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Journal Article

California’s Quandary: Saving Energy at the RAND Corporation


Turnbull,  Thomas
Department Structural Changes in Systems of Knowledge, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Max Planck Society;

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Turnbull, T. (2023). California’s Quandary: Saving Energy at the RAND Corporation. Environmental History, 28(4), 738-765. doi:10.1086/726450.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000D-BC92-A
In the 1970s, employees at the RAND Corporation turned their expertise in rational decision making toward the problem of energy demand. In surveying existing energy demand forecasts, primarily those carried out by electrical utility companies, RAND researchers found that contemporary approaches were self-serving, and that these simple extrapolative methods helped create growing demand for energy. In response, RAND developed an independent method which recast the determinants of energy demand in general systemic terms. They proposed that each consumer, appliance, and act of consumption could be reconceived of as parts of a vast and programmable energy-conserving computer. The RAND approach made systems analysis and cybernetics central to energy policy, but also helped establish a misleading certainty that economic growth could be significantly decoupled from increasing rates of in energy use.