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Global Energy Challanges

The things we do: How our competitive natures may help reduce our carbon footprints

Roxanne Bauer's picture

adjusting a home thermostat to save energyIn order to tackle the adverse effects of climate change in our lifetimes, the global community will need all hands on deck. One software company has found a way of reducing energy consumption by tapping into social psychology.

One way of thinking about how to approach climate change is to divide the issue into ‘wedges’.  One wedge would be to increase renewable energy production, another would be to increase energy efficiency in the electric grid, and a third, to make buildings more energy efficient. Along with these other improvements, changing human behavior is another, very important wedge. 

Two families that are demographically similar, living side by side, in similar apartments, can use dramatically different amounts of energy— the difference of which can be attributed to behavioral differences.

Keeping up with the Neighbors

These behavioral differences were demonstrated in a famous psychology experiment that focused on home energy use. The research team, led by two psychologists, Robert Cialdini of Arizona State University and Wesley Schultz of California State University, San Marcos, hung a series of five door hangers with energy-saving messages on several hundred homes in a San Diego suburb in 2004.   One hanger encouraged people to "join their neighbors" in conserving energy, one appealed to their self-interest to save money, another called on them to save energy to protect the environment, and a fourth asked them to conserve energy for future generations and the benefit of society. A fifth and final message simply stated that summer is here and it’s a time to save energy with no underlying reason.

The researchers measured the effectiveness of the messages by obtaining meter readings before and after the door hangers were distributed. They found that the last four had minimal effect. But the first, which mentioned the neighbors, produced a significant 10% reduction in home energy usage.

Questions from Germany: China Writ Large

Justin Yifu Lin's picture

I was in Berlin a few weeks ago and did an interview with Tagesspiegel and wanted to share it in English with readers, as interest in China is so strong these days. I think this Question and Answer session with the journalist Harald Schumann reflects well the questions many Europeans have on their minds...

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Der Tagesspiegel Interview by Harald Schumann
November 21, 2011

“Even China has to step on the breaks” // World Bank Chief Economist Justin Yifu Lin about the effect  of the debt crisis on the world economy, China’s reserves and the Communists’ flexibility.

Mr. Lin, as a result of the debt crisis in some euro-states, Europe risks to sink back into a recession. What effect will this have on the world economy?

The Global Energy Challenge

Ioannis N Kessides's picture

This entry is the first of a series of posts written by members of the World Bank's Development Research group's Environment and Energy team on economic and policy issues involving energy and climate change mitigation.

Issues relating to energy are among the most important and difficult challenges confronting the world today.  Providing sufficient energy to meet the requirements of a growing world population with rising living standards will require major advances in energy supply and efficiency. Doing this while mitigating the risks of climate disruption will be an even more challenging undertaking.  It will require a significant shift in the historic pattern of fossil-fuel use and a major transformation of the global energy system.  Especially in the developing countries, the choice of technology, policy, and economic levers that will be used to transform and expand their energy systems will have profound implications for their growth, international competitiveness, and economic security and prosperity.   This overview focuses on the challenges related to electricity supply; subsequent blogs will address other parts of the energy system.