Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The incredible lightness of green

Like other western countries who are going uncritically “green” – typically a reliable sign of illness – N.Z. has leapt or attempted to leap on the “smart light” bandwagon. Recent years have seen various pleas for consumers to switch to those coiled “fittings” -  which conjure up all the sophisticated nuance, interior decorating charm and wankiness of having a segway parked in the bedroom – to save money, energy and of course the planet.

We even have a taxpayer funded website explaining how much money you “really save” buying these sources of light which the (female) vanity industry has rejected in the U.S. on the grounds of, well insufficient beauty rendering for marginal faces. Next stop is solid state lighting…. which is even better in this area and the current fad for the “conserve with lighting technology” brigade.

The Economist (August 28) shows that these ideas are less than bright and are in fact dim.

The trouble lies – and this is my reading of the Economist’s data….. with oh dear, that curse of mankind, the law of demand. As the per unit cost and thus price of buying lumens or units of light has fallen, quantity demanded has grown. A paper in the Journal of Physics (Tsao J.) has it this way – better technology has stimulated the demand for energy to be converted to light.

We economise (unsurprisingly) on light – it is a scarce resource with costs attached….. so many outdoor areas we leave “dark” (parks, streets in some areas etc) because it would be too costly to light them.

Neither is this a new phenomena. A gas light “back in the day” gave off about the same amount of light as a 25 watt incandescent bulb does today. As the effective cost dropped we consumed ever more light.  Tsao sees solid state sources meaning an increase in light consumption by a factor of ten within two decades.

The problem with the “green analysis” which promises to save energy is that it is static (same issue as the earthquake economics – see previous post). Life though is dynamic and when “P” for price drops “Q” for quantity demanded goes up.

So we cannot light our way to green heaven with Morris Dancing impertinences – stick to being an incandescent being…. and save some energy into the bargain.

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