Why efficiency isn’t so efficient


While normally I don’t flog anybody’s work, it’s time to make an exception. Deep breath. Here goes:

Gee, what a super article in the new E magazine (see this reprint on Alternet) about monster houses! Could that guy possibly have been reading this blog, or even, I dare say, writing for it?

The article points out a strange fact: despite the fact that American houses have more energy efficient devices — light bulbs, windows, and so on — than ever, they’re also using more energy than ever. From space America positively radiates!

photo of usa at night from darksky.org

(If I squint, I think I can see my house.)

On the face of it, it doesn’t make sense. Doesn’t higher efficiency mean using less energy? You’d think so, but then you realize that “efficiency” is defined in relative terms — by the square foot for houses, or by the cubic foot for refrigerators.

For example, according the Energy Guide labels, the immense (26 cubic feet) Frigidaire FRS6R3E is a “wasteful” refrigerator, using 727 kilowatt-hours per year. An “efficient” Energy-Star-approved alternative of the same size, the Frigidaire PLHS67EES, uses only a little less, at 618 kilowatt hours per year. Meanwhile a third refrigerator — this Danby model — gets no respect from Energy Star even though it uses only 376 kilowatt hours per year.

Sure, the Danby is one third the size at 9.1 cubic feet, but how many people need a 26 cubic foot refrigerator? I mean, aside from Mother Hubbard?

Efficiency, as currently used, doesn’t take into account whether the total size of the house or the fridge or the whatever is really necessary or appropriate. That’s why somebody can build a 4600-square-foot house, put two full-size water heaters in it, and still have the whole place “Energy Star” certified, as the E piece exposes.

And that’s why American houses are using more energy than ever. They’re getting bigger, and all that space is getting filled up with more and more “efficient” appliances — multiple TV’s, freezers, etc. It all adds up!

The focus shouldn’t be on efficiency, but on actual consumption. That’s the point of view that some analysts from the Lawrence Berkeley lab have started to push recently, for example in a report recently submitted to Governor Schwarzenegger (now there’s two words I never thought I’d put together…), titled simply IS EFFICIENCY ENOUGH?

It’s pretty clear the answer is no.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

bottleworld is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.