Neither this blog nor this post are about climate change and global warming. However, as the DOE’s recent projections for energy consumption through 2035 make some implicit assumptions about population shifts and the use of energy for space cooling, I have been wondering about what those assumptions are, how they were formed and what they imply.
The DOE has a raft of documents dealing with global warming and/or climate change. They analyze legislation and regulations and their potential impacts on fuel supplies and the mix of energy available. They calculate past, present and projected CO2 emissions. They study energy efficiency. In fact, they have 13,3o0 returns for the search term climate change.
However, I was unable to find one document dealing with their thinking on how climate change might affect energy consumption. The implicit assumption in what I’ve read is that governments state and federal will use pricing mechanisms to affect the cost to the consumer of energy and hope to control consumption. They seem to feel that energy efficiency can be pushed on to consumers, even at higher prices. But I see no signs of analysis of what we the people will do in response to global warming in any area of our lives, nor how that might affect energy consumption.
This was forcibly brought to my attention when analyzing their projections of residential energy consumption through 2035 in their Annual Energy Outlook 2012, which comes with projections through 2035.
In their report, the DOE estimates residential energy consumption will grow very slowly, at 0.2% annually, despite much higher growth in population (1% annually), household formation (.93% annually) and GDP (which doubles over the projection period).
There are two key assumptions that drive this low ball estimate of energy consumption in homes and apartments–the first being heroic improvements in energy efficiency, which I find surreal. (Energy efficiency gets harder the longer you do it, because you naturally do the easy stuff first. And the DOE estimates that energy efficiency will improve twice as fast in the next 25 years as it did between 1980 and 2005.)
More troubling, the second assumption is that people will move to “warmer and drier climates” which will reduce the need for space heating in homes. This would be an extension of the Snowbird effect, where retirees in colder climes relocate to sunnier places, something that was very real and pronounced over the past 60 years.
Never mind that they don’t show an increase in energy used for space cooling. What I want to know is, if global climate change is projected to produce killing heat and megadroughts in large parts of the U.S., why would people move there?
If people don’t move there in large numbers, the DOE’s projections will suffer. If people instead are forced by global warming to leave the affected areas, the DOE’s projections will fall apart. And yet there is no discussion of this in the report itself, nor in the recently released Assumptions to the report.
I have doubts about the dire predictions of global warming. I guess that’s my right as an individual citizen. But should a department of the U.S. Federal Government just ignore the work done by the EPA, NASA, the NOAA, the, umm, other parts of the Department of Energy… in preparing the core data planners everywhere will use to decide how energy will best meet our needs?
The concept of joined-up government is one I learned while living in the UK. It isn’t perfectly executed there. But it doesn’t seem to have made it across the pond at all.