Disincentives are the levers of motivation we use on power companies to get them to sell us more energy than we need. We provide them by not expressing a preference against them. They are stupid in their own way. Why are light bulbs hot? Why do video game consoles automatically stay powered-up, unless we set them not to?
Greater energy efficiency – efficiency in general – is the elbow of the energy conundrum in which we are presently mired. It’s the least sexy part and yet the one which would have the most force if heartily applied to the mid-section of our wasteful nature. Whoa! We didn’t know we could do that! It’s empowering when you can get a creep off your back, especially using a tool you’ve possessed all along. And in this case, the shock itself would provide a little desperately-needed breathing room to take on the more difficult, sexier paths to sustainability like solar and wind (the T & A in this crazy, mixed-up analogy). Sensible adjustments to the way we generate, distribute and use energy even from dirty, nonrenewable sources would go along way toward highlighting and reforming the waste endemic to our ways.
Of course, the way things stand, the suppliers who generate the energy we waste desire anything but such illumination and reform. Their motives are also all about green, but the other kind. You can’t blame them (unless you recall that them = us); this is the system in which they/we operate. With shareholders to satisfy, their only incentives are for us to use more power. Why should they invest in expensive, energy-saving initiatives that adversely affect their bottom line?
The Department of Energy predicts a 30% increase in power demand by 2030. As this Time magazine article points out, the utilities that will supply this power are very aware that the cheapest new power plants are the ones they don’t have to build. But, if we give them no other alternatives than to build new clean coal-fired plants, they will oblige. We’ve already provided ourselves some pretty nasty choices by omission that have begun haunt the future, as we are loathe to face them.
We need to untangle some of the simple assumptions about status quo energy use in order to steer clear of the more complex and disasteful choices down the road regarding unaffordable new power production and out of control emissions. Realize that by not demanding less, we are demanding more.