Energy-efficient technologies offer considerable promise for reducing the financial costs and environmental damages associated with energy use, but these technologies appear not to be adopted by consumers and businesses to the degree that would apparently be justified, even on a purely financial basis. We present two complementary frameworks for understanding this so-called “energy paradox” or “energy-efficiency gap.” First, we build on the previous literature by dividing potential explanations for the energy-efficiency gap into three categories: market failures, behavioral anomalies, and model and measurement errors. Second, we posit that it is useful to think in terms of the fundamental elements of cost-minimizing energy-efficiency decisions. This provides a decomposition that organizes thinking around four questions. First, are product offerings and pricing economically efficient? Second, are energy operating costs inefficiently priced and/or understood? Third, are product choices cost-minimizing in present value terms? Fourth, do other costs inhibit more energy-efficient decisions? We review empirical evidence on these questions, with an emphasis on recent advances, and offer suggestions for future research.
Improving end-use energy efficiency—that is, the energy-efficiency of individuals, households, and firms as they consume energy—is often cited as an important element in efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions. Arguments for improving energy efficiency usually rely on the idea that energy-efficient technologies will save end users money over time and thereby provide low-cost or no-cost options for reducing GHG emissions. However, some research suggests that energy-efficient technologies appear not to be adopted by consumers and businesses to the degree that would seem justified, even on a purely financial basis. We review in this paper the evidence for a range of explanations for this apparent "energy-efficiency gap." We find most explanations are grounded in sound economic theory, but the strength of empirical support for these explanations varies widely. Retrospective program evaluations suggest the cost of GHG abatement varies considerably across different energy-efficiency investments and can diverge substantially from the predictions of prospective models. Findings from research on the energy-efficiency gap could help policy makers generate social and private benefits from accelerating the diffusion of energy-efficient technologies—including reduction of GHG emissions.
Market failures associated with environmental pollution interact with market failures associated with the innovation and diffusion of new technologies. These combined market failures provide a strong rationale for a portfolio of public policies that foster emissions reduction as well as the development and adoption of environmentally beneficial technology. Both theory and empirical evidence suggest that the rate and direction of technological advance is influenced by market and regulatory incentives, and can be cost-effectively harnessed through the use of economic-incentive based policy. In the presence of weak or nonexistent environmental policies, investments in the development and diffusion of new environmentally beneficial technologies are very likely to be less than would be socially desirable. Positive knowledge and adoption spillovers and information problems can further weaken innovation incentives. While environmental technology policy is fraught with difficulties, a long-term view suggests a strategy of experimenting with policy approaches and systematically evaluating their success.
Policy makers and analysts are often faced with situations where it is unclear whether market-based instruments hold real promise of reducing costs, relative to conventional uniform standards. We develop analytic expressions that can be employed with modest amounts of information to estimate the potential cost savings associated with market-based policies, with an application to the environmental policy realm. These simple formulae can identify instruments that merit more detailed investigation. We illustrate the use of these results with an application to nitrogen oxides control by electric utilities in the United States.
Jaffe, Adam B, Richard G Newell, and Robert N Stavins. “Technological Change and the Environment.” In Handbook of Environmental Economics, Vol. 1, edited by K-G Mäler and JR Vincent, 1:461–516. Amsterdam and Boston: Elsevier Science B.V. 2003.Abstract
Environmental policy discussions increasingly focus on issues related to technological change. This is partly because the environmental consequences of social activity are frequently affected by the rate and direction of technological change, and partly because environmental policy interventions can themselves create constraints and incentives that have significant effects on the path of technological progress. This chapter summarizes current thinking on technological change in the broader economics literature, surveys the growing economic literature on the interaction between technology and the environment, and explores the normative implications of these analyses. We begin with a brief overview of the economics of technological change, and then examine theory and empirical evidence on invention, innovation, and diffusion and the related literature on the effects of environmental policy on the creation of new, environmentally friendly technology. We conclude with suggestions for further research on technological change and the environment.
The relationship between technological changeand environmental policy has receivedincreasing attention from scholars and policymakers alike over the past ten years. This ispartly because the environmental impacts ofsocial activity are significantly affected bytechnological change, and partly becauseenvironmental policy interventions themselvescreate new constraints and incentives thataffect the process of technologicaldevelopments. Our central purpose in thisarticle is to provide environmental economistswith a useful guide to research ontechnological change and the analytical toolsthat can be used to explore further theinteraction between technology and theenvironment. In Part 1 of the article, weprovide an overview of analytical frameworksfor investigating the economics oftechnological change, highlighting key issuesfor the researcher. In Part 2, we turn ourattention to theoretical analysis of theeffects of environmental policy ontechnological change, and in Part 3, we focuson issues related to the empirical analysis oftechnology innovation and diffusion. Finally,we conclude in Part 4 with some additionalsuggestions for research.
The possibility of encouraging the growth of forests as a means of sequestering carbon dioxide has received considerable attention, partly because of evidence that this can be a relatively inexpensive means of combating climate change. But how sensitive are such estimates to specific conditions? We examine the sensitivity of carbon sequestration costs to changes in critical factors, including the nature of management and deforestation regimes, silvicultural species, relative prices, and discount rates.
We develop a methodology for testing Hicks's induced innovation hypothesis by estimating a product-characteristics model of energy-using consumer durables, augmenting the hypothesis to allow for the influence of government regulations. For the products we explored, the evidence suggests that (i) the rate of overall innovation was independent of energy prices and regulations; (ii) the direction of innovation was responsive to energy price changes for some products but not for others; (iii) energy price changes induced changes in the subset of technically feasible models that were offered for sale; (iv) this responsiveness increased substantially during the period after energy-efficiency product labeling was required; and (v) nonetheless, a sizable portion of efficiency improvements were autonomous.