California wants to control your thermostat

The 2008 proposed building standards issued by the California Energy Commission include a requirement that new air-conditioners have a radio-controlled thermostat that cannot be overridden by the owner. This allows the state to override your settings during undefined “emergency events.” The
explicit goal of this “feature” is to prevent blackouts by preventing
people from lowering their thermostat’s temperature during heat waves.

Some thoughts:

  • The cause of environmentalism is one of the excuses being used to establish an increasingly totalitarian government in California and elsewhere.
  • The public perception of “global warming” is that of a permanent
    state of imminent catastrophe, which, like the threat of terrorism, is
    likely to be used to justify a permanent state of “emergency.”
  • The need for nanny-state thermometers is entirely a government creation. Environmental regulations have made it essentially illegal to build a new power plant in California for the last thirty years, and price controls have made it impossible for utilities to respond to changes in supply and demand.
  • Shortages are entirely a creation of the interventionist state. Imagine
    Dell running ad campaigns asking the public to “stop buying so many
    computers!” or Starbucks asking customers to “please reduce your
    caffeine intake!”
  • This development highlights the sad state of the American energy industry. While
    rapid advancement in technology allow amazing innovations such as
    remotely controlled thermostats, environmental regulations have made it
    all-but-illegal, prohibitively expensive, or legally uncertain to
    innovate in the energy sector, outside of a few, politically correct
    and subsidized technologies.
  • The remote-controlled thermostats are a genuinely useful invention. However, the proper use of the technology would be simply to continually broadcast the current energy rate. The utility could then raise the rate during peak hours and let the customer decide how to automatically limit their usage. If energy prices doubled during heat waves, blackouts would be permanently eliminated. Unfortunately, in California, price controls currently mandate that politicians and government bureaucrats, not energy producers set energy prices.

How many lives is a billionth of a degree worth?

According to GM, the new federal fuel requirements will costs four to ten thousand dollars per car,
mostly to use more expensive weight savings materials. Some
environmentalists might dispute the numbers or cheer anything that
makes cars more expensive to own, in the hope that fewer people are
able to afford driving. However, that will not be the only impact.

If the amount the average person is willing to pay for a car does
not change, people will respond to higher prices in two ways: they will
keep their existing cars longer and buy smaller, cheaper cars. Keeping existing
cars will delay the introduction of more efficient and luxurious cars
in the future. Switching to cheaper, more efficient cars will increase
efficiency at the cost of both luxury and safety. More families will be
forced to squeeze into Honda Civics rather than Toyota Camry’s. Money
that would have been spent on safety improvements will be diverted to
increasing efficient. Smaller cars are not inherently unsafe, but they
are inherently less safe, and thus the cost of the new fuel efficiency
standards can be measured in both dollars and human lives. The cost in
human lives of traffic accidents is well known – about 42 thousand lives
each year in the U.S. How many people will the warming from the unspent
gasoline kill? Actually, the oil not burned in cars will even not be
“saved.” More efficient cars will simply make that oil available for
other uses, which may or may not be more efficient.

Just how many lives is a billionth of a degree of global warming worth? Can we look forward to a new “no blood for freezing winters” campaign?

Do compact fluorescent lights really save energy?

Earlier this month, Congress passed a law which will essentially force the public to switch to compact fluorescent lights. (CFLs)  Environmentalists and light bulb makers joined forces to boost power and profits, and perhaps sue the competition out of existence.Some people object to the narrow light spectrum and toxic Mercury content
of CFL lights, but I don’t care about those things.  I have replaced
most of the incandescent lights in my apartment, and plan to eventually
replace the rest.  What I question is not the usefulness of CFLs, but
the premise that switching to them will “save energy.”

As with most goods and services, the price of a utility influences
the quantity I am willing to pay for.  When the price of gas doubles, I
reconsider taking road trips, and try to be more efficient with my
driving.  Likewise, when the price of electricity falls, I am more
liberal with my power consumption.   Compact fluorescent lights lower
the cost of lightning in two ways: they use one quarter of the energy,
and they last ten times as long.  These innovations encourage greater usage of lighting.

I have a spiffy IKEA lamp behind my couch, but
because I don’t have a light in my ceiling fan, it needs to be extra
bright.  Furthermore, the geometry of my living room makes it annoying
to walk behind the couch every day to turn it on.  By switching to a
compact fluorescent light, I was able to get a 100 watt equivalent
light in a 60 watt socket, and thanks to its efficiency and long life,
I just leave the light permanently on.  I am enjoying greater
convenience, but I don’t know if I am saving any energy.

If the average consumer’s monthly lightning budget is fixed, they
might compensate for the higher efficiency and lifespan of CFLs by
increasing their lightning usage to completely offset any energy
reduction.  This would be especially true if consumers are
forced to switch to CFLs by legislators rather than a desire to save
energy costs.  Much as auto safety regulations can lead to reckless behavior, forcing consumers to switch to more efficient lights might actually increase their energy usage.