Stuff I Wrote Elsewhere: The Jevons Paradox

From this morning’s newspaper, a column (sub/ad req) about the reasons energy efficiency may not save as much as its advocates frequently claim:

In a new paper, a team led by Tsao has drawn international attention by arguing that, instead of leading to reduced energy consumption, super-efficient bulbs may instead lead to people simply using more light.

In some cases, in a result that seems counterintuitive, energy consumption could actually rise. But this is not a bad thing at all.

To understand why, take a trip to the villages in rural Costa Rica where Michael Fark has been working.

Fark heads a Canadian nonprofit called Lighting Up The World, which has been trying to get the super-efficient light bulbs developed by people like Tsao into the hands of the people who need them most.

There, one- or two-room clay brick houses are usually lit by candles or kerosene lamps.

It is lousy light by our standards, barely enough for the young Costa Ricans to do evening schoolwork after a day of helping in the fields. But that light, dim as it may be, is so precious that families spend up to 30 percent of their cash flow on candles or kerosene for a few hours of light per day, according to Fark.

Give the Costa Rican farm families a more efficient way to light their homes, as Fark’s organization is doing, and they will choose to consume more light, not less energy.

Multiply their predicament by some 2 billion people in poverty around the world, and you enter the counterintuitive world of “the Jevons paradox.”

One Comment

  1. It seems to me that your story is long on the despair of Jevon’s Paradox unchained and short on the promise of LED lighting for the poor. How much electricity would be required to provide LED light to the homes of the Costa Rican poor? I have lived in Costa Rica. Electricity is pretty cheap there. Prosperous Costa Ricans use lots of it. Combining the promise of LED lighting for the poor with programs that conserve electricity (eg. decoupling) seems to be a way out of the despair of Jevon’s Paradox.

Comments are closed.