The Paradox of Saving Energy

Ultimately, I think the idea of saving energy would be too abstract for the average consumers. Even before hybrids, if people were actually interested in saving energy, they could have bought cars with lower horsepower that would have given them better mileage, but instead, they were drawn to cars with bigger horsepower that they don’t even need. It was the gas price that affected their behavior, not their desire to save energy. (There was an NPR podcast about this.)

I think in the end, it’s the price expectation that determines the energy usage, and people will end up adjusting their lives to consume as much energy as the price they are willing to pay for it. It’s like eating as much as we can eat without having to buy pants with a larger waist size. Our decisions on what to eat is not based on what we need to eat.

As soon as faster computers are introduced into the market, app developers figure out how to make use of the increased speed. Likewise, as soon as more energy-efficient devices are introduced to the market, engineers will come up with ideas that would use up the saved energy. I believe what sets the waist size in this case is the consumer price expectations.

On another NPR podcast, I heard about the reason why controlling our own weight is so difficult: Because there is no immediate feedback. To control anything, we need to be able to see the cause and effect quickly and easily. The problem with saving energy is that we can see how we save money, but we can’t see what saving energy actually does. So, if we take money out of the equation, why we want to save energy becomes too abstract.

Controlling our own weight is hard because the feedback cycle is very slow, but at least the result is quite visible. This problem is even more difficult when it comes to eating healthy. We might not see the effect of it for decades, if ever. The ideology of saving energy is almost as abstract as that. So, if conserving our natural resources or protecting our environment is our ultimate concern/cause, we need to provide a better way to see the cause and effect for the individual consumers. And, we need to do so in a way that makes individual contribution public. Most people chose Prius over other hybrids because it clearly communicated their ideology to the public through their unique design.