Eckaus, an emeritus professor of economics at MIT, feels new technology may not be of much help on this front -- and suggests that energy just needs to be priced higher.
"There is no a priori reason to think technology has the potential for reducing energy use while meeting the tests of economics. It's politically unappetising in the US. Make energy more expensive: People will use less of it," Eckaus says.
The study, published in the November issue of Energy Policy, portrays the changing interplay among technology, energy use and carbon dioxide emissions, based on a simulation of the US economy.
The researchers found that despite increasing energy prices, technological change has not been responsible for much reduction in energy use, and that it may have had the reverse effect.
The duo studied the periods 1958 to 1996 and 1980 to 1996 and projected from 2000 to 2050.
Based on their findings from the past 50 years, they found that the rates of growth for energy use and emissions may accelerate from the historical rates of 2.2 percent and 1.6 percent, respectively.
"The rates of growth could be higher by a half percent or more, which becomes significant when compounded over 50 years," Eckaus says.
He acknowledges it has become counterintuitive to question technology's potential to solve the energy problem.
But US steel making illustrates how fossil fuel consumption can increase along with technological change: steel makers' furnaces are now electrical, reducing coal use at the plant. But coal generates some of the electricity that powers the factory furnace, resulting in more carbon dioxide emissions.
"The net savings in this case comes from the use of scrap steel instead of iron ore, not from new furnace technology," Eckaus says.