An important benefit of the low-carbon economy is that it accelerates greater accountability and transparency regarding the cost of energy. Greater transparency and accountability spurs innovation and efficiency. I know this because I’ve seen how well it works in my house, which is a microcosm of the economy.
As a homeowner, I’m charged for four types of energy consumption: electricity, heating, water and landfill garbage (which is lost energy). There is no charge for recycled garbage. Although water is not carbon intensive, it is a casualty of a hotter planet and worth preserving for life and sewage, which make cities livable.
My four energy bills, incidental repairs and maintenance, and property taxes for my energy-efficient house cost less than a one-bedroom apartment. I have not crimped my lifestyle.
Rates for all four types of energy have increased; however, my energy costs have decreased. I’ve done this by changing my behavior, and taking advantage of new products that are more energy-efficient, with the added bonus of being better quality. The higher costs of purchase are often offset by rebates that may be conveniently deducted at the time of purchase.
The impetus is necessity. For energy providers, old infrastructure needs to be replaced, which is costly. Governments don’t have the luxury of surpluses, and politicians want to be re-elected. Private companies need to report to shareholders. All of these need the consumer. Electricity had the additional driver of a new modern competitor: renewable energy. For me, the impetus was that I wanted to see if it is possible to have lower energy costs by taking advantage of innovations. It is.
At the same time, the internet and computers have facilitated the processing of information so that it is easier to collect and provide information than it was ten years ago. They have modernized governments and businesses. There is more transparency. Consumers and shareholders are more informed. They can demand accountability where it is lacking, and they’re getting it. If not, they can choose to go elsewhere.
Another benefit is improved customer service. For example, I recently got a letter from the city water department, warning me that my water consumption was three times my normal consumption, and that I should check a list of possible culprits. When I called the city for further clarification, the technician told me water was being consumed the previous night when there should have been no activity. The new smart water meter is responsive and informative. The purpose of the letter was to conserve water…and to prevent an irate customer from complaining about an unexpected and unreasonably high bill.
Innovations will bring many more improvements since about 75% of generated energy is lost. This is good news for the planet and the economy.
The next step is to provide greater transparency and accountability to the externalities of energy generation and their end-of-life.