Energy conservation

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For the physical concepts, see conservation of energy and energy efficiency.

Energy conservation is the idealistic or economic practice of reducing the use of energy. This is done in two ways:

  • Increasing energy efficiency, to output the same level of goods and services with a smaller amount of energy input.
  • Decreasing the amount of a certain activity, or reduce the quality of a service, to reduce the amount of energy needed.

Individuals and organizations that are direct consumers of energy may want to conserve energy in order to reducing heating or electrical bills. Manufacturers and other industries may want to increase efficiency in order to maximize profit or cost-effectiveness.

On a larger scale, energy conservation is an element of energy policy. The need to increase the available supply of energy (for example, through the creation of new power plants, or by the importation of more energy) is lessened if societal demand for energy can be reduced, or if growth in demand can be slowed. This makes energy conservation an important part of the debates over climate change and the replacement of non-renewable resources with renewable energy. Encouraging energy conservation among consumers is often advocated as a cheaper or more environmentally sensitive alternative to increased energy production.


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Issues with Energy Conservation

Net-loss conservation efforts

Some well-intentioned attempts at energy conservation may actually result in an increased energy usage, generally because of a failure to consider a number of the many factors involved in a given process.

For example, a consumer planning to purchase a new hybrid vehicle may focus on the improvement in the miles per gallon (MPG) rating of the hybrid over his or her current vehicle, forgetting much of the extra energy and money put into manufacturing the vehicle. The hybrid car may give 45 mpg, saving the average driver 278 gallons per year. The hybrid engine cost $3,000 extra, so with gasoline at $2.50 per gallon, it pays for itself in 4.3 years. Compared to the average van, pickup truck or SUV the hybrid saves 392 gallons per year, paying for itself in 3.1 years.

Purchasing emerging technology products provides money to the developers which will likely result in future efficiency gains.

Another example might be the consumer who shops online to save the cost of driving to a local store. However, these items are shipped individually from a warehouse that may be far away, so the energy cost of the shipment is much higher than a local purchase, which was shipped in bulk.

Telecommuting may have a detrimental impact as well, as it requires a vast computer infrastructure to be effective. Worldwide, this infrastructure consumes significant energy resources. However, much of this infrastructure is already in place for other uses, and it is more energy efficient to move data across a network than to transport a person physically from home to workplace. U.S. companies hire people in India to answer telephones because the telephone connection costs only pennies a day, and it consumes milliwatt levels of electricity.

Jevons Paradox

The Jevons paradox is an observation made by William Stanley Jevons who stated that as technological improvements increase the efficiency with which a resource is used, total consumption of that resource may increase, rather than decrease. It may also be that some conservation efforts have the same effect. For example, if 10% of a country's population reduces its use of gasoline by 10%, the price of gasoline may drop, and the remaining 90% of the population may use more gasoline as a result. However, this observation has not been sufficiently studied, and energy conservation is generally regarded as a beneficial undertaking.

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