Policy ForumEnergy and Climate

Granular technologies to accelerate decarbonization

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Science  03 Apr 2020:
Vol. 368, Issue 6486, pp. 36-39
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaz8060

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  • RE: Looking beyond granular technologies to accelerate decarbonization
    • Abhishek Malhotra, Assistant Professor, IIT Delhi
    • Other Contributors:
      • Tobias S Schmidt, Assistant Professor, ETH Zurich

    In their Policy Forum piece “Granular technologies to accelerate decarbonization” (3 Apr 2020), Wilson and colleagues observe that more small-scale (or granular) technologies are associated with “faster diffusion, lower investment risk, faster learning, more opportunities to escape lock-in, more equitable access, more job creation, and higher social returns on innovation investment.” On this basis, they advocate for increased reliance on diverse portfolios of small-scale technologies for decarbonization. However, the narrow focus on correlation between scale of technologies and multiple evaluation criteria (including their experience rates) is problematic. This is because scale itself is not the primary explanatory variable for experience rates.

    As a result, their policy recommendation to focus on small-scale technologies is a bit simplistic and could have unintended negative consequences. First, it could draw away attention and resources from potentially promising large-scale technologies. In the past, some small-scale technologies, if in need for extensive customization, did not exhibit high experience rates. Meanwhile, large-scale technologies such as onshore wind power have shown significant progress and play an important role in countries’ decarbonization strategies [1]. Even larger technologies such as offshore wind power are showing great promise, and could inadvertently be excluded from such strategies [2]. Second, since the authors do not go into much detai...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • Behavioural and cultural changes for energy consumption reduction

    Many research and policy papers that attempt to tackle climate change put a lot of emphasis on energy efficiency as can be noted on a recent publication (1) which suggests that relatively more granular (in terms of size) technologies offer larger potential efficiency gains. While a focus on energy efficiency is important, improvements in efficiency alone is unlikely to be sufficient enough to meet energy reduction targets (2). Besides, there are indications that some energy efficiency technologies can actually increase energy consumption instead of decreasing it (3). This is likely because the users of these technologies do not use the technologies in the way they are intended to be used, thereby compromising the energy reduction potential of the technologies. Furthermore, rebound effects – where reduction of price per unit of energy service caused by energy efficient technologies leads to users consuming more energy, has been observed to be as high as 85% in an average (4) which undermines the benefits of energy efficient technologies.

    In this context, approaches to energy consumption reduction that takes into account human behaviour, psychology and culture is needed. A concept of energy culture has already been introduced (5) that examines householders’ perceptions and attitudes on energy habits and practices. This concept needs to be extended further to explore research questions such as: ‘What kind of cultural changes are required to encourage people to consume...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.

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