Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Blah, Blah, Jevon's Paradox, Blah, Blah, Backfire

Figure 1: The Carrier Dome, Named After A Manufacturer Of A/C Equipment No Longer In Syracuse, NY

The Jevon's paradox arises when increased efficiency in the use of a resource results in greater overall use of that resource. This is a severe example of "rebound", where the effects of increased efficiency are lessened by increased use. Jevon's wrote about Coal.

Some may have noticed David Owen's recent article in The New Yorker focused on air conditioning (A/C). By synchronicity, Computer, the flagship journal of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) Computer Society, also published an article on rebound about the same time. Tomlinson, Sliberman, and White recommend mindfulness in the pursuit of energy efficiency in Information Technology and reference a report from an organization in the United Kingdom. (I'm not as dismissive of the Jevon's paradox as my title may suggests; I just wanted a template to could apply to both articles.)

The New Yorker published three letters on their article. I select Amory Lovins' letter for not just because he is a well-known advocate of increased energy efficiency. He points out that much of the increased use of A/C that David Owens describes is due to increased wealth, not rebound. He uses the example of oil to assert that increases in efficiency could drop energy use in absolute terms, even with economic growth. Apparently, between 1977 and 1985, the United States Gross Domestic Product rose 27 percent and oil use fell 17 per cent.

For utility-sponsored research in the United States, I look to the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). I don't know if they have a take on the Jevon's paradox. I think Leontief Input-Output analysis and Luigi Pasinetti's structural economic dynamics provide empirical tools for investigating the question.


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