Thursday, January 29, 2009

Independence vs Splendid Isolation

Surely one of the most elemental, fundamental forms of independence is self-locomotion: walking and running, meandering and strolling, riding a bicycle or rolling one’s wheelchair, pushing a baby stroller to the library or pulling a Radio Flier home from the grocery store. Yet in the past 60 years our society has done its utmost to undermine and destroy this independence.

Didn’t we realize that a house out in the country would make it impossible for our child to literally skip on over to friends’ houses? Didn’t we see that all the driving we and our neighbors would do meant living in terror that our adolescent would ride his bicycle beyond our “safe” cul-de-sac? Didn’t we anticipate that building the new school at the far edge of town diminished possibilities for teenagers in the former heart of the village to walk to football practice?

Is all the “splendid isolation” in our lives – seclusion within spacious houses and fenced yards and climate-controlled motor vehicles – worth it? Is importing 70% of our car fuel “independence”? If we would only stop and think, we would know better. But where I live (Oregon, Wisconsin, population 8,721), few are willing to even admit these mistakes. Thus I am at a loss where to begin. This is what frightens me most.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Missing the Bottom Line

On 14 January 2009 the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) issued a press release titled “Energy Efficiency Programs Can Realistically Reduce Growth in Electricity Consumption by 22%, According to EPRI”:

Shortly thereafter posted a synopsis of the EPRI press release titled “Growth in Energy Use Could Drop 22 Percent by 2030 Under Right Conditions: Report”:

After reading both the press release and synopsis it struck me they failed to highlight that even with the efficiency programs, US electrical consumption is projected to increase significantly between now and 2030 – a highly inconvenient truth if one considers 80% reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to be a high priority. Closer examination shows that neither press release nor synopsis listed bottom line numbers – a spin tactic which is endemic in Washington. The fact that EPRI did this should not surprise anyone; one naturally expects an industry trade organization to be an industry shrill. But perhaps we should be less tolerant of “greenwashing” from a “” group. My letter to the editor of follows. Note that I CC:d the editor of the EPRI website as well:


Dear Editor:

I would like to offer a friendly critique regarding the news posting "Growth in Energy Use Could Drop 22 Percent by 2030 Under Right Conditions: Report":

Titles like this one tend to be confusing – and it is no coincidence that politicians very often use similar language to describe absolute increases in spending (or debt) as decreases in the projected rate of increase in spending (or deficit). Casual readers might well conclude from this title that the efficiency programs could reduce consumption itself by 22%.

Crunching the numbers in the EPRI press release, it would appear that the EIA {US Energy Information Agency} expects US electrical consumption to increase by about 25% between now and 2030 under business-as-usual conditions (1.0107^21), while EPRI believes efficiency programs could reduce this to an increase of about 19% (1.0083^21) over the same period. Put another way, the efficiency programs would thereby cut growth by 6% (25%-19%) – a number which sounds much less impressive than 22%. I'm not sure where EPRI obtained the 22% figure (it is neither the
quotient of ((.25-.19)/.25) nor (.25-.19)/.19)). Nor is it clear how the "ideal" limit of 0.68% growth would affect the other statistics.

And this brings me to another point: neither your title and synopsis nor the EPRI press release provide the reader with the far more important bottom-line numbers: US electrical energy consumption now; EIA projections for consumption in 2030 under business-as-usual conditions; and EPRI projections for consumption in 2030. Even though the 14 New York Cities statistic IS absolute, it is more anecdotal than enlightening.

Lastly, the title fails to make it clear that this is electrical consumption.

Suggestion for a better title: "Report: Efficiency Programs Could Slow Growth in US Electricity Demand from 25% to 19% Over Next 21 Years"

And then, since you are providing the synopsis anyway, the opening paragraph could include bottom-line data: "US electrical consumption, which was ___ billion kilowatt-hours in 2008, is projected by the US Energy Information Agency to increase to ___ billion kilowatt-hours by 2030 – an increase of 25%. But according to a recent Electric Power Research Institute report, efficiency programs could provide a "reduction wedge" of 6% or more…"

The reduction wedge idea, which appears to have gained widespread usage in conjunction with climate change work, is an excellent way to communicate this data.


Hans Noeldner, Mechanical Engineer