Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Fueling Conservation

The recent drop in oil and fuel prices has raised a new question: will Americans' recent decreases in driving (which seemed to be a consistent phenomenon as prices rose) evaporate like gasoline vapors on a hot day?

The answer -- at least in the teeth of severe economic turmoil -- seems to be "not yet."

Of course, this isn't all good news. As Jenna Wade of Roseville, California explains:
Q: How have plunging gas prices changed your driving habits?
A: Not at all. I’ve no job to go to any longer so I no longer drive.
Of course, others simply see their reduced driving as a good habit worth maintaining, and a way to keep money in the bank.

Speaking of keeping money in the bank, some utility companies want to be paid -- just as they would be paid for delivering a kilowatt-hour of electricity -- for investments that help reduce consumer consumption of energy. Their argument is that conservation is capital intensive, and that utilities have a lower cost of capital, so they should be paid to deliver what consumers aren't necessarily in a position to afford -- but to be compensated for it. Depending on the lifespan of some of those improvements, and the accuracy with which savings can be modeled, that might make sense. On the other hand, efficiency that leads to excess -- making the house colder in the summer than previously, because the home holds more of the chill -- might not lead to net gains. There may be some expenses users don't care to avoid, if the total cost isn't big enough to them. The idea is interesting, but I'd like to see the math. And maybe a local demonstration project to see that it works on a city-wide basis, among people unaffiliated with the power company.

If we really can induce good energy practices, all the better.

No comments: