Global Warming, the DOE and Energy Consumption

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.

17 responses to “Global Warming, the DOE and Energy Consumption

  1. This article really got me thinking. In the 70’s when I first started studying climate change, the only people talking about the greenhouse effect weren’t climatologists, environmentalists, or atmospheric scientists. They were nukes from the AEC which later became the DOE. Currently, there is a lot of climate silliness coming out of Lawrence Livermore, one of the old AEC labs. Could it be that the DOE doesn’t take its own scare stories that seriously?
    Personally, I doubt the dire predictions about an average increase in temperature. But I think that extremes, both cold and hot, will be more common. I would anticipate that surges in power demand will become more likely.
    Good article.

  2. I slept on it. If we look at the Huntsville temperature trends and extrapolate them and assume uniformity (lots of bad assumptions), Temps will rise around 0.3C by 2035 if we use the 34 year trend. Negligible change if we use the last 15 years trend. Increases in summer air conditioning in the south would be partially offset by decreases in winter heating in the north.
    The curious thing is what you mentioned. Why is DOE ignoring the dire predictions that they have been funding all these years. Remember half of Hadley’s budget comes from DOE Oakridge.

  3. Hi Marty

    I think my next post is going to be on the ‘siloed’ nature of this type of report. I don’t think they talk to the person in the next cube, let alone someone in another building. I think they’re just crunching numbers and feeding it into their model, called NEMS.

  4. Tom,

    The DOE’s projections are mostly trend analysis. The same sort of tend analysis local school boards use to determine how many schoolhouses they will need in the future.

    Look around the country…you can find 40 year old ‘temporary class rooms’ packed full of students and ‘newly built schools’ being closed for lack of students.

    If I just look at my 14 house street. The number of ‘school age’ children 6 or 7 years ago was 1. Today it’s 9.

    Centrally planned economies don’t have a particularly good track record because trends can and do change faster then ‘central planners’ can update their projections. Even when there is evidence of a change in trends a significant portion turn out to be ‘temporary blips’.

    If I go over to the heating & cooling forums there are endless reasons heating and cooling professionals will give for not installing high efficiency cooling systems. Right along the same lines mechanics used to give for not having a ‘fuel injected’ car or Television Repair professionals used to give for not having a ‘solid state’ TV.

    I.E. They’ll be more difficult to repair, they won’t be reliable etc etc etc.

    The wholesale cost differential between an ‘old technology’ Central Air Conditioner and ‘State of the Art’ isn’t that great. The ‘installed cost’ is substantially higher because of a perception among ‘heating and cooling professionals’ that the ‘under warranty call out rate’ will be higher so they build more margin into the install to allow for that.

    When ‘Heating and Cooling’ professionals will come to accept that the ‘new technology’ Air Conditioners are just as reliable as the old technology is anyone’s guess.

    Here is an article in Popular Mechanics from 1998
    “Most manufacturers now offer SEER 10, 11, 12 and 13 models, and some offer SEER 14. This gives you five separate efficiency options, with model numbers usually keyed to the SEER numbers, so they’re easy to recognize. Lennox’s Value 12 system, for example, is a SEER 12.”

    I would note that Trane and Carrier no longer sell Central Air Conditioning Systems with a SEER rating less then 15…some are as high as 21. Lennox still sells a SEER 13.

  5. Harry, I don’t know about constraints on your time, but I would love to hear more about the mysteries of space cooling from you.

  6. Hi Tom,

    This is a 2012 study done on various costs and payback periods of central air condioners of various efficiency ratings.

    You’ll have to search on the file name…I couldn’t manage to get a linkable link…

    Long story short…the difference between a SEER 13 central air conditioner and a SEER 21 air conditioner at the manufacturing cost level isn’t all that much.

    One of my brother in laws is a ‘Plumbing and Heating Professional’. He likes selling what he knows how to install, knows how to diagnose and knows how to repair, which means the same model he has been installing for the last 20 years.

  7. This is related to the complaint I’ve seen with IPCC WG2 impacts of global warming. The high levels of warming come from high levels of emissions, which come from high GDP growth in the developing world.
    Then WG2 takes those high warming numbers and applies them to a world that has not developed. Given all the GDP growth, they will be better able to adjust.

  8. Hi, It’s been over thirty years since I did any forecasting for the government but believe me, it was far more sophisticated than simple trend analysis. Now the mathematical rigor could stagger backward; but I can’t believe that the actual grunts doing the work would not have considered climate trends. If they didn’t, they were told not to. Most likely, the trends didn’t make any difference or actually saved energy.

    The first thing I learned was that politics trumps the truth. I can remember things that I was told to bury and why.

  9. Marty (and anyone else who wanders by), do you think retirees are going to continue in large numbers to move to Florida, Arizona and other Snowbird states? Does your answer depend on the climate?

  10. I think that the migration to AZ and FL has been slowing for some time. I’ve retired, I’m looking for a place to live on reduced income, and AZ and FL don’t compute regardless of energy costs and climates. The places I’ve checked out in detail are the WV panhandle and northern Wisconsin, Places I’ve lived before and were comfortable in.
    My point is that this whole thing reminds me of when I was a young number cruncher and had senior staff hinting at what results I should work towards without ever coming right out and telling me to fudge it.
    I started to write a novel where an idealistic young man goes to work for a think tank and keeps trying to believe that he is actually performing a beneficial service. The title was “Antiparanoria “. The idea was that we call conspiracy theorists paranoids. But we don’t have an equally derogatory term for people who keep taking things at face value long after it is obvious that they are swimming in a sea of lies.

  11. Just when you need it. Today Pielke’s site has temperature projections for AZ due to urban expansion which is not quite an order of magnitude greater than AGW. We’re looking at upper midwest or central Appalachians for our retirement.

  12. Saw that. Interesting…

  13. By the way, it looks like you will win your bet with Romm. I’m writing up an analysis. The year over year numbers are +.27, +.03, and so far -0.14

  14. Eight more years to go… but I hope you’re right!

  15. I wonder how much of the apparent dissonance in the DOE data in the last few posts can be explained by:
    1) (cough) overly optimistic estimates of economic growth
    2) overly optimistic estimates of energy efficiency gains
    if you’re trying to predict some reality and are forced into 1), then 2) becomes a necessity.

  16. TOm Fuller

    do you think retirees are going to continue in large numbers to move to Florida, Arizona and other Snowbird states?

    The 2010 Census provides up with some guidance –

    Click to access c2010br-03.pdf

    The five states with the highest median age in 2010 were Maine
    (42.7), Vermont (41.5), West Virginia (41.3), New Hampshire
    (41.1), and Florida (40.7). In all,there were seven states, the previous
    five plus Connecticut and Pennsylvania, with a median age
    of 40 or higher.

    The US median age is 36.9.

    We also have this

    Click to access c2010br-09.pdf

    The Northeast had the largest percentage of people 65 years and over (14.1 percent), followed by the Midwest (13.5 percent), the South (13.0 percent),and the West (11.9 percent). The Northeast also contained the
    largest percentage of people 85 years and over (2.2 percent), followed
    by the Midwest (2.0 percent),

    If it was elderly snowbirds causing the population shift to the south and the west one would think it would show up in elderly population shifts.

    I think it might be immigrants.
    Nearly fourteen million new immigrants (legal and illegal) settled in the country from 2000 to 2010, making it the highest decade of immigration in American history.

    There there is this
    New immigrants (legal and illegal) plus births to immigrants add some 2.3 million people to the United States each year, accounting for most of the nation’s population increase.

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