Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Reducing Energy Demand: It’s Not Only About Technology And It Doesn’t Always Require Experts

In transforming our world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions there’s room for the creativity of all of us.

In our simulation modeling of the transition to a low-carbon economy, we find plenty of policies and actions with huge potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon prices, investment in renewable energy, and investment in a new energy infrastructure all have a part to play. But most of the successful scenarios we find in our simulation runs also have another element – reductions in energy demand.

Technology, from more efficient appliances to highly fuel efficient vehicles, has a lot to contribute to reducing energy demand.

But that is only part of the story.

People are also, without any new technologies or inventions, coming together to create systems that accomplish the same goals with less use of energy.

One of my favorite examples from recent months was reported in the Washington Post.
A class of second-graders, concerned about climate change, looked at the line of cars picking up children in front of their school each afternoon. If only we could make the pick-ups go more quickly, they reasoned, there’d be less idling, less waste of gas, and less greenhouse gas pollution.

Thinking and learning together, the kids came up with a system where pick-up times were staggered, every few minutes, based on the first letter of a family’s last name. Not only did the amount of idling decrease, but parents reported less hassle and less stress from waiting in long, slow-moving lines of traffic!

There are similar examples in most communities, if we’d just take the time to stop and look. In my neighborhood, for instance, we use an email listserve, which often has requests for “anyone going grocery shopping who could pick up one thing”, cutting done the number of trips by car we all need to make.

Urban design that makes cities more walkable. Bike sharing systems that make it easier to get around without a car. Ideas like these don’t need scientific breakthroughs (although we could use a few of those too). Thinking smarter about our energy use mostly requires imagination and a willingness to experiment.

And, if the quotes from the second-graders are any indication, we might just discover that coming up with new ideas is very fun and satisfying too!

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