September 1, 2010

Unintended Consequences

Professor Mankiw links to an Economist article that suggests solid state lighting will not reduce energy use -- it will simply increase the demand for light.

The light perceived by the human eye is measured in units called lumen-hours. This is about the amount produced by burning a candle for an hour. In 1700 a typical Briton consumed 580 lumen-hours in the course of a year, from candles, wood and oil. Today, burning electric lights, he uses about 46 megalumen-hours—almost 100,000 times as much. Better technology has stimulated demand, resulting in more energy being purchased for conversion into light.

That, at least, is the conclusion of a study published in the Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics by Jeff Tsao of Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico and his colleagues. They predict that the introduction of solid-state lighting could increase the consumption of light by a factor of ten within two decades.


Just as the efficient vehicle owner finds himself driving more miles, so these will increase consumption. This would be good news to me, but blog brother jg is more concerned about light pollution than I.

Either way we can agree that the ridiculous nannying toward adopting these devices will -- mirabile non freakin dictu -- not achieve the nannies' goals.

Oil and Energy Posted by John Kranz at September 1, 2010 2:11 PM

In a related story, President Obama will soon announce a technology prize to incentivize development of a megalumen candle.

Posted by: johngalt at September 1, 2010 2:47 PM

But the World Council of Scholars gave us candles just fifty years ago! It will upset the whole scheme of things if we try to change things without consensus. Equality 7-2521 told me so themselves.

Posted by: Keith Arnold at September 1, 2010 3:58 PM

Whoa, an Anthem reference. Nice!

Posted by: johngalt at September 1, 2010 10:39 PM

The quote from Economist begged for it; that, or a reference to a petition from candlemakers and allied industries regarding sunlight, to protect advances in our lighting technology. Fidelity to Rand and Bastiat are both valued among the lot of us...

Seriously, though - if we humans are clever enough to create advances in any science, then why should we not enjoy the fruits of our labors? We don't invent more efficient lighting to stick to the antiquated consumption budget; we invent more efficient lighting to create more light. Were we to suddenly discover a new, plentiful fuel source for cars (be it massive oil reserves or an engine that ran on ambient static electricity), then why should we continue driving gutless, underpowered four-cylinder cars when we could savor the wind in our hair and the thrill of triple-digit speed?

Posted by: Keith Arnold at September 1, 2010 11:54 PM

To the pantheon of Rand and Bastiat, let me add my hero, Dr. Karl Popper (the only man by whom John Maynard Keynes ever admitted to be bested in debate).

Germane here because a footnote to a footnote in The Open Society and its Enemies talks about "those who would send us back to the caves." Working in Boulder County, that represents almost everybody I know. As we celebrate light, a beloved cousin pushes the whole family to establish a weekly candlelight dinner: not for romance mind you, for "the environment."

Humans, pace the late Discovery Channel Gunman, do not deserve heat and light -- and certainly not fun in transportation.

But, brother, please rethink your aversion to tetracylendrical automobiles.

Posted by: jk at September 2, 2010 10:15 AM

Adjectives, my good jk, adjectives - my aversion is to *underpowered* four-bangers. Remember, the 1986 Mustang SVO also ran on just four... plus an intercooled turbo package. 'Twas a NICE four.

Having said all that, I'd almost be willing to wager serious money you didn't buy that MR2 solely for its mileage per gallon, and the reasoning in the original post still reigns supreme. Quod erat demonstrandum.

Posted by: Keith Arnold at September 2, 2010 2:12 PM

@JK- To your cousin, doesn't he/she realize how much CO2 is emitted by candle flame? I think you should propose dinner in the dark. (If you REALLLLY want to be environmentally friendly...)

Posted by: johngalt at September 2, 2010 7:24 PM

What? You mean replacing all electric light with candles would not help the environment? Man, if only she had a cousin who cared enough to tell her these things...

Posted by: jk at September 2, 2010 7:42 PM | What do you think? [8]