Efficiency Works Forever
This is a small editorial about something that might seem obvious to some, but that is too often left out from public debate. To go straight to the point: Efficiency and conservation should be at the top of the list of solutions to our energy problems. Why? Because before we build new production capacity, we should use what we already have. It's common sense. There is so much wasted energy that we already pay to produce that it would be foolish to pay again to produce more before addressing that problem. That energy is already there, just waiting to be used for something. Here are the arguments I can think up in favor of efficiency and conservation (feel free to add anything I forgot in the comments section): 1) After the initial investment, there are no additional costs for fuel or maintenance...2) it creates tons of jobs in the renovation, green architecture, green urbanism and innovation/technology sectors, 3) it educates the public on what should be done and what are the current problems (unlike building a power plant out of sight that nobody thinks about), 4) it saves people money to have a more efficient home, business, neighborhood, car, etc, 5) something more efficient is inherently more nature-friendly and produces less waste and pollution, 6) it works forever! Even when we really need to build new wind farms or hydro plants, the previous investments in efficiency and conservation are still there doing their parts to keep demand under check. Any excess capacity freed through efficiency and conservation can be used for something more useful than the way it was previously wasted (which means that we basically produced lots of electricity for nothing, and paid for it); it can be sold to places nearby that haven't yet invested in efficiency and conservation and thus keep them from building new power plants until they invest in efficiency and conservation too.
I know it's less glamorous and exciting than wind farms an solar panels, but we have to make a big effort in that area at least in parallel to those things, if not first.
I wrote most of the above thinking about electricity, but it also applies to fossil fuel. Before drilling for more and starting wars over it, why not stop wasting most of the energy from the oil we already burn. Lets make cars that get upward of 60-80 miles per gallon (3.9-2.9L/100km) and more, and use them when we need to (which means that we would need to have bikeable and walkable cities, efficient public transportation, shorter commutes, telecommutes, etc).