Bill Gates doesn’t understand efficiency

The Huffington Post has a piece under Bill Gates’ byline in which he says efficiency is over-rated, and what we need is “innovation, not just insulation”.

Perhaps he neglected his calculus studies while he was working to become the world’s greatest software monopolist†, because there are some things he obviously does not understand.  I’ll list a few:

  1. Insulation itself is a form of innovation.  There are a number of zero-net-energy houses already, and their common property is that they are all well-insulated.
  2. If you accept that CO2 is an environmental problem (which he does), you know that the size of the problem is set by the cumulative production (the area under the annual emissions curve).  Once made, emissions are irreversible; delaying them might eliminate them if the source of energy changes in the mean time.  If “innovation” yields the zero-carbon solutions later than scheduled, insulation can make the difference between a small problem and a much bigger one.
  3. The economics of zero-carbon energy systems are likely to be different.  More to the point, some of them are significantly more expensive than coal and natural gas.  Rather than spending lots of money on wind farms and heat pumps, the optimum probably involves fewer wind farms, smaller heat pumps and more insulation.

There are many things which can be done on the efficiency front which make the innovation job so much easier.  PassivHaus technology, or ThermaSAVE structural insulated panels, can help hit close to 100% reductions in their particular consumption niches.  They reduce needs so much that even fairly expensive energy for heating and cooling remains affordable.  They aren’t sexy enough to get Bill’s adrenaline going, but had we adopted them 10-20 years ago we’d already be a long way toward an 80% or greater CO2 reduction.

I know Bill Gates isn’t listening to me (if he did there never would have been such a thing as the “Windows registry”, which has caused so much grief to so many people).  He has enough money that he doesn’t have to listen to anyone, but that doesn’t mean that he’s right.  If anything, his drum-beat of “innovation” to the exclusion of rolling out known solutions will be yet another excuse for others to do nothing.

† I have long despised Microsoft, its founder and its products.  I am a happy user of Linux.


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