clearly reflected in dollars saved per month. A building owner who insulates in October may see rising heating bills for months and not be able to tell if the investment was worthwhile. Even if the owner is careful enough to make year-to-year comparisons, changes in weather and fuel prices will almost certainly confuse the message. When monthly bills are kept at the same level year-round through the use of a budget payment plan, the effects of energy-saving actions are even harder to observe and evaluate.

Energy invisibility does not make it impossible to monitor the effects of attempts to save energy in buildings, but it does make it very difficult. If high prices or personal interest provide sufficient motivation, it is possible to look beyond the bottom line of the energy bill and combine the energy-use information from a bill to weather information from a local newspaper to get a useful index of energy use. But only a very small percentage of energy users will make such efforts. The majority, who do not take this trouble, are disappointed with the results of their attempts to save energy (Kempton and Montgomery, 1982). This disappointment frequently leads to discouragement and a feeling of helplessness that makes future action less likely.

Structural Effects of Invisibility

Another part of the legacy of energy invisibility is a diminished technical capacity of energy users to respond effectively to the stimuli of price and shortage. Freedom from concern about energy has produced structural changes in energy-consuming equipment. Central heating and cooling systems, for example, allow people to move freely from one room to another without thinking about energy. But now when consumers are motivated to save energy, few people have the option of saving fuel by closing off unused rooms while retaining comfort in a smaller space. When it became possible to achieve effortless control of the internal environment, architects began to design apartment and office buildings with windows that cannot be opened. Thus, residents and workers cannot save energy in these buildings by using natural ventilation; the need for air conditioning was literally built in. Because of such changes in the national stock of energy-using equipment, no amount of energy awareness can quickly or easily reverse the effects of years of energy invisibility.

Finally, energy invisibility stands in the way of decisions to invest in energy efficiency because “seeing is believing.” The design and construction features that make buildings, automobiles, appliances, and industrial equipment more energy-efficient also tend to be invisible. Insulation in walls, flame-retention heads on oil burners, aluminum in automobile bodies, and extra windings on electric motors—all save energy without being visible. But because people can’t see them, they are less likely to believe they save energy. Building contractors report that it is easier to sell a new home



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement