKinsey & Co, a consulting firm that focuses on solving global issues, released a surprising study proving that countries like the United States can save roughly $680 billion dollars over the next decade through strategies like sealing building ducts and upgrading old appliances.

Economists continue to analyze, challenge, and debate strategy. ”Those engineering studies can’t account for the behavioral changes you might see in response to efficiency improvements,” says Christopher Knittel, an economist with the E2e project. “People could, for instance, start adjusting their thermostat if it becomes cheaper to cool the house.”

A recent study out of Mexico showed that a government-funded program promoting energy-saving refrigerators actually curbed electricity use. However, a similar program involving air conditioners had the exact opposite effect — when people got more efficient ACs, they used them more often, and energy consumption rose.

“The point is that policymakers aren’t going to spend an infinite amount of money trying to save energy or reduce greenhouse gases,” says Greenstone. “So the motivation is to find the places where the return is the greatest. If you could reduce a ton of carbon-dioxide for $100 or two tons for $50, you’d choose the latter.”

[ ana shell, energy conumption, environment, fossil-fuel generator, nrglab, nrglab pte ltd, nrglab singapore, research council nrglab, zeev drori israel, nrglab, nrglab sh-box ]

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