In 1865, William Stanley Jevons noticed that James Watt's efficient new improved steam engine did not reduce coal consumption, but led to a dramatic increase in the use of steam power, so that in fact coal consumption went up. The Jevons Paradox states that "the efficiency with which a resource is used tends to increase (rather than decrease) the rate of consumption of that resource."
Poor Stanley has been dragged around for the last few years, by those who would claim that the paradox proves that encouraging energy efficiency is pointless, to those who try to prove that it's just not true in a world of rising, rather than shrinking, energy prices (Like I did.)The problem is, Stanley was right. You can see it all around you; the latest and greatest example is the Bay Lights project...
...the world’s largest LED light sculpture, 1.8 miles wide and 500 feet high. Inspired by the Bay Bridge’s 75th Anniversary, its 25,000 white LED lights are individually programmed by artist Leo Villareal to create a never-repeating, dazzling display across the Bay Bridge West Span through 2015.
The eight million dollar project would not have even been considered before the invention of LEDs; it would have burned too much electricity. Now it can be built because LEDs use a whole lot less power, but the Bay Bridge project is using a whole lot more than nothing. There is also the issue of the energy, water and carbon footprint of manufacturing 25,000 LEDs and 48,000 clips to hold them.
Everyone is excited about Leo Villareal's installation. But it might have been more compelling if it was coupled with a pile of solar panels, batteries and wind turbines to produce renewable energy on site, instead of just another beautiful and clever way to demonstrate that indeed, Stanley Jevons was right.
Lots more images at The Bay Lights