Rebutting the Parsimony Principle

Europe Uncategorized

A Special Issue of Energy & Environment critiques the ‘Parsimony Principle’. UK Energy policy wrongly focusses on energy efficiency, with too little effort applied to innovation.

‘Insulating your loft through the Government’s Green Deal, which currently has few takers, is no substitute for innovation, investment and R&D in energy supply’, says James Woudhuysen, editor of a special issue of Energy & Environment published this month (December).

Woudhuysen, professor of forecasting and innovation at De Montfort University, Leicester, believes that attempts to cut energy use by improving the energy efficiency of British homes will prove a lengthy, expensive mirage. He adds:

‘The good society is one that is relaxed about using lots of energy, not one that thinks itself clever for using as little energy as possible. Yet just as the EU’s Precautionary Principle, passed in 2000, makes governments neurotic about the risks around energy supply, so applying the Parsimony Principle to energy demand, in the way that the EU called in 2007 for a 20 per cent reduction by 2020, has made millions of Europeans strive to cut down on energy use.

‘That’s much easier said than done. New, better and cheaper energy-generating machines of all kinds look like a much better bet’.

Peer reviewed articles in the Special Issue show

• how difficult it is to retrofit British homes for higher energy efficiency – and how President Obama’s programme for “weatherizing” 37 million US households will take about 120 years to complete

• how smart meters, the subject of more than £11bn of investment recommended by Britain’s Department of Energy and Climate Change, will not be smart, in the sense of allowing householders to take advantage of those times in the day when energy tariffs are low. They would be better termed ‘guilt meters’ – for telling people the scale of their bad behaviour every time they heat up a kettle

• how behavioural economics, which wants to ‘nudge’ householders to lower energy use, doesn’t work. Adding moody ‘emoticons’ to energy bills, typically to display ‘excessive’ amounts of central heating, makes householders make only small and temporary cuts to energy use

• how, unfairly, all forms of energy supply are now deemed hazardous. For instance, all kinds of green sources of energy are now felt to be a danger to health

• how the machine capture of CO2 from the air (currently being pioneered in Britain by could form a powerful tool in accelerating the development of all kinds of other energy technologies

• How nuclear power still has many opportunities to develop rapidly, through technological innovation.

This collection of expert contributions will be of major interest to all involved in UK energy policy offering as it does a radical innovation-centred approach. Scientists, engineers, architects and designers will gain from the Special Issue’s multidisciplinary insights into energy innovation, energy prices, health aspects, developments in nuclear and on the seabed too.