Is Efficiency Enough? Towards a New Framework for Carbon Savings in the California Residential Sector

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Mainstream implementations of energy efficiency in the United States are not adequately aligned with the environmental benefits claimed for efficiency, as they do not consider absolute levels of energy use, pollutant emissions, or consumption, and at times even encourage consumption. By understanding the lack of synchronization between environmental objectives and efficiency as it has been implemented, a more effective basis for policy can be reached. Our research seeks to motivate and initiate exploration of alternative modes of defining efficiency or otherwise moderating energy use toward addressing environmental objectives, as applicable to residential electricity use in California. We offer three main recommendations: 1) Consider integrating absolute consumption into technical definitions of efficiency, 2) Attend to the social messages of energy efficiency communications and in general better integrate the environmental consequences of energy use, and 3) Develop a more critical perspective on benefits and limitations of energy efficiency for delivering environmental benefits. In keeping with the exploratory nature of this project, we identify ten questions for further investigation.

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