Obstinate and Pliable

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

Not By Energy Efficiency Alone

Posted by John on March 19, 2008

I found this story from the Energy Tribune by author Robert Bryce via the Wall Street Journal’s Environmental Capital blog.  Bryce uses a book review as a platform to expound upon Jevon’s Paradox, or the observation made by William Stanley Jevons, that as technological improvements increase the efficiency with which a resource is used, total consumption of that resource may increase, rather than decrease.  Bryce illustrates the concept thusly:

For years, promoters like Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute have been claiming that efficiency will lower carbon dioxide emissions, save money, save energy, and provide all comers, according to Lovins, with a “lunch you get paid to eat.” But few of the faithful have acquainted themselves with William Stanley Jevons. In 1865, the British economist published a book called The Coal Question, which contains what is now known as the Jevons Paradox: “It is wholly a confusion of ideas to suppose that the economical use of fuels is equivalent to a diminished consumption. The very contrary is the truth.”

Those two sentences contain what may be the most important yet least understood concept in the energy business: energy efficiency increases energy consumption. It’s counterintuitive, and precious few energy analysts have bothered to investigate it. That’s why a new book, The Jevons Paradox and the Myth of Resource Efficiency Improvements, by John M. Polimeni, Kozo Mayumi, Mario Giampetro, and Blake Alcott, deserves wide attention. The authors waste little time in explaining their goal. On page 3 they state, “We aim to show that increased energy efficiency leads to increased demand and consumption of energy.”

I hope to post more in this space regarding Jevon’s Paradox and I’m also eager to check out Bryce’s book, “Gusher of Lies” as well as Polimeni, et al’s book “Jevons Paradox and the Myth of Resource Efficiency Improvements.”

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