Factors outside the energy system have had a greater impact on Canada’s overall energy productivity than “all our combined efforts to improve the efficiency of buildings, vehicles, and other fuel and electricity consumption,” veteran energy modeler Ralph Torrie writes, based on a technical paper that he and two other authors produced for the Journal of Energy Efficiency.
The paper by Torrie and David Layzell and Chris Stone of Canadian Energy Systems Analysis Research (CESAR) “looks at the efficiency of fuel and electricity use in the context of the bigger question of the energy productivity of the economy,” Torrie explains on LinkedIn Pulse. It concludes that, “even before allowing for energy efficiency improvements, the energy productivity of the Canadian economy continued to improve throughout a period when energy prices went up and down, when houses and cars got bigger, and when the shift to energy-intensive bitumen production was driving up energy use in the oilpatch.”
Torrie sees that finding as an important contribution to the search for “technological, business, and policy solutions” to the climate crisis, reminding decision-makers that we don’t flip a switch or turn on a vehicle because we’re looking for a unit of energy—we’re looking for an “amenity” that Torrie characterizes as health, comfort, security, or self-actualization.
“The consumption of fuels and electricity and the associated carbon emissions occur at the end of long chains of causes and effects that have their origins far upstream from the energy commodity system,” he adds—which means the most promising demand reductions will come from decisions that focus on those underlying needs.