The name of this blog, Rainbow Juice, is intentional.
The rainbow signifies unity from diversity. It is holistic. The arch suggests the idea of looking at the over-arching concepts: the big picture. To create a rainbow requires air, fire (the sun) and water (raindrops) and us to see it from the earth.
Juice suggests an extract; hence rainbow juice is extracting the elements from the rainbow, translating them and making them accessible to us. Juice also refreshes us and here it symbolises our nutritional quest for understanding, compassion and enlightenment.

Wednesday 6 March 2024

Bring On Inefficiency

In the wish to reduce our dependence upon fossil fuels what could be more desirable than increasing efficiency?

Greater electricity efficiency: better lightbulbs, 5-star washing machine ratings, longer lasting batteries for Electric Vehicles (EVs), cheaper solar panels, … the list goes on.

Instinctively such efficiency gains seem like a good thing.

Except… they’re not!

The problem is that when something becomes more efficient, instead of reaping the rewards of lower cost or greater fuel economy, we tend to increase our consumption of whatever it is that has become more efficient.

This seeming paradox has a name – the Jevons Paradox. Named after the English economist William Stanley Jevons who described the phenomenon in his 1865 book The Coal Question. Jevons observed that following James Watt’s improvement of the coal-fired steam engine, allowing for greater efficiency, the consumption of coal, far from decreasing, soared dramatically.

Jevons wrote in his book: ‘It is a confusion of ideas to suppose that the economical use of fuel is equivalent to diminished consumption. The very contrary is the truth.’

It is a statement that all those calling for greater efficiencies as a way to reduce energy usage, and hence curtail carbon emissions, should listen to. Jevons statement in 1865 is as true today, in 2024 – almost 160 years later.

We can see the Jevons Paradox playing out today in the private vehicle sector. Private vehicles have become more efficient since the end of World War 2. Yet, globally in 1950 there was one registered car for every 48 people, by 2019 there were only 7 people. That is an almost 700% increase in ownership.

Furthermore, since 1950 the distance travelled per vehicle has increased by approximately 70% (although the coronavirus saw a decrease.)

Consequently, since 1950 there are now far more vehicles all travelling greater distances.

In the alternative electricity sector we find the same paradox playing out. Solar panels and other forms of so-called “renewable” electricity sources have become much more efficient over the past couple of decades. Yet – consumption is growing.

Another word often closely linked with efficiency is effectiveness. Effectiveness is a measure of how well the process for achieving something is meeting the desired goal.

Remaining focussed on efficiency does not appear to be very effective in achieving the goal of reducing dependence upon fossil fuels.

We must do something different.

How about shifting our efforts from efficiency to inefficiency?

What? I can hear the screams already. Efficiency is the name of the game, isn’t it? Calling into question the goal of efficiency is outrageous.

Yet, think about it. If fuel, in whatever form, became more inefficient, would that not reduce consumption? It may be worth a try.

Bring on inefficiency.

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