The Problem with Relying on Energy Efficiency to Reduce Emissions? People

Foley Hoag, LLP
Seth D. Jaffe

July 14, 2015

The connection between energy use and emissions of air pollutants, including GHGs, is uncontroversial.  It is also widely, if not universally, accepted that there is a lot of low-hanging fruit in energy efficiency.  I agree completely with both propositions.

Nonetheless, a recent article in Energy Research & Social Science (fee required for full article), reported in Tuesday’s Washington Post, provides a useful — and somewhat humorous — note of caution.  The article concerns how people use thermostats.  We’re not even talking smart grid stuff here; just programmable thermostats.

According to the article, 40% of programmable thermostat owners don’t actually program them, and 33% have overridden the programming features.  And here’s my favorite, from the Post story:  approximately one-third of those studied

believed in the myth that “turning down the thermostat at night or when people are not at home used more energy than keeping the house at the same temperature all the time.”

Energy efficiency is obviously an important element of an overall program to reduce emissions of GHGs and other pollutants from power generation.  However, designers of energy efficiency programs probably should spend some time studying human behavior if they want to design programs that actually work.

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This article is being provided for informational purposes only and not for the purposes of providing legal advice or creating an attorney-client relationship. You should contact an attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem you may have. In addition, the opinions expressed herein are the opinions of Mr. Jaffe and may not reflect the opinions of Synergy Environmental, Inc., Foley Hoag, LLP or either of those firms’ clients.

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