By Amy Harder

The coronavirus pandemic is systematically demolishing the entire concept of efficiency.

Why it matters: Using energy more efficiently accounts for the largest share — nearly 40% — of the reductions in heat-trapping emissions needed to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The big picture: The virus, almost by design, hates efficiency of all kinds, energy included.

  • Public transit, where a bunch of people move together in one vehicle, is the pinnacle of efficiency. Its use has plummeted and stayed down.
  • In-person school features an efficient teacher/kid ratio of (roughly) 1:23. Ad hoc virtual school has a grossly inefficient ratio closer to 1:1. It’s also, of course, deeply disruptive to parents.
  • Single-use plastic, by definition not efficient and wasteful, is coming roaring back amid fears that the virus is lurking on reusable menus, bags and cups.

Where it stands: Overall electricity use in America was actually up slightly in July compared to the year before, according to a new working paper by Tufts University economist Steve Cicala.

That’s because residential energy use is higher with more remote work than it was the same time last year, offsetting the declines in industrial and commercial sectors. (On a yearly basis, power usage is still expected to be down 2.2%.)

Remote work on some level is likely to stick around permanently, resulting “in a mixed format where both offices and homes are simultaneously drawing power,” writes Cicala, who is also a non-resident scholar at the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago.

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