Lack of energy use data creates fog.
May 7, 2010 § Leave a comment
Dr. Schipper, who has spent many years sifting data on home size, heating bills, appliance purchases, driving habits, freight shipments and other activities that indirectly gauge the use of different fuels, sent me a note about the challenge of gauging trends during turbulent economic times. One big issue, he said, is that the Department of Energy has stopped tracking many lines of data that matter. Here’s his note:If there is one lesson, it is that in times of rapid growth or recession, different parts of the economy change at different rates, and that differential alone can cause significant changes in the ratio of energy to G.D.P. Since a big recession might hit coal-burning utilities’ customers more than other utility customers to name one example or hit coal-using industries like cement and steel more than others, one has to look carefully not only at CO2 emissions changes but at underlying economic activity or personal activity changes and how those are tied to emissions in a disaggregated way.Some countries can do this roughly 18 months to two years after the end of each year. We can’t. We don’t even maintain regular energy accounts by major manufacturing branches. We last surveyed household vehicle fuel use in 1985, and our trucking inventory and use survey died in 2002. We stopped trying to estimate household appliance electricity use in the late 1990s….I call this the blind leading the blind. Like “ Cash for Clunkers Is a Lemon,” as I wrote in the Washington Post, we seem to like to make policies or pronouncements whose outcomes cannot be measured for years. I remember when high-level clowns in the Bush administration were pointing to the decline in carbon emissions in the mid-2000s, but of course not taking credit or blame for the higher oil and gas prices that most agreed lay behind those declines.It’s hard to imagine how the U.S. will enact any sensible policies in this foggy atmosphere.