Thursday, May 07, 2009

Our energy ignorance...

The more we know, the less we use.  I suppose it's like actually seeing sausage get made.  Anyhoo, efforts to provide real-time "scoreboarding" of home energy use are advancing rapidly and guess who is right in the middle of it?

The behavioral sociology of measuring energy usage is simple: the more you know about how much energy you’re using, the less you use. Just getting the information cuts most people’s energy usage by somewhere between 5% and 15%, while people with high electricity bills (like me) find it much easier to isolate exactly what is causing those bills and can then work out how best to reduce them through upgrading appliances or replacing incandescent bulbs with CFLs or any number of other routes to energy efficiency.
The problem is in the measurement. There is a natty gadget known as the Wattson which measures home energy use, but it’s expensive, and almost impossible to find outside the UK, for some reason.
Enter Google, which has now announced plans to release free PowerMeter software which will map any individual’s energy use on their phone, home computer, or iGoogle homepage. The little gizmo which plugs in to your fusebox is going to be very cheap, and with any luck will somehow be available for free to anybody who might have difficulty paying for it. (This is part of Google’s philanthropic arm, after all.) [More]
An example output is below.

I think this is the beginning of energy cost awareness and consumption pattern changes, especially for electricity.  This is because electricity is derived largely from coal, especially in the Corn Belt. The change will be triggered by emission regulation, about which the farm media had not been very illuminating, IMHO.

The popular assumption is farmers should push for cap-and-trade, and then lobby for exemptions, ending net winners.  In fact, the idea we will take a serious economic hit (unless we find ways to lower our own energy consumption) strikes many as too onerous, even as everyone else pays and cuts back more.  Remember, the object of all emissions controls is to lower the amount our emissions, right?  That won't happen without the type of pain $4+ gas exerted to change our gasoline consumption and car-buying habits.

Still, much of farm country is in for a rude shock, as we expect to be held harmless and able to keep on keepin' on. One hint of this is the closing line in Dan Looker's column in the latest SF [sorry - not online yet].  He quotes former NCGA president Fred Yoder as saying, "We really need an opportunity to be compensated for reducing our carbon footprint."

Umm, good luck with that idea, Fred.  Considering the rest of the country will be essentially taxed or "quota-bound" to force emissions reductions, the idea farmers should get paid when everyone else is paying through the nose is an astonishing assertion of privilege.  It also ignores the considerable amount of GHG's agriculture contributes.
Agricultural lands occupy 37% of the Earth’s land surface. Agriculture accounts for 52% and 84% of global anthropogenic methane and nitrous oxide emissions. Agricultural soils may also act as a sink or source for carbon dioxide (CO2), but the net flux is small. Many agricultural practices can potentially mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the most prominent of which are improved cropland and grazing land management and restoration of degraded lands and cultivated organic soils. Lower, but still significant mitigation potential is provided by water and rice management, set-aside, land use change and agroforestry, livestock management and manure management. [More]
I think this attitude arises from serious skepticism about global warming, and hence we seem to have staked out a position of "We don't believe in this nonsense, but we're willing to humor you if you pay us, fools."

Ag's understanding of the two mechanisms is also to blame. A carbon tax we can grasp, and like most legislators we promptly drop the idea.  Cap-and-trade seems pretty harmless in comparison.  Until the effects become apparent, which won't take long.  Most economists see the actual everyday results looking remarkably similar, only with an enormous and inefficient bureaucracy in the case of C & T.  In other words, all the pleasure of an energy tax with huge transaction costs and opportunities for corruption to boot.
Under a cap-and-trade program, the government will set the overall emissions cap and issue allowances or credits to businesses to pollute at a set amount. A company that reduces its emissions quickly and cheaply can auction their extra credits to another that, because of the nature of its business or available technology, may find it more difficult to comply with the caps.

This market-based approach helps ensure that overall caps are met at the lowest possible cost. Cap-and-trade has been modeled after the U.S. effort to control acid rain pollution, which saw greater reductions at lower costs than originally anticipated.

Under a carbon tax, such as that proposed by Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), emitters are required to pay a tax for every ton of pollution they produce. Carbon taxes lend predictability to energy prices, according to supporters, who claim that cap-and-trade systems will simply aggravate price volatility and adversely affect consistent investments in less carbon-intensive electricity generation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy.

But, argue cap-and-trade supporters, such a system also provides certainty: it fixes the ceiling on emissions (stepping it down over time) and lets the price vary with demand.

Despite rhetoric on both sides, neither system is really more complex than the other, as each requires often difficult monitoring and enforcement.  [More]
Bear in mind the big argument in Washington is what to do with the billions in revenueTake a hint - this won't be painless.

Feel free to make long term plans based on your idea of the outcome, but I think a  safer one will be to assume electricity at about 20¢/kwh, diesel at $4-5, and propane over $3.  Fertilizer will be through the roof, especially N sources, due to production energy consumption, transportation, and the penalties for NO compounds being released.

And keep in kind, that stalling legislation is Congress simply lobs the issue into the EPA's jurisdiction.  Stonewalling is not the answer.

I am not absolutely, totally discounting the ability of the farm lobby to get me excused from this effort to reduce GHG's, but on the odd chance we don't get everything we want, I better have a plan B.

[I'll try to post more about what various legislative efforts could look like on your bottom line as soon as the fog lifts (and I get some planting done).]


Ol James said...

I replaced ALL the bulbs in my house with compact fluorescents and conserved electricity where I could. Cut my usage by over a third. What was my reward..the power company got a rate increase. But I'm glad I did my part.
The site almost quotes word for word a report from the International Plant Nutrition Institutes, ( report to the EPA on Greenhouse Gases. This report is what the EPA uses as it's "Bible" on GHG considerations. Most notably the Methane, Carbon Dioxide and Nitrous Oxide report that just came out.
Why not have a "flat-tax" instead of "c&t and credits"?
Then again we can do like they are doing in Brazil...paint all the roofs white to help eliminate global warming. Yeah, it keeps the building a few degrees cooler. They are taking a page from the folks in Greece and other "older" cultures. But....then again if they are reflecting the heat back into the atmosphere.......and what about jets and the like....heck they are putting the CO2 and other stuff right up there....gotta go,all this thinkin is making my brain throb....

Jay said...

Painting the roofs white sounds like a poor-man's rooftop garden. They're gaining popularity in some cities because they keep the building cooler and keep a lot of rainwater from going down the drain.