"If the Lord is good enough to send me wind on a Sunday"
January 14, 2018 4:44 AM   Subscribe

"Do improvements in energy efficiency actually lead to energy savings? At first sight, the advantages of efficiency seem to be impressive. For example, the energy efficiency of a range of domestic appliances covered by the EU directives has improved significantly over the last 15 years. Between 1998 and 2012, fridges and freezers became 75% more energy efficient, washing machines 63%, laundry dryers 72%, and dishwashers 50%. "

"However, energy use in the EU-28 in 2015 was only slightly below the energy use in 2000 (1,627 Mtoe compared to 1.730 Mtoe, or million tonnes of oil equivalents). Furthermore, there are several other factors that may explain the (limited) decrease in energy use, like the 2007 economic crisis. Indeed, after decades of continuous growth, energy use in the EU decreased slightly between 2007 and 2014, only to go up again in 2015 and 2016 when economic growth returned."

The above is from the third article, Bedazzled by Energy Efficiency from a series running on Low-Tech Magazine about renewable energy and energy use in society. The previous two:

How (Not) to Run a Modern Society on Solar and Wind Power Alone:
However, this doesn't mean that a sustainable renewable power grid is impossible. There's a fifth strategy, which does not try to match supply to demand, but instead aims to match demand to supply. In this scenario, renewable energy would ideally be used only when it's available.
How to Run the Economy on the Weather:
In earlier, more conservative times, the miller was punished for working on Sunday, but he didn't always care. When a protest against Sunday work was made to Mr. Wade of Wicklewood towermill, Norfolk, he retorted: "If the Lord is good enough to send me wind on a Sunday, I'm going to use it". On the other hand, when there was no wind, millers did other work, like maintaining their machinery, or took time off. Noah Edwards, the last miller of Arkley tower mill, Hertfordshire, would “sit on the fan stage of a fine evening and play his fiddle”.
posted by kmt (53 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
Re the last link: how are they going to manage with stuff that's really time-sensitive, such as medication or aid supplies? And the whole 'well people aren't gonna cook in the dark' closing really shows a lack of understanding of human nature (or well, at least the culture of MillenialsTM like me with occasionally weird hours). (Also, not all of us run on 4 seasons - if the idea is to give people breaks over the summer, well then nobody in the Equator is going to work ever, which might suit them FINE but may not necessarily be the most helpful idea.)
posted by divabat at 5:07 AM on January 14, 2018 [3 favorites]


Weird hours is potentially a good thing. From the grid management perspective it would be ideal to get some people to sleep in the day and use most of their power at night. You might even get a reduced tariff as an incentive. Pulling people off the 9-5 should flatten the daytime load and might also reduce the 5-7pm peak. That's the peaks in my country anyway. A lot of the new grid management challenges will be geographically dependent. Electrical demand spikes in places like Texas will be A/C dependent but there may be a reasonable match with PV output. Electrical demand in the UK does not have much A/C as a driver and PV peak will match daytime standard demand but will not be as useful during the winter when baseload demand rises and PV output drops. Wind output goes up in the winter in the UK but the match may still be difficult.
posted by biffa at 5:59 AM on January 14, 2018 [2 favorites]


I love Low-Tech Magazine's willingness to rethink things from the ground up. However, this series comes to the same conclusion that many of their insights do: Living sustainably will ultimately mean living in conditions that most of us associate with failed states and disaster areas. We'll probably end up in Low-Tech's world eventually, but we won't go willingly.

I think that they also underestimate the importance of coordination in production. Making things intermittently, as energy supplies become available, will cause a much larger drop in overall production than the sum of the slowdowns. If you have long dependency chains, delays tend to multiply rather than simply add up. I think that they're showing their own form of naive optimism when they suggest that "running an economy on the rhythms of the weather doesn't necessarily mean that production and consumption rates would go down."
posted by clawsoon at 6:19 AM on January 14, 2018 [23 favorites]


From the grid management perspective it would be ideal to get some people to sleep in the day and use most of their power at night.

Not from a health perspective, though.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 6:35 AM on January 14, 2018 [10 favorites]


> energy use in the EU-28 in 2015 was only slightly below the energy use in 2000

That sounds like an unequivocal win since EU population grew in the same period. Causation may be in doubt for reasons cited in the article, but it seems to be trying hard to cast as cynical an eye as possible on any approach to energy other than their own.
posted by ardgedee at 6:42 AM on January 14, 2018 [24 favorites]


Between 1998 and 2012, fridges and freezers became 75% more energy efficient, washing machines 63%, laundry dryers 72%, and dishwashers 50%. [4]

However, energy use in the EU-28 in 2015 was only slightly below the energy use in 2000...


And, how much higher might energy use have been in 2015 if efficiencies in those appliances hadn't been realized? Further, 2000-2015 saw an explosive growth in the use of all manner of rechargeable consumer goods (say, the iPhone, for instance) which most certainly have added more drain to the grid.

That first link starts a download of the pdf, instead of simply loading it in a new tab. Is there any way of correcting this, or is that just what the website does?
posted by Thorzdad at 6:49 AM on January 14, 2018 [9 favorites]


Solar produces during the day, so normal working hours work well with it. Flattening out the duck curve is about the best case you can make for storage; a few hours of predictable demand every day immediately after charging. We're certainly heading into weird territory where our baseload electricity is also the most expensive, but that seems to me to make a stronger case for discouraging working at night.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 6:50 AM on January 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


It's been known for 150 years that more efficient devices don't reduce overall consumption of energy. It's called the Jevons Paradox.
posted by Buck Alec at 6:51 AM on January 14, 2018 [14 favorites]


Thorzdad: And, how much higher might energy use have been in 2015 if efficiencies in those appliances hadn't been realized? Further, 2000-2015 saw an explosive growth in the use of all manner of rechargeable consumer goods (say, the iPhone, for instance) which most certainly have added more drain to the grid.

There's an intelligent discussion of this point in the "Bedazzled" link. I'm not sure I buy the idea that returning to energy inefficiency is a good idea, but the "sufficiency" approach that they outline seems like it has something to it:
Energy efficiency aims to increase the ratio of service output to energy input while holding the output at least constant. Energy sufficiency, by contrast, is a strategy that aims to reduce the growth in energy services. In essence, this is a return to the “conservation” policies of the 1970s.

Sufficiency can involve a reduction of services (less light, less travelling, less speed, lower indoor temperatures, smaller houses), or a substitution of services (a bicycle instead of a car, a clothesline instead of a tumble drier, thermal underclothing instead of central heating). Unlike energy efficiency, the policy objectives of sufficiency cannot be expressed in relative variables (like kWh/m2/year). Instead, the focus is on absolute variables, such as reductions in carbon emissions, fossil fuel use, or oil imports. Unlike energy efficiency, sufficiency cannot be defined and measured by examining a single product type, because sufficiency can involve various forms of substitution.
posted by clawsoon at 6:56 AM on January 14, 2018 [4 favorites]


It's been known for 150 years that more efficient devices don't reduce overall consumption of energy.

Its been known that reducing the energy consumption for a specific item by X% might not lead the user to have an X% reduction in their total energy consumption since they spend the savings on things that can mean additional energy usage, but it does not fit the available data to suggest that the rebound effect in terms of additional energy usage is 100% of energy saved. It varies across different areas of energy saving.
posted by biffa at 7:03 AM on January 14, 2018 [5 favorites]


This is a very interesting set of articles to get the day before I go back to work at the energy research institute I work at

but I suspect the approach Low-Tech advocates is doomed to failure, as is basically any approach which requires everyone to agree with you before it'll work.

(The approach to energy efficiency we advocate involves encouraging people to take an active role in identifying places where they could be more energy efficient, attempting to do an end-run around the Jevons paradox that way.)
posted by Merus at 7:18 AM on January 14, 2018 [7 favorites]


Thanks for these articles. It's a great help to get me caught up on what others have been thinking about for a lot longer. It's a gnarly problem since the electric transmission system is pretty solidly up in the "consensus required to change" and "national strategic importance" category which means that proposing solutions that involve thermal underwear and workers working night shifts on Saturday seems pretty much in the "if everyone would just" territory.

What seems 100% true is that energy consumption will have to track supply to a much much greater extent than it does today. From what I understand, economists say that energy should be priced at the marginal cost (e.g. zero or negative) This will require a different solution for funding the transmission network, either much higher connection charges (which would encourage the rich and industrials to defect from the grid) or transferring grid costs to general national expenses (e.g. like the road network). Getting the cost of electricity to reflect the cost of generation in real time is job #1 in my understanding... after that, there will be a much clearer commercial incentive to suck up extra electricity and/or shift demand.

This will make a lot of control problems for the grid operators. Much stronger feedback loops between price and demand will make forecasting and planning way harder. Already in Ontario when grid operators forecast summer or winter peaks, there is this dance between big industrial users watching the forecast and the load, and trying to time their demand-cuts to 'dodge' the grid demand peak charges.

The biggest question in my mind is how to sell the idea of exposing the public to the true cost of electricity. In my old home of Canada, governments get voted out of office on electricity policy. People generally want the simplest, lowest pricing scheme for electricity, ideally flat rate of pennies (hello Quebec). How to sell the idea of "when the sun shines/wind blows, use it" to the public, and overcome lobbying from opponents to change? There is an upside - free electricity, sometimes - but the first time someone has their morning shower go cold then they are going to Jimmy Carter whatever policitian agreed to this scheme.
posted by anthill at 8:09 AM on January 14, 2018 [2 favorites]


anthill: From what I understand, economists say that energy should be priced at the marginal cost (e.g. zero or negative)

Economists say that everything should be priced at marginal cost, but almost nothing is. I've recently seen a paper or two in which some economists argue that maybe, just maybe, firms use cost-plus pricing instead of marginal cost pricing for rational reasons that economists don't quite understand yet.
posted by clawsoon at 8:20 AM on January 14, 2018 [4 favorites]


> What seems 100% true is that energy consumption will have to track supply to a much much greater extent than it does today.

I don't see why this is "100% true".

It's a very hard problem, sure, but if we can come up with reliable low cost large scale energy storage, we can decisively break the link between supply and consumption times. And it's not pie in the sky - I don't know the merits of Tesla's Powerwall, for example, but it seems like a credible attempt, and if we have a lot of electric cars on the road soon, those are basically mobile power storage devices.
posted by RedOrGreen at 8:22 AM on January 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


. People generally want the simplest, lowest pricing scheme for electricity, ideally flat rate of pennies (hello Quebec). How to sell the idea of "when the sun shines/wind blows, use it" to the public, and overcome lobbying from opponents to change?

We collectively own the power company and its renewable (hydro) why would we spend more than cost?
posted by WaterAndPixels at 8:24 AM on January 14, 2018


love low tech mag. so many good articles in there.

this series comes to the same conclusion that many of their insights do: Living sustainably will ultimately mean living in conditions that most of us associate with failed states and disaster areas. We'll probably end up in Low-Tech's world eventually, but we won't go willingly.

I believe that yes, living will require some changes but they are honestly not as bad as anyone says they are because so few people have tried them.
So many of our modern conveniences we are addicted to are downright insane. Like filling up a bowl with perfect drinking water and then shitting in it.
Or like sending a picture message out to a far away server and then beaming it back to someone living a couple blocks away.
who knows, maybe we are really learning this time? haha!
I think a lot of conveniences are drugs. And we love them because we are so isolated from each other.
The "difficult" stuff of going back to a third world-ish way of life is inherently way more energy efficient but is also way more community oriented. And that is so foreign to most of us now. All our conveniences isolate us. And therefore we can only see going to the well for water as a troublesome individual task rather than good exercise and an opportunity to chat with a friend while going for a walk.

on the isolation and drugs tip...
https://www.facebook.com/freethinkwrong/videos/128452301204550/

posted by danjo at 8:34 AM on January 14, 2018 [4 favorites]


And therefore we can only see going to the well for water as a troublesome individual task rather than good exercise and an opportunity to chat with a friend while going for a walk.
There is no way to sustain a dense city of millions of individuals by having them walk to wells. Neither is there a credible method of large-scale human waste disposal that doesn't involve pipes. A set of greywater pipes for non-cooking / drinking tasks would be a good start.
posted by JoeBlubaugh at 9:19 AM on January 14, 2018 [8 favorites]


The only real answer is fewer people. Nothing else will work.
posted by smcameron at 9:36 AM on January 14, 2018 [3 favorites]



The only real answer is fewer people. Nothing else will work.


Not in Canada
posted by philip-random at 9:43 AM on January 14, 2018 [3 favorites]


Bollocks. There's plenty to go around and quality of life continues to improve rapidly for the vast majority of humanity (which, it turns out, is also an effective way to slow population growth). Climate change is an artefact of the particular route we took to generate those improvements through the 20th century, not an inescapable part of every energy system.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 9:50 AM on January 14, 2018 [10 favorites]


Treating energy efficiency as a fuel and measuring its success in terms of “avoided energy” is pretty weird. For one thing, it is about not using a fuel that does not exist. Furthermore, the higher the projected energy use in 2030, the larger the “avoided energy” would be. On the other hand, if the projected energy use in 2030 were to be lower than present-day energy use (we reduce energy demand), the “avoided energy” becomes negative.

An energy policy that seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel dependency must measure its success in terms of lower fossil fuel consumption. However, by measuring “avoided energy”, energy efficiency policy does exactly the opposite. Because projected energy use is higher than present energy use, energy efficiency policy takes for granted that total energy consumption will keep rising.


This betrays a complete lack of understanding of how energy efficiency is treated in resource planning, in addition to distorting how energy savings from efficiency are measured.

Programmes of energy efficiency are politically uncontroversial

Yeah, spend a little while working on energy policy in the US and then try to tell me that.

The article's whole tone reminds me so much of the recent conversation on the Blue about "raw water" and this comment in particular. This attitude (in the article, not the comment) dismisses or completely fails to consider that there are legitimate reasons people want to use energy, and that using more energy services is the only way a large chunk of the global population is going to achieve a decent standard of living. The question should be "how do we help them achieve that with minimal environmental impact", not "how do we get them to be happy with their lot."
posted by nickmark at 9:51 AM on January 14, 2018 [13 favorites]


I'm not an economist so maybe this is to simple but I have always wondered about energy and markets and goods. It seems to me that the majority of goods are essentially tokens of energy consumption and further that the majority of goods are really non essential and there purpose is a medium of exchange to sort out how all the members of society relate to each other, and nowadays most of human effort goes into figuring out how to persuade each other and facilitate the sale of all these goods. Obviously a refrigerator, clean drinking water, antibiotics, these things are different from what I am trying to describe but it seems like the vast majority of energy consumption, (I have no evidence of this sorry,) is used up making the other class of objects. I don't know if this requirement for tokens of exchange could be transformed at all, I feel like at base we are hunter gatherers and a great deal of the attraction of consumer society is that it scratches that itch. I suppose the idea of virtual goods has some potential, I don't know.
posted by Pembquist at 9:52 AM on January 14, 2018 [2 favorites]


I don't see why this is "100% true".

It's a very hard problem, sure, but if we can come up with reliable low cost large scale energy storage, we can decisively break the link between supply and consumption times. And it's not pie in the sky - I don't know the merits of Tesla's Powerwall, for example, but it seems like a credible attempt, and if we have a lot of electric cars on the road soon, those are basically mobile power storage devices.


The economics of storage are improving and there is undoubtedly a role for huge increases in its use. However at the moment it is still getting to the point where it is economically viable in many cases. Meanwhile the adoption of intermittent renewables is growing rapidly and is the main technological success in the fight against climate change. This means huge management challenges for the network and the expectation is that it will need new approaches to minimising the systemic costs of ongoing large-scale adoption. There are options other than moving from a demand led to a supply led approach but they will cost more than moving.
posted by biffa at 10:11 AM on January 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


There won't be one big answer to energy use. There will be lots of smaller answers. Some things King Me would do:

Require each community to be self-sufficient using wind and solar. If you have to build and maintain and look at and listen to your immediate energy infrastructure, maybe you won't waste as much energy. And if you can sell your excess energy to your neighbors, you won't want to throw it away instead.

Plan on all cars being electric and plan on charging all those electric cars on the grid where they park all day (for solar) or all night (for wind).

Shift schools to a later schedule. It would help kids think and it would shift a lot of families to a later work start, which would take the pressure off the morning and afternoon peaks for water, electricity, and traffic.

Require safe sidewalks and bicycle paths connecting each school to the places where most of their students live. It would improve the health of students (and parents) and take electric vehicles off the roads.

Make minimal water free for everyone, but raise the cost of additional water greatly. Make water free to drink and cook (adjusted for family size and reasonable use), free to have a quick shower per person per day, free to wash a load of laundry per person per week, but expensive as hell to do anything else with it (fill a pool, water a lawn, etc.).
posted by pracowity at 10:21 AM on January 14, 2018 [3 favorites]


As ardgedee says, population grew in that period. As did per capita GDP, so more people with access to a better quality of modern life for less energy.

There is a reasonable point about baseline accounting in the article--that is, how we'd think about things differently if the baseline energy consumption including things like "bicycling" or "using a clothesline", in which case a Prius or Tesla don't "save" energy.

But the level of surrounding sloppiness was extremely frustrating. They have a qualitative argument they believe in, coupled with a lot of numbers that generally don't support it. For example "the advance of solid state lighting (LED), which is six times more energy efficient . . . resulted in six times more light" does not appear in either reference*. They both say more light is used now but for an argument like this it is really important whether the increase in lighting is higher than the efficiency gains or not. This happens over and over. "Recent research into the heating of buildings confirms that inefficiency can save energy" made me perk up because that'd be interesting, but it is not at all what the paragraph goes on to describe. Actually running through everything misleading or misinterpreted in that thing would require a really long fisking.

But this gets so bad it leads to the incredibly boneheaded claim "making everything less energy efficient would reverse the growth in energy services and reduce energy demand." This would not happen and it would be a horrible policy choice.

It's been known for 150 years that more efficient devices don't reduce overall consumption of energy. It's called the Jevons Paradox.

It's a theoretical thing that can happen, and has been observed sometimes with some resources, but it's a matter of dispute whether this applies to energy efficiency (as the link in your own comment makes clear.)




*unless it was buried in an equation in the Applied Physics article. That was dense, I did not have the chops to skim or possibly even to study, so all I can is it's not in the conclusion or abstract.
posted by mark k at 10:21 AM on January 14, 2018 [9 favorites]


and appliances are designed to fail much more quickly than say those manufactured in the 1980s and before.
posted by SteveLaudig at 10:54 AM on January 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


The biggest question in my mind is how to sell the idea of exposing the public to the true cost of electricity. anthill

PG&E, the power company for Northern California, allows customers to sign up for a plan that charges different rates at different times of the day. In the summer, the daytime/early evening electricity prices are high and the nighttime/early morning prices are low

I've signed up for it and do my laundry/dishwasher either after 9pm or in the morning. My reward is hundreds of dollars in savings every year.

Does this not exist elsewhere?
posted by eye of newt at 11:38 AM on January 14, 2018 [3 favorites]


Pembquist: It seems to me that the majority of goods are essentially tokens of energy consumption and further that the majority of goods are really non essential and there purpose is a medium of exchange to sort out how all the members of society relate to each other, and nowadays most of human effort goes into figuring out how to persuade each other and facilitate the sale of all these goods.

Along that line, it's striking how the commitment of most people to helping the environment disappears the instant they feel a bit embarrassed about something they own. (I'm guilty of this, too - my only saving grace is that I get embarrassed less easily than the average person - so I'm not casting stones. Maybe just a pebble or two.) If it's shabby, or worn, or out-of-style, and you've got the money - or can get the credit - to replace it, then a Shiny New Thing must be purchased. I'm willing to guess, like you, that this motivation drives a significant portion of spending and production.

I'm living in downtown Toronto, though, so maybe my impression of the average person is skewed.
posted by clawsoon at 11:39 AM on January 14, 2018


> a plan that charges different rates at different times of the day. In the summer, the daytime/early evening electricity prices are high and the nighttime/early morning prices are low

I meant something more drastic. Programs like this do vary prices, by ~3x or so, but are still regulated pre-set prices that don't reflect real-time supply and demand. Actual electricity prices range far more widely, can be negative during sunny windy weekends (you get paid to use electricity!) and *extremely* expensive in heat waves if a large power plant conks out. Industrial consumers and utilities pay this true price, and have to budget for the unpredictability of electric costs month-to-month.

Obviously it's unreasonable today for homeowners to deal with electricity prices that change every 5 minutes. How can you tell that at this instant electricity costs $100/kWh instead of $0.10? And if so, what could you do about it? Turn off the oven and make a sandwich?
posted by anthill at 12:56 PM on January 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


The area where I live was set out to be a huge zero-energy experiment, but unfortunately the financing didn't work out. Still, we are using less energy every year and the energy we use is increasingly from renewables*. I agree with posters above that the EU data is probably skewed, so I made a google public data comparison of five EU countries to see how the development in use has been: comparison of energy use pr. inhabitant. There are really big differences in how energy use in countries within the EU has developed, depending on their former status and main production as rich or poor, East or West, North or South, industrial, services or agriculture , etc.
Culture plays a huge role for energy policies, and you can't use the same approach everywhere, but I believe a balanced mix suited to the local culture can make significant change happen. A sound energy saving building in Singapore is very different from one in Oslo, not only in terms of technology, but also in terms of daily use. Just the other day, there was a post here about Norway's many electric vehicles, which makes sense as a solution in a country with a small population spread too far out for sustainable public transportation for all. Singapore has excellent public transportation, which makes sense there.
For me, buying new appliances and a pressure cooker brought down my power bills to the point where the utilities company offered me a fixed very low price because keeping track of my use was more expensive than the small changes they could track over a year. For my friend, who loves hi-tech appliances, the savings in ever more efficiency is balanced out by the steady growth in numbers of appliances at their home, from multiple ovens to roombas.
I think that because energy is the domain of engineers, there is too little research into the cultural aspects of energy use, and how you can make improvements or changes that work because they are adapted to the local or even family culture. Maybe wearing an extra sweater or riding a bike will work fine some places, and not others. And maybe, as countries develop, better solutions can arrive before the ones that are used in the West today. Outside North America, air condition is not a big thing. Maybe natural cooling through good design, or solar powered air condition will be the dominant methods in growth areas before the population has really gotten used to traditional air condition.

tldr: it's not either or, and technical solutions can't stand alone.

*In Denmark, 30 % of all energy now comes from renewables, compared to 16% in 2007. Oil use (for transportation) is quite stable, so most of the change has been in heating and electricity. So when we get affordable electrical vehicles, there is going to be a huge jump again.
posted by mumimor at 1:32 PM on January 14, 2018 [5 favorites]


I forgot: we have about 100 different offers on electrical services including extremely flexible pricing (not by the minute but day to night and windy to quiet months), and there are incentives to install your own wind or solar power if you have the space. Many small towns and villages have built collectively owned solar plants.
posted by mumimor at 1:37 PM on January 14, 2018


Just the other day, there was a post here about Norway's many electric vehicles, which makes sense as a solution in a country with a small population spread too far out for sustainable public transportation for all

Having a shedload of hydro for your electrical generation and the flexibility to pick up oversupply of Danish wind is probably a bigger factor in making it work and having the policy to support it. Decarbonising transport is also one of the few ways for Norway to reduce its carbon emissions given it has about 99% zero carbon electrical generation.

In the summer, the daytime/early evening electricity prices are high and the nighttime/early morning prices are low. ... Does this not exist elsewhere?

It is pretty common to have some sort of option to do this available. Its pretty clunky in many places and in the future the infrastructure that allows for it may be too clunky to work in a system with the kind of need to vary demand very flexibly to meet the spikes in generation which are expected. There is an expectation by many stakeholders that there will be a much more dynamic approach to incentivising consumers with different prices at different times of day, depending on whether there is a lot of generation around that no-one wants or lots of demand that will require sparking up an expensive generator. This is known as dynamic pricing or time-of-use tariffs (amongst other things). Rather than being at a fixed time of day it might be any half hour segment of the day. Clearly there may be issues with people buying into that (I certainly think many people will not engage, but there may be ways around that). There may also be issues with some people having less chance to be able to 'shift' when they use their power, and some people (for example, those with EVs) may be much better placed to take advantage of low price times.

There are actually a whole lot of barriers to getting to dynamic pricing too: You have to have smart meters. They have to be sufficiently advanced to capture enough data. You have to be able to capture and utilise the data rapidly enough. The market has to want to offer the this kind of tariff approach. Government/regulator has to allow it and regulate for it. Consumers have to but into it (energy companies are less trusted than virtually anyone where I live). Working in the sector, this is something that gets talked about as being inevitable but it seems pretty far away to me.
posted by biffa at 2:41 PM on January 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


At our family farm we have installed solar panels that have reduced our energy bill to about 12 % of what it was, and along with that the electricity provider have installed a smart meter. It's really an improvement, because I can follow our energy use and prices on a day to day basis and if needed renegotiate our fees accordingly. I think all of our neighbors except one have done the same, regardless of their politics. Savings at that scale will make everyone pro renewables. And this is in a cloudy rainy region.
Also, if you don't have it, you'll be surprised at how simple it is to keep up with the pricing and options when you have the smart meter.
posted by mumimor at 2:52 PM on January 14, 2018 [3 favorites]


Its a really interesting question as to how many people will do it. Its another big unknown in what the options are (along with how much wind, solar, EVs, heat pumps etc there will be). I think a lot of people in the sector here in the UK think consumers won't engage but it might all depend on how much variance ever gets into the pricing - the political trend here is for simplifying tariffs so there is room for conflict over more complex approaches. I've had pretty senior people in the sector say that if consumers won't engage that it will be a big problem for the national grid in terms of how it limits options for dealing with more uncertain supply & demand balancing. It doesn't help that some of the smart meters aren't set up to do very much here.
posted by biffa at 3:00 PM on January 14, 2018 [2 favorites]


Fridges are 75% more efficient but unlike in 2000 we are all charging the batteries on our Androids and our Bitcoins and our iClouds every fifteen minutes so it makes no difference to total consumption.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:00 PM on January 14, 2018


Well yeah, except that’s not true. In California, electricity use per capita has been basically flat for the last forty years. Yes, total usage has increased as the population has grown, but it’s simply not the case that, as you suggest, the savings from fridges is negated through consumption in other end uses. The fact is, because of increased efficiency (driven by aggressive state policy), Californians have been able to add all those new electric end uses without increasing the amount of electricity they use.

In the summer, the daytime/early evening electricity prices are high and the nighttime/early morning prices are low. ... Does this not exist elsewhere?

As biffa points out, you need advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) to make time of use rates work. AMI rollout has varied greatly in speed and comprehensiveness around the US and even within individual states. And the motivation for rolling it out also varies, which means the AMI-dependent services that show up also vary. (e.g., are you installing this stuff in order to provide real-time price info to customers, to make the grid more resilient to outages, to make it cheaper and easier to connect/disconnect customers’ service? Maybe all of those, but they might not all show up in the same order depending on priorities.)
posted by nickmark at 3:53 PM on January 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


whether there is a lot of generation around that no-one wants or lots of demand that will require sparking up an expensive generator. This is known as dynamic pricing or time-of-use tariffs (amongst other things). Rather than being at a fixed time of day it might be any half hour segment of the day. --biffa

PG&E also has a 'SmartRate' add-on where they warn you a day before of high energy use days (usually a forecast of a really hot day where they think everyone will be using their air conditioner). Your energy costs go way up that day, but your overall bill goes down if you don't use much that day. I have this add-on and it saves me an additional $25 to $50 a year. (Here are their plans). They also have a Smart AC program where they can control your AC to turn it down during high energy use peaks.

My point is that these things exist now and are not 'sometime in the future'.
posted by eye of newt at 3:57 PM on January 14, 2018 [3 favorites]


Fridges are 75% more efficient but unlike in 2000 we are all charging the batteries on our Androids and our Bitcoins and our iClouds every fifteen minutes so it makes no difference to total consumption.
  1. Mobile device electricity use is effectively a rounding error in the scheme of things.
  2. Bitcoin is a hideous evil and a whole different can of worms in a different thread.
  3. Data centre use is certainly an important issue to consider. It would certainly be worth, in a world where electricity availability and prices vary massively according to weather conditions, having latency-insensitive data calculated at the most efficient datacentre rather than the nearest one. I think the big providers (Facebook in particular springs to mind) are doing this. Also, there are people selling cloud computing for use as heating, which certainly has some attraction.
posted by ambrosen at 4:03 PM on January 14, 2018 [2 favorites]


Am I missing something?

The excerpt states that EU energy conservation was unsuccesful because it only decreased energy usage by about 6%. However if I'm not mistaken didn't these countries have around 4% population growth during this time? Also, didn't world energy usage increase by something like 50% during this time period? To me this seems like a rather successful policy relative to business as usual.
posted by mikek at 6:46 PM on January 14, 2018 [6 favorites]


"available budget for keeping warming to below 2 °C have already been emitted" Rogelj et. al. Nature 534, 631–639 (30 June 2016)
doi:10.1038/nature18307

too little, too late.
Capitalism is great at forcing some people to accept things they don't want. Poverty, prices, and police are how we "persuade" people to starve when there is plenty of food, or shiver outside of empty homes, or die of preventable illnesses but collectively we will not deny the rich their world-consuming conspicuous wastefulness and luxury.  Scarcity and collapse will.  If some people voluntarily reduce energy consumption but we can not effectively regulate and force the decarbonization of the energy the market, the effects are moot.

    "using more energy services is the only way a large chunk of the global population is going to achieve a decent standard of living"

The climate crisis is going to ruin that standard of living for nearly all of us.  We should grow and distribute the sustainable energy budget more equally and to compensate for under development. But we'll be lucky if we can maintain 7 billion people, let alone 10billion at 3rd world levels when we start having large grain failures.  There are no viable carbon emissions pathways, and no technology that can remove atmospheric carbon fast enough and at large enough scales to protect world grain production in the next 30 to 60 years.  The game is over, you can try to make a sustainable and adaptable community  like a lifeboat, as a luxury hobby, if that's your thing, but the we are living in the "party like their is no tomorrow", because, um... for many of us there will be no tomorrow.

Also, low-tech mag has a sister: no-tech magazine.  same author, just as much old-timey DIY and DI-Together fun. see especially human powered cranes.
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 10:59 PM on January 14, 2018 [6 favorites]


Outside North America, air condition is not a big thing.

Large parts of South East Asia would like a word with you...
posted by Dysk at 2:24 AM on January 15, 2018 [2 favorites]


Obviously it's unreasonable today for homeowners to deal with electricity prices that change every 5 minutes. How can you tell that at this instant electricity costs $100/kWh instead of $0.10? And if so, what could you do about it? Turn off the oven and make a sandwich?

This is where the Advanced Metering infrastructure mentioned above comes in. that allows you to do it. The problem with the customer side, as you imply, is that people will not want to switch their hot dinner for a sandwich at the last minute. Essentially a lot of demand isn't currently shiftable, that is, their is little scope for moving it. IIRC a UK study said only about 7% of electricity consumption could be shifted in a typical home. That might change in the future. More electric heating might be one option, maybe with storage. An electric vehicle could be set to charge only below a certain price (with attendant risk) and thus follow high supply periods. This may mean some people get more shiftable and get cheaper prices while others pay more per unit used. Probably all this will need to be done by some sort of service provider since customers will not want to check every 5 or 30 minutes.

My point is that these things exist now and are not 'sometime in the future'.

I've been a little negative since the UK (which is mostly what i look at) has made a bit of a balls up with its smart metering and things are going on in some places. Scaling up will mean more complexity though and require more advanced systems and market changes.
posted by biffa at 3:33 AM on January 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


Smart metering is essential for users to understand the impact of their power usage and become energy literate. But with utilities installing shitty ones that catch fire, others being really inaccurate, and the nexus of batshit/big fossil fuel lobbying anti smart meter noise, it's an uphill struggle.

Energy pricing is vastly political everywhere, and a kWh saved or used in Aarhus doesn't translate to our house.
posted by scruss at 6:53 AM on January 15, 2018 [2 favorites]


Outside North America, air condition is not a big thing.

Are you sure about that? This Japanese analysis suggests that commercial air conditioners are uniquely popular in North America but overall air conditioning demand here is far from SE Asia's. Also, there are plenty of parts of North America where homes do not typically have any air conditioning (though, in my experience, the businesses in those areas definitely still use it).
posted by mosst at 8:18 AM on January 15, 2018


I stand corrected re.: SE Asia. Sorry
posted by mumimor at 8:55 AM on January 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


Still working my way through these, and there's some really interesting content. On the first article, though -

At least for those of us living in a region where industrial electricity consumption significantly outweighs consumer use and where total consumer energy consumption is dominated by heating, cooling, and transport, it's hard to really get excited about potential energy savings associated with washing clothes less frequently. If you live in a free-standing, single-family dwelling, drive to work, and continue to vote for people who refuse to create any real incentives for energy conservation in industry, installing a "freshinging cabinet" isn't exactly going after the low hanging fruit. (Don't get me started on unplugging your stereo.)
posted by eotvos at 11:27 AM on January 15, 2018 [2 favorites]


I got into the habit of doing laundry and dishes at night when I had a smart meter, it took me years after I moved to realize I was back on a dumb meter. Now I do them whenever it's convenient because I'm paying for it anyway.
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:49 AM on January 16, 2018


From what I understand, economists say that energy should be priced at the marginal cost (e.g. zero or negative) This will require a different solution for funding the transmission network, either much higher connection charges (which would encourage the rich and industrials to defect from the grid) or transferring grid costs to general national expenses (e.g. like the road network).

I thought there might be issues with this due to the natural monopoly status of transmission and distribution. Coincidentally (semi-coincidentally anyway) I came across a paper which suggests that efficient pricing does not really work for Tx and Dx since it would require they switch over to almost entirely locational signalling for cost setting and that isn't politically supportable.

You are right I think that a switch in the way network companies get paid is essential. If people start leaving the grid, or using it less as they generate their own power, the costs for everyone else will rise. The options are to stick with charging per unit electricity used, introduce or increase a fixed charge to all consumers to ensure a base of income or subsidise from general taxation (could be on just electrical consumers or everyone). Each arrangement has its own merits and demerits.
posted by biffa at 3:57 AM on January 16, 2018


Intermittent renewable generators are nowhere near as difficult to integrate into energy supply planning as the word "intermittent" suggests. Most of their output is highly weather-dependent, and therefore predictable to quite good accuracy as far ahead as local weather forecasts go. Weather is different in different places, so active renewable generators are available somewhere on the grid surprisingly often. Renewable generators also tend to be based on smaller and more numerous machines than thermal plant, which makes their occasional mechanical failures far less disruptive. Most blackouts are caused by unexpected thermal plant failures and cascading grid overloads, not by renewable generation shortfalls.
posted by flabdablet at 4:43 AM on January 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


Good job EU. While Low-Tech is coming up with pie-in-the-sky social solutions (requiring massive public buy-in to rejecting convenience) to a structural problem, the European Union has a ton of rational people involved in years of study and a vast effort to come up with policy and scientific solutions, which seem to be working. I mean it's cool that LT is imagining how to do it otherwise, and we need both, but their ideas seem pretty nebulous and ill-informed by actual human behavior.
posted by aspersioncast at 5:26 AM on January 16, 2018 [3 favorites]


Praising EU's results is the definition of setting a low bar. "It could be worse" isn't exactly comforting when the current situation is still so far removed from what would needed for a credible attempt at dealing with the issues at stake.
posted by Bangaioh at 4:19 AM on January 17, 2018


I live in the United States. We are the low bar. From over here that looks like an achievement.
posted by aspersioncast at 5:13 AM on January 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


Praising EU's results is the definition of setting a low bar.

At least they have results.
posted by MikeKD at 2:09 AM on January 18, 2018


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