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Technologies numériques et environnement

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Does technological innovation to improve the efficiency of energy-using products and systems lead to lower energy consumption and hence reduced environmental impacts? The answer given by economists since the mid-19th century is ‘no’. This is because there are direct ‘rebound’ or ‘take-back’ effects caused by energy efficiency improvements that lower the implicit price of energy, often leading to greater consumption. Also there are secondary or indirect effects of reducing energy costs through efficiency in that consumers may buy more products and/or choose, larger, more powerful, more feature laden models. Thus just promoting technical innovation to increase energy efficiency is unlikely to lead to reduced energy consumption and emissions. Other policies such as taxation or regulation are required.As well as setting the theoretical arguments concerning innovation and energy efficiency the paper outlines results from an empirical research project, ‘People-centred eco-design’, which seeks to identify the key influencing factors on consumer adoption and effective use of energy efficient products and systems. In particular it aims to identify how consumers may avoid (or mitigate) rebound effects and how manufacturers, service providers and government might design and promote such products to achieve their optimal environmental benefits.
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We estimated the world’s technological capacity to store, communicate, and compute information, tracking 60 analog and digital technologies during the period from 1986 to 2007. In 2007, humankind was able to store 2.9 × 1020 optimally compressed bytes, communicate almost 2 × 1021 bytes, and carry out 6.4 × 1018 instructions per second on general-purpose computers. General-purpose computing capacity grew at an annual rate of 58%. The world’s capacity for bidirectional telecommunication grew at 28% per year, closely followed by the increase in globally stored information (23%). Humankind’s capacity for unidirectional information diffusion through broadcasting channels has experienced comparatively modest annual growth (6%). Telecommunication has been dominated by digital technologies since 1990 (99.9% in digital format in 2007), and the majority of our technological memory has been in digital format since the early 2000s (94% digital in 2007).
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In the discussion of energy conservation, a great deal of attention has focused on mandated efficiency standards for cars and energy-using household appliances. (In this article, I will use the term "appliance" in a generic sense to cover household durables). Unfortunately, the estimates of energy savings predicted to result from these mandated standards are derived mechanically.' When mandated standards raise the appliance efficiency by 1 percent, demand is predicted to drop by 1 percent; when they raise efficiency by 2 percent, demand is predicted to drop by 2 percent; and so on. Examples of such results are found in reports by the Department of Energy (1979a, 1980) and by the Staff of the California Energy Commission (1979) on energy demand in California in the coming two decades.
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Beginning with William Stanley Jevons in 1865, a number of authors have claimed that economically justified energy-efficiency improvements will increase rather than reduce energy consumption. ‘Jevons Paradox’ is extremely difficult to test empirically, but could have profound implications for energy and climate policy. This paper summarises and critiques the arguments and evidence that have been cited in support of Jevons’ Paradox, focusing in particular on the work of Len Brookes and Harry Saunders. It identifies some empirical and theoretical weaknesses in these arguments, highlights the questions they raise for economic orthodoxy and points to some interesting parallels between these arguments and those used by the ‘biophysical’ school of ecological economics. While the evidence in favour of ‘Jevons Paradox’ is far from conclusive, it does suggest that economy-wide rebound effects are larger than is conventionally assumed and that energy plays a more important role in driving productivity improvements and economic growth than is conventionally assumed.
  • M Falch
M. Falch, Environmental Impact of ICT on Transport Sector, vol. 7216, A. Hadjiantonis et B. Stiller, éds., Berlin Heidelberg: Springer, 2012, pp. 126- 137.