Can we actually reduce energy usage without hurting GDP?

Can We Actually Reduce Energy Usage without Hurting GDP? The short answer is yes. It should be doable.

I was thinking today, in cleantech we often talk a lot about energy efficiency. Californians often cite that this state has grown its economy for the last 20 years without a significant increase in energy usage per capita, compared to the rest of the country, where GDP per capita goes up, and energy usage goes up just as much. But of course, California has lost much of its manufacturing sector over that same 20 year period, too. Perhaps no coincidence?

But if we wanted to actually do it, where could we actually save energy without impacting GDP growth, make a serious difference in our power bill, and do it in a big way - targeting say, 50% of our total power usage on a per capita basis?

CFLs & LEDs - We are already moving aggressively towards compact flourescent light bulbs, and the penetration rates are still low. As that trend continues, and LEDs come into the mix for more and more applications, our lighting bills should trend straight downward for the next decade. Now if we can just stop cringing at the thought of a $3 lightbulb!

Heating and Air Conditioning - I know whenever my power bill goes higher than I like, I just watch how often I turn the heater on, and adjust the thermoset a bit. The answer here has always been some combination of improved technology, smart metering and more transparency in billing and usage, and energy prices rising high enough for consumers to feel the pinch. Oh, and did I mention insulation, California?

Hotwater heaters - Can anybody say, "tankless"?

Power generation -If every power plant was upgraded to the latest generation of technology - in the power generation world - newer tends to equal more efficient all else being equal - the impact could be staggering. But bottom line, this means our regulators would have to approve the increase in utility capital expenditures and pass those costs on through to us in the short term. That's about as likely as George W announcing a plan to tax every SUV Detroit makes and give the money to the poor to buy solar systems.

Solar - As for solar - which is typically sold on a "reduce your energy bill" pitch, not a chance. At $0.15 to $1.00/kwh (depending on who's counting and how they count), if we actually reduced a significant amount of our building load with solar power we'd likely send our GDP plummeting. There are lots of reasons to love solar, but decreasing energy usage per unit of GDP is not one of them. At least, not yet.

These aren't new ideas. But definitely worth repeating until we learn the lesson.

Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, Chairman of Cleantech.org and a blogger for CNET's Cleantech blog.

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About the author

    Neal Dikeman is a founding Partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, advising the technology and venture arms of multi-national energy companies in cleantech. While at Jane Capital, he has cofounded superconducting technology company SC Power Systems, Inc. (now Zenergy Power plc), and wireless technology startup WaiterPad POS Systems, and he is currently involved in launching a new venture in carbon credits. Dikeman edits and writes the Cleantech Blog, where he has written extensively on biofuels, solar, and global warming.

     

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