Some Successful Energy Efficiency Programs
The dilemma of any energy conservation programs is that increasing the efficiency of energy use generally leads to increased energy use. Jevons’ Paradox is named for William Jevons who wrote in 1865 that efficiency increases rather than decreases the amount of energy used. Homeowners with compact florescent light bulbs, efficient appliances, and well insulated homes will be tempted to use the money savings to leave the lights on longer or to turn the heat up higher in the winter. Energy conservation and efficiency programs must factor in this “rebound effect” in their long term planning.
Throughout the industrial era, economic growth has always been accompanied by increased energy use. As per capita GDP rises so does per capita energy use. So when people campaign for reductions in global warming gas emissions, critics complain that this will damage the economy, assuming that cuts in carbon based energy systems will inevitably result in economic decline. It is important that we find examples of countries that have been able to reduce energy consumption while still maintaining healthy economies.
Three countries, Japan, Denmark, and Switzerland, have implemented programs that have reduced per capita energy consumption while maintaining economic growth, breaking the traditional connection between the two.
In the 1980s, Japan’s per capita energy consumption declined as the oil crises forced them to pursue energy savings, just as in most industrial countries. In the early 90s, per capita energy consumption began to grow again along with the economy. But, since the mid 90s, Japan has broken the link between energy growth and economic growth. It has done so by implementing a set of comprehensive policies to promote energy efficiency and hard targets that must be reached.
Japan has tied responsibility for efficiency to all segments of the economy. As one example, vending machine owners typically aren’t concerned with the energy usage of their machines since the building owner pays the bills. The Japanese have mandated that the machine owner must now pay a portion of the electric bill along with the lease. As a result, efficiency of vending machines has increased by one third since the program was implemented.
The centerpiece of the Japanese program is a policy called the “Top Runner Program” which takes the most efficient make of machines as the standard for all others in the industry (including vehicles). When a new model increases efficiency, it becomes the base that all others must reach. Since the program was instituted energy efficiency improvement has been impressive, ranging from 20 percent among diesel freight vehicles to nearly 100 percent for computers.
Denmark also began an energy saving program after the 70s oil shocks, but unlike other countries that relapsed when prices dropped in the 80s, Demark persisted. Denmark has succeeded where others failed due to a combination of tough economic measures, taxes aimed at reducing energy use, and a push for creative energy savings innovations.
Danes pay the highest price for electricity of any industrialized country. As a result the average Dane uses less than half the electricity that the average American uses. Denmark also targets taxes on specific items to reduce energy use. For example, the registration fee for a new car is over 100 percent of the car’s value. In 1980 the Danish government began a policy of supporting combined heat and power, along with a strict new building code which is periodically tightened. This has led to a 20 percent reduction in the average Dane’s heating bill between 1975 and 2001.
As a result of these policies, the per capita energy use in Denmark has not increased since the 1970s while the per capita GDP has doubled.
Switzerland’s conservation program has been primarily voluntary although closely monitored. The government established a SwissEnergy Programme that aims to reduce fossil fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.
In the area of transportation, the SwissEnergy program consists of legally binding measures to promote efficiency, including a sliding scale of registration fees to favor fuel efficient vehicles. SwissEnergy promotes the refurbishment of buildings to meet standards that are twice as efficient as previous ones. The program is funded through carbon tax revenues. SwissEnergy has established feed-in tariffs to promote renewable energy and promotes the use of waste heat and biomass for heating in place of fossil fuels.
Switzerland had achieved the best performance over the last 20 years, showing close to a 20 percent per capita reduction of energy use while still maintaining a growing economy.
There are a variety of approached that can be used to forge a national energy efficiency policy, but it is an issue that must be addressed soon. The necessity of doing something about climate change combined with the looming peak of oil production leave us little choice other than formulating a national policy and reeling from crisis to crisis.