Energy Savings: Investing In Energy Efficient Devices vs. Cutting Back

Environment Magazine has an detailed article about how the average household can conserve energy and thus reduce carbon emissions. An integral part of the discussion is about increasing efficiency (investing in equipment that lowers energy costs without sacrificing desired services) vs. curtailment (cutting back on normal and desired activities).

For example, replacing all your bulbs with CFL bulbs vs. turning of all the lights whenever you leave the room. Or buying a more energy-efficient furnace vs. lowering the thermostat. Which do you think saves more energy?

A comparison of energy saved by curtailment and by increased efficiency in Table 2 reveals that efficiency-improving actions generally save more energy—and reduce carbon emissions more—than curtailing use of intrinsically inefficient equipment. For example, buying and maintaining a highly fuel-efficient vehicle saves more energy than carpooling to work with another person, lowering top highway speeds, consolidating shopping or errand trips, and altering driving habits in an existing gasoline-inefficient motor vehicle. This general finding challenges the belief that energy savings entail curtailment and sacrifice of amenities. Not only is efficiency generally more effective than curtailment, but it has the important psychological advantage of requiring only one or a few actions. Curtailment actions must be repeated continuously over time to achieve their optimal effect, whereas efficiency-boosting actions, taken infrequently or only once, have lasting effects with little need for continuing attention and effort.

Also, here’s their “Short List” of the most effective actions you can take to save energy usage, based on initial upfront cost and potential energy savings.

Via TechCrunch via ELYM.


  1. Doing both would save you the most money. It doesn’t make sense to me that people would use the fact that they have energy efficient devices as an excuse to not curtail energy. Turning off the light when you leave a room or turning down the thermostat are pretty easy things to do.

  2. And, why don’t you hear more about things like this:
    “… a study last year by the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan estimated that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days.”
    I like my steak and bacon… but I think I can save on my grocery bill and do more to be “green” just by modifying my eating habits. And it can help your waistline too!

  3. Sorry to say, but I don’t find this sort of article useful. Any discussion of savings must, IMO, also including a discussion of the cost (not just the money, but the convenience change) to achieve the change.

    For example, if I want to change my gas water heater to an on-demand heater, there is a high initial cost—it will take me 10 years to recoup that. There is also a “convenience hit”, as I would now need to wait a few minutes for the hot water to arrive at the spigot. (OTOH, I could take really long showers, so that’s a plus!)

    Likewise, I could change all the incandescent lights to florescent, but there is a higher investment cost (and, btw, these bulbs never last as long as the manufacturers claim they do). There is also a convenience hit, because these bulbs throw off less attractive light.

  4. I’m with Ed. You have to look at the cost to purchase things. Something likes light bulbs will pay for themselves fairly quickly. Other investments might be better for the planet, but not better for your bottom line.
    Also, turning the thermostat from 72 to 68 is a very big change for some people. If you are keeping it set at 72 there is probably a reason, and the idea of turning it down probably did already occur to you.

  5. Like Andy said, I don’t know why you can’t do both.

    Ed, on demand water heaters don’t take any longer for the hot water to hit your faucet than tank heaters. The water is coming from the same location and traveling the same distance. Your point about the cost and payback period is valid of course.

  6. I also wonder about the input energy required to manufacture new energy-efficient products (and the waste in disposing of “old” products). For example, how much energy is required to manufacture a new furnace or ac? That’s one of the reasons why corn-based E85 is a joke – the BTU input required to plant, grow, and harvest corn (not to mention converting it to ethanol) outweighs the BTU output of the ethanol itself. I’m all for energy efficiency, but all factors need to be considered – not just the “efficiency” of the new product.

  7. After having CFL bulbs for 3 years, and dealing with their cool light color, having 10 lights dying and pain of getting replacements on “5 year warranty”, after considering all the chances of potential mercury exposure if one of them falls down accidentally I finally gave up on the idea of saving on CFLs… LED lights are future but, really costly.

  8. I put CFL bulbs in my garage (in Wisconsin) because the incandescent ones failed pretty regularly. I’m happy with those – I’m pretty sure I have the Home Depot ones.

    However, INSIDE my house we have normal bulbs. What doesn’t get discussed often enough is that the so-called waste of the old bulb is HEAT. In the summer, we don’t have the lights on very much and in the winter the ‘waste’ is actually ‘heat’. I understand that the heat is not given off in a very efficient place, but it is there.

    Is there some place in the country that is both Dark and Hot? because that place would make the best use of CFL or LED lights.

  9. Mark makes a good point. Lighting can put out a lot of heat. In the store where I work we have to counteract the heat that all the lights put out during the summer with increased air-conditioning, but during cooler weather, if not the dead of winter, the lights put out enough heat on certain days that the furnace doesn’t turn on. Even fluorescent lights produce heat. Perhaps lighting manufacturers should be required to say how much heat their devices generate, and we can determine whether that is a waste or a benefit based on our needs and our climate.

  10. I’ve just spent quite bit of time this year reviewing my household energy use and after just making a few minor changes we are saving 30-50 a month!

  11. @craig: do tell what you did. (And is that 30-50 “%” , dollars, pesos, what?? )

  12. LED bulbs have gone considerably cheaper since this blog post. I just bought four 7-watt (60-watt equivalent) for my ceiling fan for $13 each. While they’re not nearly as cheap as CFLs yet, they ain’t $50 a pop either!

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