Sunday, January 31, 2010

Real-time feedback for consumers

An engineering dean at San Jose State University Engineering Dept, Ms. Belle Wei, recently wrote a clear, organized article on the benefits of real-time 'feedback' when we purchase or use electronic appliances equipment or video games. (Or, drive.)

Knowing what things cost, over the full lifestyle, can guide us to more informed choices, i.e. usually lower cost, presumably energy-efficient selections that do not sacrifice features and, in effect, create demand (a market) for greener devices. This is the "cold beer, hot shower" theory of human behavior: if we can get what we want and pay less for it, we'll go for it.

A similar argument works for Sacramento's electric utility (SMUD) and others: simply giving consumers a monthly report on how they are doing relative to the neighbors can reduce overall electric demand. This is also called 'social norms', or roughly peer pressure.

It does work, but is also a form of 'market knows best'.

However, I think at least two more ingredients might help push along consumer behavior
  • carbon price
  • regulations
In particular, Dean Wei, sites benefits of more efficient appliances as a first step. And I am sure she knows the benefit to China's clear, color-coded refrigerator efficiency labeling - regulations - in its domestic market. (She is also a founder of China-US Green Energy Council.)

The California Energy Commission (CEC) in fact helped push the refrigerator market years ago (and now TV market) by requiring innovation. It worked in the US and brought down the price of refrigerators and increased their efficiency. (The problems begin when we start to buy larger refrigerators and ALSO keep the old ones.) It is no coincidence that China has refrigerator labeling (more in another post).

Industry, like we've seen with recent TV regulations, starts out by saying it can't be done.

Bottom line, we need everything going for us to reduce American energy use per capita and bring anywhere close to the Europeans.

  • feedback to consumer, social norms, etc.
  • regulations
  • carbon price

Article in San Jose Mercury:

More about Dean Wei

Thursday, January 7, 2010

"Cool Cars" - coming soon to California

California cars are a step closer to running 'cooler' (and use less fuel) with plans to have automobile windows transmit less then 40% of the sun's energy (including visible, UV and infrared), thereby reducing interior temperatures on hot, sunny days and the air conditioning load. [By law, automobile windshields must transmit 70% or more of visible light.]

The California Air Resources Board (CARB, a division of California EPA) estimates this measure will remove almost 1 million tonnes of CO2 per year by 2020. The measure (09-41) approved last June 25, 2009 is now in a 15-day comment period on the draft regulation (i.e. the proposed law) which is expected to be phased-in with 2012 cars and fully functional by 2016.

With solar energy of roughly 600 watts falling on each square meter, we all know how hot the interior of a parked car be. The measure should reduce the temperature by more than 10 degrees (Fahrenheit) 2016 model year cars.

Under AB32, CARB is responsible for determining policies to achieve AB32 (reducing GHG to 1990 levels by 2020). A list of CARB's plans, by economic sector, is here; "Cool Cars" is under Transportation.

CARB issued a Scoping Plan in December 2008 and in addition identified numerous "discrete early action greenhouse gas reduction measures” - the lowest hanging fruit (more details). An example of "discrete early action" is ruling on do-it-yourself mobile air conditioning fluids, which took effect this past January 1.

What's not in "Cool Cars"?

Regulations, as I am learning, seem a bit like old-fashioned pin-ball machines. Ideas come and go, dates change and the actual path, like the pinball, can not be predicted.

The measure started as "Cool Paints", meaning the use of special paint coatings to increase the reflection of solar energy. Perhaps we'll see that in the future. For now, you can still buy a black car.

How to Participate

Current Draft of Cool Cars
draft regulation



Other thoughts on regulations