Elton Sherwin’s Addicted to Energy is an eminently readable and accessible letter to the nation’s governor. This 300+ page “letter” lays out a set of key issues and check lists that provide any (sane) state government (Governor) a sensible starting point for transforming their state from inefficient fossil fuel status quo to a more prosperous climate-friendly future.
Sherwin, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist (Ridgewood Capital), provides clarity as to ways to think about energy challenges, with suggested mindsets that could drive meaningful change.
The inability to deploy cost effective solutions … is one of America’s greatest challenges. (p 20)
Imagine a world exactly like ours in every respect, save one: in this imaginary world, energy bills must always be prepaid.
Imagine that buying a “75 watt [incandescent] light bulb [costing 50 cents] would come with a $60 prepaid electricity card. … In our imaginary world, costs are the same as they are in our world. What is changed when you pay.” [p 30]
This is a world where LED light bulbs costing $20 would come with, perhaps, a $6 prepaid electricity cost and, therefore, cost the purchaser half as much as buying an incandescent bulb that would use ten times the energy and pollute ten times as much. Which is the bulb that sells in this ‘total ownership cost’ (cost-to-own) dominated world? Developers would build in a radically different fashion if they had to prepay 50 years of energy costs when building a structure. As Sherwin puts it, “Pre-paid energy cards motivate efficient decisions” [p 31] and thus the guidance to governors:
As you and your staff evaluate various policy alternatives, ask yourselves, “Will this regulation cause people to act as if they lived in a world of prepaid energy cards?” If the answer is no, then the regulation is suspect.
For me, that one thought made Addicted to Energy worth reading … yet within its pages are many other high-value thoughts and sections.
A tangible, very low cost path (“no complex regulation and no new taxes”) to driving significant change would be public disclosure of building (commercial and home) energy performance. Imagine a grading system A to E, based on square footage, of a building’s energy performance. And, then …
Post grades next to the front door and you will dramatically reduce energy consumption. [p 92]
Consider if you were someone looking to rent (or buy) a residence or a business looking for office space, would you stop first at the structure with an A or an E next to the front door?
Challenges amid value
While Sherwin’s work merits reading and praise, there are weaknesses related to issues receiving too much, too little and/or no coverage while there are some items that are simply wrong.
As an example of too much, perhaps reflecting the life experiences of a Silicon Valley venture capitalists, the nation’s seven million pool pumps are frequently discussed (and, for example, are the second recommend item for a governor’s focus). Yes, pool pumps (and other equipment) can be made much more efficient (and so can pool heating, which is quite viable for solar hot water systems) and the energy payoff is much higher for improving pool pumps than renewable electricity generation but, simply put, those pool pumps are a remote and ‘luxury’ issue for the vast majority of the American public and are viewed as luxuries by a good share of our governmental structure.
When it comes to too little discussion, agricultural, financing (for example, nothing on location efficiency in mortgage financing), and greening schools merited greater discussion. For example, Sherwin appropriately included white (cool) roofing as a one of “the top ten items currently absent from commercial building codes” (p 233) but didn’t discuss how powerful cool roofing payback is for a range of stakeholders including the individual building owner, the local community, and the greater society.
A range of issues are simply absent from the discussion that could have important energy and climate implications, such as biochar, a ‘steel interstate’ of electrified rail, combined heat and power (CHP), and the productivity payback that occurs with greening office buildings, schools, manufacturing facilities, hospitals, ….
The most frustrating specific section, one that is sadly being embraced at the highest policy levels in this country and en route toward substantial subsidies (making investment in natural gas vehicles the ‘next’ corn ethanol boondoggle), is the whole-hearted embrace of the T. Boone Pickens’ plan which is flawed on economic, energy, and environmental grounds. Very simply, there are a very wide range of more effective (on fiscal, reduction of oil demand, and reduction of environmental impact — and other benefits) options meriting public investment before a dime should be thrown at natural gas transportation.
Get this into your library and into your Governor’s office …
Addicted to Energy merits reading across a good range of people — it should be in libraries and in governors’ office suites. Some excellent straightforward thinking, interesting ideas, rich information (with 399 footnotes), and clear action paths made this an extensively highlighted and marked-up item on my Energy Bookshelf.