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Another Misleading Report

December 9, 2011

The Brattle Group proudly issued their report that energy efficiency will result in a 5% to 15% drop in electricity consumption by 2020.

Prestigious publications published summaries of the report.

It’s unbelievable that an unscientific poll could form the basis of a report intended to influence policy makers. The Brattle Group should be ashamed of itself for issuing such an unscientific report.

The Brattle Group surveyed 50 so-called experts, asking for their opinion as to whether energy efficiency would cause a reduction in the usage of electricity.

Of the 50 “experts” who were surveyed, 22 were from utilities, 10 were from non-profits (TSAugust was not surveyed) and 8 were from government. For example, the manufacturer of smart meters participated in the survey, as did a representative of NREL, the government organization promoting renewables and energy efficiency.

Furthermore, the report was issued in conjunction with Global Energy Partners, an EnerNOC Company, which sells energy and demand response solutions and obviously has a vested interest in promoting these approaches.

In other words, the overwhelming majority of survey participants, 40 out of 50, had a bias for, and a vested interest in, promoting energy efficiency.

The Brattle Group also asked the question in a way that made the report’s conclusions irrelevant.

The question was: How much will energy efficiency lower consumption compared to what it would have been?

The question infers there is a baseline against which to make a comparison, but the report doesn’t refer to or establish a baseline. Responses, therefore, were irrelevant opinions without meaning – and unscientific.

The only baseline that makes sense is the forecast of electricity consumption made by the Energy Information Administration (EIA). The EIA’s, April 2011 projections, forecast that electricity demand would grow at a 1% rate between now and 2035, essentially the same as population growth.

The EIA forecast already INCLUDES the impact of the various technologies highlighted by the 50 responders as the reasons why electricity consumption will decrease by 5% to 15%. (Page 73 of the EIA projections makes this clear.)

The report said “enhancements in energy efficiency may eliminate the need to make investments in the power supply system.”

The lack of new investments, however, could lead to a shortage of electricity, and there is no careful examination of this possibility in the report.

Here is how the 50 participants expect to cut energy usage 5% to 15% by 2020, which, as noted, are already largely included in the EIA’s forecast of 1% growth.

  • The use of Demand Response (DR), including smart meters, will reduce peak demand by 7.5% to 15%.
  • Changing consumer behavior is identified as the way by which demand can be cut. It refers to smart meters, home energy management and new rate structures that penalize electricity usage during peak periods, as the next approach for cutting energy usage.
  • Next, the report cites the establishment of aggressive codes requiring people to invest in such things as insulation and Energy Star appliances.

It should be noted that DR requires home owners to agree to allow utilities to control their thermostats, or allow utilities to interrupt electricity to their refrigerator or air-conditioning units.

For the most part, the report lacks specific data as to how savings will be achieved. One exception is a statement that 40% of consumers will buy high efficiency air-conditioning units by 2020.

There is no statistical explanation for the statement. Undoubtedly, new air-conditioning units purchased for new buildings will be high efficiency units. There won’t be enough residential construction over the next 8 years to support such a statement. There also aren’t sufficient cost savings to justify replacing existing units before they fail. So what is the scientific or statistical basis for such a statement?

These highlight the unscientific nature of the Brattle Group report, though they are not isolated instances.

The report makes similar claims about natural gas usage.

The report doesn’t even mention the impact that electric vehicles, PHEVs and EVs, or that Cloud Computing will have on demand for electricity. These are not minor omissions.

The only reason I can see for publishing the unscientific Brattle Group report was to encourage State legislators and members of Congress, who won’t have time to critically analyze the report, to support measures that may not be in the best interests of their constituents, but that are widely supported by environmental activists.

Such ideas as smart meters, time of day pricing and forcing uneconomic decisions on consumers are currently in vogue, and supported by those who want to cut the use of fossil fuels.

The report references a carbon constrained world, which is shorthand for cutting CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. For example, EnerNOC, on its website, advertises carbon accounting, under the “CarbonSMART” logo, as one of its offerings.

We all need to be alert to this type of demagoguery in the guise of so-called scientific reporting, which is too often championed by the media in support of cutting the use of fossil fuels.

The influence of activist environmentalists in stopping the Keystone XL pipeline demonstrates how relentless these groups can be.

The Brattle Group report is very unfortunate. In my view, the report is essentially opinion, masquerading as science.


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3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 12, 2011 1:41 pm

    This article is dead wrong. The 5 to 15% efficiency estimate comes from a study commissioned by the UK Government and conducted by Oxford University. The study reviews all of the experiments in providing detailed energy usage information to consumers. The report is available online at

  2. December 12, 2011 1:45 pm

    In contrast to what the author says, Brattle is in good company. The 5 to 15% energy savings is the same conclusion reached in a comprehensive study conducted by Oxford University. The study is available at

  3. December 13, 2011 8:55 am

    Thanks to both the respondents(assuming they aren’t the same person).
    I’ll read the Oxford report and see whether I should add additional comments.
    My basic argument is that the Brattle report is unscientific. It’s really just the opinions of 50 people.
    * * *
    I have now read the Oxford paper.
    The 2006 Oxford paper is actually about feedback and whether it affects outcomes. It states that 5 to 15% savings can be accomplished, but supporting data is incomplete. For example, the Canadian Hydro reference only includes 25% of users, who are probably the most ardent believers in efficiency. There is also the Hawthorne effect that should be considered in a study that involves a limited number of people.
    There are other references in the Oxford paper that may show energy savings in certain situations, but these references are snapshots in very special situations and can’t be used to establish that energy savings will definitely result from smart meters etc. For example, the 1985 metering survey is hardly relevant today.
    There is one factor with which I agree wholeheartedly. Immediate feedback is more valuable than feedback that comes later, say in a monthly bill. After all is said and done however, it’s important to look at what feedback can accomplish.
    For example, what appliances can be used during off peak hours and whether air conditioning usage can be reduced?
    In the real world, most people won’t do their laundry at midnight to take advantage of lower rates. Most people won’t cut back on the air conditioning they use. Most people aren’t going to load the dishwasher to its maximum capacity to cut energy use.
    With respect to lighting, adding a motion detector can help save energy and it’s cheaper than relying on smart meters or home energy systems.
    The 2006 Oxford paper focuses on feedback. It’s interesting, but doesn’t validate the Brattle report.
    Others can read the Oxford paper and decide for themselves whether I have accurately summarized its contents.

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