Energy Policy

 for All Levels of Society

There is no question that we are entering a new era on energy. Actually, this evolving scene has been continuing for some time ... a lot longer than some people realize.

It is time to develop energy policies at all levels and for all types of organizations: public, private, and personal. Starting at the lowest level, the person, each individual must consider what she or he can do to reduce energy consumption. This entails the most mundane and familiar of our own and personal behavior.

Suggested actions include:


    turning down the thermostat in unused spaces and turning off unneeded lights;

    using lower wattage light bulbs;

    reducing transportation energy consumption by planning, eliminating wasteful trips, driving a more efficient automobile;  [It is interesting to note the proportion of cars with motors running at a railroad crossing or bridge opening.] 

    using mass transit wherever and whenever possible.   This is a very short list. Think about it.

For the next unit up, the family, a participative-democratic approach is likely to be the most useful. Management theorists have concluded, based upon research, that in the long run, the most effective, efficient, and satisfying management style is based upon democracy. In the U.S., we believe in participation in governance and we know that it works better than any other system. The days of the autocratic, lord-and-master (the male) are, thankfully over (for the most part). A family council, drawing on the ideas of everyone, will produce solutions that everyone can live with and participate in.

The suggestions listed above (for the person) apply to the family unit.

The corporate, business, or other organizational units (schools, non-profits, etc.) pose similar situations relative to soliciting suggestions and achieving consensus for action. But, with one very important difference: the development and maintenance of effective incentives.

Organizations function and improve themselves based upon a management triad: behavioral, technological, and institutional.

The behavioral aspects tend to be individualized. The motivated, enthusiastic worker will look out for the organization, be alert for improvements, and simply work harder. But not all persons respond to exhortation, slogans, and even, personal encouragement. The red-white-and-blue stickers over light switches in public buildings stating, "Turn off the lights when not in use" lost effectiveness quickly. Only a small proportion of inhabitants (read: "employees") of public buildings bothered to act to save taxpayers precious funds by turning off unneeded lighting.

There has to be an incentive that is centered on the individual. Team incentives don't work except in unusual cases. There are always those who don't care and further may mock others trying to work for the good of the group.

We are a society of "come-outers": persons coming directly from somewhere else or descendants of immigrants. We Americans are different, genetically and culturally, from those whom have chosen to stay where they are (Europe, Asia, Africa ...). We are more individualistic but no less family-oriented than foreigners. "What's in it for ME!" is quite common here. We are not as group-oriented as, for example, the Japanese. Good or bad, that's the way it is. An excellent example would be the main characteristic of successful suggestion systems: lucrative and generous rewards for cost-saving suggestions. [The National Association of Suggestion Systems reports a return on investment of over 400% per year on well managed suggestion systems.]

Technology plays an easily understood and controlled role in managing resources (i.e. saving energy). The larger ore carrier (ship), the power tool, the bigger tractor-trailer, the more powerful locomotive, the automatic-programmed thermostat, the instructional video/movie/computer, etc. are all examples of technology in the management triad. Technology is hardware! Better and more efficient tools make for greater efficiency and thus, energy savings (usually).

The role of institutional rules and regulations is more subtle and less well-understood. Rules change behavior, for the most part. There must be sanctions, rewards, and penalties associated with rules. Otherwise, the rules will be ineffective and ignored.

Policies which are eventually translated into rules, regulations, and procedures must be so shaped as to bring out the best performance for both institution and individual. There is always the problem of unintended (and unforeseen) consequences of a well-meaning but poorly thought through policy.

Examples of rules changing behavior abound. 

If college faculty are mainly judged on their publishing activity (raw output), then they will publish more but the teaching quality is likely to suffer.

If manufacturing supervisors are evaluated on production quantity, solely, then you an expect quality to slip (downward).

Paying lucrative rewards for suggestions will bring in more suggestions.

If parking space is no longer provided free, then people will car pool, use public transit (or park elsewhere ... if available).

Obviously, many institutional rules arrive on the scene in economic form, as in the immediate, above examples. A higher motor fuel tax will reduce driving. Higher transit fares reduce rider ship, but may encourage walking, bicycling, and automobile use with attendant increased congestion.

The highest level unit is government. Government can mandate, educate, exhort [that doesn't work], set an example, provide a market which accelerates innovation, and it can apply the economic weapon, taxation.

Government has done some incredibly idiotic things. [Government is people, so this should not come as a surprise.] An example of counterproductive action occurred in a northern U.S. city. An enterprising individual added a solar collector to his home to reduce fossil fuel (heating oil) consumption. The local assessor jacked up the valuation of the home by $5,000 which wiped out the monetary savings. That action stopped alternate energy innovations, locally. Overlooked in this case was that a reduction in fuel oil demand via such solar devices would have caused fuel oil prices to fall. The drop in oil prices would have benefited all users, including government.

Recently, a member of Congress stated that we need an energy policy for the 21st century. Then she proceeded to list natural gas, petroleum, and nuclear sources of energy. We have problems with these sources of energy now. We cannot rely on these, wholly, in the future.

Photovoltaic (solar cells generating electricity) are becoming available in more economical sizes and devices and the cost is dropping.

Wind power has quietly slipped past the cost of generating electricity by using fossil fuels. And, it doesn't poison the air with mercury!

Hydroelectric generation should be looked at by consortiums of engineers, scientists, ecologists, and environmentalists and should be improved. Hydro ought to be developed to cause no damage to the environment (read destroying fish species) and eliminate the destruction of sport fishing watersheds. Low-head hydro with turbines that don't kill or injure fish and fish ladders ought to be incorporated into these schemes.

Recycling all kinds of materials with more efficient systems and greater participation at all levels can be encouraged and made profitable.

Each level in society has its own rules for recognizing change, considering options, deciding on appropriate action, and executing such action. Then, of course, a system of follow up is required to assess the efficacy of the solutions (and do some fixin').


Now is the time to start thinking about energy policy.

July 05